Last week's ice storm underlined the necessity for prudent maintenance of backyard birdfeeding stations, at least if your aim is to keep neighborhood birds happy.
In the aftermath of the freezing rain, sleet, and snow, all the feeders at the Pollick place in western Sandusky County, for example, were frozen stiff. They were coated with a quarter-inch or more of ice or and some were packed with wind-driven snow. The various remaining feeds were frozen or soggy as well.
It was impossible for the winter's "regulars" - from juncos and nuthatches to cardinals and finches, among others - to feed. Himself spent more than an hour carrying feeders inside to thaw by the wood stove, dumping wet seed, and repairing and refilling with dry feed.
It was a labor of love, of course, but one based on personal satisfaction moreso than absolute necessity. The bird kingdom, after all, evolved and has survived for millennia without our feeders. But while survival of a species is not dependent on backyard feeders, that of individual birds may well be.
"The ice - they can't get anything to eat," said Julie Shieldcastle, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Oak Harbor. Her remarks include any remaining wild seed and other avian edibles, which also were encased in ice.
Shieldcastle said that songbirds do not have enough fat
reserves to last more than a day or two without feeding, depending on their condition before such a storm event. She also stressed that wet feed possibly can lead to development of mold and disease.
So if you want to assure a steady supply of feathered customers to enjoy watching through the winter, thaw-clean-replenish those feeders. Frozen or tainted feeders will force birds to look elsewhere and can be a reason why some stations suddenly seem deserted.
Speaking of deserted feeding stations, this desk every winter gets calls from concerned householders whose backyards seem bereft of birds. In addition to unmaintained feeders, another common explanation revolves around the comings and goings of predators.
The appearance of a Cooper's hawk, a great horned owl, or stray cat, among others, can chase songbirds elsewhere at least temporarily. Just keep the station well-maintained, however, and eventually the birds should be back.
Two of the region's leading Christmas bird counts turned in some surprises.
A white-eyed vireo, found by Paul Chad at Pearson Metro-
park, easily ranked as the "best bird " in the Toledo Area Christmas Count on Dec. 19, according to Matt Anderson, official count compiler for the Toledo Naturalists' Association.
"This out-of-season find was a Toledo CBC first,'' said Anderson, who added that this year's count totaled 81 species, down from a record-tying 90 a year ago.
"Results were actually quite good considering the bone-chilling and eyeball-freezing conditions. Temperatures mostly were below 10 with a stiff north wind that never let up."
Indeed, a white-eyed vireo should be wintering in Central America. Chad discovered the bird in November at Pearson.
Another potential first for the Toledo count, a pileated woodpecker, also known to be hanging around at Pearson, was not seen during count day. But Anderson noted that the pileated, the largest woodpecker seen in Ohio, was seen during count week. That rates it an honorable mention in count history if not official recognition.
TNA first conducted a Christmas count, now coordinated across North America and Central America by the National Audubon Society, in 1927. The 2004 counts celebrated a century of tallying birds at the holidays for fun and science.
"Other good sightings included three snowy owls, all at Bayshore Power Plant; a northern saw-whet owl, four peregrine falcons [probably a state CBC record]; a second-ever CBC merlin at Bayshore; a first-ever Toledo Wilson's snipe at Maumee Bay State Park; a couple of gray catbirds at Little Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge, and a single each of savannah and Lincoln's sparrows."
Other notable Toledo CBC
tallies listed by Anderson include 13 double-crested cormorants, an all-time count high; eight adult and five immature bald eagles, and 377 American robins, the second-most since 698 were totaled in 2002.
In all the TNA field teams added up 32,014 birds, Anderson said. A complete listing from the Toledo count is available on the TNA Web site,
The other significant holiday tally was the Grand Rapids-
Waterville Count on Jan. 2, compiled by TNA's Tom Kemp.
"We made a major effort to find screech owls with impressive results - 197 birds found," said Kemp.
"As an aside on the subject of owls, my son [Matthew] and I made a post-Christmas trip to northeast Minnesota to witness the massive invasion of great gray owls and hawk-owls in that area. We saw no fewer than 57 great grays owls and 15 northern hawk-owls in our two-plus days there. It ranks right near the top of my birding experiences."
Back to the Grand Rapids-
Waterville count: "It was a fun one for a variety of reasons. We added three birds to the all-time list: common loon, red-necked grebe, and Thayer's gull.
"Our species total of 73 was the second-highest ever." Along with the huge screech owl tally, the owling effort also located 36 great horned owls, Kemp said.
"Seven species of gulls were highlighted by the aforementioned Thayer's, one Iceland, two glaucous, four lesser black-
backed, and one great black-
"Ruby-crowned kinglet, chipping sparrow, and a count-week eastern meadowlark were good finds. Finally, a northern shrike, always a neat CBC bird, graced the count as well."