The six inches of heavy, wet snow that came last weekend quickly froze overnight, forming a crust so thick that you could stand on it without breaking through. For someone who shovels by hand, getting those paths cleared before the wet snow freezes is a must. I've learned over the years that the best way to deal with frozen snow is to avoid dealing with it.
There are those who have no choice but to contend with the hard, crusty snow. For birds and animals who forage on the ground most of the year, available food sources may be cut in half under these conditions. Light, fluffy snow is easily scratched away by the large feet of a turkey who knows there are some nice acorns underneath. A gray squirrel can smell a buried nut, even under half a foot of snow. In no time, he digs down through the soft snow and unearths his nutty prize. Any time there's enough snow to thoroughly cover the ground, it makes things more difficult for wildlife, but if they can find food by moving some snow, they do. It's a whole new ball game when the snow freezes hard, making it nearly impossible for most of them to dig through. Birds of all kinds, from turkeys to chickadees, are very resourceful, and are good at finding other places for a meal. Every bush and dried plant that is above the snow will be checked out for any weed seeds, berries or nuts. The larger birds, even turkeys, may resort to picking the leaf buds off the tree limbs.
But it's the deer that may have a hard time if these conditions persist. Pawing through the snow for a corn cob or some clover has become a nearly impossible task. Deer can do just fine as long as there are enough fresh buds and twigs to browse on, but getting to them becomes a task when it's hard to walk across the snow. Their sharp hooves break through the icy snow crust, causing their feet and ankles to become scraped and sore.
Finding food becomes even harder when the cold comes—the "real" cold, that is. Sub-zero temperatures are the culprit. The wild ones can fend off the cold, only if they are able to eat enough to keep their body fat stable. Once their food becomes scarce, they will eat less, and their bodies will begin to use their fat reserves. When that happens, the bite of cold becomes sharp.
It's going to be a long winter for many of the creatures who live outdoors, as so much depends on what the weather will bring the next four months. The snow that froze on the ground on December 1st could easily linger into April.
When the snow comes and soon after, I usually get some new visitors to the bird feeders. Since it snowed, there are 6 new Mourning doves who band together on the snow around the feeder. The hard snow makes a good "table-top" for spreading out bird seed. The seed doesn't go to waste, and it's a good way to spread out the birds that feed on the ground. It keeps the squirrels busy too.
In among the 20 Juncos is a single, White-throated sparrow who showed up and tried to blend in yesterday. He seems happy. Maybe he thinks he's a Junco—ha!
It didn't surprise me to see four fat turkeys under the feeder this morning. It's a great opportunity to see these beautiful, big members of the grouse family, close up. They are always welcome in small groups, and while they do eat a lot, I don't mind. Problems start, however, when they show up one day with 30 of their friends. It's hard to discourage so many when they have come for a free handout. Guess we'll just have to wait and see, and deal with it then.
The most interesting new bird this week was a single rooster Pheasant who found his way up the valley after the snow. The non-native Pheasants usually spend their time living in the grassland and marshes along the river valley. I live in a small valley that forks off the river, and although there is a 10 - 15 acre meadow, it's not enough to keep the roaming Pheasants happy. This one was just out looking for something to eat. The fact that he can no longer scratch for food has made him wander. He's the first Pheasant I've see at my place in eight years. Lots of changes come when Nature's trail becomes covered with snow.
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