How cold is it? For starters the keyboard of my office computer feels icy, the window next to me that overlooks Main St. in Lancaster blows chilled air through the crack of the sill, and my betta fish is swimming so slowly at the bottom of his bowl that it looks like he’s in dormancy. At home, the dog won’t stay outside for more than 3 minutes, the woodpile is shrinking as the hot-stove monster growls for more logs, my wife is cuddled next to the stove watching football and hockey while playing word games on the iPad, and a flock of starlings has descended on our cedar tree as if it contained fresh blueberries and cream.
The speckled birds are hungry for the tree's fruit. At times they are so thick jumping around in the branches they cause a frenzied chaos that shreds the boughs as it tumbles the cedar’s abundance of blue-black berries to the ground. In the feeding process the flock (of 500?) is thoroughly trimming the icy tips of those boughs such that the snow below the tree is now black with a thick circle of spiky cedar needles and small dark berries.
The birds alternate between hungrily hopping from limb to limb and recklessly descending to the ground to feed amidst the ring of debris. Until we let the Dude out for one of his 3 minute walks. For a young Labrador there is nothing more fun than a flock of starlings in the front yard about 25 feet away. You don’t realize how loud the birds are until you open the front door. Instantly, the chit-chattering shadow under the tree explodes as the yelping dog barrels into the berry-craving bevy of bird feathers. He chases them out to the pasture. He chases them up to the woods. He chases them through a thicket of bush honeysuckle and multi-floral rose bushes. Finally they fly to the tops of the locust trees and wait for him to get cold, which takes – 3 minutes.
I spoke with Carol Bannerman, USDA Wildlife Service communications specialist, about starlings this week. She says the agency is carrying out programs to remove the birds from dairy farms in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin where European starlings gather by the thousands during the winter. They offer assistance to Ohio farmers as well. A variety of birds are attracted to dairy feed, which offers a nutritious feast, she says. Because birds are selective in what part of the feed they eat, feeding at times is heavy enough to deplete the ration of protein and impact productivity Bannerman says.
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