By mid-February each year, I start thinking about the return of the wild birds. Many have spent the winter further south, in warmer climates, and from now until May they are coming home.
There are lots of birdhouses on the property where I live, and I like to get an early start in cleaning them out and doing needed repairs. It's always a surprise when you open a birdhouse. It's fun to know what family of birds used the house last summer. Last year there were five different kinds of wild birds here, occupying 23 of the 30 birdhouses available. Five others were used by Deer mice, and two weren't used at all. Inside the birdhouses I found the used nests of Bluebirds, House wrens, Chickadees, Tree swallows, and a White-breasted nuthatch.
The Bluebirds will start arriving by the first or second week of March, and will be looking for suitable homes to raise their families. In a couple of weeks I'll put out the two new Bluebird houses that I built this winter, as replacements for two very old houses that are beyond any further repairs.
The Birdhouse gourds that have been hanging in the shed to cure won't be ready for another month or so. When they are dry enough to use, I cut a hole about the size of a half dollar in them, and carefully clean out the dried insides with a piece of stiff wire. Last summer's crop produced 30 gourds that are large enough to use for birdhouses, but I'll use only six to eight of them. The rest will make nice springtime gifts.
On my evening walk, as I emerged from the woods, I saw an adult Red-tailed hawk rise out of the grass about 20 feet away from me. It's not unusual for me to see one of these large, beautiful hawks on one of my walks, but this one was extra close. He had probably been hunting voles from his perch in a tree along the edge of the woods. Spotting his prey below, he dove to the ground to catch it, and I happened along soon after. I heard the air as he beat his big wings frantically to gain some altitude, then circled above me. The next thing I heard was his shrill, territorial scream, as he repeatedly voiced his displeasure over my sudden intrusion, interrupting his attempt to catch breakfast.
I moved on, nearing the house at about dusk, and from the stillness of the pine trees came the soft call of a Saw-whet owl. The song from the little owl was a perfect way to end the day. Through the winter months, the calls of the owls are about the only bird songs I hear after sunset and at dawn. I'm looking forward to hearing other bird songs at this quiet time of day. In the spring, birds like the Nighthawk, Whip-poor-will, Phoebe, and Wood thrush will add to the music each night. It won't be long before winter melts away to the rich sounds of spring. Get outside and enjoy the changes as they come. Take in the sights and sounds of the new season!
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