A Winter Parakeet, Some Redwings and Thoughts on Cold Feet

Dear Readers, there is always a bit of cognitive dissonance when I see a bright green ring-necked parakeet in the garden when the temperature is below zero, but that’s to forget that, in their native India, the mornings can be bitterly cold. And, of course, these birds are the ultimate adaptors, making the most of whatever is available, whatever the weather. I was hoping that this chap (for chap he was, with a bright pink ring around his neck) would move further up the tree into the sunshine, but he remained stubbornly in the dark bit. He had been polishing off the peanuts for at least fifteen minutes, and then flew up to try his hand with the whitebeam buds, which he was methodically plucking off and chewing, though from the way he was blinking and had turned his head quizzically to one side I suspect they weren’t altogether to his liking.

Anyhow, away he went, though I have no doubt he’ll be back tomorrow. You can almost set your watch by when they arrive, they are birds with a very strict routine.

Not so the redwings. They stop over in the whitebeam for a few minutes at a time, but all the hawthorn berries and rowan berries are already gone, so they move on. It always gives me a thrill to see these winter visitors, and today they, unlike the parakeet, obliged by sitting at the very top of the tree in the sunshine. They were all fluffed out, catching the air between their feathers so that they could warm it up. I did wonder about their poor cold feet, and the RSPB website tells me that this is why birds sometimes stand on one leg, so they can warm up their feet alternately. If you see a bird that is hunkered down with its tummy covering both feet, it’s probably trying to warm them up.

For some birds, such as ducks and gulls, a further adaptation is utilised – the blood entering the feet is in blood vessels that pass very close to those that bring the cold blood back from the feet. In this way, the blood leaving is slightly warmed up so that the body doesn’t get chilled quite as much as it would otherwise, which saves much-needed energy and evens things out a bit. One reason why humans get frostbite is that the blood is withdrawn from the extremities to protect our vital internal organs, and this can happen to birds too, but fortunately it’s rare. And I was rather moved by this story of a teacher in Wisconsin who, on hearing that a local Muscovy duck had lost both his feet to frostbite, used a 3-D printer to manufacture some new ones, which the duck appears to have taken to like, ahem, a duck to water.

Now, I have been thinking a bit about what to do for the Twelve Days of Christmas this year, and, being only too happy to give 2022 the boot, I thought it might be nice to look forward to what’s coming up next year – what should be blooming when, what the skies are doing, what natural events should be happening and if there’s anything special going on in each month. I often forget that there’s meant to be a lunar eclipse, or to look out for particular things that should be in flower (though climate change is making that a tad difficult to predict). It will make it a little bit  UK centric, but I shall give that some thought. Anyhow, any thoughts most welcome!

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