Nature Notes – Bluejays add a touch of elegance to the winter months

Within minutes after sunrise the first small flock of colorful blue jays arrives at our feeding station.
The foot-long blue and white, gray and black birds, each with a crest that moves up and down at will, relish the cracked corn we scatter on the ground below our feeders.
Earlier in the fall many observers saw flocks of blue jays migrating through, and I know from bird banding that some Minnesota blue jays travel into Texas for the winter, but a significant number are here during the winter months.
These handsome jays are highly intelligent, problem solvers, good communicators, and one of the few birds to cache food. Blue jays don’t have blue pigment; it’s refracted sunlight that casts blue light. The male and female are identical in appearance.
Although many people tell me they don’t like blue jays, I don’t share this feeling.
Their alarm calls are often helpful in saving the lives of other creatures, and they are also among the most active, amusing, beautiful and clever of our native birds. The large number of birds that share the same area with them indicates that any nest robbing they might do can be seen as another natural control of numbers.
I feel that they are no more dominant than other birds of the same size and make no effort to keep other birds away.
If anything, I would say that their activities often cause passing birds to inspect an area, discover food that has been put out, and become regular visitors too. This bird adds an element of elegance and life to the long winter months.

Lake Ice
Freeze-up for both Swede Lake near Watertown, Burandt Lake in Waconia, and Steiger Lake at Victoria came on Nov. 24, Lake Waconia froze over on Nov. 27, and by Nov. 29 Lake Minnetonka was at least 90 percent ice-covered.
Remember, it takes 4 inches of new solid ice in contact with stationary water for safe skating and ice fishing.
A snowmobile requires 6 inches of ice, and 8 to 12 are needed for a car or small truck.
You don’t want to fall through ice; cold water saps body heat 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.
In 32-degree water, a person will last about 15 minutes before losing consciousness.

What’s happening outdoors now?
The red fruit on sumacs, highbush cranberry shrubs, and many varieties of crabapple trees is very colorful.
Northern white cedars and various spruces, pines and firs each have their own shade of green. A heated birdbath is very popular with birds and other wildlife.

On Dec. 5 a year ago
There was no snow on the landscape. We had partly sunny skies, a low temperature of 19 and a high of 38 degrees.
Lake Waconia (freeze-up was Dec. 10) and Lake Minnetonka (freeze-up was Dec. 22) were wide open with some ice on the edges.