We eased into December with some mild winter weather, but this week gave us a good reminder of our northern latitude. Red-tailed hawks and great horned owls are common winter residents in Wisconsin. Owls are perhaps the best suited for winter with masses of fluffy down and extra feathers covering their toes. The wild barred owls that I hear calling in my backyard can cope with these temperatures, but our birds’ ability to stay warm is compromised by their permanent injuries.
Both Carson (red-tailed hawk) and Theo (great horned owl) had broken wings that never healed properly. It not only affects their ability to spread the wing for flight, it also means they cannot fold the wing completely. When standing on a perch, they can’t fold the wing against their body as usual, leaving an open door for the cold air. It might be the equivalent of you putting only one arm through your winter jacket and stepping outside. Since they can’t keep one side as warm, we give our birds the luxury of indoor heating when the outdoor temperatures dip below -10oF.