A blue jay of winter enjoys a nice day. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
A blue jay of winter enjoys a nice day. AL BATT/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Shall I compare you to a summer's day? That would not be fair to either of you. You are Old Man Winter.

To me, winter begins when the daily average temperatures fall below 32 degrees. We bundle up. Birds fluff their feathers for warmth. It can give a bird the appearance of a beer-bellied woodpecker.

Minnesota has stout winters. Snow fell as I walked. Not a bad thing, as snow often arrives sideways under the influence of wind. I know snow. I live in its ancestral home. We have beautiful white, winter beaches without having oceans.

I look at small things for a long time. Every hair has a shadow. I watched a chickadee use a feeder. The diminutive package of feathers with a Type A personality was reason enough to have bird feeders.

Foods high in fat are critical to a bird's winter diet. A small bird could lose up to 10 percent of its body weight during one cold night. Its fat reserves must be replenished. If they are not, protein scavenged from muscle tissue is depleted to maintain energy needs. Keeping bird feeders filled with high fat foods provides birds with the nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of foods to meet this need are suet, peanuts, sunflower chips or seeds and nyjer seed.

Echoes From the Loafers' Club Meeting

"I think life is like scalding hot coffee in a chipped cup."

"Why is that?"

"How should I know? I'm not a philosopher."

Driving by the Bruces

I have two wonderful neighbors - both named Bruce - who live across the road from each other. Whenever I pass their driveways, thoughts occur to me like wherever I look, there is scenery.

I have learned

Rumors travel around the world before truth gets out of bed.

Mark Twain did not know Shania Twain. And never the Twains shall meet.

To not judge myself by the past. I do not live there anymore.

The headlines from Hartland

The package of Jiffy Pop on the wall of the Eat Around It Cafe is a fire alarm.

Proctologist punched by patient suffering from "'roid rage."

Fitless Fitness Center wishes you a happy rear end.

Cafe chronicles

Snow, salt, slush and window washer solution had bonded to my back window like epoxy. The combination overpowered the windshield wiper. Weary of driving, I stopped at a cafe to stoke the furnace.

I sat down. He sat by me. He was a talker looking for new blood. He had left numbed conversational carcasses scattered about the cafe.

He was a good guy. He just liked to talk more than he liked to listen. His words had no economy.

I curbed my urge to bolt and listened hard. I nodded or smiled when appropriate and uttered short words in response.

I did not return to that cafe for a few months. When I did, I was told that the talker had died.

I am glad that I listened. It was a good thing.

We do well by doing good.

New Year's resolutions

When the old year left, I am thankful that you did not go with it. Let the past year go. If you do not stop picking at it, it will never heal and it may become infected.

I do not usually make New Year's resolutions. However, I am stubborn, which means I am good at quitting things. Last year, I gave up doing those polar bear plunges into frigid lakes without ever having done it once. It is not a bad idea to make a resolution I can keep. Next year, I am resolving that I will not buy a Ferrari. This year, I am going to refrain from telling anyone how busy I am.

Everyone is busy.

Bird do-it-yourselfers

Many people claim that birds do not use tools. If that is true, why did I see a house sparrow in the tool department of the hardware store?

I have read about it, but I have not watched Duck Dynasty. We do not receive the TV channel that carries it. That is OK. I do not think I would like it. That is because I grew up during the Daffy Duck Dynasty. There can be only one duck dynasty for me.

Oh, Canada

I was in a restaurant in Alberta, Canada. It offered a 72-ounce steak. If you could eat it all, it was free. There was a short list of those who had done so. I imagined an ambulance crew standing nearby.

Some of the conquerors were women. If any man thinks women are the weaker sex, he should try pulling the blankets back to his side.

My wife and I enjoyed the hospitality of Marla Calhoun of New Richland. After fine dining, including a delicious tater tot hotdish, we sat at the table and talked. After another guest made a clever retort, Marla remarked, "Everyone is a comedian."

She Who Puts Up With Me, seated a bit farther from Marla, added, "I love listening to the CBC."

The CBC. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

To my bride everyone is a Canadian.

Did you know?

A Disney spokeswoman said that the average park visitor walks about seven miles per visit.

The Oxford English Dictionary contains 171,476 words in current use and 47,156 obsolete words.

Green bean casserole is the most popular recipe to come out of the Campbell's Soup corporate kitchen.

Nature notes

Great horned owls begin their courtship in January and start nesting in February or March. They lay eggs in abandoned nests of squirrels, hawks, eagles, great blue herons or crows, but they sometimes nest on cliff ledges or in hollow trees.

The female incubates eggs for a month, even as winter rages about her. During that period, the male brings her food. She cannot leave the nest for long or her eggs would freeze. The owlets leave the nest in six to nine weeks.

Although the nestlings are unable to fly for 10 to 12 weeks, they venture onto nearby branches at about six weeks. Why do great horned owls nest so early? Since they hunt at night, there may be more to learning to locate and catch prey than there is for other raptors like hawks, who hunt by sight in daylight.

Owls have extraordinarily well-developed senses, but young owls must develop hunting skills. It takes countless misses before an owl successfully uses its sharp talons to capture its first vole. The owlets remain near their parents a long time compared to many other birds - through summer and into early fall. During this time, young owls learn the skills they need to hunt on their own before the rigors of the next winter set in.

By nesting early, owls can see food easier without leaves on the trees and with the benefit of the sharp contrast provided by snow. It is theorized that this early nesting allows owls to take advantage of a buffet of winter-weary wildlife. The arrival of the hungry owlets coincides with the first baby rabbits, muskrats and voles.


Cindy Martin of Albert Lea asked what gulls follow tractors in the field.

A small, black-headed gull of the prairies, the Franklin's gull, is a common sight behind farm implements exposing worms, insects and mice. I once called them "prairie doves." Another common gull that feeds on the invertebrates freed by the plow is the ring-billed gull. It is not black-headed, but is larger than a Franklin's and has a ring around its yellow bill.

Bobbi Forster of Hollandale asked, "Do you have an iPad app you recommend for bird ID and birdsong ID?"

Download the free bird apps from the app store. Think of them as trial apps. Try each of them out and see which one you like the best. Then buy that one. There is iBird, Peterson, Sibley, National Geographic and Audubon. All are good but do vary both in content and cost.

Michael Bonner of Courtland wrote, "I saw a blue jay feeding on sunflower seeds at my bird table and I noticed him gobbling up food. My question is do they have a pouch? Is it thrown up later and pecked to crack the hull of the seed or is it partially digested then regurgitated?"

A blue jay has a gular pouch, a sac that is located beneath the bird's tongue and extending down the throat to the upper portion of the esophagus. The purpose of this pouch is storage. A blue jay can stash two or three acorns in this pouch, carry another in its mouth and a fifth in its bill. It could transport a much higher number of sunflower seeds. The jay coughs them up later to eat in a more secure location or for caching.

Nature lessons

The number of participants in the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900 was 27. The number of participants in the 2012 CBC was 71,531.

Look for snowy owls.

Some call it a book

My book "A Life Gone to the Birds" is available at albatt.net. Thank you for reading.

Thanks for stopping by

"And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles." - Walt Whitman

"He who marvels at the beauty of the world in the summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter." - John Burroughs


© Al Batt 2014