Ice storm affected wildlife too

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A cardinal sits on an icy branch after the recent ice storm covered most trees in Toronto with a coating of ice.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

For so many people, the ice storm was a real mix of joy and sadness. Many of us were without power for a few days, some much longer. My husband, dog and I chose to leave our home, which ended up being without power for a week. We spent several days with my daughter who lives near the Rouge. My daughter, Julie, drove me around to some of our favorite Scarborough sites, such as the Guild Inn, Rouge Park and various quiet back roads. We marvelled at the beauty of the ice covered world, but were humbled by the reality of how much damage had been done. While I enjoyed taking photos of the landscapes, I was more captivated by the number of birds sitting casually on the icy branches as if nothing in their world had changed. At my house I made sure to put out extra food as I wasn’t sure how much of my neighbourhood birds’ natural food sources were frozen solid.

During the first few days of the ice storm at my house, I was watching the birds sitting on the ice covering a tree branch when I noticed one sparrow who had not moved from his spot for a significant time. Worried, I decided to check him out to make sure he was okay. I approached very slowly, expecting the bird to fly away. The closer I got the more concerned I became. Suddenly the sparrow flapped his wings, but didn’t move from the branch. I realized that his feet were frozen into the ice.

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This sparrow was found by the author frozen to a tree branch after the recent ice storm. A broomstick tapped on a lower part of the branch managed to break the bird free.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

I got our broom from the garage and, ever so gently, tapped the bottom of the branch. After couple of taps, a bit of ice moved, and away the sparrow flew. I felt content that I had done my good deed for the day, when I realized I hadn’t seen any of my sparrows coming and going from their birdhouse. When I investigated, I found that the entrance had icicles hanging in front of the opening. A few more taps of the broom, a few more pieces of ice, and my resident friend came flying out of the house, happy to be free again.

So the big question people are asking me is: how do birds survive ice storms?

Most birds face both threats and opportunities, depending on what they eat, during an ice storm.

Chickadees and woodpeckers will look for protection in old deciduous trees. They will hide under big branches, using them as a makeshift roof. The storm will actually help them in the long run, as the broken branches will attract insects, which will make up a big part of these birds’ diets over the coming year.

Cardinals and sparrows will fluff up their feathers and hunker down during the storm inside a dense evergreen. These birds will have a harder time finding food in the short term as many of their berries will also be frozen solid, though that wouldn’t keep them away for too long.

If you have bird feeders, keep them full during an ice storm, as many birds will be happy for an easy meal in these difficult times.


Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer. See more photos at

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