Fluffly winged tennis balls

When the temperatures dip and the wind picks up (it was around -25F with windchill today) birds tend to eat constantly and puff up like little tennis balls.

This little Pine Siskin has been snarfing the seed nearly without a break for the better part of the afternoon, not leaving the perch at all. 

I don’t know what gives, but he isn’t hangin’ with the rest of the flock today.

Perhaps like the Kung Fu Panda, he has a big showdown coming up later and eats when he is nervous?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. shadrach says:

    Like us all.

  2. Michael says:

    He doesn’t feel well. It is a typical posture of a sick bird. I wouldn’t mind if he were like a ball, but with fethers in a better shape. However, as they are like a hedgehog spikes if in a defensive position, I would think he is not like to live long. The fact that he is alone confirms this.

  3. Jillian says:

    Sad! Michael, don’t say that! Father, maybe you could make them a little heated bird house to keep them warm and safe?

  4. John Enright says:

    It looks to me like the bird is using a defense mechanism against the cold. When he “puffs up'” he creates a layer of air for insulation. This, of course, requires energy, hence, the constant feeding. My thoughts, and I think they’re valid.

  5. Jason says:

    I believe that John is right. The extra “fluff” would create a layer of “air insulation”. This is sort of how our winter coats work by making pockets of air (at least according to an old Kratts Kreatures I watched with my kids). Anyway, I also think that this would need more energy to sustain the constant puffed up appearance (know any thin people like this?…just askin…).

    Besides, doesn’t digestion itself create heat? I know when I’m stuffed to the gills, I feel warm and cozy. My .02

  6. Jeff M says:

    Yeah, it’s cold here in California too. It got down to five below today. Five below seventy.

  7. Ann says:

    oooo he is cute!

    The difficulty with birds and health is by the time they actually look ill or act ill, it is often too late to do anything to help them. Instinct makes them hide their condition till the end.

  8. Cory says:

    Not cool Jeff, not cool.

  9. Are these birds as useful for badminton as they are for tennis? :-)

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  10. This reminds me of another chapter of my life down in Australia. The silly Gallahs (spelling?) would gorge themselves non-stop on the grain on the road that was blown off the grain trucks. By the end of the day they would be as big and as heavy as a sack of grain, unable to fly up more than a few feet, just high enough to break the wind-shield (wind-screen as they call it). This was maddening. Much better to speed up and have them hit the bumper. Slowing down was no good. They would just fall back down on the road and try to jump up again. Then there are the horrific hopping marsupial beasts that just love headlights, but I’d better stop the story here!

  11. John Enright says:

    Jeff M: ROFL! Wish that was my problem. In Philly, we’re not as cold as the Twin Cities, but it is still cold. Right now it is a balmy 23 degrees, with a windchill of 18. By Sat., we should be in the single digits. California, here I come!

  12. Choirmaster says:

    I disagree with Michael on the plumage. The bird’s feathers look full and healthy, without being matted down or thin. He obviously has had the time and energy to properly preen his winter coat. He is cold, though, as can be guessed by the fact that he is only standing on one foot (although they do that when they are resting, this bird looks like he tucked his little fist WAY up into that warm puff of down).

    The posture does not necessarily strike me as one of illness, although it is true that a bird’s posture is very telling. To get a good read, we would need to see some video. A bird’s posture is only half the story, one must observe his gestures as well to get a complete picture.

    In regards to the fact that he is alone, it must be remembered that birds have a lot of… free time on their hands, especially this time of year, and they can have streaks of independence that eclipse the flock mentality for a time (or one of his mates irritated him and he is pouting at the feeder). It is also entirely possible that this little guy has decided that it is too cold to loiter around with the flock and he is going to perch on the feeder for the afternoon and observe the intriguing events of the Sabine farmhouse, while keeping his crop full and his belly busy.

    Sounds much better than my day.

  13. Carolina Geo says:

    Fluffly winged tennis balls. I knew I’d seen that somewhere before:

  14. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Jason, Yes, thermogenesis of digestion is caused by the increased oxygen demand of digestion. You would find if you hooked yourself up to machinery that measures your oxygen intake and CO2 output that with your full belly your oxygen demand increases when you are full versus when you’re tummy is empty. This increased metabolic demand raises your temperature slightly.

  15. Grovetucky Ann says:

    oops, I know how to use apostrophes properly, really, I do.

  16. Michael says:

    Choirmaster, I am at loss with the word “snarfing”; could you – or enyone else – translate it into a normal English, because it is in none of my four dictionaries. Perhaps, Fr.Z wants to tell us that the sisking had been eating excessively.

    The posture is typical of a captive goldfinch or siskin if they are fed on much hemp seed: they turn addicts, refuse to eat anything else, and eventually die.

    Siskin is very sociable, and this kind of sinful individualism, as accounted for by Fr. Z., is not normal.

  17. Choirmaster says:

    To Michael:


    1. to snarf
    2. to gluttonously consume bird seed
    3. to eat quickly, as with a ravenous appetite

    = = =

    You got me on the posturing. I must admit that I have never observed a captive goldfinch or siskin.

    I still want to see his gestures before I concede :)

    P.S. my definition of snarfing is facetious; I think it is a colloquialism.

  18. Maureen says:

    “Snarf” is an interesting word. Merriam-Webster dates it to 1963, so it’s not really a newcomer, though I don’t think I encountered it until the nineties.

    It seems to be one of those interesting mixtures of Indo-European onomatopeia and relationships to other words. It’s clearly influenced by “scarf/scoff/scaff”, to eat quickly or greedily. However, Americans seem to have felt that the word needed extra oomph and gobbliness, and turned into “snarf”, possibly influenced by “snack”.

    Thanks to the Thundercats character, techie sorts also used “snarf” as a term for nosily sniffing around other people’s files. From there and the original meaning, it became a term for quickly stealing something off a computer network. This may also have been influenced by “scoff/scarf” gaining similar secondary meanings about real world stuff.

    It’s solidly in the same lexical/semantic area as similar-sounding words like snap, snip, scrump, sip, snobble, barf, scarper, etc. So it grows on people.

  19. Carolina Geo says:

    Imagine a plate of cookies. Now consider the Cookie Monster happening upon that plate of cookies. You now have a lucid understanding of the word “snarf.”

  20. John Enright says:

    What happend to this thread? I got wierd!

  21. John wrote:

    “I got wierd!”

    It happens to all of us. Sometimes when snarfing down too much content from the blogosphere, our synapses missfire leaving us in a rather unusual state of mind.

    Now back to my badminton…


  22. John Enright says:

    Fr. Deacon Daniel: I think it was the beer, not the blogging! LOL!

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