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A Year of Birds 2022: February

The deer come to the bird feeder, and try to finish off any seeds left over. I see them each evening at around 4:30 pm. The numbers vary, but with the long, hard cold of winter, they are desperate for food. They are also fairly tame; I can almost walk up to them and pet them.

photo of three deer at a bird feeder
Getting a snack once the sun goes down

The squirrels are also gathered each day by the bird feeder, waiting. There are two red squirrels, and two large black squirrels. They believe that I am feeding THEM instead of the birds, and the red squirrels will fuss at me if I come too near what they seem to consider “their” territory. I will stand next to the feeder after putting seed in, to allow the chickadees first dibs at the seeds, since the squirrels will chase them away. The black squirrels are less aggressive, and I am always amazed at how large their tails are!

Black squirrel with snow on his fur
The seeds this fellow eats keeps him plump even in the cold of a Michigan winter

The chickadees greet me each day, and I see them huddled in the pines near the feeder, looking like fluffy balls in the cold. They will now eat out of the pan filled with seed as I hold it, and one brave chickadee (who I have named “Cheedee”) will come to my arm for a second. He often cocks his head to the side, looking at me, as if trying to figure out why a human would want to feed the birds in this bitter weather.

Chickadees are beautiful in flight
Chickadees are beautiful in flight – they looked like miniature winged angels

While they usually grab a seed from the feeder, then go to a pine to eat it, they will also occasionally go down on the ground and eat. I can’t help but wonder how they keep their feet from freezing when temperatures are less than 10 degrees outside. To find out, I grabbed a bird book and learned that birds have a method of slowing bloodflow to their extremities to prevent heat loss; and then the blood is ‘released’ in a slow surge to prevent freezing. It’s amazing how God takes care of these beautiful creatures, and even lets their core temperature drop at night to conserve energy in a kind of torpor. But unlike humans, they can “rev up” their core temperature in the am without any difficulty. Wow.

The chickadees fluff up to trap heat beneath their feathers in severe cold

After the chickadees eat, if I am still, the cardinals will come. They are beautiful,  flashes of red feathers against the white snow and green pines. The jays still look down from the trees above, as if trying to decide whether or not it is safe to come to the feeder with a human nearby, even after all this time. The bravest come first, and then the others follow. Soon, the feeder looks like a wildlife gathering with birds of several varieties (nuthatch, cardinal, jay, yellow bellow sapsucker and chickadee, with an occasional titmouse), squirrels, a rabbit, a chipmunk, and squirrels all vying for the life-giving food.

photo of a northern cardinal on a tree branch
This male northern cardinal stands out and adds a flash of bright color to the bleak winter setting

When the weather is coldest, and it seems as if winter will never end, I have an amazing birding experience.  I have been searching every time I go into town for the snowy owl, hoping for a glimpse. Finally, I am driving by one afternoon, look up, and there he is! The snowy is taking a midday nap on top of one of the hospital’s lights, which creates a white platform for him to rest on. I know this is a male by the white colored feathers, with only a few dark bars. I am careful not to disturb him as I snap photo after photo. He rouses very slightly, rotates his head a bit, then settles back to sleep. I decide to leave him, and go home, excited about this sighting.

snowy owl on top of a light
Snowy owls are beautiful and at times find unusual perches while resting during the day

The bay is now covered in ice, as the temperatures dip to zero degrees almost daily. It is lovely, frozen and bare.  And one day, I see an amazing sight out on the ice-covered bay. Two juvenile bald eagles fly onto the ice and even posture with one another. The juveniles often hunt together in the winter, and this is the closest I have ever seen them. I wish them good “ice fishing” as they search for fish.

two juvenile bald eagles on the ice
Two juvenile bald eagles on the ice on the bay

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