It’s been a long winter for everyone, but none more so than the wildlife, surviving without benefit of home and hearth.
I’ve seen two deer come to my bird feeders on three legs, their hind leg too painful to touch to the ground. Their legs probably got caught in crusty mounds of icy snow piles at some point over the winter. I called the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in my town and the proprietor said the center is getting calls from all over West Michigan about the lame or dead wildlife.
She said the snows were so deep birds and animals couldn’t forage enough food to keep their body temp and weight high enough to stay warm. They might have survived in a milder winter, but the sub-zero temperatures for days on end took a record toll. Her sanctuary is overrun with starved and frostbitten animals brought in by concerned humans.
A friend of mine told me a bird alighted on her deck just outside her window and seemed to stare at her. She said “It was as if it was saying ‘feed me!’ I told it to go to the bird feeder next door.” I believe that was exactly what it was trying to tell her.
We underestimate the ability of birds and many animals to communicate with us. They are so very much smarter than we understand them to be. I attended a bluebird symposium at Wild Birds Unlimited yesterday. Crows and blue jays were a hot topic since they can be a menace to bluebirds, but the presenter, Gene Wasserman with the Michigan Bluebird Society, immediately launched into the benefits of both birds, and the intelligence of crows in particular.
To illustrate, Wasserman related the story of an experiment with crows to determine their brain power. A feeding box was filled with food, just out of reach, and a stick was placed on the ground in front of the feeder. The crow used the stick to get to the unattainable food. If birds like crows can figure out how to use a stick as a tool for food retrieval, the chance that birds can try to look into our homes and try to tell us they need food is not so farfetched.
I was sad to learn at the bluebird talk that they would be better off if I did not put up my bluebird nesting houses this year. I had bluebirds for three years running, before the bully sparrows kicked them out. Wasserman said sparrow’s beaks are longer and hooked, giving them the upper hand over the bluebird’s shorter, unhooked beaks. I’ll never forget the year I found a dead bluebird and a dead sparrow in one of the nesting boxes. They had fought to the death over the right to inhabit a box I put up for the well-being of the inhabitants.
I felt responsible for the deaths; bluebirds are having a hard time coming back in Michigan and I, while trying to help them repopulate, inadvertently contributed to the demise of at least one. I felt so guilty and determined this year to help again, but learned my area, heavily populated with sparrows, would not be the safest locale for the struggling birds.
While I wanted deeply to see their beautiful blue coats once again in my yard, I decided it was in the best interest of the birds to help other species in different ways. So I continue to put out black oiled sunflower seeds and thistle in the feeders and scatter more on the ground. I also throw corn for the deer, turkeys, squirrels, chipmunks and all sorts of other birds that come into my back yard.
So if you haven’t done anything all winter, it’s not too late to help. There’s still not enough food out there in early spring. I’ll be putting out seed all summer, and corn right up until leaves are well established. The DNR has a policy to let nature take its course, but we humans have altered and drastically taken over so much wildlife habitat. I feel a responsibility to help out where I can. I hope you feel the way I do. I’m off to buy more seed and corn. Will you join me? Wat do you think? Respond to this blog below, and thanks!