Garden Diary - January 2014

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Friday, 3 January 2014
Snow and Birds

The new year has arrived with cold weather. Midmorning temperature was in the mid teens. And we did not even reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Tonight will be even colder.

There's a little insulation for the ground, provided by last night's fine, powdery snow. Paul's magnificent new snow gauge measures 5 inches of the stuff. The snow is not really piled up behind it. Rather, some snow in front drifted down into the cracks of the picnic table.

This is a desperate time for the small birds who flock to my feeders.

In the short winter days all of these little birds need to eat, and eat, and eat. I feed a higher fat, calorie dense mix of hulled sunflower seeds, peanut hearts, and some fine cracked corn. Consider this: the birds weigh very little - a titmouse, about 21 grams; a junco, 19 grams; black capped chickadee a scanty 11 grams. (There are 28 grams to an ounce. That's 41 chickadees to a pound.) A sphere is an efficient shape, packing maximum volume with minimum surface, so a plump little chickadee has less surface from which to lose heat in wintry weather. And at 108 degrees Fahrenheit, it has a higher-than-humans body temperature too. At night though, they conserve energy by dropping their body temperature by 15 degrees Fahrenheit, or even more, down to 85 degrees Fahrenheit .

For woodpeckers, nuthatches, creepers, and chickadees that eat it, suet is a valuable source of fat and calories. I frequently see a male downy woodpecker at the suet / crunchy peanut butter cake I made.

Coarsely chop suet, partly filling a large can. Add some water, then place can in a saucepan partially filled with water - a sort of double boiler setup. (Who wants to scrub out a greasy saucepan by doing it directly in the pot.) When rendered, mix the fat with some crunchy peanut butter, up to equal parts by volume. You can get more elaborate by adding coarse cornmeal, raisins, and such like. I'm going for fat and calories.

And the Carolina wren really enjoys it too.

Paul made this practical tray-type feeder from the lid of a kitty litter bucket (how nicely it color matches the tuteur behind it) with a piece of firewood to support the clear plastic, disposable cookie tray as a roof. He made four "clamps" from a cylindrical plastic container, which hold the feeder to a concrete column.

The birds love it. In addition to juncoes and titmice and such I've even seen cardinals on it. Just as the birds fluff up their feathers to trap more warmth when I trudge out to refill the feeders I wear several layers - a jersey, a flannel shirt, a quilted vest, and an insulated jacket. They do empty it out rather quickly. Especially when a nor'easter brings such cold and snow as we have right now.


The upper figure is Friday night's low temperature.
That's -1 degree Fahrenheit, or -18 degrees in Celsius.

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