Friday, December 11, 2009

Cold Snap

The few of you who follow this blog may remember last December's winter storm that dumped several inches of snow and sent temperatures into the teens. We haven't received any snow yet, but we had a heck of a cold snap this week. Lows in the teens and even single digits trumped last December's cold snap and made life miserable for our hummingbirds again.



Temperatures began to drop into the mid-20s last Saturday and Sunday evening. Then an Arctic high pressure system hit on Monday and drove temperatures down further, with temperatures remaining above freezing throughout much of the week. While the cold was a minor annoyance to species such as the American Goldfinches pictured on the left, this weather presented a much more problematic scenario for our Anna's Hummingbirds. Not only do hummers in general expend a ridiculous amount of energy by beating their wings 80 times per second, their natural winter food sources (small insects such as ticks and mites) tend to not hang around on the surfaces of plants in this weather. Thus, hummers are even more reliant on sugar-water feeders in these conditions - to the point where they're almost completely dependent on them. While sugar-water feeders typically stay thawed down to about 27 degrees, that's not much help when it's 12 degrees at dawn. To help combat this, I've wrapped the feeder in bubble wrap, stored it in my bathtub overnight, taken it out at twilight (7 am), taken it back inside to warm with a hair dryer at 8:30, and have let the sun do its job while I'm at work. Even if the feeder froze in the late morning before re-thawing, the hummers still had the ability to energize in the morning and late in the afternoon. And thankfully, both of our resident Anna's managed to survive. (Temperatures are back to normal this evening.)


An Anna's Hummingbird energizes on a very cold morning.


An "Audubon's" Yellow-rumped Warbler prepares to dine on suet.


A flock of Bushtits crowd the caged suet feeder on a chilly morning.

The cold has brought out a few more of the "usual suspects." This includes an uptick in House Finches (up to 7 at a time now), Bushtits (flocks of 20+), Scrub-Jays (3 at a time), Juncos (8-10 at a time) and, unfortunately, Starlings as well (thankfully only 4 at a time). Interestingly, American Goldfinches have been on the decline since we first moved in. Not sure what that's all about, but they're notoriously nomadic so it's not exactly a shocker.



The one exciting "new" yard bird observed recently is the White-crowned Sparrow (above). First observed last Saturday, this one has visited the yard to feed on millet and cracked corn just about every day since. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the closely-related White-throated Sparrow observed last month appears to be long gone. Thankfully, our two Golden-crowned Sparrows are still daily visitors.


A Western Scrub-Jay prepared to go in for some peanuts.


One of our two Golden-crowned Sparrows perches atop our neighbor's fence.


Well, it's been a full month now and still no woodpeckers (not even a Downy!). Hopefully that changes soon. And, who knows, maybe some Pine Siskins will show up as well. Until next time...

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