The Last Windrow: Watch for beautiful bird blizzards in January

A reflection on the resilience of very small Minnesotans.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

It was a blizzard of chickadees at the feeder. The black and white specks dropped like big raindrops from the overhanging limbs of the Norway pine trees.

I have an affinity for any creature that endures the arctic air that comes to visit northern Minnesota in January almost every year. That includes humans and the animals that don't head south with the first hint of freezing temps. There is something to be said for the way these warm blooded creatures face what they know will be a challenge.

Chickadees are in that group.

This little bird with a heart rate of 700 beats a minute seems to withstand whatever winter can deal out. They flit down to our bird feeders with a cheery peep that seems to cut through a 30 below zero morning.

Chickadee perched on a bird feeder on a frosty winter day.
Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

I think to myself that if this little piece of fluff can be cheery at temps that freeze car batteries, I should also look on the bright side of the season. Even if I do have frostbite on the edges of my ears and my car won't start.


One can't tell easily which chickadee is male and which is female. After a little investigation I read that even educated ornithologists have a tough time determining sex of the bird.

One of the differences is size. Males are a bit larger than females. It is easier to determine which is which in the early spring when breeding season approaches. Only the male chickadees do the song we hear coming from the treetops in warmer March and April temperatures.

Females only make a sound when they are nesting. They call for the males to bring food to their nests. And, I found out that chickadees normally mate for life. How they keep track of their mates is a mystery to me.

Bird-feeding has become big business in today's world. The feed store manager who supplies my sunflower seeds told me that the best-selling item he has is birdseed at this time of year.

My investigation also uncovered the fact that the birds don't actually need humans at all during the winter. They do perfectly well on their own. We only humor them by thinking they actually need us.

Black-capped chickadee in flight in winter flurries.
Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

We didn't feed birds, other than our chickens, on the farm where I grew up. With all the grain lying around there was no reason to. I did manage to feed a good number of blackbirds and starlings as I deep plowed a field. The birds followed the plow across the field strutting in the furrows behind the plow and reaping a harvest of worms and bugs.

When butchering of a critter was done, there were always leftovers where crows and other large birds gathered to take their share. But a birdfeeder was never seen behind the farmhouse.

Gazing out our kitchen window during the below zero temps we experience in January, watching the chickadees, nuthatches, red bellied woodpeckers and blue jays gives one a pleasant way to divert one's attention from all the negative news and goings-on in the country.


The birds are oblivious to anything other than grabbing a seed and heading for the branches to peck out the protein inside.

We had a blizzard last week, but no snow was to be seen. It was a blizzard of black and white chickadees. In January, what could be better than that?

See you next time. Okay?

John Wetrosky - Last Windrow.jpg

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