Monday, February 16, 2015

The Great Backyard Bird Count: Day 4 of 4 - Survival!

     The great backyard bird count ends after today. But please, don't let that stop you ever from getting outside and exploring and participating in citizen science!
     Today's frigid adventure took me to Prospect Park which is easily within walking distance from my apartment, and in multiple layers and heavy-duty boots, I was totally sweating by time I made it there!
     The theme for all the birds today was survival. The last few days have been unbearably cold, and while these birds are fine and well adapted for the cold, the cold has not allowed much to thaw, so finding food can be tough when a layer of snow and ice covers the field, the ice covering the lake spreads and thickens, and of course you have to be smart and conserve your energy if food is hard to find. Almost all the birds I saw today were doing what it takes to survive, and it seems like they know what they are doing! Nature is pretty amazing like that.

It may seem counterintuitive to bathe when it is so cold, but feather maintenance can make or break seeing the next day. These birds roost on the ice, which is getting covered in droppings, and in general, dirty feathers are bad feathers. Birds spend a heck of a lot of time preening, feathers need to be kept in tip top shape in order to allow a bird to fly and keep warm. This ring billed gull would dip in the water, splash around then fly a few feet up to shake off the water, rinse, lather, repeat.
At first you'd think that this goose is in grave danger with ice on its feathers, while it is adding some extra weight, the ice is better off there than under feathers. The way birds keep warm is by using the outer feathers like the outer shell of a winter jacket, it repels water and keeps the down feathers underneath (like the liner of your winter jacket) dry. The down feathers are soft and fluffy, allowing air to get trapped in this layer, that air stays warm between the birds skin and outer feathers. So as long as ice isn't forming below these feathers, this goose's feathers are doing what they should be.
I found my favorite goose with the "eyebrows." Birds stick their beaks under their feathers, because that downy layer is much warmer than outside!
Another ring-billed gull takes part in maintaining those amazing feathers!
A female common merganser grabs breakfast and a gull wants in on it. This hen with another hen and a drake have been on the pond for a few days or so now. Mergansers are diving ducks, their long serrated beak helps then grab fish while their powerful feet propel them below the water.
"Eat my dust."
While being in pursuit, she dove under and came back up with her prize. While being chased she continued to swallow the fish whole, amazing!
Down the hatch! Gulls are just trying to survive too. Being opportunistic and willing to eat just about anything you can get your beak on, is an adaptation that helps gulls get through tough times. It's often why you see them around landfills and dumps.
Lady merganser keeps it classy, even after her ordeal.
A male downy woodpecker chips away the outer bark of the branch, looking for insects that may be waiting below for spring's arrival.
The feeders were being taken advantage of by many birds, including this female purple finch.
A white throated sparrow looks floofy, fluffing up feathers can help warm a bird up.
A few brown-headed cowbirds were near the feeder area, all male. Males have the brown head with a black (and iridescent) body. These birds were directly in the sun and therefore super shiny!
The cowbird on the left was singing it whacky sounding song, take a listen and see what I mean. 
A juvenile mute swan  stays warm by floating in the water (which is warmer than the air) and sticking its beak below its feathers.
Not a sign of spring, Robins have been here all winter long. I bet though this bird is starting to crave worms and insects more so than the berries it has been surviving on for the winter.
A flock of American goldfinch were foraging on sweet gum seedpods. 
Their little beaks are perfect for picking out the seeds, finches, the poster child of survival.
Hope everyone had a lovely weekend or birding during the Great Backyard Bird Count! Now, its time for blankets, cocoa, and hibernation after the last few days!