For the Birds Radio Program: Early Signs of Spring

Original Air Date: March 2, 1987

Laura talks about what we should be expecting in March, and why to be patient if we’re hungry to see orioles or hummingbirds.

Audio missing


American Robin

Signs of Spring

(Recording of Canada Geese)

Signs of spring are everywhere. The first migrant crows have been conspicuous in my neighborhood for about a week now. I saw a Rough- legged Hawk hunting in a field just past Superior in Douglas County, February 15. Pileated Woodpeckers are calling in the woods now, and chickadees are forming pairs and singing their spring song.

(Recording of a Chickadee song)

Downy Woodpeckers are drumming–they make as much noise as they can to attract a mate and to warn off other downies from their territory.

(Recording of a Downy Woodpecker drumming)

This is a good time to set up a bird feeder if you haven’t had one all winter. On nice days the birds move around quite a bit, checking out potential breeding territories and looking for new food supplies, so it shouldn’t take to long to get at least a few birds at a new feeder. If you only set out one feeder, use sunflower seed. The seed mixtures sold in grocery stores are fine if you want sparrows and juncoes and doves, but those birds all take sunflower seed, too, and most of the winter finches ONLY take sunflower seed. Some people swear by the striped sunflower seed, and yet others use only the black, oil-type seed. I haven’t noticed much difference between the two types of sunflower at my feeder–I get whichever is cheaper.

If you want a more elaborate feeding station, try suet. Although I’ve heard of a couple of grocery stores that still give it away, most are now charging as much as 59 cents a pound, whch is mighty steep for pure fat–sometimes hamburger is cheaper. Suet attracts woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees. The two Boreal Chickadees that have been at my feeder all winter hardly touch the sunflower seed, but they love suet. If you don’t have a wire suet feeder, just put your suet in a mesh onion bag and hang it from a tree branch.

One of the most popular offerings at my feeder this year has been peanut butter. I scrape a little–just about a good sandwich’s worth– into a plastic cereal bowl, and set the bowl at the edge of my feeder. The chickadees love it, and usually manage to eat their fill before my squirrels lick the bowl clean. You can try peanuts, cracked walnuts, cracked corn, and inexpensive seed mixtures–the more variety you provide, the more species you’ll attract, especially as migrants start returning in a few weeks.

The earliest migrants move as the weather warms up. Robins and Canada Geese follow the 37 degree isotherm–as our temperature starts averaging 37 degrees over a few days, they’ll return. Eagles, Red- winged Blackbirds, and White-throated Sparrows follow soon after, and then phoebes, bluebirds, and tree swallows. But most species don’t depend on something as changeable as weather to tell them when it’s safe to return. Orioles, hummingbirds, warblers, and most sparrows may wait for a good warm front’s south winds to help them make the flight, but only after the daylength is right. So don’t even bother to set out hummingbird feeders or oranges in the Northland until May. Meanwhile, enjoy the winter finches and look for the first robin of the year.

(Recording of a Robin)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”