Those of us who live in the Great Plains and Upper Midwest have been looking for Spring for weeks. Last week was the cruelest yet, when another winter/spring snowstorm came roaring through, leaving as much as 22 inches of snow in some places. Not only is this hard on the psyche of winter weary folks it is deadly for some species of birds. We are now well into the normal period of spring migration and though most of the early migrants can adjust their travel based on the weather, there are still many that have come far enough north, expecting to find bare ground and open water. When a snowstorm as severe as this last one hits, the birds find themselves in desperate situations.
This is not a good situation for an American Robin
Last week there were many announcements by Wildlife Rescue and Rehab organizations alerting people to the dire situation for birds like robins and warblers. These are birds that survive on fruit and insects for the most part and when the temperatures drop they, like all birds, need to up their caloric intake in order to just stay warm.
If ever there was a time for supplemental bird feeding this was it. Besides the various hulled sunflower bird seeds, nyjer seed, other wild bird seed, and suet, people were encouraged to put out meal worms (dried or alive), rehydrated raisins, or other fruits. Sadly, there were many reports of people finding dead birds.
How is this Yellow-rumped warbler going to find insects?
Migration is always a treacherous time for birds – there are many human made obstacles and sometimes Mother Nature adds challenges. These kinds of early spring storms are infrequent, but this one was really a doozy. There are questions as to whether climate change contributed to the timing and severity of this particular storm. We can’t say for sure, but we do know that as the climate warms the atmosphere holds more moisture, leading to heavier rainfall and snow amounts. There is also the fact that these big storms frequently stall meaning more precipitation falls in one area for longer periods of time.
One way to help birds like this Pine Warbler is to provide suet.
Since humanity is creating the high levels of CO2 that are causing the climate disruption, it is even more imperative that we do things to try to mitigate the negative effects on wildlife. Planting trees and shrubs, reducing our environmental footprint as much as possible, and providing extra bird food throughout the year.
The snow is melting quickly now; the angle of the sun is the same as it is in August and this morning I saw five lucky robins hopping around in our grassy field. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the snow season is done and that the birds that survived this weather will all be successful with their nesting season.
By Kate Crowley