Hootman: Spring is party time in nature

Barbara Hootman
  • Don't rush the spring experience. It is another whole year before nature will repeat the event.
  • Spring time brings back the Purple Martin who are totally dependent on man made houses.
  • Purple Martin and female black bears are taking care of babies in the spring. Both are protective.
  • Spring is a time of renewal for all wild creatures. Purple Martins return to the Valley for breeding.

The late actor Robin Williams said, "Spring is nature's way of saying 'Let's party!' Who wants to miss a good party?

It is hard to not enjoy this time of the year, even if you do have a box of tissues in one hand and a red nose from sneezing away pollen.

The miracle of the bud becomes May's supreme gift to man. With all the technology and lab creations of the ultra-modern world, man is dumbfounded by the wonder of green life packed into a bud. Out of buds comes the world of blooms and surging growth. Man's most astonishing accomplishments pale in comparison to nature packing so much in such a small space. Take a close look at the buds in your yard and watch them unfold into nature's works of art.

It seems we forget from year to year how many blossoms spring has to offer. It seems there is a super rush to bloom now. Lilacs are busting open, and it seemingly they have more blooms than in previous years. But since last year is a memory, we can't be sure. It is time to stop, look and listen even if it is just for a moment.

Don't rush the experience of spring. It is another whole year before you get to see the show again. Remember, April was full of promise and May fulfills those promises.

The Purple Martins are back and moving daily with babies on the brain into hanging gourds and man-manufactured houses. Native Americans were the first people to offer gourds as nesting sites. Purple Martins migrate from South American every spring to claim sites that they have had before.

They are the largest of the swallows in North America, and those east of the Rockies are totally dependent on man-made houses. They return yearly to the same locations as if magically programmed.

Purple Martin enthusiasts and landlords wait anxiously for the return of "their" birds. They are in South Carolina by late February, but repeated cold spells kept them from arriving locally until mid-April and even later in some houses. They have to have a constant supply of insects because they eat on the wing. If a sudden cold snap takes out the insects, a whole colony of martins can perish within three days.

The adults, those 2- to 3-years-old, arrive first every year. The males are dressed in dark purple. Females have a gray breast with the dark purple backs. During the early days of the annual return to nesting sites, adult males perform "dawn songs" to attract other martins to the colony.

The one-year-old adults arrive six to eight weeks after the older adult birds. People wanting to attract martins stand a better chance of attracting the youngest birds to new houses. The older, experienced birds eagerly claim their nesting sites immediately upon arrival.

Martins like nesting close to each other, creating a colony. They are noisy neighbors coming and going from sun up to sun down daily. They quarrel and push one another when one gets too close or has claimed a site belonging to another, and they are opinionated.

Purple Martins eat insects on the wing. Their populations throughout America are holding steady, where some birds are in decline. It is no doubt due to devoted martin lovers providing housing. People used to try to attract martins because they thought they ate large quantities of mosquitoes. They don't. The Purple Martin's diet is diverse, and research shows they do not specialize and consume mainly one insect. They enjoy leaf hoppers, flies, beetles, dragon flies, bees, wasp, grasshoppers. And mosquitoes.

It is not unusual to try for years to attract Purple Martins and not be successful, or to suddenly lose a colony. Sometimes they will simply disappear. Starlings and sparrows moving in on the nesting sites will cause martins to abandon a house they have come to for years.

The Purple Martin Conservation Society has a lot of literature on the birds. Contact the organization at 814-833-7656 or check online at

They are fascinating birds, and watching them can be mesmerizing. They maneuver through various twists and turns as they devour insects on the wing.

The Biltmore Estate has a well-established colony, as does Givens-Highland Farms. Lake Tomahawk has a large population of barn swallows, and it is interesting to watch them hunt on the wing over the lake. Be careful in flower and vegetable gardens to not use insecticides. Poisoning the insects is poisoning the swallows.

Swallows are easy to identify by their long, pointed wings and graceful aerobatic flight.

Black bear mothers are out with babies. They are not only protective but also excellent teachers. Everything a mother bear's cubs learn comes from her, including what to eat and were to find it. She establishes day beds where she takes her babies to eat and nurse. Baby bears hum as they nurse. Often mama bear leans her back against a tree while the babies nurse. To burp them she encourages them to play and even roll over fallen trees and to wrestle with each other.

While nursing several cubs, the mother often loses as much as one-third of her body weight. She is affectionate with her cubs, strict because their lives depend on it, and devoted. She takes her job seriously. She is concerned with safety and education of her young more than anything else.

A mother with cubs does not mate again until they are on their own, the second summer.

Baby bears like little kids can be cranky. They will explore, cry, explore some more and cry some more.

When she perceives danger, the mother bear puts the cubs up a tree and leaves. After the danger passes, she returns and calls the cubs down from the tree, usually snapping her teeth. While mom is gone, the babies usually do a lot of crying. Some people think their cries sound a lot like a human infant.

Area ducks and Canada geese are hatching babies. House wrens are looking for nest sites, and bat babies are in the nursery.

Pond turtles are out basking in the sun and dragonflies have emerged. Opossum babies are crawling out of her pouch. They will ride around on her back for weeks, and if one falls off, she doesn't seem to know it. Dove nesting is at a peak. Carpenter bees are laying eggs.

Store bird seeds properly so they won't mold. Moldy seeds are harmful to birds.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.

The miracle of the bud is nature's supreme gift to man. Man cannot compete with nature regardless of how much technology he has at his disposal. The Purple Martins have returned to the Valley, nesting in gourds and man manufactured houses. Black Bears are up and out of winter dens with their babies.