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Ramblings

Pine Grosbeaks
Maybe you bird feeders (that is, feeders of birds) have seen a new one, the size of a robin, this winter the male is a rosy red over much of their bodies, the female is a yellowish gray on the head, the immature male with a yellowish orange. Unlike our immigrant cardinals and titmice which have lately been adding to the winter mix (a new, unwelcome weather description for me which also fits our mixed flocks of resident birds), these birds wander south from the boreal (coniferous) forests of Canada when their food supply fails. Pine grosbeaks have short but chunky beaks, white wing bars, and a pleasantly confiding temperament, like most other boreal bird visitors whose home territories do not include humans. Each grosbeak in a flock (which is called a gross, by the way) flies in an undulating way, like woodpeckers, and makes sweet, whistling contact calls. Last month I saw them on Durkin Rd. feeding on tamarack cone seeds, but other people have had them at their feeders for weeks. They favor crabapples, mountain ash fruit, maple buds, conifer seeds of all kinds, beechnuts and also other seeds, including sunflower. With fruit, they discard the pulp and break up the seed coat with those strong bills. Theyve been known to eat deadly nightshade berries with no ill effects too. Their feather color is due to the food they eat, because when they are raised in captivity they are just gray. Unfortunately with this diet they need grit in their crops to help grind the seeds, and you often see them in the middle of the road picking it up. When they swallow salt particles, maybe by mistake, they can be poisoned to the point they are even slower than usual at getting out of the way. Give them a brake if you see them in the way, eh? They are visitors who, true to the hardiness of other Canadians, like to bathe in soft snow. Speaking of Canadians, Newfies call these birds mopes for the way they mope around, I guess. Scientists call them Pinicola enucleator. (Note the capital letter for the genus and lower case for the species, as all scientific names are written.) Pine grosbeaks never breed here, but Id like to note what happens to them in spring. Both male and female develop a pair of pouches in the floor of their mouths (I cant picture this) for carrying seeds to the young. They mix in some insects and spiders too. Another species we have here in town all year develops another way of feeding their young. These rock doves, which used to nest on cliffs in the old country, nest under the Hudson Bridge. From the lining of their crops they produce a kind of milk high in fat and protein, which both male and female feed to their squabs for two weeks. Pigeons do not feed insects to their young, so they need something high in protein for their growing chicks. One of our iconic raptors is fond of pigeons. A certain man recently watched what he thought was a goshawk as it sat for two hours on a light pole next to the town hall. It was hoping not to be noticed if and when a flock of pigeons came to hang out on the phone line for a while as they often do. No luck though pigeons, despite the way they look as they strut around picking up food from the ground, are quite intelligent and know a predator when they see one. Reduce Your Use
Heating your house is a big cost now if you burn fossil fuel. Here in the Adirondacks many people heat at least partly with wood. While it is a renewable resource it still produces carbon dioxide and other pollutants, and costs time, effort and risk if you produce it, even if not money. Why not burn less fossil fuel and/or wood? I get cold faster than anyone I know. In Florida I put a sweater on sooner that the natives but I stay comfortable all winter with the thermostat set at 62 degrees. I dont have to dress for work, but you might get some ideas here if you are not too proud. I wear hand-knit wool socks for half the year, and leather or insulated shoes or slippers. (Fabric sneakers are cold.) To wash the socks, I soak a few pairs at a time with a little detergent and air-dry them. I always wear two layers of trousers, often two fleece pairs. They are so comfortable and easy! On top I wear a turtleneck and at least one fleece or wool layer. To top things off, I wear a loose-fitting knit wool hat, the most important item according to winter survival instructors. I use a lap blanket when sitting for a while. Not that I dont soak up heat when a good hot wood stove is handy!

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