Ice-Covered Snow Spells Trouble for Wildlife

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Take five or six inches of heavy wet snow…almost like shoveling water. Add above- normal temperatures, a bit of mist, then cold nights, and abracadabra. Dirty cement!!! Yes, frozen snow, hard as the proverbial rock. Bring into the situation deer, wild turkeys and squirrels. All three have had easy going this winter in spite of the blizzard and additional snows. Today, January 17th, the picnic is over!

While traveling the hills it was discovered that deer have changed their eating habits AGAIN. They continue munching on weeds and brush, yet are seeking leaves hidden under the base of gooseberry and prickly ash bushes. Someone asked, “With the unusually hard snow, how does a wild turkey manage to break through the glass crust to obtain acorns in the oak groves, and corn/bean kernels where whatever little residue remains?”

Attached to this article, see a photo of spurs and sharp toenails of an adult Tom turkey. (Obtained legally may we assure you.) Readers have observed ‘spurs’ on horse riders’ boots, and sometimes unlucky humans have ‘bone spurs,’ but a turkey spur is a bit different. Males have longer spurs than females when full-grown; two inches of dangerous sharp bone, covered with keratin. With sharp beaks, spurs and feet, the turkeys hack into the ice-covered snow. As they travel in flocks in winter, one’s discovery unleashes a scramble for food for the others. (Unity has its benefits for survival.) They also use the toes to dig their talons into branches where they roost, defying the howling winds of winter. (Yes, some researchers call the feet ‘talons.’ That’s a surprise for us.)The spurs are so sharp on the male, Native American hunters used them as arrow tips!

With the glass-covered shatter-proof snow, other winter predators are having a tough time as well. Raptors such as the red-tailed hawk often eat carrion, but frozen dead critters are tough to ‘hack’ into, in spite of the hawks’ sharp beaks. Squirrels and rabbits are red-tailed and other hawks favorite foods in winter, and due to their slower flight, members of the woodpecker family are rare treats as well for the carnivores. When a hawk takes a mammal down, and the animal is heavy to lift to the nearest limb, it doesn’t wish to share it with others of the aerial gymnasts; thus, it goes into a hunch, a crouch and arches its shoulders. Frances the famous Ford Focus has been fortunate enough to slither up to a certain red-tailed, allowing the skilled photographer inside the azure auto to catch the raptor ‘mantling.’ Meanings of the word ‘mantle’ include that of a ‘loose sleeveless garment worn over clothing, or something that covers, enfolds or envelops.” A raptor may not wish to share if it’s been a long period since its last meal, thus it will sit upon its prey or carrion, keeping what it’s eating out of eyesight of other hungry raptors in the area. (See attached photo.) The bird will take large bites from its prey, then fly to a nearby tree or pole to digest the life-giving morsel.

Sunday the 17th found Frances scouring the countryside in all directions, searching for a worthy story for readers. She found two shrikes dipping furiously away from poplar trees near the Hutterite Colony; searched in vain for both snowbirds and horned larks all along and in between on Highway #19 as far as the German Settlement Church. Dark-eyed juncos were far and few, chickadees chittered in the woodland. A trio of swans in a harvested cornfield south of LeSueur near the Ottawa Road was the best the tired auto could do. Thus, Frances is asking for ‘tips’ on bird and animal food-seeking during this cruel trick of the weather. Simply phone 507.665.2658.