It’s a cold winter’s day with a mix of rain and sleet. A collection of birds abound at my feeders this morning:
- Dark eyed junco,
- Northern cardinal,
- Blue jay,
- Tufted titmouse,
- White throated sparrow,
- House finch,
- Mourning dove,
- A variety of woodpeckers:
- Northern flicker
- White breasted nuthatch,
- Chickadee, and
- A duo of skittish crows, neither of which is the calm Mr. Jones, though I suspect are his younger siblings he helped raise from the previous year’s brood.
The squirrels have stayed back thus far, the cold rain and mix too much for them to bear. An interesting bit of trivia about birds is the countercurrent heat exchange system within their tiny legs and feet. Even though birds are warm blooded like us—their body temperature a constant 106 degrees—this heat exchange keeps their tootsies from developing frostbite and other maladies that would afflict a warm blooded creature.
Conspicuously absent however is the Carolina wren, a boisterous voiced little fellow. Wondering where this mainstay of my backyard was while the other usual suspects were in a feeding frenzy, I learned Carolina wrens, for all their badass posturing on a normal day, are far more susceptible to harsh weather than your typical bird species. During days such as this one, they retreat to shelter. It’s likely my Carolina brethren of the feathered world are tucked away in my mailbox slot out front with their remaining dried grasses where they nested and gave birth to their offspring in late spring.
When the rain lulls for a moment, I open my back patio door. The birds scatter. I walk up to the feeders and place a partially filled saucer for the rain to collect. During the winter months, fresh, unfrozen water is as important as food for birds. When I return into my house, the birds flock down as before and drink merrily and eat their fill. A cardinal cocks its head, cracking open a black oil sunflower seed. The white throated sparrow bounces around in the mulch, then stops and kicks back bits of composted leaves on the ground, finding a delicacy of some sort.
You may also like: Birds of one feather. Hardened bread crumbs burst into fine white powder, sprinkling to the ground. Seeds crack under the weight of jaws clinching, and in an imperfect circle the birds gather round the old man and strut mechanically, their fat necks jerking. They welcome him as if he is one of their own, and he in turn accepts their embrace.
Nature curiosity: Why don’t birds’ feet freeze?” The Nature Foundation. 24 Jan. 2019.
Tangley, Laura. “Don’t forget water for birds in the winter!” The National Wildlife Federation. 31 Jan. 2019.
A pair of house finches getting a bite to eat from the feeder. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash.