For the Birds Radio Program: Spring Update

Original Air Date: March 4, 1988

Is spring just around the corner?

Duration: 3′59″


Contest Update and Signs of Spring

(Recording of an American Crow)

Crows are back in the Northland. Actually quite a few spent the whole winter up here, and for the past few weeks I’ve been watching neighborhood crows swooping and soaring in the warm February sun. Last Friday I saw an even more encouraging sign–a flock of seven or eight migrant crows returning from the south.

Meanwhile, competition is warming up in “For the Birds’” Last Robin of Winter Contest. As of this taping, I’ve received robin reports from two Duluth listeners, who have each sighted a single robin. One was on the campus of the College of St. Scholastica, and the other was on Park Point. A Duluth TV station did a story about a robin a few weeks ago, back when the temperature was 30 below. That bird was definitely not the first robin of spring. Remember–the first migrant robins never appear until the average daily temperature is holding steady at at least 37 degrees–and then they return in flocks. The day they come in, people will be spotting them all over, mostly on grassy patches where the snow has melted and in cattail marshes.

Until then, watch for late winter robins. Recent sightings are probably all birds that overwintered up here, skulking in the woods and hiding out in the midst of Bohemian Waxwing and Pine Grosbeak flocks. As the mountain ash berries and crab apples disappear in late winter, birds start wandering around searching for new food sources, especially on days when the weather’s nice. With the alternating warm and cold spells we’ve been having, there should be quite a few Northland robins around, so if you’re lucky enough to spot one, make sure to send us a note telling when and where you saw it. Remember– report every robin you see between Feb. 19 and March 20. A prize will be awarded to the listener of this station who reports the most robins, and to three other listeners selected at random. The prize is literally “For the Birds”–a cassette tape of 24 “For the Birds” programs, including an outrageous “Birds of Baseball” and last year’s April Fool’s Day program as well as more serious fare.

But don’t limit yourself to robins. Take a nice walk on a still night and you may hear a real sign of winter’s end–the hoot of an owl. Owls begin breeding long before most birds, and their call is one of the earliest signs of spring. We have three hooting owls in the Northland. The most common is the Great Horned Owl–it has a soft, mellow hoot.

(Recording of a Great Horned Owl)

The Barred Owl, another large, fairly common owl, has a louder, more strident hoot which invariably follows the rhythm pattern “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

(Recording of a Barred Owl)

People in bog country–like out in the Sax-Zim area–may be lucky enough to hear our rarest hooter–the Great Gray Owl, with its deep monotone:

(Recording of a Great Gray Owl)

The northern lights have been lovely lately, so don’t keep your eyes glued to the ground on your owl walk.

Perhaps the most welcome harbinger of spring is the bluebird. If you live in open country, today is the official day to set out bluebird houses–why else would it be called “March Forth”?

(Recording of an Eastern Bluebird)

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