There is much to observe and ponder these days as we settle deep in winter:
• Come Saturday we will have gained 40 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice.
• The weather has feeding stations active. Woodpeckers stay close to suet feeders. Downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated are the four common woodpecker species this time of year. The most omnivorous of our woodpeckers seem to be the red-bellied. Little at our Waconia area feeding station escapes the eyes of this inquisitive bird. Often we see a red-bellied pick up pieces of cracked corn on the ground, fly up to the suet feeder, and finally hop up and eat sunflower seeds from a tray or tube feeder.
• Beef suet is a favorite of all insect-eating birds. Chickadees, nuthatches, brown creepers, and blue jays are fond of it, and it's the best food to consistently attract woodpeckers.
Suet can be placed in mesh bags, such as those used to hold oranges or onions. Hang them from nails or tied to branches, out of reach of dogs.
• Flying squirrels are abundant in Minnesota. If you have mature trees in your yard, or better yet live in an urban forest or rural forest, they should be coming to your feeding station nightly for sunflower seeds, suet and peanut butter.
• A spectacular behavior pattern of American crows in winter is their communal roosting. They spend the night in huge flocks of hundreds or thousands of individuals in tree groves. Every morning they disperse in small groups to feed, before returning at sunset.
Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.