This was a real opportunity for me to photograph our local birds in snowy, freezing weather. I was interested to see what impact(s) this weather would have, and observe the birds’ adjustment in terms of behavior, especially their feeding in the wild. We know that birds have several ways in general of dealing with cold. Of course many of them migrate to warmer climes as a major adjustment. But when they are in their normal environment for the season and are confronted with a drastic change quickly, what other coping strategies do they have? Below are a few of their amazing adjustments:
-- Many, such as woodpeckers store food, especially in the fall when it is plentiful--and they can REMEMBER where it is!!
-- Chickadees and hummingbirds can lower their temperature by entering a partial state of torpor, reducing caloric needs.
-- They can fluff up their feathers, using the downy feathers to trap air and create insulation.
-- Birds in colder climes grow more feathers before winter.
-- Outer feathers can be coated with oil, creating waterproofing.
-- Fueling up before night-Robins have a generous throat pouch in which they can pack a lot of food to digest overnight.
-- Shivering-Birds shiver like us to ward off cold.
-- Feet and legs are covered with scales that minimize heat loss.
--While fluffing, one foot at a time can be be raised up into the fluff.
-- Sunning out of the wind to raise body heat.
-- Many birds roost together for warmth.
I wanted to see if I could recognize any of these behaviors or other adjustments of our local birds and capture them in photos. I chose two sites locally where I frequently visit so I could be familiar with the birds usual behavior. I went to each place for three days. I choose The Field which is one of my favorite and most frequently visited site, and the local Wastewater Treatment Plant which has extensive water and fields.
Of interest at the Wastewater site was a warm water canal which drains the treated water from the treatment site into the local Tar River and borders the swamp area along the river. This water is warmed by the treatment process. The fields had 4 inches of snow covering and the swamp area was completely frozen. The river and swampland here offer food sites for many ducks, mergansers, and other wading and probing birds such as herons, killdeer, and Common Snipe. My main interest here was to see if any birds used the canal and its warm water as an asset in the cold weather. On each visit here, I noticed several species not normally seen in the canal area. Each visit I found a variety of ducks such as Wood Ducks, Mallards, Pintails, Baffleheads, and Hooded Mergansers feeding directly in the canal. Apparently feeding along the canal water edges were many Killdeer. Also never seen here before were a dozen or so Common Snipe. The swamp areas frozen, they were here probing the soft edges of the canal for worms, etc. They were usually right at the fast flowing head where the warm water first comes out of the treatment plant. Many other birds including Cardinals, Blackbirds, Sparrows, and Meadowlarks were also observed along the edges of the canal. A Northern Harrier was seen all three days cruising up and down the canal looking for a meal, and a Merlin was sitting on the bank of the canal on the second day. I attribute the presence of the birds here to the frozen nature of their normal feeding areas coupled with the relative warmth of the canal area.
My interest in The Field site centered on observing the feeding behavior of the birds I frequently see there this time of year. Here the snow cover was 5-6 inches and all the ponds and streams were frozen This greatly restricted the usual field feeding areas of birds like Meadowlarks, sparrows, Robins, blackbirds, etc. I spent a lot of time parked in my car(In MY effort to stay warm) along an edge of the woods facing the southern sun all day. The field along this woods edge usually hold many field birds year round. This location was out of the wind and was relatively warm compared to the outer areas of the field. I visited this spot each of the 3 days for about 3 hours. Each day I was fascinated to see and be able to photograph so many birds. At the edge of the field/woods, and extending about 15 yards into the woods was an area of only partial snow to a thick blanket of leaves 5-6 inches deep and short grasses. The only food visible to me was several poison ivy vines with remaining berries. . Robins and Blue Jays were making good use of these and had stripped the berries by the 3rd day. Most of the feeding action here was on the ground with much rooting around in the leaves and short grassy areas. There were a few woodpeckers poking around in the trees finding stored items poked previously into holes and crevices. Birds seen here included sparrows, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Bluebirds, the very striking Meadowlarks, Blackbirds, Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Hermit Thrush, Kinglets, and Titmice. I believe the relative warm edge of the woods here, coupled with the lack of ability to locate food in the open field areas created this gathering of feeders. See the pictures below for some interesting shots of the birds mentioned above.