Heralds of Spring

Had enough of winter? Dandelions, red-winged blackbirds, morel mushrooms and more are heralds of spring; sure signs that warmer temperatures and brighter days are just around the corner.

| April/May 2007

  • Red Winged Blackbird
    Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most common and widespread birds in the United States and Canada. Each spring, the males stake out breeding territories and defend them from other males by flashing their bright-red shoulder patches and repeatedly singing out conkaREEEEE!
    Photo courtesy RICHARD DAY/DAYBREAK IMAGERY
  • Nature
    In fall and winter, red-winged blackbirds travel in huge flocks, raiding farm fields and grain lots in dark, swirling clouds (though they also consume hordes of harmful insects).
    Photo courtesy TOMVEZO.COM
  • Spring Dandelions
    Pity the poor dandelion — a legitimate spring wildflower that most blaspheme as a weed.
    Photo courtesy DEGGINGER/ANIMALS ANIMALS
  • Azure Butterfly
    Spring azure butterflies are the first butterflies to emerge, transformed, from a long winter’s pupal sleep in hard-shelled chrysalises.
    Photo courtesy BUREK/ANIMALS ANIMALS
  • Painted Turtle
    On early spring days, painted turtles newly emerged from hibernation rest on pond-side rocks or logs, basking in the season’s renewing sun.
    Photo courtesy RICHARD DAY/DAYBREAK IMAGERY
  • Morel Mushrooms
    No mushrooms are as fervently sought after as morels, woodland delicacies that in most regions show themselves in spring for only about three weeks.
    Photo courtesy DAVID CAVAGNARO
  • Frosty Grass
    Hardly to be dreaded, true final frosts make the new season all the more beautiful.
    Photo courtesy DWIGHT KUHN
  • Spring Butterfly
    Spring azure butterflies are just one of nature’s most colorful signals that spring has sprung.
    Photo courtesy RICHARD DAY/DAYBREAK IMAGERY
  • Final Frost
    A true spring frost protects plants, as opposed to a freeze, which causes cell walls to expand and burst.
    Photo courtesy MICHAEL DURHAM
  • Bee On Dandelion
    Don’t hate dandelions — these wildflowers feed bugs beneficial to gardens.
    Photo courtesy DONALD SPECKER/ANIMALS ANIMALS
  • Morel
    Look for morel mushrooms after warm rains, especially at the bases of old trees.
    Photo courtesy RICHARD DAY/DAYBREAK IMAGERY
  • Baby Turtle
    This baby painted turtle will grow up to engage in one of nature’s most graceful courtship rituals.
    Photo courtesy DWIGHT KUHN

  • Red Winged Blackbird
  • Nature
  • Spring Dandelions
  • Azure Butterfly
  • Painted Turtle
  • Morel Mushrooms
  • Frosty Grass
  • Spring Butterfly
  • Final Frost
  • Bee On Dandelion
  • Morel
  • Baby Turtle

Winter has its pleasures, true, but most of us tend to get our fill of frosty crunch and hearty hearths before the year’s first month is spent. Then comes the waiting, the yearning for greener seasons. By any measure other than the calendar, dreary February is our longest month, not our shortest, and March seems to plod, not march, to the vernal equinox.

Little wonder, then, that when spring finally does come around, its hallmark heralds — sweet, cleansing rains and blooms bursting with newborn color — bring joy to our souls. But April’s showers and May’s flowers are only the tip of the no-more-snow-and-ice berg: Here are a few other certain signs that — ah, at last! — nature’s new year really has begun.

Red-Winged Turf Warriors

Unless you live in the frozen Far North, you are probably not far from a red-winged blackbird, one of the most common and widespread birds in the continental United States and Canada. In fall and winter they travel with other blackbirds in huge raucous flocks, raiding farm fields and grain lots in dark, swirling clouds (though they also consume hordes of harmful insects).

But in early spring the male red-wings form bachelor flocks and shift from feeding grounds to breeding grounds, most often marshes and brushy meadows. Each male stakes out a territory of about a quarter of an acre by striking a pose that is a sure announcement of the season — and a clear warning to other males to steer clear. Riding atop a swaying bough or cattail, he spreads his wings, flashes his bright-red shoulder patches, and repeatedly sings out: conkaREEEEE!



Unlike the showy spring displays of males from many other species, the red-winged’s is all about claiming turf rather than seducing a mate. In fact, a mate is the last thing a male desires. Red-winged blackbirds are among the minuscule 2 percent of all bird species that are polygynous: males mate with multiple females during the same breeding season.

When the females arrive a week or two later, they won’t be looking for guys with flashy shoulders — studies have shown that’s not what impresses them. Instead, they’re lured by prime property with good cover and a plentiful food supply for supporting young. Such places attract many females, so the males who’ve conka-REEEE’d the richest territories end up with the largest harems.

brenda
4/10/2015 4:37:46 PM

Wonderful site and great info!


siwelc
4/8/2014 4:32:20 AM

I always enjoy reading your articles. One of my favorite childhood memories (growing up at the Jersey Shore) was the sound of the Redwing Blackbird. We would drive down to the shore early spring every year to check out our beloved summer bungalow, which was shut down and closed up for the winter months. The call of the Redwing Blackbird always told me summer wasn't too far away. I still love to hear their call, it brings back wonderful childhood memories.


ConnieB
4/7/2014 9:25:24 AM

The turkey vulture has to be my favorite sign of spring. Many people consider vultures ugly, but they are so magnificent, soaring overhead on the air currents with their six-foot wingspan. Here in western New York, they often show up shortly before the robins.







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