Monday, December 14, 2009

Ice Sculptures

If you have never experienced –40 Celsius, or even -30 Celsius, now is the time to step out into a crackling cold -30 Celsius day and go for a walk. It's invigorating! That’s when you can hear that special crunchy sound when you walk on dry, very cold snow. Watch your breath swirl in plumes in front of you. No, I am not describing what it may be like on any winter day in Canada's north, but these days, I am talking about Southern Alberta. With the temperatures that we have been experiencing lately, I have been out checking on how the wildlife has been making out in the frigid temperatures. We may grumble about the temperature, but the cold is actually not a big problem for birds. They are equipped with several layers of fluffy insulating down to trap heat, so you won’t see your local resident Canada goose or this Great Horned Owl shivering. In fact, conditions are positively balmy for those birds that have migrated here from the Arctic, such as the Snowy Owl that you may have observed along the back roads of eastern Alberta. Back several years ago, a covey of Grey Partridges took up residence on a hillside near my work in the center of Calgary. With the conditions outside lately, we have been putting out grain for them to feed on and they have become accustomed to showing up at feeding time to forage through the snow for this grain. If you are feeding birds, remember that the birds will become dependent on the food you supply, so it is important to make sure you continue to feed them through the winter months. Providing a fresh ice-free supply of water is another cold weather essential during the winter months. It is finding food and ensuring they eat enough of it to build and maintain adequate fat supplies, to store on the body and ‘burn’ for energy that are the greatest tests for wild birds in winter. This becomes even more difficult in hard weather when snow and ice hide once easily available natural food. Water birds such as ducks and geese are forced to leave the sanctuary of the Bow River and go out to forage in grain fields covered in snow. During cold snaps you will almost certainly notice more birds coming into your yard to seek sanctuary from the harsher environment, particularly if you provide food on a regular basis. The variety of species may increase too and you may be lucky enough to attract unusual visitors such as Red polls that have migrated south for the winter from our far north. You may well witness a flurry of bird activity first thing in the morning as they replenish energy lost overnight, and last thing in the afternoon as they prepare for the long night ahead. I came across quite a few deer who are also braving the weather these days in search of their next meal. Mule deer as well as White tailed deer change their diets out of necessity. Since they can no longer forage on herbaceous plants, their stomachs’ chemistry shifts to assimilating woody browse. That is, they feed on buds and twigs. Some deer researchers have postulated that whitetails cut their metabolic rate almost in half during the winter. It’s a good thing that human beings don’t to that degree or we’d really be in bad shape when spring rolls around. So remember, sitting in the house beside a fire, is not all what it is cracked up to be. Get out and go for a walk on that dry very cold snow that gives off that special crunchy sound as you walk on it. Till then - keep warm.

No comments yet