Thursday, May 7, 2009

Watch for in Early May

Nature Watch
May 7, 2009

By Susan Benson,
CNHM Director of Education

Although April showers didn’t shower much in our region, May flowers appear to still be on their way. For some, May brings the first fish caught, the last frost, the first lawn mowing, and the first swim in a nearby lake or river. Regardless of our interests, spring continues to bring exciting natural events for us to observe. Look high and low for any of the following birds or plants of the north woods.

The first hummingbird is often spotted in the first or second week of May. Northern orioles typically return about the same time, but usually in the second week. Rose-breasted grosbeaks can be seen at the feeders again. Other birds to watch for in the first two weeks of May are the catbirds, wood thrushes, scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and wood pewees. Warbler migration also begins early in the month.

There are other bird behaviors to watch for this month. For birds, courtship in May sometimes begins aggressively because of the need to defend territory. Some courtship rituals include singing. Most song is emitted by the male, and is delivered from prominent perches, although some species sing during flight. This song is a way of defending territory against other males and to tell a female of the presence of the male. Some studies suggest that birds sing when aroused by an intrusion of another bird species into their territory, showing aggressive competition between species.

Birds that do not sing in courtship have other means of attracting attention, producing percussive and rhythmic sounds. Woodpeckers drum with the bill on dead limbs and nighthawks dive toward their mate producing a booming sound. Ruffed grouse drum their wings while perched on logs. Many birds preen each other and rub their beaks together as a form of courtship. Others use gifts of food. Birds like the common tern, blue jay, cedar waxwing and others will offer their partners food.

Male birds with the showiest plumage and courtship displays do not help raise their young. They may attract and mate with many females but take no part in nest building, hatching eggs, or rearing the chicks. The females have dull plumage, often mottled brown, so they are camouflaged when sitting on the nest.

In the plant world, many trees are currently flowering. Watch for the red bloom of the maples, or the yellow-green birch and aspen catkins, looking more like a worm than a flower. Hepatica is currently blooming. Marsh marigolds should begin blooming soon. Other plants to begin searching for are the trilliums, violets, and columbine.

The Museum staff is enjoying hearing from readers about their phenological observations, and is adding this information to their database. If you have an observation to share, please email the Museum at Enjoy the spring outdoors with a bicycle ride or walk, and be sure to bring a pair of binoculars along!

Nature Watch is brought to you by the Cable Natural History Museum. For 40 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility in Cable at 13470 County Highway M or on the web at to learn more about exhibits and programs.

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