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Captain’s Log: Late-Season Cold Fronts Make for Nesting Hardships

Freezing temperatures in spring take a toll on critters and their babies

Critters nest or burrow and have babies in the spring for a reason. The days are longer and warmer, and the nights are warmer, too. But when a late-season cold snap brings back winterlike temperatures, life suddenly becomes difficult and potentially deadly for critter parents.

For a Southern California bird sitting on eggs in an exposed nest, a severe cold snap — one with freezing temperatures — presents a risk of losing the eggs to frost. The egg-sitting parent must stay put to keep the eggs from freezing. That necessity reduces the time to hunt for sustenance. If the eggs are hatched, the frail little birds must be kept warm, which again reduces time available for the search for food.

Similarly, for burrowing critters, those shallow homes can turn brutally cold. Critters must stay at home and expend precious body heat to keep babies alive and healthy. All of that takes so much energy that the parent risks death. When the parent dies, so do the babies.

Cold weather sends forage species into hiding. Insects, which birds and small burrowing critters depend upon, are usually becoming plentiful in spring and therefore provide a reliable source of protein. But they will skitter for a warm hiding place when the weather turns really cold. So, suddenly, critter parents find themselves with limited time to hunt, depleted energy levels and scarce prey.

Once well into April, we still expect a few showers, but not truly frigid weather. That is why the current cold front took critters by surprise and left them feeling desperate.

There isn’t much we can do, other than perhaps put a little more food in our wild bird feeders. Fortunately, once a cold front passes, the weather will return to seasonal norms and hopefully critter parents will get lucky with the hunt for themselves and their families. I sure hope so.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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