Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I find snowy winters beautiful, but then I don't have to be out it one for longer than I care to be. I have forced air heat (hate it, but until I can afford to redo the house with radiant floor heat, I'm stuck with it), running water (so long as the power stays on) and can go to the grocery store ahead of a forecasted storm (if I wish to join the crazed masses doing likewise). For most of the species on this planet, winter survival depends on an individual's health, genetic coding, ingenuity, and a whole lotta luck.

The birds have been hitting the feeders pretty hard over the past couple of days, another sure sign we're in for it. Again. Just when significant portions of my yard were becoming exposed (again). And the birds that don't normally visit for handouts were quite active this morning as well. It's always a bad sign, weather-wise, when the brown thrashers are digging around the base of the feeders. (Come to think of it, I saw a rufous-sided towhee looking for leftovers within the last 48 hours too.) And then there are these poor critters…

See it? Here, have a closer look.

My, what a big bill you have!

"All the better for digging up worms." Digging deep, too.

Note how even though the woodcock has its head down to the full depth of its bill, it can still see all around.

The woodcock aren't the only birds to be taking advantage of open ground. There were plenty of sparrows and finches (and probably a towhee or two) kicking around under the evergreens as well. A Fox Sparrow briefly abandons the handouts to see what's up, or rather down under, where the woodcock is.

Proper--and improper--use of feeding methods and adaptations illustrated. Note how the sparrow, typically a kick-and-pick feeder, has its beak buried in the leaf litter like the woodcock but, unlike the auger-for-a-living woodcock, the sparrow is completely blind.

Couldn't resist this view. (Not that I took it on purpose! I was just shooting randomly. Camouflaged critters are not easy to photograph at a distance, as you may be able to tell from these severely cropped and tweaked photos.)

With a clatter of wings, my subject ends up out in the snow.

And, after a bit of a look-see, heads back to warmer ground. And company. I believe there was a bit of a fuss as these two poked their way around the same patch and met in the middle, causing the one bird to give ground temporarily. But then they both finally noticed me, or some other suspicious character lurking around the yard, and took evasive action. Which, if you're a woodcock, means you simply freeze, sit tight, watch and wait.

Even though I'm a lazy and inconsistent provider of supplemental seed (feeding the birds, while it can help individuals make it through tough times they may not otherwise survive--and, when enough folks do it, may possibly contribute to species expanding their winter ranges due to the fact that most birds migrate because of food [lack thereof] and not climate conditions--is pretty much purely for the human's benefit) I must admit that when watching woodcocks in the depths of a snowier-than-usual winter, I have wondered if anyone has tried raising earthworms in order to put out a dirt-and-worm-filled tray for these dumplings when the ground freezes up unexpectedly.

Timberdoodle say: Keep one eye to sky!