Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Harbingers of Spring


It’s been bitterly cold for days, and it was -5°F this morning, yet over the past few weeks I have noted many signs of spring in the behaviors of birds in and around the yard. Yesterday I watched two male Hairy Woodpeckers in their funny territorial display:



[embiggen for a much better picture]

Some people are surprised to hear birds singing when it’s below freezing and the landscape is white with snow. But birds respond not to temperatures, but to the hours of daylight. As the days grow longer, they respond by preparing for the breeding season.

This morning as the thermometer crept up to 0°F, a Song Sparrow was singing in the hedgerow. We’ve had just the one Song Sparrow this winter, and now I know it’s a male.

In the wisteria that overhangs the bird feeder area, two Blue Jays were canoodling, a male feeding a shelled peanut to a female. They likely will remain paired off for the rest of the season.

Last week I saw a similar behavior in two Northern Cardinals, something I’ve written about here (with photo and video). These beautiful birds are known to mate for life. In most winters, two pairs overwinter in our yard; this winter, we seem to have at least eight, perhaps more, pretty evenly divided between male and female.

The local male Carolina Wren was singing a few weeks ago; I’ve not heard him for several days, and now that I think about it, I haven’t seen him, though the female stopped at the feeder this morning. Perhaps he succumbed to the cold. Carolina Wrens (along with Cardinals, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and some other species) have been expanding their range northward, and perhaps their genetics are still adjusting to the different habitat and climate; after more generations up north, they will fare better in the cold.

A few days ago I watched our resident Red-tailed Hawks “treeing” – literally, sitting close together in a tree, a bonding behavior that is well-known to birders. They nested in the next street until the lovely, large, healthy spruce tree in which they nested was destroyed two years ago, as I wrote about here. That summer was silent…. Last summer there was a single young bird, so I guess they found a new nest site. A few weeks ago they put on a fabulous aerial display over the yard (I’ve written about that behavior in other individuals, here and especially here). Believe it or not, they are already engaged in nest-building and mating; big birds like hawks and owls need to get started soon so their young will be mature enough by summer’s end to fend for themselves.

More on this topic: http://quodlibet-sarah.blogspot.com/2013/02/valentines-day-is-for-birds.html

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More posts about birds and birding in Quodlibet may be found here:

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