For most people, there are reoccurring events in nature that serve as symbols for the arrival of spring. Some examples are longer days, warmer temperatures, daffodils, forsythia and certainly allergies! For nature lovers, the early morning song of a particular bird species, such as a spotted towhee, can be a symbol of spring’s return.
Even to this day, when you hear the song of a certain bird species, it may invoke within you memories from an earlier time in your life. Perhaps you lived somewhere differently from where you are now living. For my dad, growing up in Maine, seeing the return of American robins and hearing their beautiful morning and evening song served as a sign of spring to him.
I frequently mark the passage of time — as you might imagine — by the arrival and departure of different bird species. The predictability of bird migration is well documented. There are many species that return at the same time each year. Without even looking at a calendar, you can tell what month it is by the birds you are seeing in your yard or neighborhood.
Here in the Central Highlands of Arizona, one of our first migratory birds to return each spring is the turkey vulture. On Sunday, March 12, I saw two flying around our neighborhood. How exciting is that! Other early arrivals include violet-green swallows and northern rough-winged swallows. I saw both of these species this past Saturday when I was kayaking at Watson Lake.
Many casual birders like to keep a record of the comings and goings of the birds in their yard by making notes either on a calendar or in a notebook, indicating the date they first saw a bird in the spring or the last date they saw one of our winter migratory birds.
If you are consistent in your record keeping, it will astonish you how predicable some bird species are. If you have ever thought it would be fun to keep a yard list (a list of the birds you observe in your yard,) it is not too late to start. Some folks enjoy doing this when their grandchildren are in town, and together they make note of the different bird species they see in the yard.
This past weekend, we had some good bird activity in our yard. There was a confrontation between the ravens that nest in the ponderosa pine tree in our yard and a pair of Cooper’s hawks that nest in our neighborhood. For the most part, their interactions were civil one toward another. However, if I could have interpreted what they were saying, it probably would not be printable in a family newspaper.
Not long after the Cooper’s hawk incident, a pair of red-tailed hawks flew over our yard. Both ravens were very agitated and left the nest in pursuit of the hawk in the lead. They harassed it both physically and verbally, dive-bombing and swooping at it. Meanwhile, the other hawk was flying 200 to 300 yards behind and was casually observing its mate getting attacked, making no efforts to intervene or assist. It would have been interesting to know which hawk was being attacked, and which one was hanging back, the male or the female, but I don’t know.
It is no secret that red-tailed hawks and ravens are mortal enemies of one another. These two species frequently spar over nesting locations, which sometimes are hard to come by. In my neighborhood, there are very few suitable trees to support a red-tailed hawk’ s nest.
I hope you are enjoying all of the bird activity in your yard this spring. Until next week, Happy Birding!