Foam Lake Birding No. 83

No. 83
With the cold, wet and snowy weather that we have been having lately it is a wonder that any more birds have arrived at all, but they have. Purple Martins, Ruby Crowned Kinglets, Goldfinches, Mourning Doves, Ring Billed Gulls and Franklin's Gulls are just to name a few. Of all the birds listed, only the Purple Martins would have difficulty getting through this last week of snow and rain. Purple Martins feed solely on flying insects that are caught in flight. Because there are no flying insects out right now, I have no idea what the Martins do to survive. Do they temporarily move some place warmer? Do they actually go out and eat something else? Perhaps, they go into a kind of temporary hibernation or torpor which would allow them to last a long time with very little food requirements as some birds and animals do? However, survive they do. This would be a good topic for those inclined to research such things.
In last week's column I mentioned several ways in which birds modified their diets in order to survive the arrival of unexpectedly severe weather. This week I want to describe a scenario in which some birds managed to use the bad weather to not only survive, but to thrive. The heavy rains and snow forced the earthworms to come to the surface in order to avoid drowning. Lawns were vacated by the worms because there was too much water being retained by the grass. Thus they ended up on hard surface areas like driveways, sidewalks and streets. This provided a real bonanza (buffet and all) for Grackles, Robins and Franklin's Gulls. The Grackles and Robins picked worms here and there, but the gulls were much more organized and thorough. A small flock of Franklin's
Gulls landed on the street in front of our house and proceeded to "sweep" the area clean. However, there was a problem. The birds at the back of the flock would have only "leftovers" from the birds at the front. To make sure every bird got its fair share the birds at the back would periodically fly to the front of the line for good pickings. A good system and quite interesting to watch.
Not only do birds survive bad weather, but some are well into nest building. House Sparrows and Grackles are continually picking up nesting material and hauling it to their chosen sites. The Grackles are building their nest in a spruce tree in our neighbour's yard; the sparrows are building theirs in a birdhouse in our yard. One day I was particularly amused by a male House Sparrow trying to get a two foot strip of plastic to the birdhouse. The drag caused by so large an object forced the sparrow to expend a great deal of time and energy. Its flight was slow and laboured, but eventually it succeeded. Why this sparrow would want this strip is beyond me.
This week's photos show a Robin picking up earthworms on the edge of our driveway. Its head is blurred because it was shaking the worm as I snapped the picture. The other photo is of a small flock of Franklin's Gulls feeding on the snowy street in front of our house.