Snowbird

bird tracks

It’s beginning to look and feel like January at last. We’re getting snow in small increments, here — ideal for preserving the tracks of small birds and mammals. The above tracks were probably made by a slate-colored junco, AKA snowbird. Juncos forage extensively on the ground, looking for seeds and insects, and in breeding season they nest on or very near the ground as well. The Wikipedia claims that juncos will sometimes eat their own droppings, then eat the droppings that result from that, and so on — an ouroborus-like exercise in self-consumption. It’s the rare being that can eliminate elimination altogether, like the mites that live in your eyelashes. Demodex mites lack an excretory orifice of any kind. They spend most of their lives head-down inside hair follicles, like shy woodland creatures living in hollow trees. Sometimes they emerge at night and walk around on your skin while you’re asleep.

frozen pond (small)
Click on photo for larger view

Much as I like looking for tracks, what I’m really attracted to is untracked snow, which offers a vision of the world free of mark or blemish. Maybe that’s what motivates the coprophagous slate-colored junco, too: an aesthetic preference for a clean slate. Or at least a clean plate.

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Thanks to Ambivablog for originally bringing demodex mites to my attention.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. Lovely photos, Dave – sounds like you are happy to have snow at last. It really does transform and brighten the world. I miss it already, now that we’re back to our normal dreary rains and darkness.

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  2. There is something so beautifully transformative about snow. The landscape becomes smooth and round, soft-edged and reflective. It covers the dreariness of the winter yard with the light that has been absent from the sky.

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  3. Pretty pictures with a scatophagic theme–whoa! We once had a neighbor who had a dog that was half beagle and half greyhound. The dog was long with the greyhound’s waspy and flexible mid-section and the beagle’s appetite for its own poop. One day we watched it bend around and eat its own elimination as it came out. No snow was involved.

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  4. Slate-colored juncos are one of my favorite winter birds – I miss seeing them in my Vermont backyard.

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  5. Dave, beautiful pics. I heard recently that the lack of snow might have a significant affect in increasing s.a.d (seasonal affective disorder) since the snow reflects so much light that helps to ease s.a.d symptoms.

    Beth, why don’t the juncos come to your yard anymore?

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  6. Great pictures. In my area of PA, I only got a good dusting so far.

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  7. marja-leena – I’m glad your experience with snow was so positive. I was quite envious of y’all in Vancouver, as you know!

    robin – Very well put! Yes, and see what Shai says about s.a.d.

    Brett – That’s awesome! You must blog it!

    beth – Well, being the fan of gray that I am, you know they’d be a favorite! But i like their sociability and twittering, too. Kind of a low-key mood builder on dreary days.

    Shai – Thanks. That’s very intersting. I hadn’t heard that, but it certainly sounds believable.

    I think Beth meant since moving to Montreal.

    Cathy – I’m not sure how much we have on the ground right now – it’s not much. Maybe up to two inches on the leeward side of slopes.

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  8. Slate-colored juncos are regular winter visitors here in Missouri, but I had no idea they were coprophagous!

    The somewhat creepy image of Demodex mites coming out for midnight walks on skin, nocturnal constitutionals, will stay with me!

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  9. Thanks for that bit about the eyelash mites. More fodder for my nightmares. ;-)

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  10. Don’t dream about them, Laura – it makes them self-conscious. They can tell what you’re dreaming from the twitching of your eyelashes during REM.

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