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My Snowbirds Blew In On Hurricane Sandy

Updated on January 1, 2017
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By The Calendar, Good Timing. By The Weather Map, Ooops!

We were lucky. Hurricane Sandy made landfall a few hundred miles south of us that October Day in 2012, so we were on the fringe. Our region had some power outages and we saw images of trees that had fallen on houses and vehicles, and some low lying areas experienced flooding. Our south and east facing coasts got hammered, though.

Where I live, in Southeastern Massachusetts, we didn’t lose power, although I heard of a couple of neighborhoods that lost power. We’re almost an hour away from the coasts of Cape Cod and Rhode Island so we weren’t troubled like they were. Luckily for our household, it was just a windy, rainy day from mid-morning to mid-evening.

The birds at my feeder had been in a feeding frenzy for about 36 hours prior to Sandy’s landfall. They do that before any storm. It’s my understanding that there’s a sensor imbedded in their brains that functions like a barometer. When they detect falling atmospheric pressure, they engage in their brand of emergency preparedness.

HURRICANE SANDY 10/30/12
HURRICANE SANDY 10/30/12 | Source

In recent days I've been on my annual Junco Alert. These Canada residents spend their winters all over the rest of North America, to the south. They’re also known as “snow birds,” a name the Florida natives give to the folks who leave their cold climates and reside in Florida for the winter.

Usually “my” juncos arrive right before Halloween, although last year they showed up at the beginning of October. In retrospect, I wonder if that was an unrecognized harbinger of the unusually mild, snow-less winter to follow. No one hates winter more than I do, and even I couldn’t complain about the winter of 2011/2012.

The thought crossed my mind that the approach of Sandy could impact the juncos’ schedule. Maybe I wouldn’t see them until after Halloween.

A lone junco, the first to arrive in 2012, feeds off of our deck during Hurricane Sandy.
A lone junco, the first to arrive in 2012, feeds off of our deck during Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane be damned, I reported to my part time job at a supermarket; there would surely be folks coming in for important stuff like potato chips and cookies. And there were. People were buying up the bread, milk and meats that could be barbequed, but also a ton of snack foods, bottled water and batteries.

I got home shortly after 3 pm as Sandy kicked into high gear, and came down here to the office to bang out a hub before we lost power, if that was to be in our future. I barely got started when my wife, who had spent the day working from home, hollered down that the juncos had just arrived.

When I looked out, I only saw one, but Susan said she thought she had seen a couple of others.

So not all flights were cancelled by Hurricane Sandy. The Juncos arrived at the same time they do every year.

The amazing thing is that they made it safe and sound despite fighting a terrific head wind.

Well, now that they’re here, I eagerly await their departure.

That occurs in late March to mid-April, when Spring and Daylight Savings Time returns, and buds are getting ready to burst on the trees. Winter is over!

Juncos are members of the sparrow family and generally feed in small flocks. Everything you read about them talks about the fact that they are ground feeders, but I’m here to tell you they’ll land on a perch protruding from the feeder just as readily. They’ll also cling to a mesh bag full of nyjer (thistle) seed.

I used to have tube feeders hanging from poles clamped to the rails of our deck, but last year we had a new deck installed. It’s made of composite material, which I didn’t want to damage by clamping poles to the rails, so I bought the free-standing feeder you see in the picture below. I love it.

It has a small seed tray into which the seed empties via outlets at the bottom of the tube, and below that, a large seed tray upon which cardinals, mourning doves and others can perch and feed.

The seed tray features small drain holes to prevent water from collecting and causing mold to form and seed to rot.

The entire upper section is supported by a pin located just below the squirrel baffle under the feeder. You pull the pin out and the feeder assembly slides down for easy filling. Push it back up, re-insert the pin (it's on a chain, so don't worry about losing it) and your good to go!

They spill enough onto the deck so that more birds can feed on the deck at the same time. My deck is often a flurry of activity with cardinals, gold finches nuthatches, various sparrows, juncos, tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, mourning doves and blue jays all feeding simultaneously.

