What You Can See on Feb. 23
Submitted by Ted Williams on Thu, 02/23/2006 - 10:02.
From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Winter Birdsong You’ll start to hear it throughout most of our nation as the sun pushes higher into the winter sky -- a clear, ringing caroling that comes before almost any other sign of spring -- maybe a whistled “purdy, purdy, purdy” or a “cheer, cheer, cheer” or a “whit-chew, whit-chew, whit-chew.” It’s the song of the northern cardinal, another adaptive species that is thriving and extending its range. But it’s not just the male you’re hearing; the female counters his notes with loud caroling of her own, eliciting matching notes from her prospective mate. As courtship continues into late winter the male will bring her food, tilting his head to place it in her beak. In response she’ll flutter her wings in fledgling-like excitement. To attract cardinals put out black sunflower seed and cracked corn. They’ll come to feeders but prefer to forage on the ground. Drummer in the Woods Almost everywhere in wooded North America, spring is now beginning with a loud, two-second drumroll. If you can count the beats, chances are it’s a downy woodpecker. If you can’t, it’s probably a hairy woodpecker -- the downy’s larger, longer-billed cousin. The colossal noise issuing from the diminutive, black-and-white downy is a declaration of territory and a means of staying in touch with its mate. However, when downies feed on insects in deadwood and under bark, you can barely hear the tapping. Both male and female will drum on any resonant surface, including clapboards and rain gutters. When they select metal they can be as loud as jackhammers. At first light and a few feet from a person’s bed, such serenades can infuriate even bird lovers. But have patience; courtship is as brief as spring.