Wildlife Lessons: A Survivor’s Tale


“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

~Yann Martel, Life of Pi




I had a different story for you today.  One that started out with beautiful spring skies, and warm breezes, birds chirping and arriving to their summer homes a bit early.  And then the bottom dropped out, and we had this….this frigid cold, and snow….days of snow.  Snow that froze my daffodils and hyacinths to the ground and kept them there for 4 days.




Snow in April is common here.  We get dustings, and even up to 3, 4 or 5 inches.  But it melts fast.  In all my days here, I have never seen so much snow in April, 8 or more inches for 2 days, and no melting even when it stopped.  Cold January and February temps, in the 20s and teens, instead of normal early April temps in the 40s and 50s.



And as I tell this story, our snow is still here.  And my flowers are still suffering.  But the more poignant part of the story was not about me, and my whining about my poor flowers.  It was about the birds, and especially the American Robins.  They came back in March.  The last to arrive were here on the first full day of spring…our lovely warm spring that has disappeared.



We have loads of robins who visit us.  They pair off, and make their home claiming the land between every 2-3 houses.  Staking their territory to start their home and raise their young.  And our pair has been coming here now for 3 years running.  We know because the female greets us every morning by banging on the window.  She is the only one to ever do this, and she has been doing it now for three years.  But that is another story you can read here.




DSCN3136The robins are used to a bit of snow, and cold.  But this snow swallowed the ground, and not a bit of it was left uncovered.  Why is this significant?  Because robins eat worms and insects in spring, which were nowhere to be found in the snow.  See my poor daffodil buds languishing in the snow.




DSCN3151And it didn’t dawn on me that they would be suffering until I saw this.  Our female struggling in the Barberry branches.  At first I thought, why would she choose to perch in this thorny bush, where the branches are vertical and packed tight with barely any breathing space.  And then I saw it….




barberry collage

She was eating the berries formed last fall.  We have never seen any birds eating these berries.  Which is a good thing, as the seeds then are scattered (if the birds eat the berries), and this invasive bush colonizes in forests pushing out the native understory plants.  But this day I was glad for the barberry berries as were the robins.

I do have lots of berry producing bushes that are native and preferred by the birds, but those were picked clean in late summer and fall.





Another sign they were eating these berries, was the tell-tale red droppings in the snow, and on my front porch bench.





They found evergreens or trees with dense branches for some shelter, but their isn’t much here as the trees are not leafing out for another month.  For birds to survive the cold, it is essential they have food, stay still, especially if they can’t find much food, and use their metabolism to generate heat. And they puff up their feathers to keep the cold air away from their skin, and trap body heat.





Of course they need water to drink, but all puddles and ponds were frozen.  So at first, I saw them eating snow often to stay hydrated.  As the snow on the driveway and roads melted and formed tiny puddles, they drank from those.




bird footprints

Seeing their little foot prints in the deep snow, broke my heart.  They seemed to prefer staying on the ground, even sitting on top of the snow in sheltered areas.


I have plans to take out the barberry bush in the next year or so, but I will make sure we replace it with a nice berry producing bush, and maybe add a couple more along the side of the house just in case.  After all, we have lots of bird friends who like berries, so the more the better.




I guess I should have realized the burden this unexpected weather would put on these birds, but we are so used to seeing birds here all winter.  Of course our full-timers, as I call them, are acclimated to our climate and know how to survive.  Unfortunately for the visitors, they are not used to this, but boy they are wired to survive, and find what they need.


I was buoyed by their feistiness, and their determination.  It pulled me out of my snowy weather doldrums, and made me see the bigger picture beyond my flowers….which I bet may survive after all.  I won’t count them out yet either!




With this wildlife story, I am joining in the meme Wildlife Wednesday hosted by Tina@My Gardener Says that happens the first Wednesday of every month, and with Saturday’s Critters hosted by Eileen@Viewing nature with Eileen that happens every Saturday.  I am also linking in with with Judith@Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday, and Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every week.



Note:  I’ll tell you the nice spring critter story next month, and give you any updates on the robins.  Also please excuse some of the pictures…between the weather, dirty windows and screens they made for some dark and out of focus shots.



I leave you with another thought about nature and surviving.  Feel free to download the photo and share.


All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Living From Happiness, 2014-16.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

41 Replies to “Wildlife Lessons: A Survivor’s Tale”

    1. And it is hard on the plants they count on too! The robins and other birds seem to be fine…but boy I don’t know what would have happened had there not been berries in my yard. There is enough ground thawed now that they are scavenging for insects again…especially worms!

