Frigid winds and swirling snow seem to be our semi-daily fare this month. Whatever happened to the February thaw with its warm wonderful days, mourning-cloak butterflies being seen and patches of snow fleas appearing in the sunny ski tracks?
The deep snow and cold temperatures are giving all creatures difficulty in sustaining life. There are some ways, though, that you can help at least a little bit with the wildlife living near you. The times of preparation is over for wildlife, but there are ways that will assist in helping them to “tough it out” successfully. There is no doubt about it that winter is a stressful time for all life forms. As drops of water came into my house, I was stressed! Bird feeders, of course help many birds with a food supply. This gives them an easily gotten good energy supply. Pick those seeds and foods that are high in fat and oil, such as suet, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and Nyjer.
Being creative in giving water is important as well. Drinking water is at a premium when the temperatures drop below freezing. In the winter, you have to be creative in putting out warm water, and maybe even installing a heater will be the way to do it. Be creative. When temperatures rise in the daytime and icicles drip, birds often drink from them. Chickadees even hover like hummingbirds and drink from icicles.
Even at Radio Beach in Manset, there is a spot where the fresh water from a nearby pond seeps through the soil and on to the beach just before it empties into the ocean. At low tide, there are always birds drinking there no matter what the season. In the warmer months, it is a favorite place of mine to watch wildlife and enjoy the Maine coast.
Putting up empty bird houses here and there might be appreciated too as places to sleep on frigid nights. Earlier in the fall, it is always a good idea to establish brush piles for shelters on your property for small mammals and other wildlife. Raking leaves and gardens before winter may make a property owner feel better about things, but from wildlife’s point of view, it is a major “blow” to surviving the winter. Removing prime sources of food and shelter is not a good plan. You can do the animals a favor by not raking, trimming and doing other such yard work, and it will increase survival in any wildlife living near you. It actually is helpful not to go nipping and tucking garden beds in the fall but to let them be protection for wildlife when harsh conditions come in the winter months. Hardy ferns, along with large flowers like sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, sedums, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, phlox, joe-pye weed and dianthus provide food and protection for birds.
Even though you have to disturb your wood pile, it frequently makes a good wildlife shelter. Pile your logs crisscross in order to create internal spaces for animals to hide in for shelter from the elements.
Ants and termites hide below the frost line. Communal living insects, such as bees, cluster together as the temperatures drop, and they use their collective heat to survive. Other insects go into a deep sleep or torpor, which is a temporary state of suspension. In some parts of the world, certain creatures actually will freeze solid in order to survive. Many insects appear to make their own natural “anti freeze.”
Sizeable flocks of Bohemian waxwings are being seen in several places on Mount Desert Island. These slightly larger waxwings are quite beautiful, and they frequently wander into this area in the winter. The usual spot to find them is in a bush or tree still having dried fruit available. The bird appears like an oversized cedar waxwing. It has some white in the wing and has chestnut red under tail coverts instead of white ones. This is a good time to watch for them.
A most unusual cardinal arrived on a local feeder recently. The bird was mostly white with a bit of crimson showing here and there. When this odd coloring appears, it is called leucistic. A true albino has pink eyes as well. No matter what this condition is called, when a normally crimson bird comes to your feeder with mostly white feathers and just a touch of pinkish here and there, it attracts your attention. There is no mistaking the cardinal shape and its crest, but the color was all wrong. A friend of mine commented that he didn’t think it would last the winter since it stood out among all the other birds. There are excellent articles to be found online along with nice illustrations if you are interested in this topic. The condition can occur in any creature.
February is coming to an end very soon, and it will be remember for all the storms. Deer are not particularly happy when the snow is as deep as it is now. Fifteen inches is about enough for them, and we certainly have exceeded that! When the snow is deep and they have to lift their legs with difficulty to move about, deer “yard up,” spending much of the day in one area where they can rest, stand or lie down. They trample pathways to favorite feeding areas and when pressed for food, reach as high as they can to get the bark off young hemlocks. Deer do have front teeth and have to strip the bark by raking it upward with their lower incisors. Life is hard for members of the deer family right now.
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.