Nature: March is a capricious month 



Fox sparrow
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

You never know what days will be like now – warm one day and freezing cold the next. 

You might see a fox sparrow in your yard for a short while this month. This bird really makes the sticks and leaves fly. Its method of scratching away on the snow and dead leaves to get seeds and insects is to hop from the ground and, while in the air, to kick backward with both feet. This is interesting to watch. The fox sparrow is a beautiful bird and a free spirit from the far north and just passing through Mount Desert Island. It is as they pass through here that we may get a chance to see them on the island and maybe get to hear their rich and un-sparrow-like flutey voice. 

Winter purple finches begin singing this month. They are among the most melodious of the American finches. The male pours out an ecstatic warble from the top of a tree to attract a female. If his ‘chosen one’ is nearby, he will launch himself into the air, still singing and fluttering about with quivering wings. 

This raspberry-colored bird is by nature a forest bird, but it has readily adapted to civilization and comes readily to feeders and dooryards. Coniferous trees and a good supply of sunflower seeds will make them feel welcome all year round. 

The male starts showing red in the winter. As time goes by, it gets brighter in order to attract the females. Female birds are brown and heavily striped, with a broad, whitish eye line. Her bill is large, stout and finch-like. Although pine grosbeaks are similarly colored, the grosbeak is a larger bird, nearly the size of a robin. 

None other than the blue jay can be called a “feathered Rhett Butler” in blue and white. It certainly is one of our most colorful birds living here year-round on MDI. I had a good friend visiting me from England one year and her favorite bird to watch was the blue jay. She was very excited to see it. Birds in England seem more reserved. As winter wanes, blue jays are more active and noisier. They come swooping into a tree, then hop higher and higher to get the best vantage point from which to make the best call. A female is usually in the lead, with several courting males accompanying her to court her favors. 

Blue jays have a reputation for being raucous, greedy bullies chasing other birds from a feeder and behaving in a pushy manner. They are accused of many things, but they often are unjustly accused. Any large bird at a feeder may appear more aggressive than the smaller ones. Given enough room, all sizes will feed well together. Blue jays do not stay long at a feeder and the smaller birds come back soon. One way to keep everyone happy is to give plenty of room on both the feeder and ground for all to feed. 

Jays eat a variety of food and will fly away and store it for later use, except for acorns, which they usually eat right on the spot! After pairing off, blue jays quiet down and almost sneak through the trees. They become more vocal after their eggs are hatched. Courting starts late in February and goes through May. 

It is more springlike here in South Carolina. We even saw a large hawk gathering cypress branches for its nest construction. Alligators are sunning on lawns by woodland pools, and we are trying to find out what snake it was that was seen recently in a stone wall by the garden. 

Be out and about seeing what is happening wherever you are. Let me know, please, what you are finding and hearing. Spring is a time of big changes.  

Send any questions, photos or sightings to [email protected]. 

 

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

Columnist
Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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