This winter has been the worst one for about 30 years. We have had a block of cold weather that began just before Christmas Eve and lasted until now, sliding towards the end of January. The temperatures have been -40°C or -40°F – take your pick, because at these low temperatures both Celsius and Fahrenheit are all about equal. We are colder than the North Pole. Outside, the birds are taking the hit. They are starving, trying to keep their core temperatures up.
We have a tribe of birds who visit our feeders, all placed strategically outside the kitchen windows. One big one is a covered platform feeder on a tree stump. This also becomes a ground feeder, with splashes of hen ration that fall off and get sprinkled on the ground. There are also the two anti-squirrel feeders, and a tall, boxed-in 6ft. open feeder that is close to one window. This feeder is dual-purpose – it feeds the flying squirrels at night and the birds during the day. There are two hanging sack cages with platforms and a tubular feeder with tiny seeds for the smaller birds.
Then there is the garden itself. I leave selections of weeds untouched for the birds. Some are the knotweeds, also called smartweeds, at the back of the border. These weeds are of the Polygonum, or buckwheat, family and are highly nutritious. I also leave tall, 6ft. spires of Verbascum thapsus, or mullein, the seeds of which plant carry natural antibiotics for birds. The apple and pear cordones are groomed up and down until they are bug-free by all the birds. Then, of course, the russet grouse, gorgeous on the buds. All of the plants, shrubs, and rare trees around the house become a kitchen for birds during the winter.
Last night, Christian and I made a list of our visiting feathered friends. Cardinals, about 6 pairs. Blue jays, around 14-20 birds. There are around 20 juncos in the midst of which are the lone star riders: tree sparrows. Woodpeckers come as the tiny downy, the bigger hairy and the easy-to-spot pileated woodpecker. We have pairs of all of them but the number of pairs are hard to spot together. We have a solid flock of about a hundred robins that disperse down and about the half-mile driveway and come together again when the weather warms. They eat the buckthorns, or Rhamnus, berries sweetened by the frost. All of the finches and pine siskins float in smaller flocks, chattering about the small seeds. They visit the huge loading of the purple cones of the abies concolor candicans, the giant rocky mountain blue fir behind the house. Then I have my favorite bird, one single morning dove, patiently waiting for the others to finish.
The birds are starving because the weather is too cold for them. They have to survive the wintry blasts. They have to maintain fat tissue to survive. It is difficult. Yesterday, I saw the juncos splaying out on the snow, exposing their dark backs to the heat of the sun, trying to stay warm.
Plant trees to stop climate change. Tell your friends to do the same. The birds are starving because of the weather swings. Spring is coming. Sharpen your shovels.