Delayed winter weather may be responsible for the significant amount of birds in Burton
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Storms often blow in odd birds – birds that normally do not migrate or do not live in the area. But a blizzard like the one on Wednesday will trap birds by the dangerous winds and snow.
After the snow stopped falling Wednesday afternoon, the wind was still blowing and I headed out to the Burton area. My progress was slowed with drifts up to my headlights, but I noticed a large flock of European Starlings fighting the wind as they dropped into a small herd of cattle. The cattle were finding refuge from the wind behind an elevated canal with hundreds of starlings and about 70 American Crows joining them. Most of the birds used the cattle as a windbreak as the snow continued to drift along the ground. The birds searched for a morsel of food.
The number of starlings and crows indicated that most of them should have migrated a month ago, but the warm weather tempted them to put it off. Just like many of their human counterparts, they put off their fall work and will now have to battle the cold and winter storms to migrate to a more comfortable area.
More crows and starlings dropped in as I watched them join the cattle for protection. As I drove back to the main roads, Trumpeter Swans dotted the fields as most of them huddled close to frozen dirt clods. These birds winter here and will take advantage of wind-blown potato fields for the rotten frozen potato delicacies that will be exposed. Nothing like a rotten potato for a Christmas dinner.
When I got to the Texas Slough running through the Burton area, I found a gathering of seven Wilson’s Snipes probing the mud for aquatic bugs and worms. During the winter, you may find one or two snipes working the shallows of the warm water slough, but not groups. I wondered if they too had been lulled by the warm weather and had forgotten to head south. The bank of the slough protected the birds from the wind as they hugged the southwest bank.
A little further along, I ran into a Great Blue Heron that was tall enough for the wind to whistle around its head and neck. It appeared to be a little chilly with its neck forming a squashed “S” but it shouldn’t have had cold feet as it stood silently in the shallows of the warm water.
I stopped by a local cemetery to see if any of the winter nuthatches and/or creepers had shown up yet but did not find any. The trees had plenty of collared doves hiding in the branches. The Eurasian Collared Doves breed and nest all year long, but on Wednesday they were not chasing each other around. (It’s too cold even for dating activities, but we’ll see what next week brings). I am sure they will find plenty of grain in the local feedlots for them to survive and return to their fun-loving activities.
I am still not hearing of many sightings of Blue Jays this winter. Now that a lot of the natural foods are covered with snow, the homes with bird food offered should see a larger number of birds. I have been asked several times this week about what the best foods are to put out for winter birds. Black oil sunflower seeds are critical to have for them. Suet cakes in peanut chips will get you the chickadees and woodpeckers at those feeders.
Be careful on the roads as deer and elk will be migrating across many of them, especially State Highway 33 and U.S. Highway 20. The roads will also be very slick for the next few months.
Good Luck in all of your outdoor activities and I would like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.