April 06, 2020

Animals> Wildlife should recover from weather stress

People venturing out during the past few icy nights almost unanimously describe the sound of creaking and crashing tree limbs shattering the silent darkness.

“I could barely keep myself inside last night because it was just so interesting hearing the trees falling,” said Philip Dalto of Monroe. “It was like going out and watching a meteor shower, except instead of stars or meteors shooting it was trees falling.”

One Winterport man said daylight made his neighborhood look like a battle zone.”It’s going to be good business for someone with a chain saw when this is all over,” he said.

Thin birches bowed under nearly an inch of ice like praying Muslims. Foresters say those hardwoods should bounce back when the thick ice eventually melts. Big spruces hunched like old men in big coats. Many of their smaller siblings may snap off at the top and die.

Mainers will all have stories about their favorite trees succumbing to the ice, or of ripping down branches to make it out of their driveways. But John McNulty, vice president of Seven Islands Land Co. in Bangor, said the Maine woods as a whole probably will be fine.

“I haven’t even given it a second thought,” he said about the effects on the land he manages. “It’ll take more than this to hurt the trees.”

But winds could break and kill trees that otherwise might bounce back, he said. Friday afternoon forecasts promised 25-miles-per-hour winds later in the day.

Maine’s wildlife should be resilient. Mac Hunter, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Maine, said mice, voles, squirrels and pine martens will probably stay safe looking for food under the snow. Foxes and racoons, with their insulating layers of fat, may nap until the storm passes. Deer and moose will shelter amid dense evergreen stands, while bears are already hibernating.

Birds are likely to be the hardest hit. Judy Kellogg Markowsky, director of Maine Audubon’s Fields Pond Nature Center, said the redpolls that come down from the Arctic tundra to winter in balmy Maine will be unable to break the ice around the fruit they seek.

Chickadees may fare better, aiming their beaks at the undersides of branches where the ice is thin or nonexistent.

Like every winter, Markowsky said eight out of 10 of the songbirds will die. This winter may be harsher than others, but she said the frigid deaths are normal, and the birds make up for them abundantly in the spring.

For now, the birds near Markowsky’s house are happily hovering around the recently de-iced feeder — even if they, like many Mainers struggling with groceries this week, have to “slide down the branch fluttering” to get there.

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