When it’s too cold to grab a peanut

The porch thermometer read -10 F (-23 C) and there was bright sun in the backyard, but there were no birds and no squirrels present at or under the feeders.  Finally about 10 a.m., the first foragers appeared.  The thermometer had worked its way up to just under 0 degrees F (-18 C), but the wind was blowing, so windchill temps would be well below 0 F.

male northern cardinal-winter plumage

Mr. Cardinal monitored the surroundings while Mrs. Cardinal foraged at the bird feeder.

female northern cardinal

She is finding the discarded sunflower seeds left by the chickadees and nuthatches who pitch them out of the feeder in search of peanuts instead.  The wind is fluffing out her feathers, but also carrying away her body heat.

White-breasted Nuthatch stashing a peanut

This White-breasted Nuthatch is stashing a peanut in a bark crevice, where it will hammer at it until it breaks off pieces it can eat.  I wonder if the crevices are more apparent when they are upside down, or it’s easier to break them up when they come at it upside down????

White-breasted Nuthatch stashing a peanut

After much hammering away, the Nuthatch has reduced the peanut (directly under its beak) to just a small chunk.

White-breasted Nuthatch basking on a cold morning

You know it’s cold when you see a Nuthatch pause for several minutes in its foraging efforts to bask in the sunlight. The bird’s back was directly facing the morning sun.

Black-capped Chickadee

Peanuts are the preferred high-energy foods on subzero days.

Black-capped Chickadee drilling a peanut

The Chickadee’s method of eating the peanut is much different — grasping the nut with its foot, the bird drilled into it to break off small chunks.  But peanuts at -10F must be brick hard, because this bird drilled it over and over and was only able to break off small bits.  After much effort it finally flew off with the nut, perhaps to its roost hole.

American Goldfinch and Black-capped Chickadee

The Goldfinch watched the Chickadee eating a peanut but made no attempt to go find some food for itself at the feeder.

Two birds exhibiting contrasting strategies for surviving harsh winters in the northern temperate climates:  Goldfinches turn up their metabolic furnace to keep their body temperatures stable on extremely cold winter nights; they do this by harvesting fat-rich seeds (like sunflower seeds) and keeping their fat reserves high.  Chickadees are primarily insectivores that do eat seeds in the winter, but typically conserve their internal fuel resources by lowering their body temperatures at night — just in case they need it to find food the next day.

Black-capped Chickadee

The heartiest of little winter birds…Chickadees are survivors!

By noon, the wind had picked up, and the temperature had dropped again, on its way down to an overnight low of -27 F (-32 C), and I didn’t see birds at the feeder for the rest of the afternoon.  I hope they survived overnight!

Return of the fox

I wasn’t happy to wake up to -20 F on my first morning back in Minnesota.  That’s a 90 degree difference between the balmy weather I left in California and the frigid cold I returned to!   But my first visitor of the morning made it worth it.

red fox

The fox didn’t sit still long in this frigid weather. Activity helps keep a body warm on days like these.

red fox

I think the red foxes have a new den, hopefully far removed from the dogs wandering through the wetland in the way backyard. Occasionally, however they stop in to visit — hoping for a stray rodent to surface through the snow.

50 and counting…

nights below 0 F (-18 C)!

I had a two week break from this, and now I am doubly tired of this miserable cold weather.  Is this the winter of no end?  (whine, whine…)

About 20 inches of snow fell in the backyard while I was gone.  The birdbath and the swing are buried.  Fortunately there was still seed in the bird feeders.

About 20 inches of snow fell in the backyard while I was gone. The birdbath and the swing are buried. Fortunately there was still seed in the bird feeders.

Mr or Mrs. Red Fox dropped by briefly, so perhaps they are going to use their den on the hill again to raise a litter.

Mr or Mrs. Red Fox dropped by briefly, so perhaps they are going to use their den on the hill again to raise a litter.  Wrong lens on the camera, and he/she didn’t give me a chance to grab the telephoto.

Meanwhile the east coast is enduring yet another snow/ice fall with all the discomforts that go along with that kind of weather.

But we shall endure….right?

Wouldn't you rather be here?

Wouldn’t you rather be here?

A really cold day

It’s -13 F (or -25 C) at 8 a.m.  The screen door handle is so cold it sticks to what little moisture is on my fingers.  Both the upper and lower panes of my leaky kitchen window have a lovely crop of fern flowers.

The view looking out my kitchen window at the garage -- cold!

The view looking out my kitchen window at the garage — cold!

Fern flowers are really quite pretty.  For explanation of how they form, see my earlier post,

Fern flowers are really quite pretty. For explanation of how they form, see my earlier post, Jan. 20, 2012.

Despite the chill, the chickadees, goldfinches, and nuthatches are already busy at the feeders.  You have to be impressed that such little birds that weigh less than or about the same as a packet of ketchup can stay warm in this frigid cold.

American Goldfinch, taken through my porch window.  I'm not opening the windows today!

American Goldfinch, taken through my porch window. I’m not opening the windows today!

No bad weather seems to stop these little guys.

No bad weather seems to stop these little guys.