There's a stillness in the woods,
the fields are all at rest;
And the weary sun,
PHOTOS COURTESY OF BILL BOWER
The fruit of the nannyberry, left, hangs on all winter. Inside the nannyberry fruit is one big seed, right.
sinks deeply in the west.
Winter began with the winter solstice that occurred at 12:11 p.m. on Dec. 21. However, prior to that date, we have had some very wintry weather, with cold days and more snow on the ground than in recent years.
On Sunday morning, Dec. 15, I measured 8 inches of fresh snow on the ground. The view from our kitchen window was of a winter wonderland, with much activity at our bird feeders.
The fodder shocked,
the hayrack filled,
the corn in heaps of gold;
The cider made,
the turnips pulled,
and stored for winter's cold.
Later, while shoveling snow, I noticed that deer had visited the bird feeder during the night. As I backtracked the deer trail in our yard, I found that they had passed under an ornamental tree, which had low limbs hanging heavy with fruit.
The deer would not have had any trouble reaching the fruit; however, they paid no attention to the fruit-laden branches. I also noticed that the birds also had avoided the fruit of the tree.
In early fall, as the leaves revealed their colors, I noticed another tree in our yard that was loaded with fruit and even before the leaves fell, birds of all species and squirrels fed upon the fruit until the tree was bare
The tired year draws to its close,
and death on falling wings
Comes gently down
in swirling leaves,
a requiem nature sings.
Wildlife (just as we humans) definitely have a preference for the type of food they eat. If food is plentiful, wildlife will pass up food that they will feed upon later.
During the winter months, birds and animals are likely to suffer more from lack of food than from the severe cold and will need more food to eat to keep warm.
A fresh snow cover might appear as if everything in nature is asleep; however, while a snow cover helps some animals, it makes life harder for others. If a blanket of snow or an icy rain covers preferred seeds, making it impossible for wildlife to get to them, this is when birds and animals will turn to food that is not on their preferred list.
On the other hand, a snow cover will protect mice and other small animals from the preying eyes of the hawks and owls.
But life goes on, and only sleeps
to wake and sing again,
While hopefully hearts
new courage take,
and love and trust remain.
Bernd Heinrich, in his book "Winter World," states that the berries of plants and birds are intertwined, just like the relationship between flowers and bees; however, it is not always obvious because this relationship occurs over a season, rather than days.
One tree that never fails to produce seeds, also called drupes, is the staghorn sumac. (It's only the female tree that produces the drupes.)
I very seldom see the smaller birds (probably due to their size) feeding upon the sumac trees; however, I have noticed crows and even turkey feeding upon the sumac seeds. This is usually after a winter storm has dumped a lot of snow on the ground that remains for several weeks.
Since the seeds stay on the sumac tree throughout the winter months, the spring migrant birds often will visit the sumac trees when nothing else is available.
Nannyberry, winterberry, buckthorn and sumac are some of the plants that keep their berries all winter long, and these are used by wildlife as a last resort.
The fruits and berries that are eaten early in the fall are those that contain fat and sugar that give wildlife high energy needed for the long migration or to put on a layer of fat for the coming winter; however, these fruits spoil fast due to their sugar content.
The fruits and berries eaten late in the season have low fat and low sugar as well as high acidity and low water content, which help to prolong the life of the fruit. Of course, they are not as tasty as the earlier fruits.
My wife, Mary Alice, often has said that when we sit down to eat, we should have the desert first and then the meal. Seems to me that wildlife have been doing this all along.
So days must pass
and years must go,
from birth to death the round;
But fresh new life
will spring again
out of faithful, holy ground
- W.J. Rupp
Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.