The winter bird will find its own dark yesterdays

If you’re not sure what food is safe, let a winter bird find it’s own

Though I make no claim to being a birder, in severe weather I’d like to offer suitable food.

Last night from 7 to 10 p.m. blizzard conditions wiped out any outline of my neighbour’s mobile home directly across the street. This morning seven inches of pure white blanketed everything.

As I was about to pour my second cup of coffee, I looked out to check for dog tracks in the yard; not a paw print marred the fresh stuff. The neighbourhood was quiet and still.

Then I caught a flash of movement beside the concrete foundation of the house in the area where suppliers’ offload their cords of firewood when they deliver. By the end of summer a thick layer of wood bits and bark litters the ground along with buried grubs, spiders, termites and insect eggs.

At first I took it for a dry leaf waving despite no breeze … until a blob migrated an inch or two. Could it be a mouse? It was too small for anything else. Whatever this was it stuck doggedly to its purpose, pecking like a chicken sorting corn, flinging bark bits in a two foot semicircle. If its quarry refused to yield, the blob jerked its head from side to side like a puppy yanking on a toddler’s diaper.The dogs’ kennels were within 15 feet yet neither dog had been awakened by this commotion.

When the blob paused to look up, which it did infrequently for but a split second, I identified a silhouetted beak, and a dark vee on its breast. Was it a thrush or a flicker?

I popped batteries into my camera and tried over and over to capture a decent photo, without success. Early morning overcast conditions provided too little light. Worst of all, I was aiming at a blackish bird crouched, back to me, against a dark background. All I could clearly see were chunks of bark peppering fresh snow.

Later, curious what the bird had been after, I checked the area. The forager had isolated a three inch long green dandelion leaf after flinging aside a goose egg-sized rock. Many nipped green dandelion shoots poked among the surface bark in a narrow strip running six feet along the foundation.

Definitely it had to have been seeking green dandelion stems, the only vegetation that despite freezing temperatures perseveres against the concrete bricks possibly slightly warmed by heat from the basement wood stove.

Three hours later, the bird was back hard at it re-tilling the furrow. Eventually its length of operation approached ten feet. By then it was almost knocking on the dogs’ kennels. Yet neither dog paid the bird any mind.

The temperature, six degrees below freezing, sent me off to google what thrushes eat. But suppose it was a flicker? Even Audubon didn’t help me sort that out. Nor did the bird help by speaking up.

Generally oatmeal can be a suitable food, so long as a water supply is handy. Foods high in fat supply energy but reduce the insulating qualities of feathers if fat smears the creature’s plumage. Even dry roasted peanuts can be unhealthy. Salt is a no no.

To be safe, I sprinkled small sprigs of fresh broccoli over the disturbed bark. These the bird spurned.

Tonight as dark descended amid powdery snow,the bird hunched on the porch, reconnoitering. Once it was sure the coast was clear, it resumed mining where it had left off at dark yesterday.

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