For the Birds Radio Program: Spring Arrives

Original Air Date: April 17, 1996

Spring is here—Laura Erickson has definite proof. (3:54) Date verified.

Audio missing


The first day of spring ostensibly occurs around the third week of March, but never really happens until robins burst into song, which they did in most places in the Northland during the second week of April. This winter has been long and hard, and spring even more welcome than usual, but as is usual, spring’s entrance hasn’t been without false promises and botched attempts. I heard dozens of robins singing in Lake County woods on April 10 when the snow on the ground was mostly still hip-, and in some places, even waist-deep. My first Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the same branches as redpolls.

Even though I saw plenty of robins before then, I’m marking this year’s official opening of spring as April 11. For that was the day my yard came to life. It rained all day, and birds seemed to fall from the sky with the pouring rain. After a winter without hardly any birds, the first huge influx of migrants was a lovely sight, even if most of them were winter birds—redpolls. These feisty little birds of the far north have used up just about all the birch seeds, their favorite food, but to fuel their return north at least 400 came into my yard to pig out on sunflower and niger seeds . In places, the ground itself looked alive with so many of these dark, streaky little birds moving about shoulder to shoulder.

But redpolls were only the main course–there were plenty of appetizers and side dishes, and even dessert. Dozens of juncoes flew in on a gust of wind , whetting my appetite for their sparrow relativ es, and as I carefully scoped them all out, I spied a Fox Sparrow among them . Every time I went to the win dow, somebody new appeared–a couple more Fox Sparrows , then my first White-throated Sparrow, one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Yellow-rumped Warbler. A group of male House Finches lighted on my feeder, only to be chased away by a couple of tree sparrows. l could hear one insistent robin through the window glass , and then a soft Mourning Dove song.

April means it’s time for the woodcock skydance display. Although I’ve never yet seen a woodcock in my own yard , I have heard of a few in wetter areas already. On April 11 , friends reported Great Blue Herons flying overhead , and even standing on the edge of ice looking rather unhappy, but then Great Blue Herons always seem rather unhappy–they’ re like the Eeyores of the bird world. Although a few owls are still dying, the survivors are starting to put on weight , and migrant Saw-whet Owls and healthy Great Homed and Barred Owls are starting to call and hoot.

To me the loveliest element of spring, transcending the warmth, the sudden lush new greenery, and even the appearance of birds , is bird song. The silent hush of winter that is so lovely and peaceful in December becomes downright oppressive–like a loved one giving you the silent treatment–by February and March. Now the rich songs of robins and doves, the cheerful chatter of Song Sparrows and juncoes , and the incessant twitterings of siskins and redpolls fill the air with a joy that even surpasses Christmas Eve jingle bells . Even if we get another April fool’s day snowstorm, it’ll be just a temporary setback. Spring is really here, and the northland is once again alive with the sound of music.