Snowstorm covers food for migrating birds - East Idaho News
Living the Wild Life

Snowstorm covers food for migrating birds

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What a week! For six days, the only things flying were snowflakes that went faster than greased lightning. Most power poles had the wet snow glued to their southwest side. In places, fallen trees and limbs took out the electricity for thousands. Southeastern Idaho was blanketed by snow measuring from a foot to over two feet, covering most of the food for migrating birds.

The large flocks of birds, like the Red-winged blackbirds seen last week, disappeared while the Trumpeter swans moved from the potato fields to uncut corm fields or back to open rivers.

Food has become scarce for all birds. Two weeks ago, the Northern flickers that spent the winter in my backyard had gone from 14 to three. This week, during the storms, I had 12 gobbling down any food offered to them. Dark-eyed juncos, American goldfinch, House finch and Black-capped chickadees went through 40 pounds of Black-oil sunflower seeds.

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A mixed bag of ducks coming to feed on wheat left for migrating birds at Deer Parks.

The Sandhill crane migration to the Upper Snake River Valley has stalled, as they decided to stop in the Boise Valley to await the snow to melt. Last weekend, on my way to Boise for the state basketball championship, my wife and I saw about 200 Snow geese near American Falls. They were just an hour’s flight from the Osgood/Market Lake area, but they, too, stalled out. By Thursday, reports of over a thousand came from observers between American Falls and Pocatello.

I have been watching hundreds of Canadian geese migrate from one snow-covered field to another, only to find the snow too deep for them to harvest lunch. Thursday evening, while going out for another load of firewood, I watched 22 small flocks of Canadians heading toward the Mud Lake area. Joining those pockets was a small flock of about 30 Snow geese, but they were headed southwest toward American Falls.

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The first Sandhill crane of the year for the author, that came to Deer Parks with a flock of Trumpeter swans.

With the winds dying down and the sun finally fighting its way through the clouds on Thursday, hundreds of American robins descended on the campus of BYU-Idaho in Rexburg to feed on rotten crab apples and other berries. At least their spring food was still available.

On Wednesday, I drove out to the Burton area and found that the population of Green-winged teal has slightly increased, and the five Wilson’s snipes have increased to eight. Juncos and Song sparrows were feeding along the edge of the road that had been exposed by the snowplows. Flocks of turkeys are now lining the roads, picking up what morsels of food they can find, while some are invading hawthorn and chokecherry thickets to feed on dried berries.

With all the flying activity on Thursday evening, I decided to look for migrating birds on Friday instead of finishing this article. With no wind or snow, even though it was cloudy, I visited Deer Parks, which is as far as I got. The blackbirds were back, and I could hear hundreds of Trumpeter swans and Canadian geese and saw hundreds of ducks dropping into some standing wheat.

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Hundreds of Trumpeter swans are now feeding on corn and wheat at Deer Parks.

They were a mile-and-a-half away, but Fish and Game had cleared the recent snow off the trails, so walking was fairly easy. The evergreens near the parking lot were full of American robins, four Western meadowlarks and a couple of Townsend’s solitaires.

I worked my way to an irrigation pivot and sat down with a continual flow of Trumpeters flying overhead. As I was shooting pictures, I heard my first Sandhill crane of the year. It was with a flock of seven swans, which landed about 200 yards away.

I was thrilled.

Flocks of ducks mostly made up of Mallards with a few Northern pintails and American wigeons started dropping in by the hundreds. Several times, an eagle would show up, and all the ducks would take flight, which looked like they were in a mix-master. The Canadian geese would fly from time to time to the river or the canal for a drink of water and come back again. Swans kept coming in, with some of them no more than 12 feet over my head. At times, the sounds were like a bunch of beginning band kids with all the different calls.

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Northern pintails and American wigeons join the migrating Mallards for food at Deer Parks.

After enjoying this magic experience for two hours, all the birds took off as two eagles showed up. The sight and the sounds thrilled me as I got up to leave, but I was stopped short by the sound of some high-flying Tundra swans. Seven of them dropped out of the sky and landed about a half mile from me.

It was another first for the year.

Thursday’s beautiful day had melted enough snow that exposed enough food for thousands of birds to enjoy — great for them and great for me. With the Sandhill crane and the Tundra showing up at Deer Parks, along with the weatherman promising some warmer weather, the spring migration has begun. I will be out looking for new birds almost daily now.

If you want to see lots of birds, Deer Parks will be very busy with them coming in for the next two to three weeks. If you can hike two or three miles, you may run into me out there enjoying the great outdoors!

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Ducks, swans and geese all enjoy the wheat left for migrating birds to enjoy at Deer Parks.

Living the Wild Life is brought to you by The Healing Sanctuary.