Top Ten Signs of Spring Outside My Window

Red-winged blackbird.
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10. Singing. The resident birds started tuning up a few weeks ago northern cardinals, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, and eastern towhees. Now the winter visitors—birds that will eventually leave our part of the world to head back north to breed—are joining the chorus. These include dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows. I'm still waiting for the early spring visit from a fox sparrow or two. I love to hear them sing.

9. Drumming. Julie and I went for a walk last week and from the middle of our meadow, we could hear the distinctive territorial drumming styles of all five woodpecker species that nest here on out 80 acres. From smallest to largest, these are: downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern flicker, and pileated woodpecker. Listen for your woodpecker neighbors. I'm sure they are drumming, too.

8. Goldfinches Changing Color. You still have to look closely, but I definitely see some brightening in the yellow feathers of our American goldfinches. Goldfinches molt into their drab winter plumage in late fall and keep this dull appearance until late March or early April. Our male goldfinches are also starting to show a bit of black on the crown, too. This is a really welcome sign of spring.

7. Blackbirds. The first red-winged blackbirds showed up under the feeders in early March. All day long we hear redwings, common grackles, and even a few rusty blackbirds flying overhead, chukking as they head north. The first redwing of spring has always been a much more notable and reliable "first" sign of spring than the first American robin.

6. Lawn robins. They aren't an everyday visitor yet, but most days—especially early and late—we are getting small flocks of American robins landing in the trees along our ridge-top farm yard. If the ground isn't frozen they drop down to stalk and probe around on the lawn for earthworms and other edibles. Once our nesting pair returns and the male is singing his evening serenade, I'll know that winter is truly gone.

5. Mossy wrens. Our Carolina wren pair is gathering moss and sticks and starting nest construction in the copper bucket that hangs under the eaves by our front door. I'm thinking they want to get an early start to launch a brood into the world before it gets too balmy outside and the black rat snakes wake up. Despite our vigilance, the black snake got the wrens' second brood last year. This year we're going to try to do a better job of baffling the nest.

4. Gobbles. Two mornings ago I hear a tom turkey give his loud, sputtering gobble from somewhere in our east valley. I mentioned it to our kids, Phoebe and Liam, and they both said "Oh yeah, we hear turkeys gobbling every morning when we head off to school!" I'm so pleased that they noticed and that they know what that sound is!

3. Bluebirds getting busy. The pair of eastern bluebirds that nests on the west side of our yard is in major courtship mode. The male is singing his head off, flying down to the nest box, waving his wings like crazy. The female obliges him by flying to the box and hopping in. Today I noticed she was carrying some grass in her bill. It won't be long now until the nest is finished and five or so pale blue eggs appear.

2. Tree swallow flyover. Another spring and summer nesting bird on our farm is the tree swallow. We always have at least one pair and sometimes two in the nest boxes out in the meadow. While our "trees" aren't back yet, I did spot a couple of individual tree swallows flying high overhead last weekend, headed north. This early returning swallow can survive by switching its diet to fruits and berries when cold weather makes flying insects scarce.

1. Timberdoodle. We're lucky to have nesting American woodcocks on our farm. This is a member of the shorebird family that prefers to live and nest in the woods. In early spring, at dawn and dusk, male woodcocks find a nearby clearing and perform a courtship "dance" on the ground and in the sky that is almost unbelievable. After turning in a circle, issuing regular vocal peents, the male springs into flight, headed into the darkening sky, corkscrewing higher and higher, his wings issuing a soft whistling tone. Reaching the apex at about 300 feet or so above the ground, he then begins tumbling downward, wings still whistling, and adds a twittering vocalization to the mix. A few seconds later, he is back on the ground, starting the display all over again. Watching this amazing display each spring, when the air is still full of winter's chill, is my favorite sign of spring on this old farm where I live.

About Bill Thompson, III

Bill Thompson III is the editor of Bird Watcher's Digest by day. He's also a keen birder, the author of many books, a dad, a field trip leader, an ecotourism consultant, a guitar player, and blogger.

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