Backyard Visitors

I just got back from a trip to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The birds down there are awesome! The state of Texas does an excellent job in promoting the unique wildlife that they have by establishing state parks, wildlife refuges, bird sanctuaries where concentrations of animals occur. There’s not as much public land as compared to MN, and some private ranches are opening up their ranches to wildlife observance and photography. One thing that all these locations have in common is water. In a state that’s as dry as Texas, and especially so this year since they are in a severe drought, water attracts all kinds of critters. Whether naturally occurring in the landscape or a water hole that’s been created, a water feature is sure to bring in hordes of birds and wildlife.

So when I got back to MN I thought how similar our winter landscape is to a desert. While we have an abundance of water, most all of the accessible water is frozen at this time of year. Then how do our animals survive in this hostile environment? All our winter birds have adapted by being able to eat snow. While it cools down their bodies as the snow melts, their metabolism adjusts for the conditions. The birds that migrate don’t have the ability to process snow for a water source – their bodies can’t handle the chill.

So, as in other years I have placed a heated bird bath out by my bird feeding stations. Back in 2008, a Yellow-rumped Warbler ( http://blog.visitcranelake.com/minus-33-and-counting-feb-4-2007/  )  spent the winter due in most part to the open water that was available in my backyard. Some birds choose to not migrate if food and water is available – like the Robins that have been wintering with increasing frequency in the past several years in MN. I have since found out that Yellow-rumped Warblers as compared to the other Wood-warblers, are more adept at spending the winter in cold climates because of their ability to change their diet to seeds and berries, instead of the insects that they eat during the summer. In fact, many birds change their diets drastically when they go south and winter in forests ripe with fruits, berries, and flowers. Some Warblers start sipping nectar from flowers and eat fruit while in their tropical winter home. But that’s a whole other story that’s very complex and best explained by someone else. (I’ve been reading “Living on the Wind across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul – absolutely a must read – it’s very well written and easy to read and understand)

Here’s one of those birds that should have migrated by now:

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

The Common Grackle. In summer we actually get annoyed with these birds. They are aggressive with the other birds and their song in not very attractive, but in some of these photos its actually kind of easy to appreciate their attractive plumage. In just the right light, the Grackle has the effervescent feathers that reflect purples, blues, and a brassy color when the sun’s rays hit them just right. They’re really quite beautiful.

Grackle

Grackle

Unfortunately, this bird has some sort of problem, as he should have migrated by now. It is rare that you see one of these birds all alone, most times they are in a tight flock. I can’t see if this bird is injured or not as it looks like he can fly okay. He eats sunflower seeds and drinks the fresh water.

Grackle, common

Grackle, common

I think he appreciates the food and water and I’m sure as the winter goes on that he will make an attempt to travel south if he is able.

Weasel/Ermine

Weasel/Ermine

And the birds aren’t the only ones that like the oasis, this little guy is also taking a part of the delicacy (suet) that hangs on the tree.

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2 Responses to Backyard Visitors

  1. Lynne at Hasty Brook says:

    Neat photo of the ermine! They are so fast I’ve never gotten a picture.

    • Orchard says:

      Actually, Ive been seeing a lot of animals this year that should have migrated already. The seasons are a bit screwed up this year! That is amazon picture of the ermine, btw!

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