They may look tiny and fragile, but songbirds winter well in the Shuswap – even in the current cold snap.
Surveying his own Tappen area bird feeders, Shuswap Naturalist Club president Ed McDonald can see robins, varied thrush, chickadees, Eurasian collared doves, flickers, golden crown kinglets – the smallest bird around, dark eyed juncos, song sparrows and a couple of pine siskins.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,” says McDonald, quoting poet Emily Dickinson. “She was amazed at their survival ability and says if they can survive the winter, there’s hope for us all.”
Birds can survive because they have no feel for coldness in their feet and they’re feathers insulate them very well, he says, noting they seek shelter from the wind and night in shrubbery.
With snow and plummeting temperatures, the birds flock to bird feeders.
At Buckerfields, seed sales were slow, but 8- and 16 kilogram bags of Buckerfields Original are flying out the door.
“The whole season was slow, all across the province, not just at this store,” says Buckerfields employee Toni Walton, noting the mild winter meant other food sources were available. “Not now. Bird seed sales have just not stopped.”
McDonald says when he was at the store to replenish his own supply, people were lined up to get bird seed. And that’s very important.
“If you started feeding the birds, don’t abandon them,” he says. “Chickadees will communicate to their friends that there is food so they’ll all come. If you stop feeding them, that will harm them.”
While the hardy little songbirds manage in the cold, other birds depart for warmer temperatures.
The beautiful fieldfare, a member of the thrush family and rare visitor to the Shuswap that drew excited birdwatchers from across the continent left around the first of February.
“She stuck around for a month or better and probably headed south,” McDonald says, noting waterfowl have also left the Shuswap. “Two weeks ago, we had quite a few trumpeter swans in Tappen Bay but most of the waterfowl have left because everything is frozen; they go wherever there’s open water.”
McDonald, who has been president of the Shuswap Naturalist Club for about 19 years, says fans of warmer weather will eventually hear the melodic song of the redwing blackbird.
“What rings in the spring? The redwing blackbird,” he laughs.