In July, 2012 a hen turkey and her three partially feathered poults started coming onto the deck and feeding a the base of the structure.

THIS FEEDER EVEN ALLOWS "GROUND FEEDERS" SUCH AS CARDINALS AND MOURNING DOVES TO FEED.
THIS FEEDER EVEN ALLOWS "GROUND FEEDERS" SUCH AS CARDINALS AND MOURNING DOVES TO FEED.

Of course, we have squirrels that monopolize the feeder at times, but they have to eat, too.

And, when they’re not hibernating, raccoons will come on the deck at night.

I’ve seen as many as 5 at one time.

I’m not happy about that but I’m at a loss as to what to do to keep them away.

I’ve tried spraying them with one of those “soaker” water guns, but that doesn’t do anything.

When I open the slider, they go on alert, but don’t leave unless I step out onto the deck, and even then they leave begrudgingly and return in a short while.

Plus, I’m not pleased to step out onto the deck with 5 “on alert” raccoons. They can be aggressive and they have formidable teeth and dexterous fingers.

I won’t mess with them beyond trying to scare them away.

I feed all year long despite the availability of the birds’ natural diet during the summer. The widespread use of insecticides by homeowners has reduced the insect population, believe it or not, and the birds have other stress factors.

The physical demand of the breeding season requires increased food consumption, the hatchlings have to be fed almost non-stop, and there’s competition for food from the summer visitors and migrating birds that are simply passing through and pause for a few days R & R.

Plus, I get to enjoy their color and song, it’s interesting to watch them interact with their fledgling offspring at the feeder, and they’ll still feed on whatever insects are around. I can leave my slider open all summer long and not get any bugs in the house…just raccoons.

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    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Interesting article. Does your cat go out on the deck? I like inside cats but the outside cats ravage our wild bird population; my dog just chases them but they do not seem to mind (or sometimes even notice).

      Glad to hear everything is okay up there. I have family in E. Dennis but they too were spared.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks, Doc. We were very lucky but it's disturbing to see the heart wrenching scenes from NY, New Jersey, Delaware and other regions that took it between the eyes. I'm glad your family in E. Dennis fared well also. I served in the Air Force with a guy from Dennis. We called him "the menace from Dennis."

      My cat is no longer with us. She died at age 16, but I still like to write about her in the present tense sometimes. Yes, she went out on the deck, which we had to reinforce with lattice work so she wouldn't jump the 12-15 feet to the ground. I called her my conservation kitty.

      She never tried to catch the birds although she was often just a pounce away. At first, the birds wouldn't come when she was out there but some adventurous black-capped chickadees risked their lives for the peanut hearts, sunflower hearts and safflower I offered.

      Eventually the birds just ignored her and fed normally. She would look up at them but never make a move. She did make a move towards a squirrel once, but the squirrel threatened back and she retreated. The big cats of Africa would have been appalled!

      She's been gone over two years now and I still find myself expecting to see her at the head of the stairs when I go up. She served as my "education animal" for a while when I was doing programs at schools and libraries. I retired her after a year or so because the children stressed her out.

      Our local Audubon affiliate says that feral colonies do impact bird populations here, but not to crisis levels. They encourage people to keep their cats indoors, but aren't on a crusade. The vast majority of cat owners do keep their cats indoors in this region.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 4 years ago from Midwest

      Hi Bob~So glad to know you're safe! Just mind boggling and heart breaking to watch the destruction...and I cannot imagine living it.

      Oddly enough, I've never put out birdseed. But birds certainly enjoy the feral's food! So, I'm constantly bleaching the patio from all the poo! Yuk! At any given moment, I will see the 4 cats along with a dozen birds all on the patio. And the 3 feral colonies for which I care are always riddled with crap so I have to take bleach wipes with me to clean off the shelters daily! I'm guessing the cat food is agreeable with the birds since I never see any deceased birds anywhere...

      And I'm so sorry for the loss of your inside gal. I lost Eddie 2 years ago and still find myself glancing over at his corner in the kitchen expecting to see that old man. Then I look out the window and picture him above the clouds...still curled up and napping!

