Hunger in the Valley


More snow and yet more snow.

If this is global warming, what we need is some global scorching.

But while I sit here in the warm looking out at the drifts building on our deck, I wonder about the animals and birds out there trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from.

March and early April are the hunger times here in the Foothills, especially in a year like this year when we have lots of deep snow.

If you are a mule deer, you have used up much of your stored fat reserves fighting the cold and the drifts.

And, if you are also pregnant, your body is beginning to demand more to feed the fawn in your belly.

Mule deer are naturally browsers.

As we keen gardeners know to our cost, they are experts at wandering along nipping off the growing points of our favorite bushes and other plants.

Unfortunately by this time of the year, many of the more nutritious bits have been eaten or are buried in snow and it is getting tougher to find juicy shoots to chew on.

On top of that, the deep snow makes it much harder to get around and deer and other herbivores have to balance the energy they have to use up to look for food against the potential energy they might get back if and when they find it.

Other herbivores like the jackrabbits are facing a similar problem.

They primarily are grazers and have to dig down to find what grass and other vegetation there is under the snow.

Earlier in the season, we had a jackrabbit wandering around our neighbourhood but since the middle of February he has disappeared, hopefully to find somewhere that the snow is not as deep and crusty.

Small rodents like the mice and the voles actually enjoy the deep snow. They can scurry around down where it is reasonably warm knowing that they are relatively safe from predators like the great horned owl and the coyotes.

Our winter birds also start to find it tougher to get enough to eat late in the winter.

For the seed and berry eaters like the chickadees, waxwings and grosbeaks, supplies are running very low and what they do find is generally low in food value.

The Downy woodpecker that regularly visits our prunus tree along with his bigger cousin, the flicker, have an easier time, but even they find it more difficult to find enough bugs under the tree bark to keep the cold at bay.

I noticed that through much of February we did have a small flock of mallard hanging around in the open water below the sewage plant but they seem to have moved on, probably down to the Bow where there is more open water and more to eat.

All of this food stress means that this is the time of the year when Darwin’s theory of natural selection kicks in.

March and April are the months when the old and the sick and injured are weeded out.

On the other hand, let’s not forget that there is another side to this story.

Nothing is wasted in nature.

The weak and dead become food for the predators and scavengers such as the coyotes, the magpies and the ravens.

Those that survive are the strongest and best adapted to pass on their genes to the next generation.

Actually, March is not all doom and gloom here in the valley.

While it is often our snowiest month, the sun gets higher every day.

A couple of mornings ago I was out in our yard and heard a house finch singing from the top of the neighbour’s mayday tree.

The warbling song of the finch and the plaintiff little mating call of the chickadees are the most joyful harbingers of spring.

Bring it on.


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