Monday, January 10, 2011

Snowbirds and snow angels

No bird loves snow like a junco. That is a scientific fact.

Their other common name - a more fitting one than "junk-o," my sister thinks - is the snowbird...or even better, the slate-colored snowbird.

A snow angel made by a snowbird.

The trail of the snowbird.

After the recent snow, I was watching them hop through junco-hip-deep snow with joy. They like the patterns that they create in new fallen snow. This much has been proven.

As an added bonus to the satisfying work of snow-angel-making, weed seeds become even more visible on the pristine white snow surface. Henry David Thoreau, in a December 1856 journal entry, called it their "clean white napkin" to eat off of.

"December 1st, 1856 - Slate-colored snowbirds flit before me in the path, feeding on the seeds on the snow, the countless little brown seeds that begin to be scattered over the snow, so much more obvious to bird and beast. A hundred kinds of indigenous grain are harvested now, broadcast upon the surface of the snow. Thus at a critical season these seeds are shaken down on to a clean white napkin, unmixed with dirt and rubbish, and off this the little pensioners pick them. Their clean table is thus spread a few inches or feet above the ground."

A patch of red-top, a warm-season grass, in seed. Note all the junco footprints below.

Proof that this stem had been ridden to the ground: it lined up with one of their wing-print snow angels when I bent it down. Note the seeds.

Further proof of their snow-love can be found in their favorite winter sport: riding grass stems. They hop on a red-top seedhead (pictured above), and riding them to the ground they pick up any fallen seeds off of the "clean table" of the snow. A type of winter fun, no doubt, much like Robert Frost's swinging on birches, but with the added bonus of a meal at the end. Maybe they are not the only bird with a sense of winter joy: a (rare) reader of this journal commented on the same behavior by chickadees.

In the face of all this indisputable proof of a bird that enjoys winter, snow, fun, and (I daresay) could we not ask ourselves these questions that Thoreau concludes his journal entry with...

"Will wonder become extinct in me?" he muses. To this he adds (weirdly): "Shall I become insensible as a fungus?" How is he so sure that fungi are insensible?

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