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Wild Winter Warriors 2020

Introductions and video by Teri Franzen

We at Waterman Center thank you very much for your continued support. We hope this blog finds you safe and healthy!

When launching this topic in early 2020 I had imagined a winter of frigid cold weather and abundant snow. I hadn't anticipated the warmest and shortest winter on record. Yet our photographers still found plenty of wonderful images to share to illustrate the hardiness and versatility of our wintering wildlife.

Thousands of species migrate south each autumn to seek out favorable living conditions where food is in abundance. However, there are many animals that travel only short distances, or not at all. One key motivator for migration is a food source. Wild animals that are able to survive on hunting, scavenging or scrounging through the winter months will often stay close to their breeding grounds. This blog features a few of those species from the lenses and words of our featured photographers.

WBU Icon

This blog is sponsored by the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop of Johnson City. Winning photographer, Diana Meyn received a $25 gift card that was generously donated by store owners Barry and Sue Stevens. Thank you WBU for your support!

1. Wild Turkeys

The largest sub-species of wild turkeys, eastern wild turkeys are often found in and near hardwood forests and agricultural fields. These upland ground birds flourish in a wide range of habitats and can be found throughout the winter foraging on the ground or browsing in shrubs and trees.

This image of a Tom Turkey was photographed by Mary Lou Shapinas. Mary Lou wrote, "I've been watching this flock of turkeys and this Tom was the only male with 14 hens. The most impressive thing is to watch him do the mating dance and how majestic he looks."

Image by Mary Lou Shapinas
Tom turkeys are polygamous and have elaborate courtship displays. Image by Mary Lou Shapinas

2. White-tailed Deer

White-tailed deer grow a thick, winter undercoat to keep them warm through the colder months. Here are a few facts about deer from photographers Bonnie Gates and Stan Edwards.

"A Deer emerges from the woods in the morning after a new fallen snow. Being naturally cautious, he checks out what lies before him before going any further. " - Bonnie Gates

Deer are naturally cautious, always checking for threats before proceeding. Image by Bonnie Gates

"White-tailed deer are incredibly adaptive and will eat a wide variety of up to 600 different plants. Winter takes away most of the deer’s food sources. It is therefore a time when deer are least selective. They will eat acorns, hickory nuts and buds of available woody plants. Whitetails require on average 1 and ½ quarts of food for every 100 pounds of body weight per day during the winter." - Stan Edwards

White-tailed deer push through snow for vegetation, also eating the snow for hydration. Image by Stan Edwards

3. Carolina Wrens

With rising, average winter temperatures, Carolina Wrens have been pushing northward in recent decades. These small songbirds prefer forest edges or suburban areas with shrubs and dense undergrowth. Through the winter, as food sources diminish, Carolina Wrens are often found frequenting backyard feeders.

Bonnie Gates writes, "I have 2 Carolina Wrens wintering in my yard this year. This little guy lit on my clothesline close to the house, trying as he might to stay out of the wind and blowing snow until a spot opens up at the bird feeder."

Carolina wrens winter in urban backyards, perching out of the wind until a spot opens on the feeder. Image by Bonnie Gates

4. Downy Woodpeckers

"Instead of migrating, birds like this female Downy Woodpecker carve out a home for winter. In the fall, these cavity nesters excavate a hole to create a cozy hollow in a tree.

"While mostly living on a diet heavy in insects, larvae, fruits and seeds during spring and summer, in the winter these woodpeckers are a common sight at bird feeders enjoying sunflower seeds and suet as dietary supplements to their usual fare." - Cheryl Utter

5. Bald Eagles

A species that has flourished under the protection of the endangered species act, Bald Eagles are seen more and more frequently throughout the United States and through the colder months.

Gina Vaughan writes, "Wintering eagles are often found near open water where they feed on fish and waterfowl. Bald eagles will winter as far north as ice free water permits. These [images] were taken at the Owego Confluence. The sun was going down. I was just getting ready to leave when I saw this young eagle fly in. He grabbed his supper and flew off. I was completely in awe at the sight."

Bald eagles will winter as far north as they can, needing ice free water to hunt for fish. Image by Gina Vaughan
Bald Eagles are often seen fishing at the Owego Confluence. Image by Gina Vaughan

Kelly Frederick Sweet photographed this next image of a Bald Eagle feeding on a deer carcass. Kelly wrote, "Often in the winter, roadkill means survival. I spotted this young Eagle in February, enjoying some venison for lunch! Nearby there were several crows also enjoying the roadkill venison."

As scavengers, Bald Eagles also rely on roadkill, like this white-tailed deer. Image by Kelly Frederick Sweet

6. House Sparrows

House Sparrows are old world birds that originated in the middle-east. These non-native species were introduced into North America around 1900 and have flourished in nearly every environment throughout the US.

Kelly Frederick Sweet recently had a pair of House Sparrows that wintered in her yard. Kelly writes, "This is Cookie. She survived the winter by staying in the bird house! I would wake up in the mornings to see her pop out and head to the feeders only a few feet away! I speak to her often and she is happy to sit and listen! I'm sure come Spring, she will raise her young in the house!" Cookie and her boyfriend, Beau are both pictured in Kelly's second image.

Meet Cookie, the female house spare that survived the winter living in this bird house. Image by Kelly Frederick Sweet
This is Cookie's mate, Beau. These old world sparrows adapt easily to nearly every environment. Image by Kelly Frederick Sweet

7. Honey Bees

As the winter wears on, the late season buds begin to blossom, enticing honey bees from their hives. Diana Meyn writes, "It may technically still be winter, but this early spring weather has bees out foraging for pollen. Once the temperature reaches 50 degrees, one can hear the busy buzzing on early blossoms.

"Spring can be a difficult time for honey bees since their winter honey reserves are near depletion. Fortunately early spring flowers like crocus, snow drops, and windflowers can provide much needed pollen for a bee colony. Even pussy willows can provide a source of early pollen to help bump up honeybee numbers that have been in a severe decline in in recent years. "

Once air temperature reaches 50°F, honey bees can be found in late winter feeding on pollen from crocus flowers. Image by Diana Meyn

8. The Film

Our Wild Winter Warriors 2020 blog was preceded by the following film teaser, featuring these wonderful images accompanied with music and a brief writeup about each.

9. Resource Links

Wild Turkeys

White-tailed Deer

Carolina Wren

House Sparrows

Honey Bees


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