Peak leaf color time is busy for trees and wildlife.

Barbara Hootman

It is peak leaf color season which is living up to predictions. After more than a week of often hard rains and a week-end of high winds there were doubts that Mother Nature would come through with spectacular color, but she did, and it is expected to last into November.

The latest prolonged rain produced problems for wild birds. The number one problem was avoiding hypothermia. Birds stay warm by trapping tiny pockets of air under their feathers. If the pockets fill with water instead of air, the birds get cold quickly, and lose body heat.

Smaller birds lose body heat quicker than larger ones because they have a smaller energy reserve. Small birds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and sparrows seek shelter quicker than bigger birds. They can stay sheltered only so long and then they have to eat. In downpour rain, they are wet repeatedly throughout the day.

Starvation is the second biggest problem unrelenting rain poses. People can wait out a week long rain, but birds can’t. They have to find food even in a down pour.

The intensity of rain makes a difference in bird survival. Light rain isn’t a problem. In heavy rain birds sleek down feathers tightly to reduce getting wet to the skin.

Birds don’t feed nearly as often or for as long during a hard rain event. Feeders on covered porches and close to shrubs are a boost to birds in bad weather.

Rain or shine Blue Jays look for peanuts in the shells. They are known for their intelligence and complex social structure with close family ties. Some call Jays predators because it has been documented that they raid nests and destroy or eat eggs and kill young birds. Researchers agree it is far less often than originally thought.

Some jays migrate and others do not. Researchers don’t know a lot about Blue Jay migration, but they can confirm that it is the young jays that have not established permanent territories that are most likely to migrate to southern states for the winter. They will return by early March to be among the first on the breeding grounds.

Jays migrating take off about an hour after sunrise, and land by noon to feed and rest. They also travel in groups of 15 to 20 birds, but when they land, they may join many other groups that have found a good feeding spot.

Blue Jays are not always the controlling bird at a feeding station. They are dominated by wood peckers and squirrels especially in the fall. They are often prevented from eating until the other birds are finished.

The bridle like marking across a Jay’s face, nape and throat are distinguishing marks. It varies extensively and may help jays recognize each other.

They like acorns as much as squirrels. This year they will be deprived of white oak acorns to cache. Those feeding peanuts may be buying a lot more this year because many birds enjoy them, along with the jays.

Peanuts in the shells are a favorite of jays. Each bird can stuff from three to five peanuts in the throat during one feeder visit. Jays pick up a peanut and shake it to determine if it is full. It is a discard if there aren’t enough peanuts in it.

Blue Jays living mostly on acorns begin to lose body mass because of lack of protein. If the acorns have weevils (bugs) in them, they have the necessary protein.

Jays bury only perfect acorns. They also often fly as far as a couple of miles to cache them in the fall. It is a record flight for a bird to stash food. They can also stuff up to 100 sunflower seeds in their throat in one feeder visit. No wonder the feeders empty so quickly. The jays much prefer platform feeders to the tube types.

Wood ducks leave for southern states by mid-October.

This year’s chickadee offspring have left their natal territory and are busy establishing residence with other non-related chickadees several miles away. Young titmice spend winter at local feeders with their parents. First year chickadees and titmice have the lowest status at the feeders.

Pumpkins are favorite fall yard decorations. They aren’t just for Halloween but for October through November decorations. When you carve pumpkins remember wildlife think the scooped out seeds are a delicacy, and trashed, used pumpkins are enjoyed by many wild critters.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing. Take in the bird feeders by late afternoon, and leave out the hummingbird feeders for at least two weeks after you have seen the last hummingbird.

May you always hear the sound of wings.