Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Winter birds

This has been our first full winter here, and our first winter as retired persons, so there has been a good bit of down time. More time to set up and watch the bird feeder outside the sunroom windows. More time to look them up in the field guide.

More time to start a "birding life list". I'm not going to get serious about this, it's really just being more observant of our new home's fellow inhabitants. What I've noticed so far is that there aren't as many species hanging around our feeder as I would have thought.
As follows:
black capped chickadee
purple finch
blue jay
red bellied woodpecker
rose breasted grosbeak
american goldfinch
downy woodpecker
mourning dove

Some of these we only saw once or twice, and maybe were flukes, or just passing through. The far and away greatest numbers have been the first two, black capped chickadees and juncos. I'm sure during migrations, and during summer, we'll see plenty of others.

And what has slowly dawned on me is how amazing these little guys are to stay here through the winter. These little puffs of feathers stay here through blizzards, -20F or lower temps, combined with high winds, and I can't bundle up enough to go get the mail without whining. I don't care if feathers are super insulation, they lose heat, and have to eat enough calories to counteract that, while all that's left to eat are the few seeds still above the snow and maybe not even much of that by late February. 

A little reading about bird thermoregulation tells me that some species huddle. I don't know if these guys do that, but it's still amazing that they can survive the winter. Some species also do a partial, controlled hypothermia.

Prior to watching the birds the last few weeks, I had been admiring the mammals that live here. This admiration came about while sitting in a tree freezing my tuchus off during deer season, and again thinking how the deer ( as well as all the other critters) are out there in the coldest, windiest, most miserable weather ALL THE TIME! I've now decided that birds are even more impressive, as they have the highest surface area to volume ratios, the highest base metabolism rates, and the most exposure to high winds, which increases heat transfer. ( that's the rationale behind wind chill ratings).

While I note that being out and active every day helps me acclimate, and tolerate colder weather than otherwise, I'd be dead without all the clothes and boots, the shelter and other accoutrements of our technology. It is common sense to me that while we humans have colonized nearly every region of the planet, our origins are tropical.

On a related note- this photo is of the cat that has been a regular this winter, coming past the house as part of his hunting routine. He is very wary, and I am not sure if he is a barn cat, or an inside outside cat, but I don't think he is feral. He is a big, healthy appearing guy with a beautifully marked coat, and we have seen him actually catch a mouse in the grass right outside our patio doors. He doesn't care about the cold either.

This photo was taken through the patio door, or I would never have gotten this close. He was poised, ready to leap at my slightest move inside the door as we stared at each other for probably 15 seconds.

Cats- to my mind, not sure we should call them domesticated. 

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