|12-25-00 [first published in 2001]
Christmas morning: It is
colder than billybejabbers, but tightly bundled I start the walk out to
the mail box and suddenly this frigid morning is alive with cheer and goodness.
I see no reindeer tracks, but flitting about on the crest of the snow are
two little birds, the size of chickadees, perhaps smaller.
They exhibit no fear of me so I strike up a one-way conversation with
what I have quickly determined to be a pair (or at least two) young-adult
golden-crowned kinglets. "Hello there!," I say aloud, but softly, "Would
you like to be my friends?" They do not answer, but they do not fly away
either. I call that implied acceptance. They are busily engaged at picking
up minute dark spots from the snow, apparently pieces from the cones of
the large conifers or catkins from the nest of big birch trees. My monologue
goes for naught, I figure, but I continue.
I want to tell the visitors that they are welcome at the sunflower seed
feeder in the front yard, and at my ground feeding station under the bushes
in the back yard where they will daily find fresh supplies of cracked hickory
nuts, sunflower seed, shelled corn and other goodies. I tell them about
the beef kidney fat feeder (a great substitute for suet because it crumbles
more readily) hanging between the little red bud trees outside the back
door, if they do not mind sharing with the rowdy woodpecker clan. And finally
I tell them that they can make it through another cold winter night by
sneaking into the hollow sassafras swirl under the overhang at the back
door, if they can beat the Carolina wrens to this favored spot.
The cheerful little critters disappear almost as swiftly as they appeared.
The snow crunches under my step (the surest sign of extremely cold air
temperature) and I realize that Christmas is not just for man and that
the "Gift of the Magi" is not always sheathed in brightly-colored paper,
that sometimes it can be wrapped in olive drab feathers with a slash of
yellow fore-and-aft in the crown.
ABOUT FEEDING BIRDS
Some biologists and other folks at the Department of Natural Resources
(DNR) are stuck on the notion that feeding birds and wild animals is not
best for these critters. I do not buy that. It may also be true, that those
who feed birds are feeding their egos more than the critters. It is only
logic that a bird or animal conditioned to find its food without man's
interference is better prepared to fend for itself in severe weather. Still,
a bird with a full crop would have to be better prepared for a miserable
night than a bird that has had less to eat.
Add up the facts and it becomes obvious that the conditions we have
had for some two weeks, dictate that this is time to help birds. And though
ground feeding stations (with snow scraped down to bare earth, under trees
or shrubs to thwart invasion by hawks) probably are best for feeding most
birds, providing roosting spots that will offer protection from cold nights
also are important. Brush piles, hedges or shrubs covered by snow make
excellent roosts for birds, but pieces of wood with hollows (natural or
man-made) make great roosting spots when positioned under overhangs of
houses and buildings.
A few years back I would leave my garage door open late in the afternoon
and a pair of Carolina wrens would roost there, anxious to get out when
morning came. Now, while cutting wood and doing other chores around my
front-yard jungle, I create brush piles and place hollow pieces of wood
in places where birds can find nighttime shelter. Anything that breaks
the wind will help.
I used to worry about squirrels that had to depend on leaf nests for
a beds on cold winter nights. But these nests of dry leaves are layered
and so tightly woven (with small, side entrances) that they will turn back
the wind. And when the squirrel rolls up in a ball surrounded by that big,
bushy tail, a harsh winter night can be tamed.