Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Frozen Birds

Bluebird - Patty Hatcher

Patty Hatcher mentioned her frozen Bluebird at Monday's meeting so I asked her for more information.

"Found this poor guy immobilized in the snow Monday evening.  He was barely alive.  Hoping I could save him I brought him in, wrapped him in a towel and put him in a box.  He looked at me and moved a bit but in the end closed his eyes.  I feel better knowing he didn’t die frozen in the snow."

Then my neighbor sent pictures of a Downy Woodpecker frozen in place on a tree trunk so I asked Becky Swearingen to educate us.

Downy Woodpecker - Garin Ferguson


Keeping Birds Safe in Extreme Cold - Becky Swearingen

Larry Gurian
We have been getting reports of birds that are succumbing to the extreme cold temperatures. As you watch your birds, there are several behaviors you might notice. Birds are puffing up their feathers to provide extra air space around their bodies that will help contain their body heat. They are also seen tucking one of their feet into their feathers or roosting close to the feeders with their bill tucked. These are additional ways to retain their body heat. Something else you might see is birds huddling close to one another to share their body heat.  There are some ways we can help our feathered friends survive this extreme cold weather event.

First, try to keep some open water available. Ideally, that would be a heater in a bird bath, but alternatively, you could put fresh warm water out periodically throughout the day. I have gone out several times over the past few days and knocked off the ice and snow that accumulates around the rim of the bird bath. This makes it easier for those little birds to get to the water.

Keep your feeders full and clear of snow. They are eating a massive amount right now. They need the calories to help them keep warm. I am filling my feeders three or four times a day. Clear your feeders of snow. I do that several times a day when it is snowing. You can also put out additional feeders if you have them.

Feed good, high energy foods. These are things like peanuts, peanut butter, suet, mealworm (live or freeze-dried), and sunflower chips. I have also cut up an apple and put it in some peanut butter for birds like the mockingbirds. I sometimes make a special treat of peanut butter, corn meal and raisins when it is frigidly cold.

Make sure food is available first thing in the morning. I fill my feeders in the evening so there is food for the birds as they start getting out first thing in the morning. They need that early morning energy boost after not eating during the night.

One thing I do is shovel an area on the patio and in the yard and sprinkle seed on the ground for those ground feeders, like Dark Eyed Juncos and White Throated Sparrows. I usually just sprinkle White Proso Millet, but I’m currently sprinkling a mix that also has nuts and seeds in it. Some different birds are coming to the food on the ground right now, like Robins. Food is scarce for all the birds, so even birds we don’t think of as feeder birds are appreciating the extra fat in their diet. If you can do it easily, you might even consider making a windbreak by your ground feeding area so the birds can feed out of the wind.

Finally, keep those bird houses out. There are some birds that do roost in bird houses in the winter. Bird Watchers Digest even suggests putting dried grass or wood shavings (not sawdust) in the houses for additional insulation. Another type of shelter might be a brush pile. I have an area in my yard where I pile up limbs. I also add additional leaves to that area in the fall. This provides some additional shelter for birds.

Here is a great resource from the Audubon Society: Audubon Guide to Winter Bird-Feeding | Audubon

Editor's note:  Becky spends more on bird food that we do for us!

An associate of ours has salvaged the birds for education. He has a US Fish & Wildlife Service permit* so that he can teach his students how to prepare specimens and maintain a museum collection.  He currently has 3 students that participate in the club group.  His comments:
"The students have expressed to me that they feel that by preparing the specimen, they are honoring the bird's life in a way. They grow a personal connection to that species, which I hope will someday translate into a conservation connection. The dissection often lends itself to an anatomical comparisons between groups of birds. For instance, one student prepared her first hawk and commented on how different the leg anatomy was on a bird of prey than the songbirds she had worked on in the past. The specimens in my possession are used to teach students about biology. I find that a specimen of a real bird is much more valuable than a photo."
* According to the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, it is illegal to possess any part of a bird that belongs to a species protected by the US Fish & Wildlife Service without proper authorization. Native bird species (except game birds within their hunting season) are included under this act. Parts of birds include feathers, nests, eggs, and body parts. Typically when someone finds a deceased bird, it is best to leave it where you find it, so that its nutrients can be returned to the environment. However, in some circumstances, people wish to contribute the bird to a museum collection for scientific purposes. The benefits of museum specimens are numerous and include providing educational specimens for future learning, as well as providing references from the past for scientific studies. In this way, the bird can be thought of as taking on a second life.

In order to legally collect a deceased bird, the bird must end up in a permitted museum collection. If you come across a deceased bird, contact a permitted institution to see if they will accept your donation.   If so, some information will also need to be included to maximize the value of the specimen. Use a permanent marker to write on a Ziplock bag. You should write your name (since you are the collector), the date, and a location. GPS coordinates are ideal, but an address or even a nearby intersection will suffice. Wrapping the bird in a paper towel and placing it inside the Ziploc bag will help prevent it from drying out. Then get the bird into a freezer to prevent decay. The specimen should be delivered to a permitted individual as soon as possible.