Some birds are downright cute! Black-capped chickadees, Anna’s hummingbirds, and dark-eyed juncos seem to me to be cute! The fluffing out of their feathers on cold days give them a little butterball look.
They look sporty right now, too. Their winter feathers are beginning to brighten as they get ready for spring and the job of attracting a mate! Right now both males and females are happy to be together feasting on grains at the feeders. Soon they will begin to be a little aggressive toward one another as the nesting season approaches and a few lay claim to taking up residence on the property.
As I write, it is very cold on the Peninsula, colder than usual. The cutie pies and other species depend on our feeders for food and sustenance especially during the colder weather.
Insect eaters find it especially hard in the cold. The Anna’s hummingbird, for example, desperately needs the nectar we provide at hummer feeders, so it can cope with the cold as many other bird species who live in cold climates do. The Anna’s hummingbird is able to lower its body temperature at night a few degrees to conserve energy. Between this feat and our feeders, the Anna’s is able to survive our winters. Scientists have found that some birds can put themselves in a state of what is called torpor.
“This is a short term state of slowed body functions used to conserve energy and heat, somewhat similar to hibernation but not as extreme” (BWD, 2019). For most such species, a state of torpor may only last for a few hours but could extend overnight. Of the cuties it is known that hummingbirds and chickadees are among the species that make use of torpor.
Have you noticed that before a storm or very inclement weather birds flock to our feeders? The birds are good predictors of what is to come in terms of “bad” weather. They come to fatten up so they can hunker down to wait out the stormy weather. In this case, they prefer sheltered spots and areas that are out of the wind. Having a feeder or two in such a location will help them when the weather is cold.
In general, scientists remind us that we don’t really have to worry about our feathered friends in winter because Mother Nature has seen to it that they have adaptations that help them survive. However, as I have said in other writings, we can help them cope as well, by providing good quality grains, such as black oil seed (sunflower), which is high in energy.
Suet also provides energy and is especially loved and enjoyed by the chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Providing water is another way to help the birds in winter. I use a heated birdbath in winter so there is always water available for drinking or bathing. This is valuable if we experience freezing temperature, but these seldom occur on the Peninsula.
Watching the “Puffballs and Cutie Pies” at the feeders today set me to thinking about them in dog days of winter … the coldest days and nights of the year, and how they adapt. Watch for these little fluff balls of winter. What do they make you think about these days?
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula” by Dr. Madeline Kalbach and Susan Stauffer is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Center.