Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Blizzard & The Birds

It was "gray" and unusually quiet when I woke up this morning.  No noise from the state highway outside my bedroom window.  Then I heard it - the wind whistling through the branches in the trees.

I looked out the window.  It didn't look like much of a storm - at first.

It wasn't until I put on my boots, jacket, gloves and hat and headed outside to fill the bird feeders that I realized just how much of a storm it was.

The wind bit through my jacket and gloves.  I could feel the burn on my face.  One of my feeders, blown off its pole, sat upside down in a snow drift by my garage door. 

My outdoor thermometer read 15-degrees.  The morning TV weathercaster reported wind gusts to 30mph.  According to the chart on the internet, that creates a windchill of  -5 degrees F.

How do those little feathered creatures survive?

It's amazing to see the American Goldfinches and Black-capped Chickadees come in for a landing at the feeders, get blown off course in mid-air, flap like crazy, land on the perch and hunker down as they try to hold on and grab a seed, before they get blown away.

From the west, there's nothing to block the wind from my feeding station.  No trees, no buildings.

I went out and shoveled a north-south path through the snow,  an attempt to create a little "feeding tunnel," creating piles of snow to protect the birds from the wind.   I dusted the path with millet and black-oil sunflower - and ran back into the house.

First to arrive?

The most intelligent, the Blue Jays.  Four of them, crests flat against their heads.

As I watched them fill their faces with sunflower seed (they literally vacuum up as many seeds as they can hold in their mouths and fly off to cache them), I tried to recall the "word" for a group of jays.  I had to look it up.  Turns out there's more than one:  a 'band,' a 'cast,' a 'party,' and a 'scold' of jays. 

Today they behaved more like "cold" of jays.  They were all business.  And the business today was finding food and conserving energy.

I turned to look out the window just now and spotted an unexpected visitor - a Northern Shrike!   The 2nd sighting of this predatory songbird at our feeding station in a decade.   The other songbirds took off (how do they "know" this one is a predator?   It looks like a mockingbird on steroids.)

Weather like this makes me marvel at how tough these little critters are - finding food and avoiding becoming dinner for accipiters and shrikes.

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