Love (and spring) is in the air
by Amy Hughes
Like many of you, I was not amused by the groundhog’s latest prediction. Six more weeks of winter? Humph. This winter has been particularly frustrating, especially as a naturalist.
Fresh snow was followed by freezing temperatures that glaze the snow with ice, making skiing and snowshoeing treacherous. Subzero blasts were followed by warm fronts, erasing fresh snow and feelings of cozy wintry comfort. And now in this in-between-seasonal transition, February days feel especially grey and mundane. I admit this mild winter has accelerated my ache for spring.
Much to my surprise this week (and perhaps Puxatony Phil’s dismay) I heard a sign of spring! The other morning I was greeted by the black-capped chickadee’s spring song, “hey sweetie.” Here at Springbrook Nature Center, there is must to see and hear in the seasonal changeover from winter to spring.
Along with the chickadee’s love song, there are many first glimpses of spring’s imminence happening this month. And coincidently, they also tell us that love is in the air.
Many other avian, feather friends are showing signs of love and spring in February. Listen for downy and hairy woodpeckers, who hammer on trees to declare territories and to establish pair bonds. Brightening bird colors is something to also be on the lookout for — European starling males’ beaks turn brighter yellow, telling his female suitors, “look how handsome, strong, and healthy I am.”
Throughout these dreary days of late winter and early spring, keep an eye and ear out for returning birds like the Canada goose’s “honk,” and the American robin’s “cheerily-cheerio,” who will be back North to nest soon. And consider yourself especially lucky if you are able to witness the pileated woodpecker’s or wild turkey’s courtship dance.
For our furry friends, Springbrook’s mammals are beginning to stir with the warmer temperatures.
Our typically solitary, striped skunk males are soon on the prowl for a mate in February. Though usually under the cover of night, bucks (male skunks) are especially active and will patrol their territory by up to half-mile radius in search for a lovely doe (female skunk). Skunk bucks and does will breed in February and March, and after a 60-day gestation period, does will give birth to four to seven kits in April or May.
This month, too, our red foxes will begin to pair up. Male foxes will battle each other, and the vixen (female fox) will choose the fox she favors. Some fox pairs will be life mates, while others will only pair up for the season. With a two-month gestation period, vixens will give birth to about five kits.
Though Minnesota’s transition from winter to spring is predictably unpredictable, especially in February, we do know that spring will eventually arrive.
In the meantime, we invite you to Springbrook Nature Center to walk our trails, fall in love (again) with nature, and see and hear for yourself that spring is just around the corner. Don’t be discouraged by the groundhog’s shadow — our birds and mammals certainly aren’t.
Amy Hughes is an interpretive naturalist at Springbrook Nature Center, 100 85th Ave. NW in Fridley. Director Mike Maher welcomes comments at [email protected] or 763-572-3589. Go to springbrooknaturecenter.org for more information.