The Sage Connection

Things that make me wonder


We recently had a winter storm, complete with rain, snow, and a power outage, at my house that lasted for 24 hours.

Our generator kept our food safe and house warm, but the television and electronics were on and off.

So, there was nothing to do but to go inside my head for a big-time worry fest. If you are unfamiliar with what constitutes a worry fest, let me introduce you.

Regular readers of this column know that I live in the country with a variety of wildlife. Raccoons, coyotes, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, owls, hawks and several kinds of birds share our habitat, along with our domestic animals, dogs and chickens. (I consider chickens that follow you around and eat out of your hand domestic, in case you were wondering.)

Of course, spiders, bugs, snails, and slugs are also here, but they didn’t make the cut for this particular worry fest.

This worry fest was confined to the safety of the aforementioned wildlife during storms like the most recent one…like where they go to stay warm.

How do birds stay warm, anyway?

So, when the electronics were working, I began to look up how they survive. According to Fish and Game folks, birds shiver to stay warm just like people do. Birds have much higher metabolic rates and burn more energy to stay warm than we do.

All birds stay warm by trapping pockets of air around their bodies. The secret to maintaining these layers of air lies in having clean, dry and flexible feathers. The cleaning process, generally known as preening, depends on the species of bird. While all birds produce a special oil from a gland near the base of their tails, some cold-tolerant birds use this oil to weatherproof their feathers.

Other birds like egrets, herons and mourning doves grow special feathers that disintegrate into a powder that they use to waterproof their feathers. Regardless of what weatherproofing method they use, preening helps birds keep a water-resistant top layer and a toasty warm inner layer.

I cannot tell you what a relief this was to discover, as we do not have enough birdhouses for all of our birds.

Editor’s Note: If our local birds are among your interests, check out George Walter’s “Thurston’s Birds” column every Thursday here in The JOLT. Or click the Opinion tab in the navigation bar. Here’s one!

Packing on the pounds

I know the squirrels, chipmunks and birds have all packed on the pounds because we feed them daily. And if we are a little late or they begin to run out, the pecking at the window or out-and-out banging by the squirrels will alert us to the fact that more food is required.

Since most of the other animals I mentioned have fur coats, I was not as concerned about them but decided to check on them anyway.

According to the Fairfax County Park Authority, and Wildlife Busters I found out the following:

Deer: They’ll bed down for the storm and sit it out. When it’s time to feed again, they’ll browse on anything they can reach. Still, that can be a little problematic if the snow depth hits a couple of feet or more. Does become dominant in winter and will sometimes drive other deer away in their search for food. When the weather clears out Sunday, they’ll start walking around.


However, not all squirrels are the same when it comes to warming up. Ground squirrels use their handy paws to dig little caves in the ground to stay warm. But tree-dwelling squirrels, like the red squirrel or the very common eastern grey, make dens in the trunks of trees or build nests (also called “dreys”) in branches out of twigs and leaves.

Baby squirrels, often born in the chilly month of January, usually curl up in tree trunk nests, all huddled together to keep warm.

Chipmunks: They’re underground, dormant and inactive. They don’t accumulate fat and hibernate, but rather they store food and rely on that. They’ll go underground in severe weather and plug the entry hole to their burrow.

Although I have not seen one around our home, I ran across the following tidbit that I thought I’d share with you. A baby porcupine is called a porcupette. A group of porcupines is called a prickle. Almost makes me want to adopt one just because of the names.

I knew Mother Nature must have made provisions for all of her creatures, but I do feel better now that I know what some of them are.

We are never too old to learn new things.


Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below.