Our winter has been very cold and for two months there has continuously been at least some snow on the ground. What do birds and mammals eat when the ground is covered with snow?
Many plants retain their seeds into the winter and provide sustenance during lean times. Interestingly some noxious weeds help keep animals alive when snow covers the ground.
For example, curlytop gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) is normally considered a noxious weed. (see the 08-25-12 post about curlytop gumweed) Gumweed is considered undesirable as forage and unpalatable to livestock. It often forms pure stands in pastures and rangelands, decreasing the value of the land.
Yet in the winter gumweed seeds remain on the plant. Birds, rabbits, voles, mice and other small mammals eat these nutritious seeds during the winter. As seen in the photograph (taken in our North Pasture in Lookout CA) bird tracks surround the gumweed plant where the birds feed. Nearby tracks indicate that other gumweed plants are visited by rabbits and voles.
How ironic that plants that farmers and ranchers call noxious weeds and try to eradicate in the summer are a means of survival for animals in the winter.