Minnesota just experienced a record breaking storm, which included a couple of potential tornados. The National Weather Service is sending a team to determine if the damage was caused by tornados or straight line winds. Either way it was a day and night of unprecedented weather. We had a high of 52F, and we watched what little snow we had turn to slush and water. We are still in a state of drought but it is rare to replenish soil moisture after November.
During the early evening and for the next five hours we watched lightning flash and thunder boom, followed by heavy rainfall. The strong winds kicked up during the night time hours, with gusts up to 40mph. Power lines came down in some places. What made the storm potentially worse is the fact that following all that rain, temperatures began to quickly drop below freezing. Highway crews were on standby ready to treat the roads for ice, once the rain stopped falling.
Once again an extreme weather event reminds us of the shifting climate changes underway. While we humans can and did take shelter from the worst of the storms effects, I can’t help but wonder how the birds handled the combination of rain, wind and then freezing temperatures. We think that a flock of Pine Siskins were blown in to our yard ahead of the low pressure system. This often happens before a big storm. Birds, like most animals have
sensitivity to atmospheric pressure and adjust their behavior accordingly. These small members of the Finch family (the same size as their relatives the Goldfinch) appeared on our platform feeder earlier in the day. They also found our heated bird bath and like so many other birds took time to quench their thirst.
But what did they and all the other birds do when that heavy rain was pounding down? And when the temps began to fall? They don’t have a lot of options. One is empty nest cavities or holes in trees. The nuthatches, chickadees and woodpeckers are most likely to seek these places since this is what they use for nesting. Some may also have found shelter in our empty nest boxes. Others, like the mourning doves and blue jays would find the best protection in thickly branched evergreens. Here they can perch close together and near the trunk where the
protection is greatest. They would shake their feathers to shed the rain and then fluff up to give them the greatest insulation and they would shiver if they needed to raise their body temperature. Then they would just patiently have to wait until dawn when they could return to the bird feeders.
By the activity this morning, as the precipitation had changed to snowflakes, it would appear that they all survived the night. Business has been brisk at the sunflower seeds, although my husband had to go out and break up the frozen mass. The suet feeders have had non-stop action too.
Climate change is going to require adaptations for all of us. It will require cooperation and generosity. We who choose to feed wild birds will continue to be a source of survival for many.
By Kate Crowley