  1. Awwww I hope the little birds make it through this unexpected cold snap – throw them some bird seed from me 🙂 Lovely idea to plant a new berry bush, with this wacky, weird, dare I say global warming, weather who knows what weather will be coming unexpectedly!
    Wren x

  2. I hope your snow and ice melts quickly and that the birds–robins and others– find food. It is tough when unexpected weather patterns (guess we’d all better get used to that….) impact wildlife. Just ask the monarchs in Mexico. Thanks for participating in Wildlife Wednesday. I’d be interested in knowing how the robins fare–once spring truly arrives.

  3. You could have put out water in some big saucers that go under plants. I know you would have had to keep refilling to prevent freezing, but it can be done. I do it here in TN even though I have a couple of bird baths that have heaters in them. Harder to feed Robins, but they can be hydrated

    1. A great idea Ginger, but the freezing weather was 24/7 for 4 days so I am not sure that would have been able to be done consistently with daytime highs in the 20s and snowing…when I saw them eating snow, I knew they were hydrating. I almost think they saw our full-timers eating snow to keep themselves hydrated as that is what the birds do here during winter.

      I think I was more worried about food and warmth (shelter), but they again were resourceful. They would not eat at the feeders for seed or suet so finding berries was great. Thankfully yesterday afternoon, they were back getting worms as the ground thawed enough.

  4. Thank you so much for seeing their burden, Donna. My heart breaks when birds arrive ready for spring and then cold snaps back at them. You’re such a kind soul.

  5. Oh Donna, the snow in your area is dreadful, climates are all over the place this Winter and Spring. I hope your Robins find some respite soon, thats a great plan to plant more berried shrubs for them, I wonder if this will be a small part in birds evolving, as normal foods are not available and so instead of worms they will have to eat berries in order to survive, let alone successfully breed. I hope Spring returns soon.

    1. It is dreadful Julie and we are hoping the snow and cold will be behind us by next week. It is interesting to think how they have developed and how they survive and evolve.

  6. I loved reading your story and of course, worried for the robins too. There is nothing like the early morning songs of the spring robin! I hope—beyond hope—that many more people will understand these drastic swings for what they are: a dimension of global warming, which I call “Global Weirding.” I’ve found that more people can see the effects we are having on the earth in the speeding up a “natural” process of warming. Somehow global weirding gets that across-:) Somewhere the big Robin in the Sky is thanking you! We are all connected. Today it is 85 degrees in Portland, Oregon. Can you believe that? All of my tall and extremely large French tulips are unhappy.

    1. Lots of Global Weirding going on all over….and we will all suffer as we are now in subtle ways….I am sorry to hear about your tulips…way too hot there. I hope you are well Susan. I think of you often.

  7. I think the warm temperatures of March lulled many of us (including me and my hyacinths) into thinking it was spring. We got the cold without any of the insulating snow to protect plants, and my hyacinth buds, which never got a chance to open, are now hanging down limply.

  8. I love the madness:)
    And how the poet describes it so:)
    Thanks for sharing these amazing images…..the paradox of life
    captured in photos. Springtime and deep snow. Robins and ice.
    Beauty and hunger.
    Oh how it touches my heart, Donna.
    Thanks for inspiring me so,

  9. Hello, Donna! I am so happy to see that the Robins found a way to survive. The birds were all over my feeders yesterday during our little snow showers. I am wondering if winter will ever end. Great post and lovely photos. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Sunday, enjoy your day and the new week ahead!

  10. What an amazing story, a wonderful post. It helps me to appreciate the strength and courage of those creatures that must struggle in the challenges the weather give them! Thank you!

  11. We love seeing the robins and often have a cardinal or goldfinch hit the window…not on purpose though. Maybe there is a story there too! Enjoy your week. Hugs, Diane

  12. His eye is on the sparrow….and the robin. I’m so thankful that our God provides for all of his creations, no matter how small, no matter harsh the condition!

  13. What a beautiful story of survival Donna. We too had a 5 inch coating of snow and some very cold temps, but the sun melted the snow within a day. The birds here are able to find plenty to eat. What a strange winter this has been.

  14. Birds are such resourceful survivors! I like how they puff up to stay warm.

    I have not seen any robins as yet and I believe it is because they won’t chance coming here too early, as we can still have major snowstorms at our elevation.

  15. I often wonder how the birds and other animals cope with the severe winter temperatures and conditions. Interesting observations, Donna. The rascally Steller’s Jays have been known to come and knock on the window if we don’t get the seed out early enough for them.

  16. A beautiful note/ thought about nature and surviving, Donna!! Lovely captured in photo instants, sensitive and delicate. May you have a Spring filled with joy and happiness, with lots of aspects of nature to observe…
    Greetings in the new week of April!

  17. They are so lucky to have that berry bush. I put out water soaked raisins and some peanuts when it is bad and they happily take them … Michelle

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