As this column takes shape, I am looking over
my front yard jungle from the relative comfort of my den (workroom) after
a night of temps well below zero, and the first thought that I have is
not of the beauty of winter.
It is nature’s cruelty. Not animals preying on
each other in the name of sustenance, but of weather preying on all outdoor
Yes! I am seeing birds at two of my ground feeding
stations. There are the sparrows (but not as many of them), bluejays, chickadees,
woodpeckers (even the pileateds), nuthatches and starlings. Absent from
my roll call is the pair of Carolina wrens, which I have watched for years,
and which I also know are sensitive to extreme cold.
They survived the last time we experienced sub-zero
temps, but that clipper from Canada did not bring temperatures that were
quite so cold.
This set of circumstances tends to influence
my thinking that the cheery little fellows may have frozen out of Northern
Indiana (maybe all of it) and now must start a long tough regimen for their
return. They like it here and we like to host our Southern neighbors.
Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am. My pair of Carolinas
take cover in trying weather in a little nest box that snuggles next to
the south side of the house well under the overhangs. But I fear it is
still very cold in this sanctuary and that a closer check will allay my
worst fears. I guess what I really want is news about them. If you
still host them, I would like to know (as I am sure other birders would).
If you lost them, I still want to know.
It may be that the so-called songbirds – including
the Carolina wrens, merely take a page from the Canada goose and dabbling
ducks when extremely cold weather hits. Not every nature enthusiast agrees,
but I have long felt that a heavy cover of snow and low temperatures merely
sends them far enough south to find food and comfort.. Movement of geese
in the past tends to support the theory that they move with the weather,
returning when weather breaks and food is uncovered in harvested farm fields.
There is at least that hope.
Of course, geese and ducks can stand some pretty
rigorous weather by using expanses of ice on big lakes as resting and roosting
Our recent days of sub-zero temperatures recall
my most recent experience with the winter wren, the smallest and darkest
of the clan that is not often seen in this part of the country. I think
it lives up to its name, frequenting our brush and brambles only when low
temps of the northland send them.
Some seven years ago on a really rotten winter
day, I took my seat on the top deck over the river in my back yard to watch
geese and big ducks. Snow whipped in on a stiff northwestern wind, and
as the day waned I suddenly became aware that something was very near.
Allowing my eyes to move from water level to
the floor of the deck two or three feet away without moving my body, I
feasted on knowledge as the little sprite moved about the deck feeding
on things I couldn’t see. Then, as darkness closed in, the little fellow
took respite in the root wad of a maple tree where he would know no wind
or cold. He would make it through the night.
It was a wonderful experience. I sat in the cold
darkness for quite a spell . . . just savoring it.