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Birds in Shuswap can use support during extreme cold

Access to food, water needed when usual sources frozen
Mallards congregate in -20 C degree temperatures near the wharf in Salmon Arm’s Marine Park on Dec. 27, 2021. (Martha Wickett - Salmon Arm Observer)

Just like humans, some birds are hit harder by frigid temperatures than others.

While many birds in the Shuswap wing their way to warmer climes in the winter, others remain.

Ed McDonald, longtime president and now past-president of the Shuswap Naturalist Club, provides food and water for birds in the area where he lives. He maintains a feeder in his yard as well as a little pond and bird bath that he keeps ice-free.

“I always get a mix of the grains; that seems to work and everyone seems to like it,” he said of his feathered diners. “They’ll take what they like.”

Once you start feeding birds it’s recommended you continue for the rest of winter because they come to rely on it, he added. He started at the beginning of November this year and will likely continue into March when there is more food, depending on the weather.

McDonald said he hasn’t seen sign of birds freezing in his area during the extreme cold.

As he was speaking, he noted about a dozen bohemian waxwings had just flown into the mountain ash tree in his yard which has seeds or berries throughout the winter. He said the tree feeds berry eaters such as robins, which don’t come to the feeder.

“Sparrows come to the feeder a lot. They eat grains so they’re having a hard time,” he said. “Also juncos, goldfinches, birds that are more grain-eating than berry-eating.”

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McDonald said the California quail, which have only been in the area for about 50 years, seem to be doing fine as they take refuge in and under old buildings.

Grouse and pheasants are often in forested areas up in trees now, he said.

“Pheasants are having a rough time. In our area, they’ve really declined in years. They’re not indigenous to the area, but they’ve been around for a long time.”

For mallard ducks, sleep appears to be key. McDonald said they seem to do okay in the cold as their feathers keep them warm and the birds stick together.

“They don’t seem to suffer, they get a lot of sleep.”

They get into a big pile and the ones on the outside of the circle literally sleep with one eye open, he said. Part of their brain rests while the other keeps watch for danger.

Geese and pigeons also seem to be doing well.

Asked about the concern of attracting rats with bird feeders, McDonald remarked: “If we want the birds to survive, we need to feed them.”

He cautioned against poisoning rats as birds such as hawks eat the rodents and then die.

Ultimately, he said, poison defeats the purpose of getting rid of rats as they’ll thrive with no predators around.

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Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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