May is a busy time in nature with animals procreating
- Mid-May is one of the busiest and loudest times in nature with birds and animals mating and nesting
- By mid-May all of the songbirds have finished spring migration and are mating and building nests
- By mid-May spring has settled into being a season of mating and nesting for birds
- By mid-May birds have claimed center stage with mating, nesting and raising babies
Mid-May is a busy time in nature. Bees are humming, birds are singing, and there are blooms everywhere. Wasn't it just yesterday that it was March and we were anticipating the coming of spring?
Man sees spring, and it becomes a memory dimming as the year progresses. We worry over whether spring is early or late. We fret over when the last frost will be, and we debate when to put seeds in the ground. We fear that spring will blow cold again, killing the early plants.
The flowers and trees know, because they don't work from memory and, like man, forget from year to year. The plants, buds and blooms have memory rooted in response to seasonal rhythms which is the life of green-growing trees, plants and flowers. The bees, birds, buds and blooms march to the tune of the season, needing neither calendar nor clock.
Spring migration is over for most birds. They are settled in, courting, building nests and assuring their species will survive. Long migrations are often deadly for about half of all the birds making the annual round trip. They face death by bad weather, collisions with towers and buildings, and starvation due to the lack of suitable stopover habitats along the way. All of them have to land, rest and feed. It is also one reason for four and five babies in one clutch.
All of the birds have the necessities of life in the tropics, so why make such a dangerous trip as migration? Researchers feel it has to do with being able to give their offspring the best odds for starting life. The northern hemisphere has more land mass than the wintering ground in the southern hemisphere. Millions of birds have more space, allowing them to establish larger nesting territories, which means less competition for food and a better chance to avoid predators.
Also, as the days grow longer, the birds migrating north have more sunlight each day, allowing them to hunt and feed their babies more often. It also helps the offspring grow and leave the nest quicker. Nesting time is another dangerous time not only for parents but for the babies.
There are waves of warblers flitting from limb to limb in the newly leafed trees. They are small insect-eaters, weighing only a few ounces but having beautiful voices. There are more than 50 warbler species that populate the U.S. from spring through late summer.
Warblers nesting in the Valley are mostly the yellow ones. The males are buttery yellow and sing a sweet whistle-like song. The juveniles and females are a duller shade of yellow. They also lack the male's rich chestnut streaking on the breast. Males and females have prominent black eyes.
The warbler's favorite habitat are thickets regrowing on land that has been disturbed. They also enjoy having a water source near. They eat mostly insects that they pick off leaves on short hops from branch to branch. They like midges, caterpillars, beetles, leafhoppers and other bugs as tasty treats.
The warbler's nest is often exploited by a cow bird. The warbler quickly builds another nest on top of the cowbird egg. It is not unusual to find a warbler's nest with several layers one on top of the other. As it constructs new levels, it not only abandons the cow bird eg, but its own eggs as well.
Other predators that prey on warblers include garter snakes, squirrels, jays, crows, raccoons, weasels, skunks, and cats. Yellow warblers migrate earlier than most others in both spring and fall. They return to Central America to winter.
Yellow warblers will not come to a feeder, since they eat mainly insects. The calls sound like "sweet sweet sweet I'm so sweet." They are typically solitary and do not gather in flocks. Habitat loss is one of the most important things that hurt warblers. Overuse of insecticides is devastating to insect-eaters' critical food sources. Poison the insects and you kill the birds at the same time.
Catbirds and Brown Thrashers are back, and both are good singers. Sub-adult Purple Martins have returned to establish new colonies. They are easier to attract to a new site than the adults. Indigo Buntings are back. Chickadees and titmice are scarce at feeders. They are focused on nesting and raising their young.
Deer, skunks and raccoons bear young through May and into early June.
Young opossums emerge from their mother's pouch. Canada geese goslings, wood ducks and baby Mallards are on area ponds.
Second nesting attempts are in progress for bluebirds with fledglings out of the nest from the first brood.
Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking, and bring in the birdfeeders, including the hummingbird feeders by late afternoon to avoid the black bears.
If you need help with a baby wild critter, call the WNC Nature Center at 259-8080 for the wildlife rehabilitator closest to you.
Remember, most wild creatures do not need human help.
It is often harder to survive in captivity than in the wild.
May you always hear the whisper of wings.