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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Keep 'em warm and loved. © Donald Abrams
Keep 'em warm and loved.

© Donald Abrams

December 2007

Creature comforts

Make the Christmas Bird Count a holiday tradition.

Natasha Kassulke

More watchable wildlife
Take off the chill

Winter is a wonderful time for bird watching – no leaves on the trees.

So, grab your binoculars and a hot beverage of choice, and join by counting the birds at your feeder between sunrise and sunset. Each year, thousands of birders participate in the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the National Audubon Society (this season December 14, 2007 through January 5, 2008). Visit Audubon for more information.

© Elizabeth Cavanaugh
Help out by counting birds this season.

© Elizabeth Cavanaugh

The CBC is one of the longest-standing examples of how large numbers of amateurs can collect data from a wide, dispersed area – in this case, all the birds they can spot in one of hundreds of designated spots around the country – that then can be assessed by experts and amateurs alike to identify national trends.

Using the Christmas Bird Count, the National Audubon Society documented declining wintering populations of the American black duck in the 1980s, after which conservation measures reduced pressure on this species. In more recent counts, the conservation group has been tracking significant declines of evening grosbeaks in the Great Lakes region and the Northeast.

The northern cardinal was one of the most frequently reported birds for the 2007 Christmas Bird Count and American robins topped the list as the most numerous species counted, with more than two million robins reported from the combined 60 states and Canadian provinces.

The CBC has spawned similar data-pooling projects among birders. The Great Backyard Bird Count runs February 15-18, 2008 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more and view an online photo gallery featuring images taken from across the continent, visit The Great Backyard Bird Count.

A third opportunity to survey birds in the winter is Project FeederWatch sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Visit Project Feeder Watch for information.

More watchable wildlife

Wisconsin state parks, forests and trails also offer December opportunities for bird watching.

Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee, (414) 527-0232
Adult Program: Winter Birding. Dress warmly. Most of the time will be spent outside looking for sparrows, juncos, hawks and owls. We have binoculars to lend if you need a pair. Environmental Awareness Center. 10 a.m. - noon.
Family Program: Night Hunters. With keen eyesight, superb hearing and silent flight, owls are well adapted to nighttime hunting. Unravel some of the mysteries surrounding owls. Environmental Awareness Center. 10:30 a.m. - noon.

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit, Campbellsport, (920) 533-8322
Nature Storytime: Chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Always bright-eyed and full of energy, chickadees add a cheery note to any winter day. You'll be amazed by the lives these tiny birds lead. This hour of nature fun awaits 3- to 6-year-olds with accompanying adults. Ice Age Visitor Center. 9:30-10:30 a.m.

Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee, (414) 527-0232
One Wild Saturday Morning: Winter Birds. Drop in and make some bird feeders, learn how birds stay warm in winter, do a little bird identification, and much more. Environmental Awareness Center. 9 a.m. - noon.

Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit, Campbellsport, (920) 533-8322
Winter Solstice Night Hike: Gather around the fire to share some traditions of the longest night of the year. Then travel through the dark woods to discover what animals are awake and braving the cold of a winter night. This program is best for families/groups with children over the age of six years. Zillmer Trailhead. 7-8:30 p.m.

Take off the chill

Cold weather can be as hard on pets as it is on people. Here are some tips for keeping your cat or dog cozy:

Provide shelter if your pet must be outside. Doghouses should be draft-free and large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably but small enough to hold in its body heat.

If your pet becomes frostbitten, do not rub the frozen tissue. Instead, seek prompt veterinary care and if that is not possible, warm the area by immersing the tissue in warm (not hot) water or by using water and moist towels. When the tissue becomes flushed, discontinue the warming. Gently dry the area and lightly cover with a clean and dry bandage.

Keep fireplaces screened. Pets seeking warmth from the fire may get too close and their coat can catch a spark. Fires also contribute to dry skin and respiratory problems in some pets.

Use caution with pets and fireplaces. $copy;   Elizabeth Cavanaugh
Use caution with pets and fireplaces.

© Elizabeth Cavanaugh

If you are carrying a pet to the vet in the winter, put a hot water bottle or warm blanket in the carrier.

Increase your pet's food supply to keep its fur thick and healthy. Adding vitamins E and B-complex will strengthen tissues.

Don't use metal bowls for food and water when feeding outside. Tongues can get stuck to cold metal.

Tap on the hood before starting a car. Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. And remember that antifreeze has a sweet taste but can be deadly to pets and people if ingested. Wipe up spills immediately and store chemicals out of reach.

Salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet's feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates its mouth.