Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Calico-Colored Bird

As autumn in the Upper Peninsula becomes colder, darker, and less vibrant, other changes are happening, too. The coats of deer turn heavy and gray for the winter; the fur of raccoons becomes full and bushy. Birds, so colorful in the summer months, trade their eye-catching plumage for more muted, earthy hues. Some animals brace themselves for the impending winter: the gray and red squirrels eat constantly, fattening themselves for the cold months ahead, caching acorns and nuts for use in the future. While some birds stay for the winter -- the hardier chickadees and nuthatches are a good example -- many are already well on their migratory routes south. Large flocks of Canada geese form Vs in the autumn sky; our musical thrushes have long since disappeared.

Still other birds are arriving for the winter, from even further north. One of these birds is the snow bunting. Its summers are spent in the Canadian tundra, nesting on the rocky terrain far north of Hudson Bay. While in the Arctic tundra, its breeding plumage is a striking contrast of black and white; by the time it arrives in the U.P. for the winter, the snow bunting has turned an equally-striking mottled calico.

It's a long way to fly, only to be hit by a car.

Snow buntings aren't a common sight. Steph found this one along County Road 550, while out on a field trip with her Boreal Flora class. She remarked how strange it was to hold a bird that she did not recognize. Her professor identified it, and he mentioned that he'd recently seen another dead snow bunting, also along a road.