The snowy landscape here in the Kickapoo Valley makes it much easier to spot wildlife. A Red fox may appear to jump right out at you when sighted against the white snow on a sunny hillside. If there were no snow, you probably wouldn't notice him. A flock of turkeys scratching around in a field of corn stubble would also be hard to notice without snow. Now they can be spotted a quarter mile away, standing out like sore thumbs against the white landscape. A rough-legged hawk can easily be spotted hovering over a grassy field. The field voles he is hunting for can also be much easier to detect as they scurry from one snowy patch of grass to the next.
The snow is a real help to someone who likes to pay attention to birds when driving though the countryside. The most obvious bird is the one who clashes the most with the white snow. The dark colored turkeys are one good example, but the birds that stand out the most are the jet black crows.
It's not often a crow is seen all alone. More likely, when there is one, there are several others nearby. Each morning, just before sun-up, they spread out in the sky a quarter to a half mile apart as they follow each other to the west.
Like the turkeys, the crows find safety in numbers, as well as helping each other find food. Crows are extremely strong flyers, and have no trouble making good time, even in a strong head-wind. They are also very agile when on the wing, always using the wind to their advantage. I never tire of watching the crows' acrobatics as they stoop at each other, doing playful mid-air loop-de-loops and rollovers with ease.
No matter what the weather—rain, snow, wind or cold—the crows follow their same daily routine. Each morning they fly to a place where they can find food—a corn or soybean field, maybe, or a road killed deer that has yet to be picked clean. The rest of the day they spend playing, but always on the lookout for something to eat, like a bag from a fast food restaurant tossed thoughtlessly along the roadside. Maybe they discover a trash can that has fallen over, and pick through the contents for anything edible. They are also often drawn to small, shiny objects such as hair pins, coins, bottle caps, gum wrappers, or small toys. They seem to enjoy flying off with these treasured items and finding a place to hide them.
Sometimes a flock of crows will have great fun harassing a roosting owl or hawk who just wants to be left alone. When they discover one of these feathered predators, the hawks' excited calls can be heard from a half mile away. The crows are natural pranksters, and they always seem to be up for a new adventure.
I was surprised to see a flock of 35 robins a couple weeks ago, in mid-February. I'm not sure whether they could be considered a sign of spring or just a flock that has been living in the area all winter, but my gut tells me the latter. If the weather warms up to the 30s and 40s for a few days, there will be some new signs of spring, and we're all looking forward to that.
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