It’s much harder for us humans than it is for wild animals to cope with the cold. I feel fairly adjusted to the colder temperatures by the first of the year, but it’s hardly the same for me as it is for the creatures that are out in the cold constantly.
The thermometer dropped to nearly 20-below-zero last night, which is pretty cold, but that’s more normal than unusual for January in Wisconsin. There’s a big difference between 20-below and 30-below. For one, the car may not start at 30-below, but that’s okay, because I shouldn’t be going anywhere anyway when it’s that cold. I should stay in my nice warm house and watch the birds at the birdfeeder. They don’t have any options to the cold like we have. My feet are warm and toasty in my down slippers, and I watch the cardinals and blue jays settling their belly and breast feathers down over their feet to help keep them warm. Those little, tiny toes can’t hold more than a drop of warm blood—how do they keep from freezing when the temperature drops to 20- or 30-below zero? How do they do it? It’s amazing how they survive. After all, my fingers would freeze at ten degrees above zero.
The shrike is on the hunt on this cold morning. He watches the snow below for a meadow vole to scamper out. It’s a solemn scene as he sits there on the frost-covered power line with one foot tucked up under his feathers. When the snow gets too deep to catch voles consistently, the shrike will turn to hunting for small birds. It’s something that’s a little harder than catching mice and voles, but he’s capable. No matter what kind of prey the shrike hunts, I know that he’ll do Okay, because he’s persistent and true to his mission.
There’s something special about cardinals, especially when they are gathered together in the same tree. The colors red and white clash so beautifully together. I’m looking forward to the male’s wonderful “spring whistle” that should come in about a month.
There are lots of small birds that come to the feeders every day: juncos, chickadees, goldfinch, house sparrows—but only one tree sparrow. I find this a little odd, because tree sparrows are usually seen in groups. This little fella feeds on the ground, and stays away from the other birds. Forty years ago, there might have been a couple hundred of these little grassland sparrows coming to my feeders. These days, I’m lucky to see a dozen of them together in the winter, and that single little tree sparrow has become a special bird to see.
I’ve been trying to catch a downy and a hairy woodpecker together in the same photo, but without much luck. The larger hairy always chases the downy away when he gets too close. There’s a definite pecking order at the suet feeder and the bigger bird usually gets the best spot. In the only photo I’ve gotten so far, the male hairy woodpecker is on the left, and the male downy is on the right. The two look very similar, except for the size difference. Only the males have the patch of red on the back of their heads.
The Kickapoo landscape was brushed by the hand of winter, and left snow-covered mountains and an ice-covered river. This may turn out to be the coldest and snowiest week of the winter of 2012-13. I hope so, because it’s behind us.
At Organic Valley headquarters Friday morning, I paused to watch the birds at their bird feeder. A couple of pine squirrels were there to get their share of the sunflower seeds. How pretty they are with their bushy red tails and big black eyes. It’s a treat to see them. I’ve never seen them in my valley. Not enough pine trees, I guess. They are cute, but have a reputation for getting into places they shouldn’t, and they are notorious for chewing larger holes in birdhouses. This can be a problem if you’re trying to attract bluebirds.
The with-tailed deer all have snow on their faces. Seems everything they try to eat is covered with snow, which falls on their faces as they nibble. The deer are spending a lot more of their time searching for food, since the ground is covered by a foot of new snow. Deep snow and extreme cold is a bad combination for the deer. As food becomes scarce, they burn up more calories searching for food while doing a lot more walking. I’m hoping that it warms up next week and melts some of the snow. It would make the deer’s lives a lot easier. Besides, I haven’t built a snowman yet this winter, and I’d like to make one before spring.