We gripe and complain about winter's wrath and how uncomfortable this dastardly combination of wind, freezing rain and snow can be. It's nothing new, but we profess shock and indignation each time one of these trademark winter storms comes rolling through.
As we seek to remind our children all of the time, when you feel like you have it pretty bad, stop and think for a moment, because someone else is likely much worse off. That adage applies here, since even in the coldest weather, we always have the refuge of a warm home, a comfortable fire and ample supplies of food to eat.
It is not that way in the wildlife world. The birds and other animals that inhabit our outdoors are fighting this nasty weather on the front line. They have to take the worst of what Mother Nature or Blizzard Bill dish out, and they have to figure out a way to survive.
Heavy snow and ice can quickly threaten the lives of these creatures, because it locks up their food sources and often makes them impossible to reach. The rabbits and birds that have been feeding off the apples and pears scattered across the ground in the orchard no longer can get to that food source since a layer of snow covered in a shell of ice has made it impossible.
Even in the worst of the wind, there were a variety of birds jumping from limb to limb in a pair of flowering crab apple trees out front, frantically going after every remaining tiny piece of fruit. At the same time, others worked a few weed tops along the side of the ditch that had not drifted with snow. Any available food source was tapped, since so much of their normal domain was shrouded in a frozen blanket.
There were a few places in the fields near the woods where we could see deer had scraped away the snow in the mostly barren and windswept areas, and found some remnants of corn and soybeans to pick at. They also had walked along the protected side of the woods and found exposed vines and berry bushes to browse.
When it is this cold and their food sources become scarce, the wildlife in our outdoors will eat just about anything. Depending on their metabolism, some species need a lot more food than others. Some have the ability to tuck themselves away in a nest or a burrow and just ride out the bad weather. Others have to search for food for most of their waking hours.
The basic rule of thumb throughout most of the year is to just leave our wildlife alone. They usually do much better when we keep our distance and allow them to fend for themselves.
We make an exception to that rule in the worst of winter, because a lot of our winged friends could use a little nutritional supplement. With all of that flapping and flying, birds burn a lot of calories, so they need a lot of fuel.
What serves as a double-whammy to our backyard birds is that most of their normal food sources have been used up by this point in the winter. When you add the heavy layer of snow and ice to the picture, they can't forage and work the ground for other food, so some will starve.
They need our help. Now is the ideal time to have fresh seed and suet in your backyard feeders. These feeders are an oasis of life-saving nutrition for a lot of birds, since they can stock up on the high-fat food sources that give them energy to burn in the worst of weather.
Once your backyard feeder gets established, you will discover how many friends you never knew you had. Somehow, some way, word gets out in the bird world and suddenly your backyard is a convention center. With a variety of seeds and feed, you can attract a dozen or more different types of birds.
The big boys like deer and the furry critters such as possums and ground hogs can fend for themselves in rough weather and do just fine. They are very well-equipped to store a lot of energy in fat and survive even extended winter storms. It's the feathered ones that suffer the most in this weather, but with a little food and a safe place to eat, they will make it to spring.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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