Winter Is For The Birds

When the temperature drops and fall colors give way to bare trees and snowy scenes, we tend to huddle up for the winter. Much like the natural world, we either take off somewhere warm or enter a state of torpor, often staying in to conserve our energy and to escape the cold. Gone is the summer, like the golden yellow of the prothonotary warbler, which is now foraging in the mangrove swamps of Central and South America.

But contrary to popular belief, winter is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy nature.

Hiking is one of my favorite winter activities, and I like to carry my binoculars around to spot birds toughing it out. Plus, birds are much easier to see up in the trees now that the leaves are gone. Sometimes I even bring out my tracking guide to check out the footprints left in the snow by mammals. This is a fun way to see what animals have been traveling through my favorite areas or even my backyard.

Since animals don’t have access to grocery stores that supply them with food year round, they have to find other ways to satisfy their appetites during the fruitless, winter months. Chipmunks and squirrels often stash their food for the winter, but did you know that birds do the same as well?

Black-capped chickadee (Photo by NCC)

Black-capped chickadee (Photo by NCC)

Black-capped chickadees stash seeds in nooks and crannies, also known as caches, all over the forest. These little birds travel in flocks around the forest, covering and stashing food across large areas. But how do they remember where all their food is? Squirrels are often forgetful, but black-capped chickadees have a trick to actually enlarge their brain capacity!

During the fall, they increase the size of their memory to coincide with their caching activity, forgetting old memories to make room for new ones. This increase is a bit like cleaning out a space of unwanted clutter to make room for nice, new stuff. This memory increase will stick around through the winter months, helping the birds to find all the goodies they stored in the fall. So with the clutter analogy in mind, it means you would need to retrieve all of your goodies from the spare closet before it disappears in the spring. This is a fair deal for black-capped chickadees, as there will be plenty more food to eat in the spring, so they can forget about their caches.

Now if only I could remember what I was going to say…oh, right! Winter can be a great time for hiking. (If you’re in Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada has several properties that are accessible throughout the season.)Bring your binoculars and find a flock of curious black-capped chickadees. Their peeps are quite easy to distinguish in the forest, and they may even have some other friends nearby that you can spot, such as nuthatch, woodpecker, kinglet and creeper, that often hang out in their gang.

If this diversity of birds hasn’t convinced you to brave the cold, there are still ways to enjoy nature from home. Bird feeders are a great way to see some action from the comfort of your home, but make sure you can maintain feeding and cleaning it.

If you’re unable to house or maintain your own feeder, check out the Ontario FeederWatch cam to get your birding fix while sipping on some hot cocoa. Hope to see you out on the trails, having fun and being active in nature this winter!

This post was written by Kayla Ellis and originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s blog, Land Lines.

Post photo: Black-capped chickadee (Photo by Lorne)

41 comments

Jeramie D
Jeramie D22 hours ago

Save all the birds.

SEND
Leo C
Leo Custer4 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND
Mia G
Mia G5 days ago

Thanks

SEND
Jeramie D
Jeramie D5 days ago

Don't gloss over the word cleaning your bird feeder. You must because birds can spread deadly diseases between feeders.

SEND
Paulo Reeson
Paulo R5 days ago

ty

SEND
Paulo Reeson
Paulo R5 days ago

ty

SEND
Leo C
Leo Custer5 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND
Jetana A
Jetana A6 days ago

Interesting about the chickadees dumping memory clutter!

SEND
Ann B
Ann B6 days ago

great story..also besides feeding leave water out if possible

SEND
Leo C
Leo Custer6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

SEND