We’ll remember August 10, 2020, forever. On that day the wind changed Eastern Iowa and Winding Pathways in a way that will persist for a century. In 40 minutes, straight-line wind gusts up to 140 miles an hour toppled or broke 47 of our 53 trees. Two landed on our roof.
Our property adjoins Faulkes Heritage Woods, a 110-acre preserve of tall old trees, mostly oaks. The derecho felled most of its big trees that tumbled into a jumbled mass of trunks, branches, and leaves.
Wondering how the great change would impact wildlife, we quickly noticed two short term impacts. August and September are usually slow months for bird feeder visitors as birds normally have plenty of wild food. As soon as the wind calmed, all was still. Faithfully, Rich found and filled the feeders. The next morning, we noticed heavy use by house finches, titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers, and chickadees. It was almost like the feeding frenzy that happens as a winter blizzard approaches.
Short Term Impacts
We quickly realized that deer, raccoons, coyotes, woodchucks, squirrels, and even chipmunks experienced a life-changing event. Their travel corridors changed as huge trees blocked deer trails, for example. They had to find new routes through the debris. One afternoon we saw a mother deer and fawn walking on the one remaining “open” trail around our prairie. Then, they crawled under a fallen tree and disappeared into the maze of branches. The ever clever raccoons have become more than pests as they tear up feeders and raid garbage cans. Also, the storm destroyed this year’s acorn and walnut crop, nuts that many species require. That is why the birds came so readily to the feeders. And still do!
We are now watching for the long term impacts of the loss of so many trees. Our good friend, Jim Berry, is the former executive director of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in New York. We asked him what we might expect following the loss of so many big trees in Faulkes Woods and our property.
“There are winners and losers. I would expect to see fewer wood thrushes, ovenbirds, and scarlet tanagers. They prefer mature forests. The more open woods and sunshine hitting the ground will cause an increase in cardinals, robins, and white-eyed vireos,” he said.
We have been fortunate to enjoy seven woodpecker species over the years. Some will benefit and some will lose from the great woods opening windstorm. According to Jim red-headed, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers are likely to increase. So will flickers.
But sapsuckers and hairy and pileated woodpeckers that like the old trees and a closed canopy will probably decline.
The loss of hollow trees that shelter animals and the destroyed nut crop are going to make this a lean winter for squirrels. Deer, blue jays, woodchucks, chipmunks, and wild turkeys will also miss the acorns that normally rain down each fall.
We were saddened to lose so many trees but look forward to watching the forest restore itself. We’re also watching to see changes in wildlife.
Guest Blogger Jackie Hull
There is nothing that can surpass the natural ebb and flow of life passing by one’s window every day. The early morning symphony of spring birds creating their own composition of sound as each species awakens to another day. The goldfinches, chipping sparrows, Indigo buntings, robins, flickers, wood thrushes, chickadees, pileated woodpecker, nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, crows, hawks, catbirds and the unflappable mockingbird all announcing to the world that it’s a new day. Up and at ‘em!”
One particular morning after this grand symphony I noticed a chickadee zip into the mimosa tree near the back door. As he teetered on a branch, he seemed to be checking out the birdhouse attached to the side picket fence that surrounds our cottage garden. The chick came in for a closer look as he landed securely on a fence post. Then straight as an arrow, he went through the birdhouse entry for the final inspection.
Apparently the abode met with approval. Soon the male and female chickadees were padding the floor of the birdhouse with moss from the woods across the pasture. Diligently they flew to and from the woods with beaks full of moss. At one point my curiosity coaxed me to peek inside the box to view their progress. The moss-covered the floor and they had begun twining fine grass strands into a circle. One of the chickadees caught me and scolded me soundly for peeking.
Mid-day that there didn’t seem to be much activity. As soon as the sun began setting, the chicks stepped up their construction. Again my curiosity pushed me to the birdhouse. I opened the door. To my complete delight, I counted six cream-colored eggs with soft brown speckles nestled in a perfectly round cup of grass. Of course, the chicks caught me again and proceeded with another scolding. I retreated to the back step.
Every day I waited impatiently for the hatching. The male came regularly with worms to share with the mate. He would give a clear whistle and then softly chat before he popped into the house. It seemed to me that this breeding process was taking too long. Once more I peeked. Six chicks opened wide their beaks and begged for food. This seemed like the last straw to the doting parents. They clamored about chattering at me. Again I retreated and watched from the back step.
