Thursday, January 15, 2009

Birds and Gravel

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

Early this morning, I watched a blue jay as it picked at a pile of salty gravel that had fallen from the wheel well of my car. This interested me, because up until now I never gave much thought to how songbirds process their food.

Lacking teeth, birds must consume gravel and tiny stones on a regular basis. These go to the crop where they serve as ersatz “teeth,” grinding nuts, insects and whatever else the bird swallows. After watching the above-mentioned jay, it struck me that in summer, gathering fodder for a crop presents no problem. But in winter, the process becomes extremely challenging, forcing birds to adopt inventive methods of filling their crops.

While everyone knows that feeding birds in winter helps them through tough times, I have never read or heard anything about providing gravel for their crops. It seems to me that if we saved a container of fine or at least, mixed-sized gravel and presented it to birds in winter, they would most likely appreciate our gesture.

Of course this would require only setting out small amounts of gravel at time, because it would eventually freeze and become essentially, unavailable to birds. But a regular sprinkling of gravel on a platform or some other such location would probably make life much easier for a host of birds.

I plan to have a supply of grit or gravel available next winter in order to put my theory to the test. Who knows, but if it works, you may some day see for sale in the garden and hardware centers, something called “Tom’s True Grit,” or some such thing. A guy’s gotta make a living, after all…

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