Waterloo County, ON
16 February 2015
Overnight we set a record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in our area. The mercury dipped to minus 34°C - and that is air temperature without any effect of wind chill. By the time I went for my walk along the Benjamin Park Trail mid afternoon it was a sunny minus 16, and that's about as high as it got. We are enveloped in a stationary system of frigid arctic air and no amelioration is predicted for a few days yet.
It is quite incredible that birds survive these conditions, but they do so, and by first light they will start to visit my feeders to replenish the reserves of fat consumed during the hours of darkness just to maintain their core temperature. Many of these species, such as this Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis, are little more than tiny little bundles of feathers.
And therein lies the secret, of course. Their insulating plumage is such a model of efficiency that they are able to totally trap the warm air from their bodies without having it escape.
In most years both local species of nuthatch visit my feeders regularly, but this year other than for one visit of a Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis only the White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis has been a regular.
This bird is very adept at extracting a peanut in almost no time at all. Sometimes it is eaten right away but most often the bird flies off with it and we follow it to a tree where it can be seen hammering its prize under the bark or into a suitable cavity.
Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus are one of our most abundant species and their cheerful chickadee-dee-dee call on a cold winter's day is a welcome addition to the crisp and snowy landscape. Now I am already hearing their fee-bee mating repertoire as they start to pair off.
As I walked along the trail a Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus was busily probing the surface of the trees to find whatever source of protein and fat was there.
American Tree Sparrows Spizella arborea breed much farther north and spend the winter at this latitude.
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis is a relative newcomer to Ontario, having first been recorded in 1910. It has slowly expanded its range northwards and now seems well-equipped to handle whatever winter brings. A friend of mine told me that he heard the first male singing the other day, so we know that spring is not far behind.
Obviously it is not only passerines that endure the cold winters here and this Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis was perched stoically in a tree, sitting out the frigid conditions.
Despite its challenges winter brings a charm all of its own and beauty is all around for those who care to get out and look.
Much as we all might prefer a constant temperature of around 20° life is just not like that. I can tell you that I have experienced 40 below and 45 above and I know which I prefer, if I have to endure either one. No matter how cold, one can always layer up and stay warm. In oppressive heat one simply cannot escape it and there is no recourse but to head indoors. It's going to be cold again today, but I will be outside regardless. Want to join me for a walk in the snow? And by the way, a few birds will be sure to come along with us. They might even sing to you.