First, let this lovely Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) and me wish you – fellow nature lovers and blog readers – all the best as we look to the future in this year of 2015! May your minor disappointments (life is not always rosy) be compensated by love, laughter, health and happiness in abundance!
Yesterday may have been a minor disappointment for the wildlife here. On Sunday, it was very cold for North Carolina standards. Together with two other Audubon Society volunteers, I was standing at a local lake in 15°F (-9.4°C) weather waiting to see if any bald eagles flew by for inclusion in the quarterly Eagle Count. We didn’t see any, although this lovely hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) was nearby eating berries.
Monday was warmer but EXTREMELY wet! Two of my cats awakened me at 5 a.m. and I could hear the rain coming down in a veritable deluge. I wondered if I would be able to see the road to drive for an appointment later that morning (it did let up, thank goodness) and also wondered how the birds and animals were keeping in this unpleasant weather.
When it’s cold, the birds fluff up their feathers to trap air pockets by their bodies; this helps they retain body heat and stay warmer. Heavier wet feathers don’t seem to fluff well, though. On the other hand, birds’ feathers are covered with an oily or waxy substance that helps water run off, thereby keeping their bodies drier. Those feathers don’t necessarily look pretty though. Many of the birds were indeed looking bedraggled, some to a greater degree and others just a bit like these Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis).
It didn’t seem that many birds were hiding in vegetation to get out from under the downpour. Nope – they all appeared to be very hungry and anxious for a meal like this red-bellied woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), who was scolding me for being so close to the feeders!
A few white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) were also wet and hungry, including two visitors to my yard that I had not seen before. They were two bucks, one of whom must have been hit by a car. One of his antlers was broken off and he was hopping along holding up his left hind leg, which had obviously been injured.
A young doe, who visits regularly, stopped for some bird seed, as did the other buck whose antlers had been shed. Their thick hair was coated in raindrops.
The Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) can curl their tails up over their backs as a kind of natural umbrella, both on the ground and in trees. This individual, who may have been injured by a predator and escaped, enjoyed some apple – first on the ground and then later in the tree away from the blue jays that were hopping around it.
Some of the birds definitely looked more presentable than other. The three visiting mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) were sleek and beautiful, one using its long tail tobalance as it plucked meal worms from a feeder designed for somewhat smaller birds.
The dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis), Eastern towhees (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) and chipping sparrows (Spizella passerina) looked in fine shape, too.
The bluebirds (Sialia sialis) varied in appearance; a couple looked groomed but wet, while a couple others looked a bit disheveled.
The pine warbler (Setophaga pinus) – usually among the more handsome garden birds – unfortunately looked a sorry sight. Fortunately, when the rain ends, he’ll be able to shake that water off and get back to looking like one of the handsome fellas of the avian neighborhood!
The ruby-crowned kinglet’s (Regulus calendula) oily feather covering seemed to do well in keeping the rainwater at bay, while the brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla) looked a bit more water-logged.
The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) and Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) join me in looking forward to dryer and sunnier weather in a few days’ time!