Hunger Makes For Odd Bed Partners

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub

Consider two feet or more of snow on the earth, in cities and country. Consider an ice cover beneath the snow. Consider much of the cropland barren and black. Consider much of the forest devoid of ‘mast,’ that is, acorns, etc. Consider exceptional cold after a blizzard and heavy snow. Consider birds and mammals which don’t store food. Consider “Only the hardiest may survive.” These are all food for thought as we head into January with deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and a myriad species of birds all looking for sustenance.

As a result, a number of the normally arch-enemies in the natural world sit down at table (scrunch down in snow) side by side under bird-feeders eking out a meal, IF humans have provided the same. In a matter of days/weeks, stored fat (energy) in feathered/furred bodies will be absorbed, and then?
Critters begin eyeing one another for necessary sustenance. It’s part of the great cycle of life is it not?

While observing our personal bird feeding stations, we were amazed to see a familiar all-season bird suffering from what we have considered a spring/summer affliction. A female house finch has what appears to be Avian Mycophlasmal Conjunctivitis. This is a condition wherein eye tissue swells, becomes irritated, crusts over, and most often leads to blindness when occurring in both eyes. Can you imagine a blind bird surviving for any length of time in the best of weather, much less winter? Although some birds recover, most do not. What can one do? Not much chance of one capturing the afflicted creature is there? Then what would to do? Birds of other species, such as goldfinches, cardinals, others may also become infected. Should one stop feeding birds altogether, or, KEEP THOSE BIRD FEEDERS CLEAN? On the other feather, those which survive will be stronger, healthier birds when the dilemma lessens.

Remember our favorite phrase, in nature, “expect the unexpected.” A LeSueur party phoned to say
“I’m seeing large numbers of birds, and they are singing as though it’s springtime. What’s going on, and are they possibly robins?” Surprise! They ARE robins, and many are roosting overnight in selected spots where small coniferous forests are found in our area. Yes! Each evening as the sun sinks into the western sky, robins gather in large numbers to roost. In fact, since the first of January, “rounds” or “blushes” of robins frequent LeSueur. We thought we were dizzy the first night they whisked low above our heads, more than 5,000 in fact. Three-thousand-plus have been the usual number gathering each sun-down since that time. We do not disclose the roost, as it’s on private property, but we do have as a witness a LeSueur policeman and a couple of alert citizens.
Who pays attention to flocks of birds anyhow? if they are roosting in LeSueur, they must be in other cities? Henderson, LeCenter, others, check it out and communicate back, 507.665.2658.

A first alert of unusual robin gatherings appeared with the reports of numerous area Citizen Scientists during the annual (26 years) NEY Christmas Bird Count. Two-hundred forty-four were counted that day, December 17! People couldn’t believe what they were observing. While we’re at it, results from that count are thus. The winners and NOT champions were house sparrows, 491. Sightings of that invasive species were continuous all autumn. After sparrows, emerged juncos, 409, last year’s champion; then rock dove, (feral pigeons,) 384; Canada geese, 267; European starlings, 264; American robins, 244; wild turkeys, 190; black-capped chickadee, 154; blue jays, 141; Northern cardinal, 128. Total birds counted: 3,713.
Total species, 43, with 54 human participants.
Final results may be obtained from Alex Colling, NEY Center, 507.3507.8580. CONGRATULATIONS AND THANK YOU, citizen scientists!!! We’ll be asking your assistance again in December, 2023.