Many of New England’s Mourning Doves migrate down the Atlantic coast to spend the winter in more southerly climes and thus their persistent coo-ing is lacking during the winter months. However, even with feet of snow still on the ground in places, the relative silence has recently been broken by the return of these mournful-sounding birds.
The Mourning Dove’s primary song is referred to as a “perch coo.” Most of us are familiar with this song — a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos. (“Coo-oo, OO, OO, OO”) Unmated males sing this song repeatedly during the breeding season, often from a conspicuous perch. (Mated males also sing, but far less frequently.) The song’s principal function appears to be the attraction of a mate.
You are most apt to hear Mourning Doves perch cooing half an hour before sunrise until roughly an hour and a half after sunrise, when it tapers off. Singing does pick up in the afternoon, but doesn’t begin to reach the fervor of the morning. Perch cooing reaches its peak between mid-May and mid-June.
Thank you to all who wrote in regarding Naturally Curious’s 9th Anniversary. Your kind words, wishes and donations were gratefully received.
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Nothing announces the arrival of spring more than willow flowers peeking their silver heads out of the bud scales which have surrounded and protected them all winter. What we call pussy willows are, in fact, the soft, silvery hairs that insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud. Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. A male willow has only male catkins; female willows have only female catkins.
An individual willow catkin consists of all male or all female flowers. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins, where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen (or in female flowers, the ovules) of the flowers deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the willow flowers – the stamens and pistils – emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats.
Every spring there comes a day when the temperature approaches or exceeds 45 degrees, and a gentle spring rain occurs and extends into the night.* These conditions signal the impending nocturnal migration of many amphibians to their breeding pools. Spotted Salamanders, Jefferson/Blue-spotted Salamanders, Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers and an occasional American toad rise from their state of hibernation to crawl out of the dirt and make their way to wetlands (often vernal pools) where they will breed and lay their eggs. So many migrate en masse that the first night that this migration takes place has been dubbed “Big Night.”
It goes without saying that in many cases, roads have to be crossed when going from hibernaculum to breeding pool. This poses a major threat to the frogs and salamanders that are on the move, and roads often become slick with their carcasses due to unwitting automobile drivers. If you are out driving on the first warm, wet evening this spring, drive slowly while keeping an eye out for lumps in the road, and if you see them and have a flashlight or head lamp handy (to find the frogs and salamanders, as well as to announce your presence in the road to other drivers), stop and lend them a hand (usually there are concentrated areas where crossings occur). (Perhaps a group of well-marked volunteers could gather to monitor and assist migrating amphibians at major road-crossing locations in your town.) It should be obvious which direction the frogs and salamanders are all headed in, and they can be placed well off that side of the road. (Photo: left to right, Wood Frog, Spring Peeper, Spotted Salamander)
*With one to two feet of snow on the ground and vernal pools still frozen over in many parts of northern New England, this event will most likely not occur with the impending warm, rainy weather, but will happen in the next few weeks.
A new addition to my children’s book series on Animal Adaptations has just been released. Animal Eyes, Ears, Mouths, Tails and Legs are now joined by Animal Noses.
“Noses come in all kinds of shapes and sizes that are just right for their particular animal host. Not only do most animals use their noses to breathe but for many animals, the sense of smell helps them find food, a mate, or even to know when danger is near! Following Animal Tails, Animal Eyes, Animal Mouths (NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Science Award), Animal Ears and Animal Legs, Mary Holland continues her photographic Animal Anatomy and Adaptations series by exploring many different animal noses and how those noses help the animals survive in their habitats.” Arbordale Publishing
Copies can be purchased from independent bookstores, online and from the publisher by going to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and clicking on image of cover on right.
Black Bears have just started to emerge from hibernation in northern New England, and their appetite is fierce. Male black bears will typically drop between 15 and 30 percent of their body weight, while reproductive sows can lose up to 40 percent of their weight over the winter. Although omnivores, a black bear’s diet consists of 85 percent plant material, especially in the spring and summer. At this time of year bears favor the tender emerging shoots of sedge and grasses, willow catkins, leaf buds and skunk cabbage. However, these plants are not always available to them when they first become active. Being opportunists, if bears can’t find natural food sources, they go looking for alternatives, such as those provided by humans.
Sunflower seeds are a Black Bear’s dream come true, nutritionally speaking. A bird feeder full of them replaces hours of foraging in the wild. With an outstanding sense of smell (many times greater than a bloodhound’s), Black Bears will find and raid feeders at this time of year when there is a lack of other food sources. Therefore, if you wish to avoid creating a “nuisance” bear, it is advisable to take down your feeders by April 1st. Black Bears have excellent memories, particularly regarding food sources. They will return time after time, and may resort to unwanted (by humans) behavior in order to get more of the food that was at one time available. Once this occurs, their well-being is jeopardized.
Although spring is arriving a bit later than usual this year, there are beaver ponds where the ice has started to melt and resident beavers have wasted no time in exiting the water. (Where ice is thinning, they are known to bump their heads up against it in order to break through.)
Having had a diet of bark all winter (from the underwater supply of branches they stored last fall), beavers head for a greener diet if it can be found. Skunk cabbage, where it’s present, is the first fresh food of the season for beavers. The rhizomes (underwater stems) of water lilies, as well as the leaves and flowers when they appear, are also favorite foods. As spring advances into summer, grasses ferns, sedges, and all manner of herbaceous flowering plants are eaten.
While Red-winged Blackbirds are present year-round in southern New England, their return is one of the key indicators that spring has sprung further north. Males have just started appearing in northern New England, and females will follow shortly. Hearing these harbingers of spring is as delightful as seeing them.
Both males and females have a repertoire of songs and calls. The male redwing has nine distinct song types, the most familiar of which is its “konk-la-ree” song. Females have three main categories of much shorter songs.
The male sings throughout the year, but most frequently during the breeding season when territories are being established. In addition, he uses this song to initiate female courtship behavior once she is settled on his territory. Initially the female redwing does not answer the male’s song, but she does so frequently once she becomes a regular resident of his territory.
Singing is obviously a successful procreation strategy for male Red-winged Blackbirds, for up to 15 females have been observed nesting on the territory of a single male (although he does not necessarily sire all of the offspring).
To hear Red-winged Blackbird songs and calls, go to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/sounds. (Photo: singing male Red-winged Blackbird)