For the Birds Radio Program: Bizarre winter weather, and Jim Baker
Some of the winter rarities have frozen to death; Laura has some suggestions for food offerings if you get a robin, thrasher, or mockingbird. Jim Baker reminds us that Blue Jays are virtually all below the poverty level, a problem that could be corrected if people helped Blue Jays to develop computer literacy.
This winter has been as bizarre meteorologically as it’s been politically and socially. The mild autumn and early winter kept a lot of short-distance migrants farther north than they belonged, and when Mother Nature finally lowered the boom with excruciating cold, birds had a hard time coping. I saw a flock of robins at Ordean Junior High School flying over the John Beargrease sled dog teams last Sunday. They’re getting by mainly on mountain ash berries and crabapples, but with the bazillions of Bohemian Waxwings that have been cropping up, I don’t know how the food is going to last. Fortunately, robins aren’t stupid birds. Many of them are still wending their way south, according to a couple of Texas birders who usually notice them moving north again by this time of year. As fruit-eating birds run out of food up here, there’s hope that they’ll move to where there is both more food and warmer temperatures.
I don’t know how the mockingbirds seen on the Two Harbors and Grand Marais Christmas Bird Counts have fared, or how the Varied Thrushes at a sprinkling of feeders are doing except for one central Wisconsin bird that was found frozen solid under a feeder. There have also been a couple of Brown Thrashers that tried to overwinter in the Northland. When I read on the internet that one of these was found frozen to death, I felt really sad. Brown Thrashers are one of those quiet, skulky birds that a lot of us take for granted or don’t even notice. They sing as well as mockingbirds, but the mockers get all the press. Brown Thrashers are handsome-· their backs are a rich rusty brown and their underside is white with bold black streaking, and their yellow eyes and white wingbars show that they’re more closely related to mockingbirds than to thrushes. They occasionally come to grape jelly feeders in summer, but they only come to birdseed when they’re desperate. Some people offer a mixture of suet, peanut butter, currents, sunflower hearts, and other high-protein ingredients, but the trick is that these birds usually don’t have a clue about birdfeeders, so it’s hard to get them to notice even the best food offerings. Mealworms are an excellent source of protein and everything else these birds need. If the temperature is right around freezing, the worms will wriggle for at least a few minutes, giving the birds a chance to notice them, but when it is below zero, they freeze instantly and are just as hard for the birds to discover as anything else at a feeder. But once a Brown Thrasher notices the mealworms, you may have a friend for life. Brown Thrashers are the state bird of Georgia, and speaking of the Peachtree State, here’s a word from our sponsor, Baker’s Blue Jay Blend-it’s unimPEACHably delicious.
You can read Jim Baker’s ads and all 1999 “For the Birds” scripts on my webpage. Unfortunately, it has a really complicated address, but if you’re interested, you can click and go there directly through this station’s homepage.