Winter lessens cold grip as new season approaches

Barbara Hootman

Spring is a movable feast, but the vernal equinox, (March 20) was fixed by ancient star gazers. Winter has only 18 days left before spring officially arrives.

March is a north blowing wind caring rain and sleet followed by a day of sunshine, anemones and hepatica blooms in the woods. March is like a mischievous child too precocious to not hug. The March wind is one of change carrying the season through transition.

The arrival of the female Redwing Blackbirds and the pussy willow buds seem to wake to the same spring wake up call. The male Redwings often arrive to a frosty reception in late February, but they are driven to be first on the breeding ground.

Starlings-love them or hate them- are a part of the arrival of the spring season. Rather than form war on these birds hold a man named Eugene Schieffelin responsible for introducing them to the U.S. with the intention of having all the animals appearing in works of Shakespeare represented. Some of the animal failed to thrive, but since their introduction in 1890, there are hundreds of millions of Starlings across the country.

Starlings thrive in the city or country. They sing complex songs, whistle clear notes, chatter and produce a wolf whistle that can make humans blush. Starlings and Myna birds are in the same family. They prefer insects, but eat a wide variety of foods. When they descend on early spring lawns, homeowners cringe and complain, but in reality the birds are not destroying the lawns, but are consuming insects and pests. Once they deplete the insect supply, they leave.

They not only forge for food in large groups, but travel in huge flocks. The flock flight resembles a huge roll in the sky with birds in the back of the flock rolling over the birds in the front repeatedly. If a hawk appears, the flock tightens preventing an attack on a single bird.

Male and female starlings look the same. Juveniles are gray and brown. Now they are losing the white tips from the feathers they grew last fall. The white tips give the bird the effect of having stars on its back and breast throughout winter. Sun and weather dull the stars or speckles and the Starlings turn a uniform dark brown/black with purplish and green iridescence on the head, back and breast during spring and summer. Even the beak changes to yellow for spring. It is designed to probe the earth and strong enough to push small rocks and soil out of the way.

Starlings are monogamous. They court and mate in early spring, leaving summer for raising the young from up to three nesting sessions. They are cavity nesters and compete with other birds aggressively for natural holes. Sometimes they even drive birds as large as wood ducks from their nest sites in trees. They refuse to use woodpecker holes. Their favorite nesting sites provided by man include dryer, range and bathroom vents.

Starlings are not protected by federal wildlife laws because they are not native birds.

Wood ducks are selecting nest sites now. They are medium size dabbling duck about half the size of a mallard. When flying they use easy to identify rapid wing beats.

They cannot excavate their own nest sites in trees and will accept nest boxes provided by man. The males are iridescent chestnut and green with ornate designs on nearly every feather. The females are not colorful, but are elegant with their distinctive white areas aroun their eyes. They can grip tree branches and even perch which other ducks can’t do.

Wood ducks pair in January and when they arrive on breeding grounds, they are ready for the nesting season.

Starlings often try to drive some wood duck hens from their nest during egg laying and the start of incubation. Starlings will destroy the duck eggs by making puncture holes in them, and then they bury the eggs under coarse nesting materials that they use.

When a wood duck returns to her nest, Starlings may mob her to drive her away. The starlings have decided to defend the new turf they have claimed.

Wood ducks live secretive lives staying in marsh waters. There used to be a population at Lake Tomahawk. Their survival seems to rest with them remaining hidden.

Expect male black bears to emerge from winter dens. The males are out before single females show up. Then come the mamas with cubs.

Wild turkeys begin to gobble. Some bluebirds begin to lay eggs. Screech owls are nesting, and barred owls are sitting on eggs.

It is time to clean the purple martin houses and make sure they are in position.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for bathing and drinking.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.