A Winter Survivor

Winter certainly provides plenty of opportunities to engage in winter fun and enjoy its beauty; to me there is nothing more breathtaking than a snow covered landscape. The mountains in Montana hold fond memories of some of these magnificent winter sights. I recently was sent some pictures by some of my relatives that are fortunate enough to call this place home. I wanted to share some of these great pictures with you, so enjoy the short slide show below.

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On the other end of the spectrum, winter can be a tough and challenging time for many animals to survive. I’m always amazed at how wonderfully adapted to these conditions the tiny chickadee are. Early Saturday morning I headed outside to fill my bird feeders as the thermometer was reading -22.  If you’re a little bit crazy like me this is a great time to train wild birds to eat out of your hand. Hunger and the will to survive drives all creatures to be a little bolder than normal. As I held my hand out with seed and peanuts I noticed a couple things: the faces of many of the chickadees actually had frost on the tips of their feathers around their face and eyes, and as they flew back and forth and landed on branches they alternated bringing their little feet up into their body feathers to keep them warm. The pace they did this was amazing; to me it almost looked like they were standing a hot bed of coals, jumping from one foot to the other.

I have read that an active chickadee on a cold day will have a heart rate of 1,000 beats a minute in order to stay warm. Warning: these birds are professionals so don’t try to duplicate this stunt without consulting your doctor first. In order to fuel this astounding metabolism, this little bird will have to consume the energy equivalent of over 150 sunflower seeds in a single day. I’ve observed that each chickadee has its own strategy to accomplish this. Some will fly in and manage to get two seeds at a time before flying off, others will sort through the seeds and grab only the ones that have been shelled out, while others yet have learned that cut up peanuts is the way to go.

Trying to photograph this little guys seems like it would be an easy enough task, seeing as they are so tame. The reality of this couldn’t be farther from the truth because they never stop moving. I must admit that the most humorous part of photographing them is when they keep landing on you and your camera because they think you have treats for them.  As fun as I make it out to be, unfortunately camera batteries and fingers don’t last long in this type of weather. After about 15 or 20 minutes, I was realizing just how amazing it is that these little creatures, and many others, manage to survive day after day in this weather. It also makes me think how much they must appreciate my bird feeder and the little effort it takes me to wander outside and fill it each morning.

 

-Steve Johnson

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