Mid-May is like rush hour in the bird world. Migrants have returned for the nesting season and the air is full of birdsong. As you might guess, birdsong is as varied as birds themselves. In fact, birdsong is defined generously to include any and all sounds they make with territorial or courtship intentions. Let's start with a traditional vocalization and then branch out.
May brings apple blossoms, a universal favorite—whether in hillside orchard or backyard crabapple. They're also favored by one of the most elegant songbirds of all, cedar waxwings. They're a social species but sedate and quiet as birds go—easy to miss despite traveling in flocks.
Often the best way to know they're around is by their song. It's subtle, admittedly, but worth learning. Once alerted by their song, here's what you might see: male and female waxwings exchange blossoms bill-to-bill as part of a courtship ritual when winter flocks pair off for the breeding season ahead.
The ants come marching, one by one, up the kitchen wall; it’s a sure sign of spring. These are the worker ants, females all, tasked with delivering food to the colony. Male drones remain in that colony, on call for their one role in a very brief life: mating with a fertile female destined to be a new queen.
As anglers dust off their tackle boxes, it's a great time to make sure that all the lead is out. Decades of research by the Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough has proven the toxicity of lead fishing tackle to wildlife. One lead sinker an ounce or less in weight can kill a loon in a matter of weeks. Loons swallow grit and pebbles that help to grind up food, and sometimes there's a sinker in the gravelly mix. Fishermen lose a lot of sinkers.
We've all seen wildlife documentaries showing young animals—lion cubs, perhaps—wrestling, chasing, pouncing on their siblings. Observe household puppies and kittens and you'll see the same behavior: young animals at play.
Play is defined as spontaneous, energetic behavior with no apparent purpose or goal. But whenever there's considerable expenditure of energy, a closer look is warranted. There may not be apparent goals, but the true benefits of play are being recognized by a growing number of disciplines.
In New Hampshire we value rural character—a value that's reflected in a strong history of land conservation. Central to that history is conservation of privately owned land by means of what's called a "conservation easement deed" that limits future development. It's typically a family decision. A family chooses to conserve their land so that future generations will know the land as they do. The property stays on a town's tax rolls and its natural resources are protected in perpetuity. Land conservation benefits the public, and in most cases landowners are entitled to an income tax dedu
Barred owls, New Hampshire's most common owl species, also have the most familiar courtship and territorial song—usually translated as, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" It can be heard all year, day or night, but really revs up as owl breeding season begins in late winter. Owls are early nesters.
Wildlife produce their young when their primary food resource is most abundant. Mice, rabbit and squirrel populations are exploding when owl hatchlings on a continual growth spurt require frequent feeding.
Summer visitors to New Hampshire typically are eager to hear the call of a common loon, emblem of the wild and remote north woods. Popular souvenirs to take home include coffee mugs, sweatshirts and jewelry—all with a loon motif.
In addition to their striking appearance, I suspect the fact that loons chorus at night adds greatly to their mystique. Loons of winter don't get much attention, but scan coastal waters and chances are good you'll see a loon or two offshore. New Hampshire's breeding loons don't migrate far.
New Hampshire Audubon's annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey is coming up: the second weekend each February.
Three woodpeckers common statewide are among the early birds when it comes to loudly proclaiming territory and courtship. Lend an ear this time of year and you'll hear the rapid-fire drumming of powerful bills on resonant deadwood. Vocally challenged, woodpeckers drum while most other backyard birds sing.
Once again, Friday the 13th is at hand, one of the most abiding superstitions despite little agreement about its origins. Superstitions date from a time when the workings of the physical world were unknown. Calamitous events such as earthquakes, solar eclipses, plagues and death seemingly came out of nowhere.
Many superstitions centered on birds, most likely because they fly high to the heavens where the gods were thought to hang out. Birds were seen as carrying messages from the gods, and because the gods wielded power capriciously the messages seldom were glad tidings.
Have you heard about coffee that's for the birds? There definitely is such a thing: shade-grown coffee. Until recently that's how all coffee grew: in the shade on small family farms. Canopy trees above provided shade along with a natural leaf mulch that kept soil moist, prevented soil erosion, and decomposed to provide nutrients. The canopy typically included fruit and nut trees that provided food for the farm family.
I admit to being a distracted driver at times, but it's not for the usual reasons. I'm looking for moose, but not the kind wildlife biologists usually look for. I'm looking for a small moose on car license plates.
For ten years now New Hampshire's moose license plates have raised significant funds for conservation of both historic and natural resources. Land has been conserved; loons and other endangered species protected; nature education brought into classrooms; historic buildings and covered bridges fixed up along with buildings in our state parks.
The natural world quiets down in December, both visually and audibly. Fall's riot of colors is long gone, and the bird song chorus is a distant memory. Not everyone embraces winter, but there is a positive way to view the impending season of cold, ice and snow. Without the overload of spring, summer and fall distractions, we're freed up to notice and appreciate the subtle winter world.
Here's a bird song we all recognize, the familiar crowing of, yes, crows, a species with many vocalizations. Crows are one of the most intelligent animals in the wild, and a lot of intelligent people have come up with theories to explain why.