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Scott M

Which bird signals spring time

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Thought this was a good read.

Bill Marchel, special to the Star Tribune

BRAINERD, MINN. - Legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote, "One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring."

Leopold penned those words nearly 70 years ago. That was long before the giant subspecies of Canada geese thrived as it does today. It was also, I assume, before many of the big geese decided city life -- with its warm water discharges and free handouts -- warranted they should stay the winter.

So, to many "city folk," a flock of Canada geese "cleaving" the sky is a common sight throughout the winter, and thus not a true harbinger of spring as Leopold noted.

I don't live near a town big enough to attract "city geese," and so Leopold's words strike a note. To me, a wedge of Canada geese in the March sky, noisily announcing to the world below their northward movement, is indeed spring.

But it wasn't always this way. When I was a kid, I delivered morning newspapers to doorsteps in north Brainerd. Then, there were few Canada geese. Just a sighting near town at any time of the year was notable.

Back then, crows -- like Canada geese -- had yet to adapt to city life. Lacking then were human fast-food chains, and thus French fries were not tossed to waiting crows from parked vehicles as they are today. So, at the time, nary a crow stayed the winter as they do today.

Thus, to me, the initial cawing of March crows was spring. I remember the joy those first crows brought to me as, at dawn, I skipped over frozen mud puddles and stubborn snowbanks, a stack of newspapers under my right arm.

To many people, the first robin sighting of the year means spring. Others judge the passing of winter by the arrival of eastern bluebirds, another early migrant.

If you travel the country roads, a kestrel perched on a power line might signal spring to you. Or perhaps a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds flying, undulating, strung out across the prairie washes away your winter.

I have a friend who figures it is spring when he hears the first flock of migrating tundra swans. This man loves to listen to northbound swans as they hoot and holler, unseen in the darkness above, as he sits in lantern light atop the rotting grey ice of a lake while plying the depths for crappies.

Sandhill cranes arrive in Minnesota ahead of most other migrants, and they are a favorite spring omen for many people. The big heron-like birds are noisy; they impart prehistoric-sounding cries that will attract the attention of even the most casual observer.

If you enjoy hunting, perhaps your spring arrives with the first drumming ruffed grouse, a dull thud, thud, thud reverberating from an aspen forest. Or maybe it's the thunderous gobble of an amorous tom turkey that is your spring.

Other people judge the coming of spring by the arrival of later migrants such as the colorful Baltimore oriole, any one of the 20-plus species of warblers, or the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird. Depending on where you live in Minnesota, those species will be arriving in a few weeks to a month.

Despite the recent cold and snow weather, many migrating birds have already winged into Minnesota, much to the delight of those with an eye and an ear toward the outdoors.

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I had to think about this a little since IMO spring sprung about two weeks ago. Lately I've seen paired geese that followed juvenile flocks, male red-winged blackbirds staking out their cattail marsh territories, and kestrels perched on power lines. I've also seen a few tom wild turkeys strutting.

For me, I'm a lover and hunter of all waterfowl, so I will have to go with paired wood ducks. Divers usually come up as soon as the ice breaks, even if spring isn't sprung. Mallards and Canada Geese are here often all year. But a true wood duck won't come up until spring is here...in the fall they are an early migrator only beaten south by teal.

Any other spring indicators?

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Nice article to make people ponder. Spring comes probably where you live. Currently the Canada's and Mourning Doves have already started nesting in northern Iowa, but it still does'nt feel like spring to me. My signal here is usually when the Chipping Sparrow's start mating. Then I'm planting garden, trees, and getting the butterfly garden going. Thanks for making me think, it makes winter seem long past!

Mike

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For me I think its blue birds or tree swallows. I always wait for their return and for them to start nesting in my nest boxes.

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For me I think its blue birds or tree swallows. I always wait for their return and for them to start nesting in my nest boxes.

If I could have bluebirds nesting I'd be right with you, but at my house it is the ruby-crowns. I love that one morning, when I get out of bed, look out the second story window and see my trees and shrubs just twittery with them. Or open the car door after work and hear all the little chipping.

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This morning, at my feeders I had sparrows, juncos, purple house finches, and grackles. First time I can remember the grackles actually on the feeders, and not just waiting for "spillage".

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I see a lot of common denominators with many of you. For me the rooster pheasants crowing and drumming always bring a smile, especially when I see them staging in the plum and sumac outside my window. The regal colors and the intricate feather pattern of those breeding males makes them a sight to behold, especially when the sun catches them. A close second might be the arrival of the meadowlarks, followed by the pairs of Canada geese and mallards on the pond honking and quacking each morning at choretime.

Yeah fishinchicks, what's up with those grackles this year? They're eating corn off the ear corn feeder! Fine with me as I still have a lot of it leftover from last fall's hand yield checks. Just not the behavior I'm used to seeing is all.

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