This preparing the chicks for fledging began at dawn and continued until dusk, quite a marathon. First, one adult came with beautiful green worms to be popped into the loudest mouth. The adults always announced that they were coming as they hopped from crepe myrtle to post and always bull’s eyed the doorway. As quickly as they entered, they were gone to forage for more bugs and worms.
One morning several weeks later I noticed a chick teetering in the doorway. The chick quickly retreated because that nosy woman was at the back door again. Sensing I was on the inside looking out, he hopped onto the door lip. Within a matter of minutes, he flew out the doorway, trying desperately to cling to the slippery vinyl house siding. In a twinkling of an eye, one of the adults was there to guide the fledgling to the butterfly bush. The chicks’ tail feathers were a bit short, but using every ounce of energy, the chick followed the adult across the yard into the wild rose bush.
Appreciation of Little Moments
This was certainly a morning of the natural ebb and flow of life. If I decided to leave the back doorway, that moment would have passed me by forever. Such a glorious moment I would have missed. Within three hours the other chicks had flown away following their parents into the woods further down the lane. I could hear them chattering to the chicks and the chicks answering them. They have gone on now leaving me to ponder the wonder of life. It was a special event to have had this chickadee pair decide it was just fine to nest so near my back door.
I will always cherish the sheer joy it gave to me.
As autumn progresses in the upper Midwest, birds appear and disappear, group and spread out. Pileated woodpeckers have returned to the suet feeders. Chickens help grind up the garden residue and eat the bugs. White-throated sparrows sing a different tune on their way south. Juncos suddenly appear. Bluebirds sit on branches surveying the yards. Hawks send everyone scurrying. Vultures wing one more time overhead before catching the north winds and head to warmer climes.
Enjoying a Welcoming Yard
On the evening of May 17th, one of nature’s brightest colors greeted us at Winding Pathways. It was a brilliant male scarlet tanager, a somewhat rare bird that we only see briefly each May.
The next morning, he was joined by a female, and we assume they’ll nest in Faulkes Heritage Woods that adjoins our property. Tanagers are birds of the big woods, and they’ll find comfortable lodging in the big oaks nearby.
We bought Winding Pathways ten years ago partly because it adjoins the 110-acre Woods protected from development by a conservation easement. It’s mostly steep land that drops down to Indian Creek about a quarter of a mile from our home.
Creating a Welcoming Yard
Since we bought our land, we’ve diversified the yard by restoring prairies and increasing the variety of savanna and woodland wildflowers in shady areas, used prescribed fire to reduce exotics, and installed many birdhouses and feeders. Thanks to the nearby woods and our more open prairie yard with the savanna in between, we enjoy a rich array of bird species. Some, like woodpeckers and chickadees, stay around all year but more migrate to nest here or stop by on their trek to nest further north. We keep a running list of the birds we see from our dining room table each spring. Some we just see winging over but many stop to eat and rest.
Growing Bird List
We’re adding to this list daily but here’s what we’ve spotted and heard so far in May 2019:
Great Blue Heron, Barred and Horned Owl, Canada Goose, Black Capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Cardinal, White and Red Breasted Nuthatch, Downy, Hairy, Red Bellied, Red Headed, and Pileated Woodpeckers and Flicker, Turkey Vulture, House Sparrow, Wild Turkey, Red Breasted Grosbeak, Northern Oriole, Wood Duck, Common Yellowthroat, Indigo Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Kingbird, Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle, Cowbird, House Sparrow, Starling, House and Carolina Wren, House Finch, Red Tail Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Crow, Pelican.
And the list keeps growing. You, too, can create a welcoming yard. This introductory YouTube video from Canada gives a quick overview of the important elements in attracting birds to a yard. It’s totally “Homegrown” and short. You can create welcoming space on a condominium patio, at a retirement or nursing home, an urban lot or spacious acreage.
Another YouTube video explains how to bring natural elements together to create natural areas. In this case, a “forest.” Again, from large scale to small we can all do this! We would, naturally, adapt to our region of the country and world. The concepts are similar.
What to Consider When Creating a Welcoming Yard
We’re lucky to have Indian Creek and Faulkes Heritage Woods near Winding Pathways, but even yards not adjacent to natural areas can increase bird variety by creating diverse habitat. Spring is the best season to plant prairies and shrubs! Learn more about birds, their habits and habitats at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.