When Times Get Tough, the Tough Get Going

Submitted by Art and Barb Straub,

February of 2023 is testing the metal of both human and beast. Yes, we’ve had cold winters before, and we’ll have them again; also, we’ve experienced deep snow in the past, perhaps we’ve been spoiled of recent years with less winter precipitation. However, the cold of late, plus days coupled with a northwest wind… goes right to our seniors’ gizzards! It’s the ice underneath the snow that adds insult to injury, and there have been many an injury. Even though ice has a beauty of its own, its cruelty is cutting…in more ways than one.

The ice coating of weeks ago, hoarfrost, freezing fog, etc., on top of the first snows, followed by intermittent white stuff, is a challenge to feathered and furred friends. Consider wild turkeys for instance. In our Tyrone area, the 2022 spring turkey hatch was unparalleled. Three turkey hens hatched 12 poults apiece. Within four days, perhaps nine survived, (protein treat for raccoons, opossums, skunks and friends.) Normally, heavy rains would claim their share of fluffy bodies, but not in summer, 2022. The poults grew to the juvenile stage, and parent turkeys taught their talented teens the delight of dusting amongst newly transplanted tomatoes, vegetable seedlings and vine plants, much to our chagrin. The disagreement over ‘who gets what’ went on all summer.

Jump to the present. A majority of those June turkeyettes are now just short of full grown. The mast crop (acorns especially) was a ‘bust.’
Came the ice, followed by snow, equaling three-foot drifts throughout forests and fields. Result: Hunger and eventually starvation unless the weather mitigates. Victory Miller in “The Thrifty Homemaker” tells us that a wild turkey can survive two weeks without food, living upon body fat stored away while grazing during autumn, and by thievery. Turkeys sport weapons to fend for food, protection and menacing fellow turkeys. (See photo). What use are those physical tools…toenails and spurs…after cutting through the crusted snow and ice- bound earth only to find……. ?

We have two turkey tales of February 1st. Rounding a bend on a country road, two sights remain indelibly embedded in the gray matter. Atop a twenty-foot tree, a set of turkeys scrambled among the limbs, ingesting berries, we are assuming the small fruits to be relatives of chokecherries. Down the road apiece, a flock of eleven turks dropped out of a flowering crab tree, just having finished a breakfast of little applets. Does this tell us how hungry they were?

Next, the trail camera captured a dead turkey lying affront a live bird. Poor frozen creature, but then, the dead arose and walked away. We learned that turkeys will sit on their cold feet for a few minutes to warm their toasies! This is commonplace as we found in the attached photo. On the other feather, (all readers know this,) turkeys sleep at night on tree limbs high in the sky, twos and threes and fours all bunched together, tucking their bare toes under strong feathers to fend off frostbite. Leg bones have little tissue, thus very little blood flows through the bird’s leg veins. Warm blood from the heart flows down the legs, cold blood from the toes goes back to the heart for warming. The process is called “counter-current-heat-exchange.” So there.

Do you suppose this premise also applies to robins attempting to stay in Minnesota during winter months? In December of 2022, citizens in the area were reporting robins singing…couldn’t believe their ears. On a whim, we visited a small evergreen forest where flocks of robins were reported in former years. As the sun set and even on cloudy evenings, THOUSANDS of robins dropped in and settled down. Rounds of two and three thousand came undulating into the copse, evening after evening, always from the north and northwest. As temperatures have bottomed, so have the number of birds. By January 25th, 2023, the number decreased to 965. A stray black cat plus a Cooper’s hawk from previous nights may have disturbed the birds. Who wants to get up in the middle of a frigid night to flee a screech owl? Watch the skies, you may observe a surprise!