50 Degree Temperature Drop, and a Word about the Chickadee

Yesterday, 6th January 2011, we awoke to temperatures in the 50s, rain, and dense fog. Visibility was measured in yards. The moisture in the air was condensing just above the cold ground and wisps of vapor blew across the road as I walked to the train station through the park. By evening the temperature was in the low 30s and the water on the pavement was beginning to freeze. Mercifully the wind was strong and dry enough that most of the moisture on the road evaporated before it froze, else driving would have been nearly impossible.

This morning, 24 hours later, the temperature on the thermometer above a store on Broadway registered 1 degree. I’m not convinced it was that cold–that thermometer usually reads several degrees colder than the local temperature reported by other sources–but it was pretty cold nonetheless. That’s a fifty-degree drop in 24 hours. That, and the news stories about the polar vortex that has created dramatic and dangerous weather conditions across much of the country, remind me of the weather event known as the Children’s Blizzard or the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. New York had it’s own Blizzard of ’88 on March 8 of that year, but the stories of the Children’s Blizzard are truly haunting. I am grateful for a home, drafty though it is, that is warm and safe in this weather. I feel for the people who have to work outdoors in these conditions, and especially for those who must deal with the brutal conditions that states west of here are enduring.

And now for a word about the chickadee. Last week and over the weekend I was able to observe several chickadees visiting our feeder. That’s nothing new or unusual. But what I noticed about them for the first time was their feeding behavior. Most of the birds that visit our feeders, the finches, sparrows, juncos, and even the woodpeckers will remain on the feeder for a period of time, often until something spooks them and they fly away. They pick and eat seeds almost continuously while they are on the feeder. Not so the chickadee. It flits from the pussy willow tree to the feeder, picks up a single sunflower seed, and carries it back to the tree where it hammers the seed against a branch, breaking it open to extract the kernel. Repeating this process only a few times, they then fly away and may return some time later.

The primary occupation of any bird at this time of year is finding food and water and consuming them. The behaviors of most of the birds that I see at our feeder fit that pattern, but the chickadee seems to have a more relaxed attitude toward feeding. I’m not sure that’s an accurate observation and I certainly don’t know what conclusions if any can be drawn from that observation but it does make the chickadee stand out a bit from the crowd.

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