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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Birds and Ice Storms

The effects of the recent ice storm that hit parts of Vermont last weekend are still folding out, as tree limbs strain under the weight of their ice-covered branches.  For birds, the storm poses both threats and opportunities.  It all comes down to diet.

Forest Insectivores
While insects might seem like the most difficult food to locate in winter, those birds that specialize in finding bugs on and within bark will be largely unaffected by the storm.  Iceless tree trunks remain just as accessible to birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, and others.  The storm will actually provide long-term benefit to these species.  The wounds from fallen branches will attract insects in the coming years, providing food and creating nest cavities for forest insectivores.   

Seed & Fruit Eaters
For those birds that rely on seeds and fruit, their quest for food just became a bit more challenging.  Birds like sparrows and goldfinches may need to forage in new locations where ice hasn’t encapsulated buds and berries.  If you keep a bird feeder, seed-eating birds will love you right now!

Small Mammal Eaters
The birds of prey that specialize on small mammals, such as owls and some hawks, will be having a hard time until the ice melts.  Many of these predators locate their prey by sound, catching and killing mammals as they move under the snow.  But with the thick, icy crust across fields and forests, these raptors may be unable to break through the ice to catch their meals.  

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