For the Birds Radio Program: April
Early spring is a time of contradictions. (3:53) Date confirmed; revised from 4/14/89
(Recording of a American Robin)
April is the month of contradiction in the Northland. Some people are foolishly optimistic about spring’s arrival—like me, for example—I went out and bought a new bicycle one April. That kind of blind hope is also found in Horned Larks and Mourning Doves, which often begin nesting this far north in April, when bad weather and taxes are the only certainties. The nests usually fail, but then the birds just start over again. Tree Swallows and bluebirds return in April, and many succumb to icy temperatures. Orioles and warblers wait until May, but even then cold snaps can take their toll on these fragile birds that require insects for survival.
Some birds manage to show a little restraint in spite of their impatience for spring. Adult male robins are back—they rushed in with the first warm days in March. These males choose a territory and start singing to proclaim their boundaries when the weather is still too harsh for nesting, and when snow and frozen topsoil keep the market closed for earthworms—these intrepid first robins of spring eat crab apples and berries until the soil thaws. The females wisely wait a few weeks, until about the time the crocuses open up, before they return.
Crows are the first songbirds to return, being optimistic, but they temper their optimism with black feathers, to absorb sunlight on frigid mornings. This time of year the crows go ice fishing—picking up pieces of dead fish and debris on the surface. The heaviest crows weigh less than one and a half pounds, so they’re a lot safer on an April lake than ice fishermen. Crows seem to take pleasure in the late winter weather, like people who buy skis on sale in March, and then actually feel gleeful whenever we get a spring snow storm.
Bald Eagles also come back early, but that seems to me more like a reflection of their general laziness—they’d just as soon put up with lousy weather as long as it means they don’t have to travel so far. But the lengthening days get the hormones flowing in an eagle’s blood. On clear days, there’s no more beautiful sight than a pair of eagles tumbling through the blue sky, obeying their eternal spring mandate to create new eagles.
Spring weather cheers up the Blue Jays, who take a renewed interest in life around them. Blue Jays can be pretty grim and silent on cold winter days, eating when they need to, but otherwise just hunkering down for the duration. Now they are starting to have fun again, taunting crows and owls and greeting their fellow jays migrating through.
Spring turns the thoughts of many to romance, and the chickadees are no exception. Dapper black-capped bachelors are singing more and more insistently now, with their pretty fee-bee-bee whistle. Whistle back to them and you may enter into a chickadee duet. Chickadees grow territorial as their need to associate in winter flocks ends, and soon the little groups will disband until fall. Chickadees accept the vagaries of a Northland spring with jolly exuberance no matter what the weather brings, delighting in an ice storm, singing through the fog, and flicking the last snows off their wings with grace and good humor. Chickadees brighten even the dreariest April day, and their internal sunshine makes even the most spring like day all the sweeter.
(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”