My recent post on Arctic birds (Arctic Birds, Large and Small – 28Jan2014) generated a lot of interest in Snow Buntings, so I decided to road hunt for a flock and create a follow-up post. I targeted open, snow-covered fields with scattered weed stalks and seed heads visible above the snow, habitat that isn’t all that common on intensively managed farms. I found nothing, and began cursing the effects of “clean” farming on wildlife habitat. Minutes later, I felt the need to apologize to the farming community for that thought. In the distance, a solitary American Crow was feeding in a 300-foot-long strip of freshly spread cow manure. Crows are intelligent creatures, and I like to think that this one felt sorry for me and was intentionally directing my gaze to the huge flock of Snow Buntings nearby, also foraging for seeds in the fresh manure!
Fortunately, the strip of manure was perpendicular to the road and my truck blind. The buntings fed from the far end of the strip toward the road, at first looking more like a colony of army ants than a flock of songbirds. They fed until they ran out of manure, or until spooked by the noise of a passing vehicle. At that point the flock burst into flight and the wave-like mass either left for awhile or returned to the far end of the manure strip to begin the feeding process all over again.
Many other species of birds have learned the value of manure as a source of food in winter – turkeys, doves, sparrows, gulls and blackbirds to name a few. “Winter Birding 101”: follow the manure spreader!
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.