Nature’s nursery opens in May for most wild creatures

Barbara Hootman Columnist

The green, fertile world of May gifts man with satisfaction in early spring. The former barren tree limbs are alive again with new celery-green leaves. Apple trees are full of fragrant blossoms, and peonies are beginning to be heavy with large blooms.

Garden soil that lay chilled for so long is warming and sending up fresh young sprouts. Nature in spring is a time of change and growth. Life proceeds in its own way and in its own time.

Spring is a time for man to listen to the earth and what is going on around him. We get so caught up in the pace of life that we forget to listen. It is the same way every year, and man seems to listen to Mother Nature less and less. It is man’s loss, not nature’s loss.

It is warbler time in the Valley. The small colorful birds seem to be everywhere as they pass through the Valley on their way to more northern breeding/nesting grounds. Researchers show that North America is home to more than 50 species of warblers during spring and summer.

The yellow warbler is one of the easiest small birds to identify, and it spends a lot of time locally. By mid-spring the tiny mite of a bird is buttery yellow. The male sings songs that sound like a melodious whistle. His breast has chestnut colored streaks on it. The tiny bird has prominent black eyes with a solid yellow face. These markings make him easy to identify. The female is not as yellow and lacks the cinnamon colored streaks on the breast.

The cowbird often take over the yellow warbler’s nest, but the warbler refuses to incubate the interloper’s egg. It simply builds another tier to the nest and starts over with egg-laying, sacrificing its eggs as well as the cowbird’s egg. Nests have been found that were six tiers high.

Life is not all ease and happiness for any bird, but is even harder for small birds. Some yellow warblers have been found trapped in the Orb Weaver spider’s web. Many hummingbirds have suffered the same fate. They aggressively defend their nesting territories from members of their own species, and other birds including Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, House Wrens and Chickadees. Garter snakes, raccoons, weasels, skunks, Jays, Crows, squirrels and domestic feral cats are chief predators of the yellow warbler’s nest.

Yellow warblers like most others of their species eat insects caught in mid-air or picked off leaves. They enjoy midges, caterpillars. Leafhoppers, wasps and other small bugs.

The yellow warbler migrates to Central America to winter earlier than other warblers. It also returns earlier than other warblers. Some arrive in the Valley by late February.

Bird skirmishes are common in the spring when testosterone is high in males. Some birds see their reflections in windows and mirrors and the war is on. Robins and Cardinals are some of the most persistent songbirds to quarrel with their reflections in windows, car mirrors or even hubcaps. It must be frustrating because they quarrel, smash themselves against the window for hours, fly away to refuel their bodies, come back and there is that same bird in the glass, and the war is on again.

Sometimes the fight with one’s own reflection lasts for days, and sometimes for weeks. Sometimes it stops, and then restarts again. Both male and female robins defend their territories, but the male does so more aggressively. Blue birds can be notoriously aggressive in attacking their own reflections.

The bird fighting its reflection may suffer exhaustion, but rarely sustains major injury. The window will have numerous smudge marks from repeated strikes. Eliminating the reflection is the only cure for the problem. Drawing the drapes is a temporary fix. Hanging fake owls or hawk silhouettes doesn’t work. If you can wait it out, it will stop. Soaping the window works but it is difficult to remove. You can completely cover the window with drop cloth-type material, but that is unsightly and deprives you of your window. Forget about washing the window until nesting season is over.

If your car mirror is the lure, move the car or cover the mirror. Strips of Mylar suspended from a close branch sometimes will distract the aggressive bird. Once there are babies in the nest to be cared for and fed, the warring males give up chasing away their reflections and concentrate on parental duties.

Baby skunks are still being born, and some are big enough to follow their mothers.

Wood ducks are hatching.

Carpenter bees are laying eggs.

Opossum young begin to emerge from their mother’s pouch.

Young coyote pups are out of the den.

Bring in the bird feeders to prevent bear strikes.

Keep out plenty of fresh water for drinking and bathing.

May you always hear the whisper of wings.