For the Birds Radio Program: Signs of Spring

Original Air Date: March 30, 1988

More bird reports!

Duration: 3′33″


Spring Songs

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird)

Signs of spring are coming in thick now. Red-winged Blackbirds are back in Northland marshes. The males return first, to stake out their territories by calling and displaying on marshes. Their “Okalee” song is one of the cheeiest sounds in the Northland in March.

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird)

Doug Fields, one of our WOJB listeners, says that for him the red-wing is the real harbinger of spring. I agree–back when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and spent a lot of time birding in marshes, the red-wing’s return was the surest sign that winter was fading fast. Now that I live several miles from the nearest marsh, I have to depend on other birds to discover spring, but during a late winter snowstorm nothing can cheer me up like a red-wing song on my bird records.

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird)

One other blackbird returns with the red-wing–the grackle.

(Recording of a Common Grackle)

As with red-wings, male grackles return before females. The grackle sexes are more similar than male and female red- wings, but it’s not too hard to tell them apart with practice. Males are larger and shinier black, with a more iridescent head. And if you see a grackle with his feathers puffed out, walking in a macho strut, it’s sure to be a male.

Another early migrant is the Killdeer. These birds seem to fly from marsh to marsh on early spring days, and can often be heard calling overhead long distances from marshes.

(Recording of a Killdeer)

Robins usually come in with the grackles or just a day or two behind them. If the ground is snow-covered, they hide out in marshes for a while, but once the snow gets serious about melting, robins quickly spread out, searching for territories. Like most other birds, males return before females. Their sweet song seems almost literally to shout from the rooftops, “Spring is here.”

(Recording of an American Robin)

Behind the robins by a week or two comes my favorite sign of spring, the Tree Swallow.

(Recording of a Tree Swallow)

Robins and blackbirds are hardy enough to survive an April fools storm, but the swallows have to wait until the weather’s a little more certain. Being insect eaters, they wait until the first emergences of aquatic insects after the ice is gone from most ponds and small lakes. Fortunately, most Tree Swallows can survive a late storm. Unlike other swallows they can live without insects for a few days, eating berries instead if the temperature drops.

The most ubiquitous northland sound this spring is the Pine Siskin, with its chittering notes and zippy song.

(Recording of a Pine Siskin)

Juncoes are also singing again, with their sweet trills.

(Recording of a Dark-eyed Junco)

Downy Woodpeckers are drumming out their territorial messages.

(Recording of a Downy Woodpecker)

And the sweet whistled song of chickadees brightens even the most wintry days.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

Yes, no matter what the weather brings in days to come, the sounds of spring have definitely returned to the Northland.

(Recording of a Red-winged Blackbird)

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