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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A glimpse at birdlife in the winter

<w drifts across the brutally frozen Arb landscape, where life seems to lie in wait for spring. The quiet is almost deafening as you clumsily tread through the packed snow. You pause for a moment to take in the silence, only to hear a high cheery whistle up in the trees. Up above is a flock of small birds, seeming to delight in tapping at wood and twirling around branches, despite some absurdly low temperature reading. It is none other than the ever-hardy and familiar roly-poly shaped Black-capped Chickadee. These social birds have a variety of foraging habits, pecking at loose pieces of bark and twigs in search of hibernating moths and caterpillars as they flit about from every angle. They may fly to dormant prairie flowers and pry out energy-rich seeds, vital for the tiny birds to keep their metabolism going in cold weather. Unlike warblers and many hawks, which simply overwinter in warmer climes, these hardy birds have to survive the Minnesota winter with limited food and a constant battle to maintain their body heat. Thus, chickadees must spend as much time as possible during the day foraging to sustain themselves. The chickadees are often accompanied by an assortment of other small forest birds in their endeavors. Petite Downy Woodpeckers steadily march upward along tree trunks and larger branches, while Brown Creepers silently spiral around tree trunks like a piece of moving bark. White-breasted Nuthatches subtly mine out-of-the-way crevices on the undersides of branches. Each species has its own distinct foraging strategies, so there is little competition. And they all benefit from the presence of each other. A flock means more eyes to watch for predators, allowing individual birds to spend more time foraging. This is essential in winter when every last bit of energy counts. After a few minutes, the flock begins to move on, the soft, light sounds of the chickadees guiding the way and fading into the distance. All is silent again, as a few scattered crows fly overhead and the wind whips across the prairie.

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