Will sing for their supper (maybe): Blizzard leaves robins out in the cold and hungry
GREEN BAY - If you thought you’ve had tough sledding after the blizzard, try being a robin.
Two feet of snow in mid-April, high temperatures in the 30s and not so much as a worm in sight. Would you feel like singing?
Last weekend's record-setting blizzard has left robins and other migrating birds wondering if they punched the wrong ticket on their return flight to Wisconsin.
Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary has been getting many calls from residents who are concerned about robins struggling with the deep snow cover. It’s a challenge for the birds and other wildlife to find food in these conditions, said Mike Reed, executive director at Bay Beach.
“It is the timing of it that makes it especially difficult for the birds. and some other animals, too,” he said. “Deer are really hurting right now, too.”
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While some robins overwinter in northeastern Wisconsin, surviving on fruits and berries, most go south. When they return in spring, the majority of berries are gone and insects and earthworms become their diet — unless they're buried beneath deep snow.
Robins don’t eat seed, so Bay Beach animal curator Lori Bankson recommends putting out dried mealworms, berries or suet. She also encourages collecting brush or using a lean-to to give them protection from the wind, and shoveling an area free of snow.
“That will be a magnet for these birds to come in and seek refuge,” Reed said. “They’re looking for bare pieces of ground.”
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Other early migrants, such as hermit thrushes, would also appreciate mealworms, berries and raisins, Reed said. He’s concerned about the tree swallows and purple martins that will be returning next week and won’t yet find insects available.
Filling up feeders will help other birds looking for food at this time of year. Squirrels, by their nature, will find a way to seize the opportunity, too.
“If you’re feeding the birds, you’re probably also feeding the squirrels,” Reed said.
With deer, their metabolism begins to transition in March from slower in winter to faster in spring. As a result, they burn more calories. It normally coincides with the snow melting, habitat greening up and more food sources, but this spring has been anything but normal.
“All their food got buried, too, and their metabolism has increased, so it’s going to be especially tough for them,” Reed said.
While supplemental feeding will help wildlife until the real spring decides to show up, Reed encourages people to consider longer-term help by planting bushes and shrubs that are known for holding their fruit longer into the winter, including such native plants as sumac, highbrush cranberry and bittersweet.
Any injured robins or other birds can be brought to the sanctuary’s animal care center, 1660 E. Shore Drive. Call (920) 391-3685 with questions.