February is often the most wintery month of the year, yet mid-February sends us several signals of the ensuing spring season. We have experienced plenty of real winter since the beginning of the new year as we can all attest.
The heavy snow cover and cold has made bird feeding much more than just a hobby – a life-saving initiative among so many of you out there! I thank all of you who feed the birds for your generosity and compassion in helping our feathered friends throughout Western New York. The prices of bird feed have risen along with most other things – but still you have met the need of the many beautiful birds. Certainly, witnessing the beauty and the fun of watching the birds is a very good reward in return.
For those of us dreaming of spring, we can enjoy the increasing number of beautiful red cardinals patronizing the feeding station at this time of year as their natural wild berry supply keeps dwindling in the wild. With Valentine’s Day here, these redbirds seem to make a perfect fit!
Cardinals look so vibrant against the pure white snow and beautify any feeding station. The cardinal is probably the most popular and desirable bird among bird feeding enthusiasts and home owners. Their familiar song comprising of a clear melodious repetition of whistles is music to our ears – especially around Valentine’s Day and mid-February when they start becoming more vocal.
You may have already noticed more bird song activity outside your door over the last week or two – and certainly the longer daylight hours. These are great signs of springtime just around the corner. Here at our home the house finches are singing up a storm. Usually by now I hear the cardinals begin their songs – even on cold days as they perch in a bush or on a wind-protected branch in the sun. I’m sure most of you have experienced the same thing.
We have a small group of white-crowned sparrows spending the winter with us like we usually do. Not to be confused with their more common winter relatives, the white-throated sparrows, the white crowns are a very busy and active large sparrow. The vast majority of them go much further south for the winter, but a few hang around here. You may have a couple at your feeder.
This February I’m surprised at how much these white-crowned sparrows are singing their distinct familiar spring time song – a bit watered down from their much louder song in April and early May. By May 20th the white-crowns and white-throateds are long gone from our region well on their way to northern Canada for nesting season.
Another native sparrow that’s common at your bird feeding station is the tree sparrow – the one with the lone dot on its breast. It, too, is singing its pretty song and will have vacated our region by about mid-April which happens to be the time when its close relative, the chipping sparrow, returns from the south. These two species often overlap for about 10 days in mid-April.
Keeping an eye on the various native sparrows is fun and listening to their various beautiful songs is a treat if we take the time to listen to them.
As much as many of us have seen robins and even bluebirds throughout the winter, mostly believed to be visitors from the north for the winter, I think our first true spring bird is the red-winged blackbird. Any day now in the latter half of February don’t be surprised to see a couple or even a dozen red-wings at your feeding station one morning. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance a friend or neighbor has some.
In any event, by early March much larger numbers will appear.
In March we will see more robins as well, and those are likely the ones that have returned from the south to start scoping out nesting territories just like the red-wings. But because springtime is a long season, many birds’ primary focus is finding enough food and holding off on nesting until April.
As for red-winged blackbirds, the adult males, with their bold red wing patches in the sunshine are so stunningly pretty.
The signs of spring just keep coming from this point on – a slow but welcome process!
As we discussed last time, the nesting season has begun for the great horned owls and the bald eagles. Getting your nest boxes ready for bluebird nesting season is a good thing to do.
In the meantime, keep enjoying the birds at your feeder while you provide them with critical food that is difficult to find in the wild at this time of year. Happy Valentines and more importantly Happy “Almost” Spring!
Hans Kunze is an avid birder and nature enthusiast who has been writing about birds and nature for more than 30 years. He writes for The Daily News twice each month. Write him at 6340 LaGrange Rd Wyoming, NY 14591 or call (585) 813-2676.