White Breasted Nuthatch Cardinal

Surviving a Polar Blast

Living in Northern Minnesota means that we are prepared for extended periods of subzero temperatures. That doesn’t mean we enjoy these polar blasts, but we know what to expect and have well insulated homes, supplies of cut wood for fireplaces and wood stoves, plus proper winter clothing.  Our energy companies are also prepared for unusual events like the recent explosion at a transfer station in the town near us, which cut electricity to many people in the community. The company quickly got generators in place and asked people to conserve on their electrical use.

All of this comes to mind because of the disaster unfolding in the south, particularly in Texas where people have spent as much as three days without power; meaning no heat in their homes, nor water to drink.  This extreme climate event is just another example of climate change – even though that seems counterintuitive. Climate scientists have been saying all along that there will be more extreme weather – both heat/drought and blizzards/ice storms. The jet stream is influenced by the warming of the planet and that stream influences weather patterns across the country.

We know there are millions of people suffering during this disaster and we hope they will get relief soon. In the meantime wildlife is suffering too.  I can’t help but wonder how many birds are going to die because of this

This American Robin has found some holly berries to eat

This American Robin has found some holly berries to eat

storm. Birds leave the northern states each fall, not because of the colder weather but because they are not able to find food during our winter months. They head south where food (insects/seeds/fruit) remain available throughout the year. But when ice covers everything and the ponds and streams freeze, all that food disappears.

Birds are pretty well equipped to deal with cold temperatures. Their bodies are covered in a couple layers of feathers that can be fluffed out creating air spaces that trap warm air next to their bodies – the same effect when we wear down jackets. Shivering is also another means of creating heat in the body, but this saps energy and so they need to be able to eat to restore the energy lost.  Birds will eat voraciously before migration to build up stores of fat on their body that help sustain them on their journeys and when they arrive at

This Dove is just one of millions of birds impacted by the snow and ice in Texas

This Dove is just one of millions of birds impacted by the snow and ice in Texas

their winter homes.  That fat can be used up quickly under condition such as those that exist now in Texas.

While people are focused on their own comfort and survival, I hope that they will look around them and find the means to put out bird seed and suet for those birds that have not been able to fly to warmer climes.  The insect eating birds, like the swallows, martins and warblers face a more serious situation. I hope they flew further south before the storm hit.  The same would be true for birds of prey who feed on small mammals or reptiles. The layers of ice and snow on the ground will give shelter to the rodents. Lack of a water source is less of a threat although biologist reported that birds were congregating near roads where melting snow and ice provided water. Birds have also been seen clustering near houses, on decks and porches seeking shelter from the elements.

Later this week temperatures will moderate and the ice and snow will melt, but in the meantime, I recommend putting out black sunflower bird seeds which have the highest fat content and thus the greatest energy source. But if you don’t have those, put out whatever you have.  This is a crisis unlike any we have faced before.

By Kate Crowley