Birds : Frozen water
The temperature is still cold, and it is undeniably winter, yet spring is in the air. February 2, Groundhog Day, marks the mid-point of the winter, half done with this most brutal of seasons. The calendar we use delineates the start and finish of the seasons at a certain time on a specific day. In the natural world timelines are not nearly so defined.
In the winter, particularly during prolonged cold spells or periods of storms with heavy snow cover, birds are forced to burn up whatever fat reserves they had stored, to survive. They are surviving, but they are so close to the edge, calorically speaking, that there is no margin for error. For example, if a bird feeder is not filled, it could have dire consequences because all other forms of natural food have been covered by snow and because birds become habituated to specific feeders as reliable, lifesaving sources of food,
Small land birds use a lot of energy to stay warm (approximately 106 degrees Fahrenheit), with their metabolisms racing through the winter night. They must have food early and often in the morning. Just look at a black-capped chickadee (11 grams), a song sparrow (20 grams), or a Carolina wren (21 grams) and then think about how much these feathered mites weigh. Remember, we are talking about grams here, and there are 28.35 in one ounce. So a Carolina wren averages less than three quarters of an ounce.
Birds, with their ability to fly, are incredibly weight sensitive. They need to feed heartily and often in order to survive, especially in the cold of winter with short days and long nights. So if you do feed birds or are thinking about feeding birds, it's important to understand the critical part that you play in their lives. While a fun and engaging pastime, it is also a firm and full-time commitment.
Feeding stations, virtually any bird feeder, have been swarming with hungry birds. The numbers and diversity of birds have provided countless hours of entertainment and fascinating observing watching the interactions and antics going on right in front of one's eyes. Widely reported, even though they were not seen to feed at most feeding stations, have been eastern bluebirds.
To birders, these stunning specimens never get old, and can never be seen too often. People who see these birds for the first time, or after a long interval, cannot believe how beautiful they are. The absolutely shocking blueness of their plumage to the human eye is other-worldly. They look marvelous in a snow-covered landscape, traveling in small groups (or occasionally large) often in mixed flocks with other frugivorous (fruit-eating) species. They feed on berries and they are not all that particular. They will eat any berries that are available or accessible.
The berries/fruits of the red cedar, various hollies, poison ivy, green briar, Russian olive, any ornamental fruits including crabapples, pyrocantha, and/or just about any berry they can find, are all suitable for eating. Bluebirds were reported from all Island towns this past week.
The Vineyard has more over-wintering bluebirds than anywhere else in New England. There are large numbers in and around the State Forest in the center of the Island as well as flocks cruising all over looking for food. Areas with lots of red cedars like sections of Katama in Edgartown or Cedar Tree Neck in West Tisbury have lots of bluebirds, as does much of Tea Lane in Chilmark, an area that has large numbers of America Holly trees and lots of other berries. As many as 300 individual bluebirds are spending the winter on the Vineyard this year.
On the waters that surround the Island, sea ducks are getting restless and can be seen displaying and courting. With the days growing longer, these very tough birds have thoughts of heading north to breeding areas devoid of trees. Imagine thinking of the winter waters surrounding the Vineyard as a winter paradise? That is what it is for these birds of the far north. The waterproofing and insulating property of their feathers boggles the mind.
It is interesting to note that males court the females attempting to win her favor with stunning plumage and good display moves. Should the male win the female's attention, the pair heads north along with others in flocks. As they get closer to breeding grounds it is the male who follows the female to an area of her choosing for nesting. Generally females return to the same (or exact) area where they were hatched.
Until next time - keep your eyes to the sky.