Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Birds are Giving Us Signs of Spring

I was greeted by the song of an Eastern bluebird during the big warmup on Monday. Though that species won’t start nesting until late March at the earliest, some local songbirds are starting to exercise their vocal chords as the season approaches. I have noticed some other signals that other species are sending as well.

Red-tailed hawks are paired up and can be seen in pairs along the interstates. Several times a day they will soar together, interacting all the while. I stopped by a likely looking habitat in Mint Hill at dusk one evening and was glad to observe two American woodcock engaged in their unique courtship display.

Brown-headed nuthatches have started the tedious process of chipping out this year’s nesting cavities. They have stout bills but need very soft, rotting pine limbs or trunks in order to be successful. Consider putting up a box made especially for them to help them save some energy.
Pine warblers are singing during warm days now. They may even sing on colder days if there is plenty of sunshine. I heard a Northern mockingbird singing at 5:30 am as I stepped outside one recent morning.

Red-winged blackbirds are appearing at feeders as they start to make their way north. Common grackles are pairing up too; breaking up the massive flocks that are formed in winter. If you are lucky enough to have access to a pond that hosts hooded mergansers you might catch the males doing their courtship “dance” too.

Great blue herons are back in their established colonies or are forming new ones at new sites. Check flooded marshes with numerous dead trees. If you know of an old colony, check the old nests carefully; a great horned owl may have moved in. They get the jump on all the other local species when it comes to starting up housekeeping but not by much; a pair of bald eagles is hanging around last year’s nest off Rea Road.

I suspect there is still some cold weather ahead of us but even frigid temperatures will only temporarily dampen those breeding hormones now. As February wears on it will be obvious that birds are starting to move around more.  That means new sights at feeders. Keep your eyes on them. 

Hooded Merganser by Phil Fowler

Though they are with us mainly in the winter months, hooded mergansers begin their courtship displays on their wintering grounds.

American Woodcock by Ron Clark

American woodcock are actively displaying now. Early nesters, I have found nests as early as mid-February.