Ringing in Spring

Spring has sprung with the arrival of the Red-Winged Blackbird! This week’s blog post is written by Eli, a monthly blog correspondent and a Brookies and Ursids alumnus.  In this post, Eli explores the pattern of these birds and encourages you to take some time and enjoy the beautiful spring air.

For everyone, spring is signaled in by something a little different. Whether it be the emergence of the crocuses, the melting of the snow, or the warmer weather, we all have our own way of declaring winter to be over and spring begun. In my family, spring officially starts with the first song of the male Red-Winged Blackbird in the hay field behind our house.

Every year in early March, the “conk-ala-raaa” song of the beloved bird rings across the countryside, filling the hearts of spring lovers with joy. Most years I noted their arrival and then went about my usual business, but last year was different. I started to wonder if there was a delay between the males arriving at the hay field and the females’ arrival date. In many bird species, the males arrive earlier on the breeding ground than females in order to set up and defend a territory. I wanted to know if this held true for the Red-Winged Blackbird so I set up a quick experiment to test my hypothesis.

Red-Winged Blackbird

On March 10th of last year, I had my chance to perform the experiment with the arrival of the first Red-Winged Blackbird at the hay field. My experiment was conducted by having two observation periods per day, early morning and afternoon. At each observation period, I scanned the area around the singing males with binoculars and high power spotting scopes in search of a female. After each observation period, I noted all Red-Winged Blackbird activity and marked if a female was present.

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After observing the males sing and fiercely defend their territory for three days straight, a female finally appeared on the morning of the fourth day answering my question. Some people may call me nuts for standing on the edge of a hay field observing Blackbirds for four days, but they simply do not understand how rewarding it is to unlock a mystery in nature. I plan on preforming this same experiment this year and in the years to come to see how the female arrival times change from year to year. Also, who know what else there is to discover?

This spring, I would like to encourage you to take a little bit more time to observe and enjoy what you like best about spring. You don’t have to set up an experiment and diligently wait along a field to gain a deeper connection to spring. As the great writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Never lose an opportunity to see something beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting”.