Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brave Winter Weather Birds

I may never tire of black-capped chickadees. I just adore them.

Anyway, I had a lovely Christmas with my family. My boyfriend's family spoiled me rotten (again) and gave me a very nice feeder, a pole to put it on, and bird seed. I'm excited to get back to school so I can set it all up. If my apartment complex gets uppity and says we can't have it in the backyard, I'll be heart broken. They're very strange about what we're allowed to keep in our backyards.....oh well. I keep scolding myself for not putting up a feeder earlier in the year, since I've read in a few different places that birds typically start scouting out food sources (which yards have feeders, for instance) in the Fall. Hopefully if my apartment complex gives me their blessing and I do set the feeder up, the birds will find it and enjoy it, even if I did put it up late.

In addition to the three bird books I opened as early Christmas gifts and the feeder, I also got a new camera (Panasonic Lumix with 10.1 megapixels and 18x optical zoom) and binoculars. I'm hoping that tomorrow morning I can get up enough courage to brave the cold and head down to Halibut Point. The last time I went I had my aging Powershot, and I'd really like to get some better pictures of the purple sandpipers and the Harlequin Ducks.

Those purple sandpipers are tough little guys, borderline crazy. Of course, I guess the ducks are even more insane, since they're diving into the freezing cold water, completely submerging themselves. Now, I realize that they've developed physical characteristics that enable them to survive in these conditions, but it still blows my mind. I mean, polar bears, whales, seals--I have a much easier time seeing them in icy cold conditions. That's probably because I just think "Oh, blubber. They're alright." But birds are such light-weight creatures, it's harder for me to think "Oh, their feathers are designed to trap body heat, and they also repel water."

One I finished typing that last bit I thought "Geez, I'd better look into this a little more before I keep rambling on, they'll think I'm an idiot." So I did some quick online research (not the best technique, I know). I was already aware of how feathers overlap and trap body heat, and that feathers also repel water (very very cold water if you're a crazy purple sandpiper). Now I know that when I see a duck balancing on one foot and holding the other up close to its body, it is trying to keep warm. Tucking the bill and face beneath a wing is another way to keep warm.

One thing I was clueless about until about 5 minutes ago is the system of blood vessels in a bird's feet that help to minimize heat loss. I must admit I don't completely understand it, but apparently this system is even more sophisticated in penguins than in other birds (which makes sense).

Maybe I'm just a wimp, but I'm still going to think "BRRRRRR!!!!" when I see those ducks and sandpipers out there on the chilly New England coast, whether it's the ducks diving under the numbing waves or the sandpipers huddled on the rocks getting splashed by them.

Happy holidays, and think warm thoughts!

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't sweat it about getting your feeder up late. It may take a couple weeks but the birds will figure out where food is soon enough and work it into their rotation.

    Welcome to the nature blogosphere!