Saturday, March 18, 2017

As Spring Looms, Birds Stuck in Winter Wonderland

Geese, shovelers, coots and mallards still in family groups on ice-covered Central Park lakes.  
Goose family in snow at mostly iced-over Boat Lake.
A dominant gander holding family together during time he normally would be pairing with mate.
Frozen Boat Lake days before spring.
Winter wonderland.
Domestic ducks huddled on ice.
Snow covered Central Park fields making it hard for small birds to dig for insects and seeds.
It's too early to know the impacts on birds and other wildlife of an unusually frigid March and large snowstorm that befelled the north east this past week.

Nearly a week after the blizzard, thick snow still covers all the fields and lawns of Central Park thereby making it difficult for small birds to graze or dig for insects. And ice now covers from half to more than 90% of park lakes and ponds presenting special challenges to water fowl who normally this time of the year are staking our territories and fattening up in preparation for nesting.

A New York Times article from yesterday however, describes the difficulties experienced by migrating American Woodcocks who found themselves unable to get to earthworms imbedded under the deep snow and suddenly flooding into bird rescues, many of them too emaciated or weak to save.

Bird experts recommend that concerned humans try to clear some of the snow covering lawns and backyards in order to allow wild birds opportunity to forage for food. Offerings of bird seed and suet also help many of our feathered friends through this unusual challenge of late winter.

Recent walks around the Reservoir, Harlem Meer and the Boat Lake in Central Park show most of the geese and ducks still in winter mode behavior. The geese are primarily in family groups whereas this time of year, parents usually banish the grown goslings in order to romantically pair again and prepare for nesting. Ducks on the other hand, have usually departed Central Park locations by this time to nest elsewhere. As of now however, most ducks (and northern shovelers) are still in Central Park and like the geese, in groups.

One woman who has been observing and videotaping a pair of geese ("Betty and Ray") who have returned to her property every spring for 15 years to nest, described how the pair suddenly departed the nesting location this week just prior to the blizzard. I speculated then that the goose parents likely returned to their grown goslings from last year in order to safely guide them through the storm.

Sure enough, all five of the geese briefly showed up to Barbara's property yesterday, but were soon gone again as this winter's challenges are not quite over. (Normally, this time of the year, Betty is already sitting on a nest of eggs.)

As described in this blog, the Reservoir nesting geese (Hansel and Greta) returned weeks ago, but also left shortly before the storm. Presumption is that they too are back with the young adult kids from last year -- at least for the time being.

A visit to the Boat Lake and Reservoir yesterday showed virtually all the geese in family groups with just a few pairs veering off from gaggles. I am not aware of any Central Park geese already nesting or even vigorously defending nesting territories.

Weather forecasters are predicting that weather will finally warm and become spring-like after the 26th of this month.

At best, pairing and nesting behaviors in the birds have simply been slightly delayed this year and will not suffer severe adverse impacts from late winter snow storms and bitter temperatures.  

But as said at the top of this entry, it is way too early to speculate and make predictions.

Knowing particularly, the adaptability of Canada geese, I am reasonably optimistic that they will find ways to assimilate and make up for what is surely a wrench thrown into their normal scheduling of romance and family. Canada geese haven't thrived over these past two decades because they are stupid and adverse to change. 

But we have to hope the same is true for the rest of the bird and wildlife kingdoms during these times of extreme and unpredictable climatic changes. And judging by the misfortunes of the American Woodcocks this past week, that might not be too easy to assume. -- PCA


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