February 22, 2021
When I got up this morning the temperature was 45F on its way to 65F. The snow that had blanketed the ground was nearly gone. Now we are set for another week of warm weather, including 70F during the day tomorrow, before we drop back into our winter pattern of 50’s in the afternoon and high 30’s to low 40’s at night. That means I can remove the afghans that have covered the outdoor succulents to protect them from the bitter cold. This will allow them to breath again and hopefully recover in the sunshine we have predicted. It seems that our crazy weather is finally going to get back to normal.
The front-page story in my newspaper this morning explained how nature had been impacted by the winter storm(s) we have just gone through. When it snows the birds are not able to find their natural food sources on the ground and instead rely on bird feeders. Dr. Ragupathy Kannan is an ornithologist with the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and explained how the snow impacts wild populations. One of the species are the “snowbirds” Melissa has loved to watch since childhood. These are the Dark eyed Junco’s that tend to arrive at yard feeders with the first snowfall of the year. While I have yet to identify several other prominent visitors, the Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice (along with cardinals and robins I have seen) are also attracted to the feeders during snow. Melissa and I have both enjoyed the antics as the birds have grappled for control of the seed. Perhaps now they will get back to normal.
Like so many things, what creates hardship for one class provides a boon for another. Ryan Pankau of the University of Illinois explained that Insects tend to bury their larva only to a depth to avoid the normal ground freeze. This allows the insects to survive winter while making it easier for the new adults to emerge from the ground the next spring (I always wondered where they went, and what the Robins were feeding on my lawn during winter). In Arkansas that is only a few inches. The intense cold means the ground freezes deeper unless it is blanketed by the insulating snow. While the birds are hindered, the insects they feed on benefit from the additional cover. Snow insulates the ground and keeps it from a deep freeze. This is the normal process of even a human impacted ecosystem.
Thoughts: I was not surprised to find my feeders empty when I checked this morning. I have been having to refill them more often during the cold and snow. While it did not surprise me, I did find it interesting that the number of birds I have been seeing are declined now that natural sources are available. We have been getting upwards to 50 birds of a variety of species daily, and this does not include the 30-40 blackbirds that descend and eat everything in sight. When I put out seed today, there were a few birds who were instantly on the feeders, but the frenzy was over. I have commented on the frenzy feeding that has happened at our grocery during the same period. I have been pleased to see the relieve (food and water) that has poured into Texas and especially Houston amid their crises. While we are not able to fly south as easily as the birds, we are able to transport the food and water normally available. This is part of caring for each other. Follow the science. Do the work. Change is coming and it starts with you.