Birds in a Blizzard

Chirpings January 2010
by Patti Muzny

What a difference winter temperatures can make in feeder activity! Before the infamous Christmas Eve blizzard, our south Oklahoma City feeders had light to moderate activity. On Christmas Eve afternoon, when the north wind howled and drove sleet and snow in a menacing horizontal attack on our corner of the world, the birds began to seek food and shelter with reckless abandonment.

The little brush pile was becoming buried in snow, so we put out seed under the roof of our patio, although the patio deck was quickly being covered with drifting snow. We cracked pecans, put out grapes, raisins, wild bird millet mix and black Russian sunflower seed. The Bewick’s Wren huddled in the corner right next to the back door and would venture out quickly to hunt grab a morsel of pecan or search underneath the patio roof for any stray insect it might find. The House Finches, Cardinals, Juncos, Mockingbirds, House Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and Harris’s Sparrows even landed on the picnic table and the House Finches roosted on the ceiling fans, the windowsills and protected sides of the patio cover. When the snow drifted onto the deck and under the patio, we had to put seed just under our low windowsills, the birds came in close to feed. Their need of protection and food overcame their natural fear of humans.

During the next few extremely cold days, we had as many as 24 Cardinals, over 30 House Finches, several flocks of White-crowned and Harris’s Sparrows, a pair of Chickadees and a flock of Juncos. It was great to see so many Cardinals, after having so few on our Washita NWR and Oklahoma City CBCs.

The neighborhood Cooper’s Hawk also came to try to find a meal. She would perch on the birdbath and raise first one foot, then the other, while searching high and low for the carelessness of something lower down the food chain. Every few minutes she would shake the snow from her feathers, while trying to keep her balance on the edge of a concrete bird bath.

On January 2nd, we returned from the Cleveland County CBC to find the Cooper’s in the yard. My husband said he had seen her catch something. Of course, I had to run out to the back portion of our yard to see what she’d had for early dinner. I was not going to be very pleased if I found a red “feather puddle!” To my great relief, all that remained were black feathers and a bloody yellow beak. Sometimes the “good” birds do escape the talons of a hungry predator.

While the snow was on the ground, the Cooper’s spent many hours waiting and watching. When the temperatures moderated, the hawk was not seen very often. Also the feeder birds dwindled in numbers, although we still go through quite an impressive amount of seed. This might be due in part to our neighbor’s chickens, which seem to have decided what we offer is better than the chicken scratch they get across the street!

We always know when the roosters are coming around to the back, because they’ve decided the brick planter in the front, under our bedroom window, makes an awesome perch from which to begin crowing! The first morning this practice began, I nearly jumped out of bed! Usually I hear them from across the street, not eight feet from my dozing face!

Other birds in the yard have included Eurasian Collared Doves, Mourning Doves, Robins, fly-overs of Canadian Geese, Starlings, Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds.

A trip to our property at Byars, OK, let me add a good year bird to my list – a busy Brown Thrasher. It was in a tangle of vines and tossing leaves and woods litter in every direction. After each toss, it would peer at me. We also added a Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk and the first of the year Turkey Vulture. The pond was frozen and a pitiful looking Great Blue was strolling glumly around the edge, trying to find something to eat.