With more than a month until April arrives, it may be premature to proclaim the end of winter. But since it never arrived, why not?
So far this winter I've seen less than 6 inches of snow, and temperatures have been incredibly mild. Only twice has my thermometer dipped to 10 degrees. We did have one mini-ice storm, but it lasted less than 12 hours, and we didn't even lose power.
Understand, I'm not complaining. Though I enjoy a pristine blanket of snow and even nose hairs that freeze with every breath, my love affair with winter ended a number of years ago. This year's mild weather has simply accelerated my countdown to spring.
Along the way, I've received a number of interesting letters from readers. More than a few have complained about an absence of blue jays and dark-eyed juncos. I've noticed this, too. I haven't seen a blue jay since last fall, and my flock of juncos consists of only a handful of individuals.
I cannot explain the lack of these two common species. I wonder if West Nile virus has returned and knocked back the blue jay population. But I doubt that's a problem because I've also heard from plenty of readers who have their normal complement of blue jays.
I blame the dearth of juncos on the mild winter. Cold and snow drive birds to feeders simply because they're an easy and reliable source of food when birds get cold and hungry. On mild days, birds forage more leisurely on natural foods. In fact, on mild days, insects are active and most birds prefer live food to seeds.
Though speculating why bird numbers fluctuate is easy, real answers are difficult to nail down. That's why I'm looking forward to this year's Great Backyard Bird Count (Feb. 17-20). When the results are posted, and that happens almost instantaneously as participants submit their data, we'll get a snapshot of winter bird populations.
First, I'll look at blue jay numbers. If there's a problem, it will be evident. I can check count results from nearby communities as well as locations all around the country. Plus I'll be able to compare this year's results to previous years.