      Thanks for the bird hub! I now know a little more about our feathered friends!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Patty, thanks for stopping by. The suffering and loss that storm caused is incredible. So many people lost so much, if not everything. I really feel fortunate that we had no damage.

      Time heals, but it doesn't erase (thankfully, in most cases), so we'll always have fond memories of our cats. Fluffy was a longhair I brought home at 8 weeks of age and originally named Hairball, but friends convinced me to change it.

      I wasn't married at the time and it was lousy coming home to an empty house all the time. It was great to have her greeting me when I came home.

      Right after I brought Fluffy home, I started dating my wife, who is allergic but stuck with Fluffy and me even though, when we got serious, I offered to re-home her (Fluffy, not the chick!). Sue wouldn't think of re-homing her and stuck with it for 16 years. I keep saying I got the better end of that deal!

      The birds may like the cat food because of the grains in it. Most likely corn is the first ingredient.

      There's a product called Poop Off that is GREAT at dissolving bird droppings. You can even use it on a car. You can check it out here: http://www.lifesgreatproducts.com/ and get it at most pet supply stores or on Amazon.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Pages-By-Patty profile image

      Pages-By-Patty 4 years ago from Midwest

      Wow, what a gal you've got there! :) So happy that you, she and Fluffy were able to remain together!

      I actually feed the ferals higher quality food since they have such a tough life. I like Evo and Wellness but I'll mix in Diamond Naturals if I'm running low to tide them over. Not real crazy about Iams but they LOVE the Kitten food, so I use that in the winter to keep the weight on. The coons & opossums get crappy Purina!

      Thanks so much for the tip about Poop Off....never heard of it but will definitely check it out!

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I'm glad some else feeds the birds all year round, though here in Ireland the summers can be so bad that there is no insect life or berries. Last summer it never stoppped raining and from what I observed in my back garden all the first flock of fledging seemed to die.

      There was certainly a lot less than the previous year.

      We don't get such extremes of weather over here but to listen to us you would image weather wise no one was as badly off as us. Its our favourite topic.

      Glad you and your family are ok. Hope the government get things back to normal quickly for everyone.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Patty, I'm surprised your birds are so fond of the high quality food. Maybe they're closet carnivores! I would think they'd join the raccoons and opossums on the Purina.

      Another consideration regarding the kitten food: it has more calcium in it than adult cats need, which could possibly lead to some calcification of the joints in adults and accelerate the onset of arthritis or other bone problems. Just a thought. Regards, Bob

      Hello, Highland Terrier, nice to see you. Three or four years ago we had a spring similar to the summer you describe. It was raw and wet for weeks.

      We all noticed a decline in bird feeder activity. I think the wet, cold weather devastated the nestling population due to hypothermia. I never did see any theories from credible sources.

      I contacted MassWildlife, our state wildlife agency, and they had no official position although they said they had many reports of a noticeable decline in bird population.

      They thought my theory was plausible and could even extend to the adults, who were compromised by the rigors of the breeding season.

      I'm extremely fortunate that nothing catastrophic happened around here, but New York, New Jersey and other regions suffered severe damages. The hurricane continues to inflict misery, only now as a blizzard in the mid-west.

      It will take months, and maybe even years, for some neighborhoods to recover. The last bands of rain clouds from Hurricane Sandy left our skies this morning, some 40 hours after she made landfall.

      This country has had some wicked natural catastrophes in recent years; from hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and wildfires. Nature isn't all butterflies and rainbows, is it? Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      An excellent piece! You did a fine job on this, and yes, birds are very good at detecting shifts in barometric pressure.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi aviannovice, nice to meet you. Thank you for the compliments and for confirming that birds react to fluctuations in barometric pressure.

      I get a lot of enjoyment from the birds at my feeder, as do some 70 million of my closest friends. Next to gardening, bird feeding is the country's most popular leisure time activity.

      I owned a feed and grain store until last October, and wild bird products were a big part of our business. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

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