April stands with one foot in March and her eyes on May

Barbara Hootman Columnist

April is a perfect example of the many moods of Mother Nature. During the month it is too warm, too cold, too rainy, not rainy enough. It can have destructive winds and forest fires. No one can accuse April of not providing variety.

Violets bloom throughout April but aren’t the first wild flowers of spring. Hepatica, bloodroot and anemone come into bloom first, but when the violets bloom you can count on spring at least half of the time. May brings a profusion of blooms celebrating spring.

Violets are ancient wild flowers much revered by our ancestors. The Persians wrote about them, and the Romans used them in medicines and were liberal with them in love potions. In ancient England the violet was a symbol of modesty. Native Americans saw it as a sign of courage.

Bees and butterflies work violets for early spring nectar. The blooms are especially welcome when late April can’t make up her mind whether she likes winter or spring best. April does offer promise as she looks back at March and forward to May. Seldom is April gentle.

The goldfinches are finishing their spring molt which returns the males to a bright yellow. Some started coloring as early as late February. These birds live almost entirely on seeds. The Goldfinch is the only bird in the finch family that sheds its feathers twice yearly. Finding extra energy to regrow feathers is why there are so many Goldfinches at feeders now. The legs, feet and bill change from winter grayish brown to buff yellow-orange in the spring to complement the new bright yellow feathers.

Killdeers are back and have nesting on their minds. They are a member of the Plover family - a shorebird that calls Western North Carolina its spring and summer home. It lives in pastures and fields, on graveled roofs and on lawns. It likes parking lots with a few ornamental shrubs. Every year the Ingles Grocery parking lot in Black Mountain has a resident Killdeer family. The birds run a few steps and then pause to check what’s happening around them. And then they run again.

The Killdeer population is steady with the bird breeding across the United States and into Canada. Their primary food is insects, including ants, beetles, caddisflies, centipedes, spiders, ticks, earthworms, caterpillars, snails and grubs (especially of the June beetles). They are not a bird that visits feeders, but they include some grass and weed seeds in their diet. The Killdeer is a hard worker that consumes so many insects that it is the gardener’s helper.

The Killdeer is distinctively marked with a short white stripe just above and behind the eye. Its collar is white with two bold black stripes across the chest. There is also red in the eye (should you get that close). Flight speeds have been clocked from 25 to 55 mph. Running speed is about 5 mph.

There is an orange splotch on the rump that is highly visible when the Killdeer is doing its crippled bird act, fluttering along the ground and dragging one wing. A nesting bird will turn its back on an intruder in its space, making it harder to tell it from a rock on the ground.

The Killdeer can raise two broods per breeding season. Both male and female incubate the eggs. The male usually takes the night shift, leaving the female to incubate the eggs during the day. The chicks leave the nest shortly after they are hatched and are ready to feed themselves. The parents help them find food and protect them for up to 25 days after hatching. Then the chicks are able to fly and are on their own. The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground sparsely lined with twigs and grass.

Bears are out and about. From the scat I’ve seen on my mountaintop, some of my neighbors are missing bird feeders. Take the bird feeders in my late afternoon.

Keep the cats indoors to protect wild babies, and to help prevent the spread of rabies from the wild world to the domestic one. Indoor cats cannot become dinner for hungry coyote pups in the den.

Copperhead snakes are out of winter dens.

Deer are growing new antlers.

Juncos and White-throated Sparrows are migrating north and will return in late September.

Spring hawk migration is in progress.

Wild turkey hens begin incubating eggs.

Oak trees are beginning to tassel (bloom).

Luna moths are finding porch lights.

Butterflies are out looking for flowers with nectar. Do not kill them with pesticides.

Keep out plenty of water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.