BIRDS AND BEYOND

It finally looks like Spring

By | Published Thursday, April 22, 2010

After that impressive little blizzard at the spring equinox, I was starting to wonder if it would ever look like spring. I am happy to report that songbirds are beginning to nest, the owls and hawks should have fuzzy babies, many trees are budding, and our beautiful early spring wildflowers are blooming.

Let’s start with the plants. Elms, hackberries and oaks are starting to bud. Soon the oaks will be covered in long catkins, which hummingbirds and gnatcatchers will steal for their nests. We’ll have to wait a while longer for some, like the mesquites. All these tender young buds provide food for our lingering winter birds, such as the Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The Spring Beauties, tiny pale white flowers with delicate pink veins, are out in force. Tons of bluets, those tiny four-petal blue and purple delights, have been blooming for months now but are still blooming. Finally, just in time for the hummingbirds (which are already back) the red Indian Paintbrushes have begun to bloom as well.

How about those hummingbirds? One has already been sighted, so epic air battles over sugar water and flowers are sure to follow. We have two regular hummingbirds at this time of year: Black-chinned and Ruby-throated. Which is more common at your feeders will depend on what part of the county you are in. In more eastern areas, you might get Ruby-throateds all summer and few or no Black-chinned. In more western areas, you are more likely to have mostly Black-chinneds, with Ruby-throateds as migrants only.

We are right on the edges of the two hummingbird species’ ranges. The Black-chinned Hummingbird also occurs across much of the western United States, while the Ruby-throated Hummingbird ranges across the east. You’ll only be able to identify the males by their throat colors. Black-chinned have a broad iridescent purple band below a black patch below their beak. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a glowing red throat that changes to iridescent gold and orange in different light. Both have glittering green backs and pale bellies. Females of both species are green-backed with grayish-white bellies.

Other spring sightings include Lark Sparrows (my favorite bird), Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Black-and-white Warblers, Cliff Swallows, and Barn Swallows. Some other species to look for include Mississippi Kite, Broad-winged Hawk, Indigo Bunting, and Painted Bunting.

Nesting songbirds are getting a good start. I have a Bewick’s Wren with a finished nest in my backyard. All it needs now are tiny speckled eggs in the delicate cup of roots, grass, and fluff. Eastern Bluebirds are also laying their pale, ceramic-blue eggs. Titmice are also beginning to carry nesting materials to their cavities. I mentioned the hawks and owls; their babies should be growing and sitting up in the nest, staring out with glowing yellow eyes, flapping their stubby wings.

Keep your eyes peeled for whatever spring treasures you can find, from the tender green oak leaves to delicate wildflowers and dueling hummingbirds to nesting bluebirds. You never know what spring will bring you.

The next monthly field trip on the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands will be May 5. We will depart at 9 a.m. from the Forest Service District Office in Decatur. For more information, contact Mary Curry (see below) or the Forest Service District Office, (940) 627-5475.

Claire and Mary Curry are nature enthusiasts based in Greenwood. To contact them, e-mail larksparrow@eeclaire.com.

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