Weather at this time of year is fickle. Two days before Christmas, my son found a green frog hopping across the road in Tremont on a rainy night. The temperature was above freezing. You do not expect to see green frogs out and about this month. These frogs normally hibernate underwater from October to March. What is it doing hopping about in late December? It was a beautiful specimen. Tadpoles of this frog winter over under silt and underwater vegetation.
Another interesting bit of wildlife that has been seen locally in the last few weeks is a yellow-throated warbler. The individual most recently reported was seen in Trescott about a week ago. Warblers of any sort are expected to be gone from this area in the winter. Normally, this warbler is found in Georgia and into the tropics.
This small warbler has a bright yellow throat and upper breast, a black face bordered by white eyebrows, a white patch on the neck and a plain grayish back. It is a beautiful bird that really stands out now in a wintry landscape. The colorful warbler was at a feeder trying to survive the cold and stuffing itself with suet. These warblers normally eat insects, spiders, caterpillars and grasshoppers — all creatures not out and about now. They also are especially fond of a good quality black-oiled sunflower seeds and high fat suet. You just never know when this beautiful warbler may visit you. Be watching for it and feed it well.
Birds at this time of year spend most of our short winter days searching for food and eating. At darkness, they retire to a thicket of evergreens to sleep. Their food is mostly seeds of birches and alders and grasses. At your feeder, they will readily take sunflower seeds, millet, hemp, hayseed and rolled oats.
The bill a bird has determines what it eats. Birds searching for grubs and insects hidden beneath the bark need tweezer-like bills to help with the extraction. The little brown creeper is a fine example of this, but warblers, too, have thin little bills for extracting their small bits of food. Birds of prey have hooked bills for ripping their food apart. Birds that fly through the air catching insects have big mouths and small bills. Birds like the woodcock have very long bills for probing deep into the mud. This amazing bill can even open just at the tip to enable the woodcock to seize the worm beneath the surface of the mud and pull it out.
Great blue herons and other herons have spear-like bills for spearing fish and crabs. The merganser’s serrated bill helps it to hang onto a slippery fish. The hummingbird’s long needle-like bill is for probing deeply into a tubular flower. A bird’s bill is vital tool for its survival.
The eiders seen offshore have an outstanding gizzard that enables them to swallow sea urchins whole and grind them up for nutrients. Watch these birds feed some wintry day around local docks, and you may get to see one swallowing a sea urchin. It takes a bit of doing for the bird to get such a prickly meal down its throat, but it does, and you can almost see the bird smiling and wearing a satisfied expression.
Mourning doves drink and bathe in the melted water at the edge of the roads. If the winter snows are not too crusty, they will winter well, for they need to feed on grasses, weed seeds and any berries they can find. When a freezing ice happens, they have difficulty surviving. Their feet are just not strong enough to scratch through the ice or crusty snow.