Survival!


Usually wary gray partridges ignore traffic to forage on a Clayton County roadside after snow and ice covered nearby fields.

Humans think WE have it tough!

It took an hour to blade out the driveway after the last big snow.

I couldn’t make it to town for a loaf of bread because the roads were icy.

Another evening meeting got cancelled due to weather.

Our firewood supply is dwindling because of the cold snap.

The kitchen floor needs scrubbing again because I keep tracking in snow and grit from outside.

Ah, the woes of winter.

But I was embarrassed to think of my petty complaints when I realized how wild critters were coping. With an icy crust over a layer of old snow, even the hardy crows were relegated to gleaning scraps from a month-old pile of deer innards we hunters had left behind.

What about the deer that had survived the hunting season? Now may be when the REAL test begins. The hungry whitetails have been browsing on juniper branches. The “red cedars” are stickery and low-energy – but better than tree bark. The luckier animals can steal an ear of corn from my neighbor’s corncrib. (The deer weeks ago finished the frozen broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants in our garden, which they gnawed down to stumps.)

The rabbits boldly prowled our front porch, where they nibbled on white pine branches left over from making a holiday wreath.

The rabbits, deer, crows, and even an occasional opossum regularly rummage through our compost pile. If you’re hungry enough, the potato and carrot peelings, apple cores, and bread crusts might seem like a real feast!

As big and tough as they are, bald eagles also must work harder for a meal. They may fight over bits of fish they find along open stretches of the river, or sit within feet of a busy highway to feed on the body of a road-killed deer.

Although we’ve hardly seen them all year, the pheasants have started hanging out along the roadside. The snowplow has scraped down to the grass in a few spots, exposing patches where the birds can scratch for a meager meal.  A rare flock of gray partridges also found a roadside cafeteria just before dusk. The usually wary birds ignored an approaching vehicle as they busily pecked at seeds on the frozen ground.

Red-tailed hawks – often common around our Clayton County home – may have moved father south, where hunting for mice or rabbits could be easier. The red-tails have been replaced by their cousins, rough-legged hawks. Arctic birds who are more used to the cold and snow, the rough-legs typically visit Iowa only in winter.

At our feeder, there’s a steady stream of goldfinches, chickadees, titmice, cardinals, purple finches, woodpeckers, and other diners. The little birds can be pretty resourceful – but who can blame them for choosing a smorgasbord of sunflower seeds when snow and ice have buried the shrubs and prairie plants where they often find a meal?

Isn’t it ironic that we get so much entertainment out of other creatures’ efforts at SURVIVAL?

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