Wildlife works to survive in cold weather

Barbara Hootman Columnist

A dip in the jet stream has returned temperatures to normal for this time of year, even bringing a dusting of snow to the mountains. Add wind chill to the falling temperature and it was finger-numbing weather. January is living up to its reputation of being one of the coldest months of the year.

Nature is not idle as winter flexes its strength. Notice how iridescent the green and blue is becoming on the heads of mallard drakes. When the sun hits the color just right it is beautiful. It is pairing time for ducks. Purple Martin scouts are beginning to arrive in southern Florida. The scouts lead their colonies back to the breeding grounds each year.

Winter crows are concerned with survival of the family unit. In January, crow families are still together foraging for food and traveling to the communal roost at night. They are vocal during the day as they spread out, keeping in touch with family members with different vocalizations.

The communal night roost provides protection and social interaction. Some juveniles stay with their parents for up to two years learning behavior, survival and vocalizations, and how to be crows. The nightly communal roost is especially important to them. Each night it is like clan gathering time.

Juncos, true winter birds, hold their own with other ground feeding birds, especially their cousins the sparrows. While foraging for food the Junco is usually not a bully nor will it be bullied by other birds. It is well-behaved and tolerant of other birds, always giving them plenty of room to eat. It can make a meal on seeds scattered by other birds, and can often be found feeding just a little before daylight.

Pileated woodpeckers are beginning to drum to announce future breeding areas. Both the male and female drum to keep up with where each other are. In the winter they drill holes to find their favorite meal, carpenter ants. They will come to ground feeders, but are shy about mixing with other birds.

Cardinals begin practicing their breeding songs in January. By March they will sing 200 or more songs per hour in the early morning hours. Both male and females begin territorial calls and brief songs in January. Food habits of cardinals change during the year. Research shows that from November through April, more than 75 percent of their diet consists of vegetable material. The lack of insects such as beetles, grasshoppers and crickets are responsible for the change.

Since winter has arrived in the mountains, make sure the ground feeders have fresh seed daily so snow and moisture won’t freeze the food source to the ground or cover it.

As colder temperature stakes claim to the mountains, the chickadees rely more and more on feeders. Research shows when temperatures fall below 10 degrees, survival rate of chickadees more than doubles when they have access to feeders with good quality seeds. They can gain as much as 10 percent of their body weight each day and lose it again during a cold winter night. Research shows although chickadees are tough little birds. They need 20 times more food than they do in summer to survive winter. They have already begun to make territorial calls.

There are a lot of titmice visiting feeders because the young ones usually stay with the parents through the first winter. They always choose the largest sunflower seed to fly away with it to eat and cache. They also are great protectors of other small birds with their alarm calls that tend to fade off into the distance giving the illusion that the bird is somewhere it isn’t. Notice at the feeder they are dominate over the chickadees.

Nuthatches are spending time foraging for food and seem to feel more confident when in the company of a titmouse who will sound the alarm quickly if danger is close. The female nuthatch sticks close to the male and does a lot of protecting so he can find the good food. The male and female stay in constant contact with each other with chatter when only a few feet apart.

Mourning doves arrive at ground and hanging feeders in small flocks that can grow to a couple dozen birds quickly, and they consume whatever is available. They pass out a lot of wing flicks to their group members. With these birds they have the attitude of wait your turn. Some of them have bully personalities. When foraging for food, they can fill their entire crop and fly to a tree to digest the seeds.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking, and keep the bird feeders full.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.