It was a brisk, February morning here in Duluth, MN... about 3 days ago actually. I decided to go birdwatching over in Wisconsin and see what winter-dwelling gulls were around. While I was at Wisconsin Point, right along Lake Superior, a group of high-strung Black-capped Chickadees made an appearance, flitting about from seed cluster to seed cluster, just inches above the ground. The wind-chill that morning was dipping down to the -25F to -30F range with the occasional gusts. To say it was humbling to see these little troopers out in the cold was an understatement! They manage to survive these harsh elements, staying warm only by eating, creating warmth as a by-product, and having a fluffy layer of insulation surrounding the outermost entirety.
Upon further viewing of this little flock of 8 chickadees, I noticed that many of them were feeding with the support of their tails touching the ground, almost in a woodpecker-like fashion. The chickadees would cling to the stems/stalks of the grass, pull their legs in (likely to retain heat), and use their tails as a crutch, or brace, to keep them upright as they picked through the bent-over seed pods. This is a behavior that I have never heard of with chickadees, or any birds for that matter. Woodpeckers regularly exhibit a behavior very similar to this, where the birds use the tail as a brace, or support, to keep themselves pressed up against the trees. When they move up the trees, they actually open their feet up to let go of the tree for a split-second, and then pump themselves up the tree with the stiff-shafted tail feathers. Going back to the chickadees, it was sure neat to see these little birds behave in such a manner! Just before writing this, I did a little bit of research to find out if there were any other documented sightings/recorded observations of chickadees tail-propping themselves, and was unable to find any accounts. Have any of you ever seen this?
It is so incredible to see birds coping with the harsh conditions, especially this time of year. Their insulating capabilities are amazing. Especially up here in the Northwoods; having temperatures dip down to the -20's and even -30's some winter nights is expected. On some brisk days in February, the temperature might not peak above -10ºF during the middle of the day! These birds, both big and small, do not have an option, but use their bodies and physiological adaptations to bear through these cold times of the year.Some people may think it's odd when I mention "humbling" as a way of describing my feelings towards birds. The more I learn about birds, the more I am humbled by the lives they lead, and the difficulties they regularly face on a daily basis, and the feats they regularly complete. They don't have groceries stores to shop for a well-balanced diet, they don't have furnaces that create artificial sources of heat, and the idea of having health insurance is not a consideration (nor do I have health insurance either) :-)
It's not just a "something" about birds, its the everything about birds that is amazing, and I'm looking forward to sharing these humbling experiences with you, fellow blog readers!