For the Birds Radio Program: Spring is on its way

Original Air Date: March 15, 1989

There are some definite signs of spring out there!

Audio missing


(Recording of a Horned Lark)

March is a time of tension and excitement in the Northland as we face the boxing match of the year, between winter and spring. This year winter certainly took the opening rounds, slugging out hopes of an early spring win with a lead blow that shattered the low temperature record, followed by an overwhelming blizzard. Inevitably, winter will end up losing the match. He shows his strength too early, while spring holds out, conserving strength until the final round when he simply melts the opposition. The decisive blow doesn’t come until April or even May, but it will come in its own good time as surely as the swallows will return to Capistrano.

The tension of the match is too much for some Northlanders, who light out for Florida, Texas, or Arizona this time of year. But I enjoy March. Redpolls that managed to make it on their own in the woods all winter are drawn to feeders like spectators to concession stands. Siskins are pairing up now, feeding each other with the awkward movements of high school kids just learning how to kiss. Every day the glaring light of the sun grows stronger, luring more avian spectators in to see the final rounds. In the plains and open pastures of the Northland, the sweet tinkling of Horned Lark music can occasionally be heard now over the roar of the north wind. Snow Buntings are back on country roads in northern Wisconsin and at the Duluth Airport. Merlins have been spotted in Duluth, Bald Eagles are fishing in open water, and an occasional owl is hooting. At the start of each day’s round, Downy Woodpeckers drum out the score.

(Recording of a Downy Woodpecker)

The first good warm front we get will bring in a few Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeers. I don’t think there’s a more welcome sound in the world than the first “Okalee” of a red-wing.

(Recording of a Red-wing)

In March or April, the ice sheet on Lake Superior begins to decay, and the match between spring and winter can be watched directly from shore. When the wind blows from the south, the gray mass piles up in Duluth, creaking and thundering. Gulls and crows, the true harbingers of spring up here, sit on the chunks of ice feasting on odd bits of fish and other debris that the lake spews up between cracks. One clear, magical day the ice sheet disappears. The restless blue water churns up our hopes, but it is only Lake Superior’s April Fools joke. Before the ref can count to ten the oppressive gray ice is back again. It sloshes back and forth between shores for weeks. But even as it grinds shoreline rocks and our dreams of Floridian days ahead, the ice mass is shrinking. Tree Swallows fly in on the breeze, and robins appear on exposed brown patches of grass where the snow has melted on front lawns. They run on quick legs and cock their heads to listen to the pulsing underground world of earthworms. Now the comb-scraping trills of chorus frogs can be heard in puddles of an evening, and woodcocks start to peent. Dots of dandelions are as welcome as crocuses, for a time. Buds grow fat on the trees, and burst open just as spring lets loose with its knock out punch. Instead of seeing stars, winter’s eyes spin at the swirling flights of Chimney Swifts, Warblers, and orioles. The winner, and still champion–Spring!

Although I have never before used a boxing metaphor, and probably never will again, it is definitely more appropriate than that tired old cliche’ about March coming in like a lion — after all, lions are animals of the hot African savanna that could never survive a March blizzard.

(Recording of a Horned Lark)

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