Pondering 12/10/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Every day, I have a routine to give a little treat to my fine feathered and furry friends out and around my house.  I distribute bird seed and peanuts in several different locations, and I provide water.  Of course, now it’s winter and quite a chilly day indeed, so the water leftover from yesterday (and previous yesterdays) is frozen solid.  If I can easily do so, I will pluck the ice out of the bath and refill the entire bowl, but usually the ice is frozen solid into the bowl making it impossible to remove without considerable effort.  So I do something else.

Instead, I put hot tap water on top of the remaining ice.  I do this for a few reasons.  First it will melt a little bit of the top ice to provide more water than what I’m putting out, and second, it will remain liquid longer before it freezes.  I don’t worry about harming my bird friends because, by the time I’m finished with my routine and clear the area, the water has cooled significantly, and the birds won’t come out until I’m gone.  Oh, sure, they’ll sit on the fences and watch me with a mix of nervousness and anticipation, but they won’t come to me directly. 

When I finally close the door for the last time, they flock to the treats I’ve left.  But what I’ve noticed in the winter is that many of them will immediately go to the water, getting seed only after they’ve had their water.  In the summer, it’s the opposite, which raises the question of where birds get water in the dead of winter when all of the water has frozen.

The answer online states that they will eat snow, which for humans is actually bad.  It takes heat to melt snow into water, and it’s been determined that the total number of calories that must be burned to melt snow internally requires the use of more water than what we get out of the snow.  In other words, we humans can die of thirst eating snow.  I’ve heard a trick that, if you put snow in a waterproof pouch and put it in your coat next to your skin, it will melt and you can drink that, but this doesn’t make sense to me.  It will still draw the exact same amount of heat out of your body as what would be required internally, so that would burn water as well.  Yes, you’ll get a more satisfying drink of water which will make you feel better, but isn’t it just as bad in metabolic processes?

Apparently, though, birds are more efficient at melting snow internally than we are.  Birds are actually amazing creatures and are very efficient at burning large amounts of energy.  The energy required to actually fly is tremendous to the point where to literally “eat like a bird” would mean eating up to three times your body weight in food per day. 

Nature is incredibly successful at survival until humans begin to meddle.  My birds today are looking very large but no, it’s not the peanuts I feed them every day.  Their feathers are fluffed out to provide better insulation today because it’s so cold.  But to survive the winter is an incredible feat for these little guys.  First, those birds that flee are taking on an amazing journey to head to the warmer climates down south.  They can travel fifteen thousand miles in their trek.  Humans have gotten used to hopping in their car to travel just one.  When I think about these tiny little birds, traveling by air no less which requires even more energy than staying on the ground, it’s just amazing.  And they complete this trek in a single season, no less.

On the other hand, those birds that stay behind are tasked with the challenge of finding food when plants are hibernating.  There are no fresh fruits, nuts, grains growing in the winter.  And yet, they need to find that food, three times their body weight, every day. 

I guess there’s no point to today’s blog.  It’s just an incredible feat to consider.  I know that my friends outside appreciate what I do for them.  I see them waiting anxiously watching the house as I go out to begin my usual rounds.  My neighbor tells me that when she lets her cat out for the day, he bolts to run directly to my back deck, no doubt to see if there is still a handful of cat food out there.  That is a race, as I know there’s a groundhog, squirrels and even an opossum that all want those precious nuggets.  And for me?  I just enjoy seeing the competition.

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