The first ice storm of the season brings an inch or two of cold glass wrapping around every exposed surface making road travel and walking conditions treacherous to impossible. And the birds have a hard time reaching food as they struggle to remove seeds encased in ice.
At first light I strap on my Alaskan ice cleats, spin the lids on the birdseed bins, plunge the plastic scoop into the dry, slippery bits, and pour millet, nyjer, peanuts, and sunflower chips onto four platform feeders hanging in the Elderberry shrub. The Stellar’s Jays are first to arrive. I presume it’s the same pair that visits every day shortly after daybreak. They take as much seed as they can hold in their gular pouch, and then fly off, and I won’t see them again until the next morning.
Though ice-fog surrounds the farmhouse creating poor visibility, festive activity springs from the shrub outside the kitchen window as over one hundred songbirds pounce on the feed covering the platforms and on the ground.
But, it’s an Anna’s Hummingbird’s arrival that truly makes the show for me. This bird comes every morning after it has stirred from its torpor (a strategy hummingbirds use to slow their body processes by 95% to survive cold nights), and it drinks some warm nectar in a red feeder I’ve hung from a branch. The Anna’s stays around the feeder for thirty minutes and then zooms off, and I don’t see it again until just before dark when it returns and takes several long sips to fortify itself before the long-cold hours ahead.
I was worried that by keeping nectar available I might be preventing the hummer from migrating, but this is not the case according to the Seattle Audubon Society. The Anna’s Hummingbird in the Pacific Northwest often does not migrate, but chooses instead to overwinter. It survives by lapsing into torpor and also by having a diverse diet. Anna’s eat insects and spiders in addition to flower nectar. According to Gregory Green a wildlife ecologist who writes for BirdWatching Magazine, these wintering hummingbirds seize flying insects from the air, “steal captured insects from spider webs, and pluck trapped insects from tree sap.” Wow, they are quite clever, so it’s no wonder a smile rises when I see an Anna’s busily drinking nectar from my feeder, because I know this tiny creature has just survived another night where the temperature dropped below 30 degrees.
I bring my hummingbird feeder inside at night, and then put it back outside just after dawn. I found a link on the Seattle Audubon Society’s website for heated hummingbird feeders — here is the link, if you are interested. Hummers Heated Delight
Here is the link to both types of ice cleats —Medium duty Stabilicer cleats
Which cleats should you get? It depends on what type of shoes or boots you will ear them with and also what you will be doing. if you are just going to the grocery store, then you may be able to make do with light duty cleats that pull on over loafers. But, if you are working around the yard , barn , or even walking to the mailbox, and it super icy– you need the orange or black cleats that you pull on or strap onto boots. The orange cleats are probably best for most unless you work outside a lot like I do, and you want to hike in icy, snowy conditions.