Snow is covering the ground as I write this, but even this morning I heard a Northern cardinal singing away. There are other subtle signs, too, that the courtship nesting season is already under way. I have made note of many in just the last few days.
I led a group of birders out Sunday evening to look for and observe the courtship display for American woodcock. At precisely 6:15 p.m., an obliging male began his vocal ritual, culminating in a spectacular flight and song. We watched him perform three times before departing while he was still going strong. I have found woodcock nests as early as Feb. 8, so I suspect there are already nests of this species in the woods.
Great-horned owls have been hooting regularly each evening in Matthews, a sure sign nesting is underway for them. This species is among the earliest of nesters, often commencing as early as December. If you know of any old hawk or heron nests, check them carefully for signs of an owl having taken it over.
Mourning doves often nest through the year, and last Saturday a pair was making eggs along Four-Mile Creek Greenway. In the same area, two red-shouldered hawks sat side by side in a dead treetop. Check the sides of our area interstates for paired-up red-tailed hawks, too.
Bright yellow male pine warblers have staked out territories and are singing on sunny days now. The whistled songs of Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice are increasing in frequency.
In Davidson last weekend, a pair of brown-headed nuthatches was busy excavating a nest cavity in a dead birch stub. Eastern bluebirds and Carolina chickadees will be checking out nest boxes on warm, sunny days. They will fly in, fly out, perch on top, and maybe do a little singing to lay an early claim to the site.
There is undoubtedly more cold weather ahead, but clearly the transition from winter to spring has begun. Each passing week will see an increase in our local birds’ earnestness as the temperatures and hormones both rise.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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