Nature Notes – Listen to the birds … spring season is here

By Jim Gilbert

The northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, in our neighborhoods, are very vocal now, and soon migrant American robins, red-winged blackbirds and eastern bluebirds will be adding their songs to the chorus.
The singing of birds increases manyfold in March, not only due to migrants returning north but also because the year ’round residents are responding to the increases in daylight. As of today, we have gained exactly three hours of daylight since last Dec. 21, the winter solstice with its shortest daylight and longest night.
For centuries people have believed that birds sing to announce the arrival of spring. But there is much more to the ritual of singing than that.
It’s important for birds to mark off territories and attract mates. Competition for nesting sites and food can be fierce, and birds often sing and also display themselves prominently, warning other birds of their own species that the territory has been taken. If too many American robins were in the same territory, earthworms and fruit would soon disappear.
Birds don’t need to be concerned about other species nesting in their territories if those other birds eat different foods. It’s not unusual for a mallard, a black-capped chickadee, and an American robin to nest in the same vicinity, because they don’t compete with one another for food.

What’s happening outdoors now?
Interesting changes occur in March. Stone and brick walls facing south actually feel warm on sunny days.
We smell mud. Maple syrup producers have begun tapping their trees. Red-osier dogwood shrub twigs look bright red – the veins of spring. The long, bright arching golden-yellow twigs of the weeping willows continue to glow above the 20-inch snow layer.
Small to medium size flocks of horned larks, an early migrating species into southern Minnesota, are seen along country roads. Some bald eagles have begun laying and incubating eggs, and great horned owls are busy feeding young nestlings. The tree squirrels – fox, flying, red, and gray – have been in their mating season since February.

On March 13 a year ago
It was a sunny day with a low temperature of 14 and a high of 32 degrees F. About six inches of snow covered the landscape. A few eastern chipmunks had emerged from their underground burrows and were out and about.