Where do birds sleep on cold winter nights?
By Bert Raynes, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
December 12, 2012
On mornings in late fall or early winter in the northern Rockies, when it’s around freezing one way or another and it’s raining — again, day after day — one wonders where wildlife spend their nights.
Big animals, those with large body mass (and fur), can handle exposure if they are healthy and have food: elk, moose, plus horses and cattle. Waterfowl live in their preferred habitat — no worries normally. How earth-dwelling creatures keep from being flooded out and becoming super-exposed to predators is a puzzle. Maybe they don’t.
Dog-size animals will find shelter if there is any. Shelter takes myriad forms. “Any port” and all that. But what about birds? Many birds weigh mere ounces and are insulated by dry feathers. Soaked feathers won’t preserve body heat.
Yet here comes the morning visit of a small group of chickadees looking good and acting normally after a night of showers alternating rain and snow. Where did they sleep?
Back awhile I tried to follow various birds to see where they went as dark approached. There’s a time when birds are just visible (to me), and mere moments later it’s too dark to see them. That’s when the birds go — somewhere.
Birds have choices: trees, primarily. Tucked into crannies under limbs of deciduous trees, crevices in rocks. Urban areas probably provide many more nooks and crannies than nature may. I used to wonder what concerned bird-watchers might do to provide shelter for sleeping birds, but I never came up with good ideas.
Perhaps if one wasn’t musing on this topic while at breakfast in a warm room and with a hot beverage, ideas might occur more often. Let me know.
Today, as I scribble, is Dec. 7, 2012. Pearl Harbor Day observed and on the news. Pearl Harbor was attacked 71 years ago, yet it’s in the news today. It seems that a new documentary finally revealing all the secrets of that day will be aired.
World War II was a terrible war. All wars are terrible. Good that at least World War II taught the entire world that war is too terrible to wage in future. Simply look back over 70 years to notice. Peace prevails.
Looking out, I think this day would be uncomfortable for Christmas bird counters: damp, low ceiling, sloppy. Hope the weather will “improve” for the Jackson Hole Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 16. Participants will census designated areas inside a 15-mile-diameter circle whose center is Highway 89 and the Gros Ventre Road intersection.
Everyone welcome. Show up at the Virginian Restaurant at 7 a.m. Sunday if you’re not already signed up but want to participate. The more the better the count, and the more fun.
Morning of Dec. 8: Snow overnight and the valley floor begins to look more like winter. Some sun, breezy and cold. Hope you have your bird feeders correctly out and full.
On an average Christmas Bird Count in Jackson Hole around 55-60 individual bird species are censused. All told, around 90 species have been spotted so far in the Hole. There are wintering birds here even on unpleasant weather days. This winter some seed crops have failed or are limited in the Far North, and some finches or owls may have to come south. Common redpolls are indeed being seen in the Jackson Hole region.
Christmas Bird Counts, well over a century along now, are widely considered the earliest citizen science effort.
Field notes: Weather forecasts suggest that December 2012 has seen winter weather reach Jackson Hole after a period of unusual warm days, even weeks. The change is expected — even predicted — to move elk, bison, deer and moose to winter quarters. Birds too.
Rough-legged hawks are still being seen locally, as are common redpolls, trumpeter swans, an occasional harrier and waterfowl. Time to feed your birds.
Year 2012 in the most popular calendar is fast coming to a close. Tradition mingles with novelty and surprises. This season, national politics are indeed in the mix. Happy holidays.
© Bert Raynes 2012
Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.