Greetings & Best wishes for 2016, dear Reader. We very much appreciate you following along with our musings and workings through the seasons on our colonial farm.
All across the northeast, temperatures dropped dramatically this past week and each morning dawned brisk and crystal clear. Heavy frost clung to the grasses and reeds in the field, and a thin glaze of ice formed on the ponds.
As I walked out the back door this morning, a group of startled chickadees burst from the nearby cedar shrub. I wondered if and why they had rested in the shrub, rather than in some seemingly more snug nests in tree cavities, during the preceding evening. Thankfully, Bernd Heinrich explains this behavior in his eloquently written book, Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival. Apparently, black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus) do not use their nests in the winter for shelter and warmth, but instead “…may sleep in almost any tight cranny or cavity (as can sometimes be deduced from their bent tail feathers in the morning); in dense vegetation such as vines; in conifers; and possibly in snow.”
Heinrich further explains that chickadees, as do other small birds and mammals, activate torpor in the winter, setting down the body temperature to conserve energy. Chickadees stoke up their body fat during the day by foraging for food and, as evening comes on, lower their body temperature by two degrees, thus allowing for winter survival. By visiting our bird feeder, these active birds hopefully eat enough on a daily basis to make it through each night. And, Heinrich further notes, that in addition to their dense plumage, they tuck their heads under their shoulder feathers to maintain warmth during the night.
So, during cold winter months, eat well during the day and plump up your feathers in the evening.
Bernd Heinrich, Winter World The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, (Ecco Paper Back, 2004), pgs., 9-11, 135-139.