Nature Notes Birds Post Mega Freeze | Local News

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I think we still remember, all too well probably, that terrible deep freeze that Texas (and others) experienced in February. Broken pipes, no heat or light or means of cooking, damaged houses, injuries or worse to people, livestock and pets.

What a lot of people might not think about is the impact this has had on wildlife and the effects we are still seeing on them. Wild animals can normally endure fairly extreme temperatures and other inclement weather, but the prolonged and deep frost we experienced in February was more than many species could handle. This is especially true for small birds, whether they live here all year round or winter here.

I received report after report of dead birds found in yards, streets, beaches and even inside buildings for weeks after the frost. People found birds such as the eastern bluebirds all huddled together in nesting boxes, where they had sought refuge. Such behavior is common in winter when birds huddle tightly for warmth. But this frost was too much, and so many dead were found.

Birds feeding on insects like flycatchers, had they survived the freezing temperatures, would have faced a habitat devoid of insects for food. Could they immediately leave and fly to “greener pastures” and find insects? Probably not, because the frost was so bad and they often need food. The same goes for seed-eating birds and those that live on rodents or snakes, etc. They would all face an instantaneous shortage of food.

In the spring, people started saying… we don’t see bluebirds like we always do… where are they? I’ve heard friends in the northern states say the woods are eerily calm in the spring and summer. There were so few songbirds around, where the woods were normally filled with birdsong. Although the spring migration was fairly decent, with birds returning from the tropics to their breeding grounds last year, local breeders and birds that wintered in frost-affected areas were not seen in numbers. usual or not at all. Things like eastern phoebes, ruby-crowned kinglets, and blue-gray gnatcatchers, to name a few, all seemed so few in number.

Now winter is coming back, and the big question for most bird biologists is… will the wintering birds that were here last year come back? Or have many or most perished. I think the many local Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) will help us get a feel for it. Granted, to really understand what’s going on you need at least several years of data to compare and see trends, but I think it will be revealing. If so, it could take years or decades for the species to rebuild its numbers, while facing even greater challenges each year.

It’s hard to be a bird biologist and not see misfortune everywhere. But nevertheless, I will go out and watch birds and enjoy nature, and let it rejuvenate the soul. Hope you do the same.

Martin Hagne is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. GCBO is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving birds and their habitats along the entire Gulf Coast and beyond on their wintering grounds in Central and South America.

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