February is a month full of color – be it holidays or birds!
In the holiday category we will celebrate Valentine’s Day with lots of red and President’s Day with lots of red, white, and blue as we remember Presidents Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays on the 12th and 22nd, respectively, and thus have a holiday on Monday, Feb.17.
This typically snowy month is a great month for feeding the birds – especially the bright red cardinals. Their brilliance against the fresh white snow is fascinating. Now add in a couple of blue jays and you have those nice patriotic colors! This late in the winter is when the cardinals really become more dependent on the bird feeding stations as many of their natural wild berry supplies are dwindling.
Right about now – the middle of February – is when we start hearing the cardinals singing as they herald the coming of spring. I can picture a nice cold calm sunny day in February with lots of snow on the ground and a cardinal just singing away with its melodic repetitious whistling song. Many times, it will even happen during a snowstorm. Pay attention in the coming days and weeks and see if you also hear some of the early songs of spring which might also include those of the white-breasted nuthatch, house finches, and several others.
One of those others is our New York State bird – the Eastern Bluebird! Speaking of red, white, and blue it’s a beautiful bird and it’s talking spring already. As you know, a few bluebirds do spend the winter here but it seems like they have been kind of scarce this winter. Last weekend I was glad to hear my first one of the year singing from the utility wires over our lawn. As you may be aware, their call is kind of soft and faint, but still very distinct. When you “think” you heard one chances are that you really did. Often the first call gets our attention, and then we focus our ears a bit more and just about always end up confirming that it truly was a beautiful bluebird.
Hearing that bluebird set off a switch in me that spring is really getting close – our next month on the calendar is March at which time we will see more and more bluebirds filtering in and checking out nest boxes. They won’t nest until April but the bluebird action will be interesting and robust.
The wild staghorn sumac seed clusters really come in handy at this time of the winter and in spring – supposedly their sugar content increases now. Keep an eye on these sumac groves. Several other birds rely on them as well including our early robins and bluebirds. The other day I saw a downy woodpecker eating them and in years past I’ve seen many others including evening grosbeaks eating them. Unfortunately, the large flocks of European starlings raid these sumac groves and can clean them out in a day or two.
So, enjoy a snowy real month of winter and all of the color and the holidays as we look forward to moderating temperatures later in winter and into spring. I know that I’ve got to get back in the shop and make a few more bluebird nest boxes and fix up some that need repair. Having bluebirds using your nest boxes is so much fun and is so fulfilling!
On a final note, this is the month that I turn 60 years old. It just so happens to be on Feb. 12 – Lincoln’s birthday – and Mom tells me that I was born during a massive blizzard back in 1960. So February is a bit more special for me as I’m grateful for my good life. I mention that I’m “only 60” because based on some of the past photos accompanying my column, I have had several people in the past think that I am much older than 60! I’ve been writing my bird and nature columns for several papers for 30 years now so it may seem like I’ve been around a long time. I have enjoyed my interactions with you and your positive feedback - and nature-sharing with all of you. We all do share the common bond of valuing nature’s wonders and beauty.
Enjoy the reds and whites and blues of this month and everything they mean to you, patriotically, and in the spirit of nature’s beauty for which we can be so thankful!