Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wildlife Coping with a Harsh Winter

American Crows gather at an open stream to bathe
It may indeed be the dead of winter, but these American Crows are quick to take advantage of open water for the purpose of bathing. Usually they need it. Perhaps they are trying to rid themselves of parasites or traces of a rank roadkill meal, but I suspect that the main purpose is to get some of the "white wash" off of their plumage. At this time of year crows spend their nights in large communal roosts; those whose perches are located beneath others are subject to an intermittent rain of crow droppings. No need to worry though - it all washes off.
Crows gather at the site of a deer carcass - there's little left of it now
Our crows continue to visit the scant remains of a White-tailed Deer that was originally shot during the early part of the archery season - way back in October. Just one of 5 victims that was never recovered by the hunter that wounded it. But this single animal has managed to provide some sustenance for scores of other animals in what's turning out to be a long hard winter. 
Crows flying in and landing around the scant remains
Always wary, crows are quick to depart whenever one of them senses danger
An adult Red-tailed Hawk comes in to try and get a beak full of the shrinking carcass
Wildlife usually lives close to edge of existence. This is most true in winter. A raptor like the Red-tailed Hawk can have a particularly difficult time finding food during prolonged periods of deep snow. Mice and other small rodents develop networks of tunnels under the snow and their activities become difficult to detect even for these expert predators. This is a much bigger problem for immature raptors since they are inexperienced hunters. Many hawks will resort to staking out roadsides where they can try their luck waiting for a rodent to cross the road and become a visible target. Their wait might also be rewarded with some animal being transformed into roadkill.
At night, a single Coyote continues to visit the site, but now there's little left
The Coyote excavates around the site - trying to find some overlooked morsels
Deep snow presents a challenge to larger/heavier animals like coyotes and deer. Just the effort it takes to travel consumes much precious energy - and food becomes progressively harder to find as long as the deep snow persists. Deer eventually trodden down a network of paths. These serpentine trails traverse a range of different habitat types and they can be utilized by other animals besides the deer. Following one can give you a good idea of how the deer make their living at this time of year. They definitely have it better than the most of the carnivores, since deer can browse on the buds of saplings - a commodity that is almost always in their reach.
A  deer walks through moderately deep snow with little trouble

A thick winter coat enables deer to put up with extremely cold temperatures

harbingers of spring - The furry buds of Pussy Willow blooms have started showing
Under the ice for a long time now - this 2-year old beavers has never seen a winter like this one
Beavers appreciate a care package of apples and poplar branches
A male Cardinal with a broken bill picks out a shelled peanut
Bird Feeders assist wild birds though lean times. The food that we put out daily on some fence posts is very popular with winter songbirds like the Northern Cardinal. One particular male that has been showing up lately has a broken bill. It's not all that noticeable without a close look, but the tip of his upper mandible is missing. There's also a chunk missing from the left side of the same mandible. This was most likely the result of a collision with something - possibly a tree. Since the top of the upper mandible overhangs the lower mandible, it tends to take the brunt of any impact. Fortunately this bird still seems able to feed, although I suspect that breaking harder seed shells must be more of a chore than it used to be. The bill has obviously healed and is not a fresh wound, but it will never grow back or become good as new. We can only hope that he will continue to be able to feed himself. Certainly the shelled seeds from the feeders are easy for him to deal with. I think that he has a fair chance at long-term survival.
The Cardinal with the broken bill holds a shelled sunflower seed
A Pair of Hairy Woodpeckers at the Bird Feeder area

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