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The birds say it’s spring. March 2, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Looking at the ground surrounding Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home Silence Dogood and our friend Ben share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, you would swear it was winter. Several inches of snow and sleet have blanketed the ground with white. But our birdfeeders tell a different story.

Yes, we still have a few of the winter regulars—the juncos, titmice, purple and house finches, and chickadees—that brighten our lives through the coldest months. And our year-round regulars, the cardinals, woodpeckers, sparrows, blue jays, mourning doves, and nuthatches, are still out in force. So is our large resident flock of goldfinches. But we’ve noticed they’re starting to look more gold and less olive-drab as the days lengthen into March. And as we’ve mentioned in a previous post, our Carolina wren has begun singing his courting song (“Judy, Judy, Judy”) loudly every midmorning. (“Judy” must be taking her time about answering.)

But today brought two first-of-season species to our cabin feeder: We saw a single red-winged blackbird, his epaulettes all yellow rather than the brilliant red-and-yellow of courtship plumage.* And there, bold as brass—or in this case, bronze—were a whole flock of the big, bold grackles with their iridescent plumage.

The poor grackles have now been lumped into the demoralizing designation of “common grackle,” where before they flaunted their colors as purple grackles and bronzed grackles. These are definitely of the bronzed persuasion, with bronze backs and blue heads. They are handsome birds, and they know it. But while most of our feeder birds hang back while the grackles feast, the sparrows know no such restraint. They boldly forage among the bigger, brighter birds, who don’t deign to acknowledge such drab little things. (Much like teens at the mall pretending not to see, much less know, their parents. Or perhaps Regency dandies swanning around while their valets hover unobtrusively in the background.)

And yes, lest our friend Ben forget, yesterday I saw several pairs of red-tailed hawks, my favorite and totem bird. Redtail courtship has begun in earnest. Soon enough, a new generation will be taking to the skies over Hawk’s Haven.

Like the snow geese that make us glad to be alive when they pass over our home as they make their springtime progress northwards, the arrival of spring’s regulars lifts our hearts. We begin to think of mockingbirds and bluebirds, of the occasional oriole and tanager to come. We experience a greening of our thoughts, a fever for new plants, spurred on by such sights as the first snowdrops in bloom and the first daffodils breaking ground.

The snow says that winter is still with us. But our friend Ben and Silence are siding with the birds and the daffodils.

* Oops, I lied, and did I ever! Though it’s true that there was only one red-winged blackbird for most of the day, the gale-force winds that blew the storm through here must have brought all his friends and relations in its wake. I now count more than 30 red-winged blackbirds at the feeder, including one stripey immature, one female, and several males sporting both red and yellow epaulettes. These seem to be the honor guard of the flock, always guarding the perimeter. I also saw the season’s first starling, still in its fresh, spangled plumage, and one cowbird.

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1. Gail - March 2, 2009

The weather does feel like winter even here in Middle Tennessee, but I can see many changes in the bird population that make me smile and even laugh! Just saying snow geese makes me happy…we can hear and see the Canada Geese heading north. gail

Hurry spring! I’ll say hi to your Canadas as they come by here.

2. Daphne Gould - March 2, 2009

Looks and feels like winter here too. Of course we were hit by a blizzard today, so that is not surprising. Our forecast is for single digit temperatures for a couple of nights this week. This is 15-20 degrees below normal. This weather belongs in January weather not March. The lion has struck, but I’m hoping the month is true to form and moderates soon. I’d like to start seeing some spring birds too.

You will, Daphne! How much snow did you get? Last night we were in a total panic because they were predicting 12-14 inches here, more than we’d had all winter. But mercifully, the winds were so awful that they must have blown the worst of it away. We only ended up with about 3 inches. Whew!

3. fairegarden - March 2, 2009

Hi OFB, the birds know more the the weather forecasters. Ours are doing a loopy loop dance with each other shamelessly on the deck with human eyes watching. The most noticeable are the cardinals and doves, but it is believed they are all engaging in hanky panky. The goldfinches are just beginning to brighten, just the tiniest bit. We saw one red wing blackbird at the feeder last week. The first one ever in our urban setting with mature trees. Your prose was magnificent BTW!
Frances

Gasp, cover your eyes! Unfortunately, ’tis the season when raging hormones displace caution in the animal kingdom, causing many fatalities as horny critters rush into the road pursuing (or fleeing from) the opposite sex. After a winter hiatus, I hate to see the carnage, one of the saddest sights of spring. And thanks so much for your kind words about my writing! (Oh publishers, oh MacArthur nominators, where art thou?!!) It’s genetic, I think—through at least four generations—and thus effortless, so I can’t even take any credit. But I’m still happy when someone else enjoys it, especially someone with as much facility as you!


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