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

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.

4/10/2015 4:37:46 PM

Wonderful site and great info!

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.

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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