Larry Lyons: The animals officially declare winter is over

Published 1:26 pm Thursday, March 11, 2010

lyonsLate last week, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to be precise, the animals around here declared winter over.

Approaching balmy days were in the forecast but had not yet arrived so their declaration wasn’t in response to the current weather. I guess they just decided enough was enough and it was time to get on with it even if the days were cold and the snow still deep.

The first thing I noticed were the turkeys. A flock of about 40 has been a daily fixture in the tofu bean field next to the house all winter. On Wednesday some of the toms shook the frost off their feathers and began displaying their fans for the ladies. It started with just a couple then spread to the others.

The young jakes, knowing the futility of competing with the big boys, began fighting amongst themselves. The hormones were flowing and it was quite a sight. Toms all across the field strutted with fanned tails while the jakes were running around flailing and thrashing each other. It is just early March, though, and the hens weren’t the least bit impressed with any of it.

The drake mallards down on the creek were feeling especially amorous that day, too, though their hens were equally unimpressed. A short while later I noticed a bluebird perched atop a mountain of snow piled by the snowplow. Of course, bluebirds occasionally appear during winter but he added credence to the declaration. What really set me back was when later that morning a woodchuck ran across the yard. It was only 26 degrees and the ground fully snow covered, but I guess when you have insomnia you might as well go for a stroll.

Early Thursday morning he was again out and about while the thermometer hung at 15 degrees. A couple hours later as I walked out the door I heard the unmistakable raucous squawk of a sandhill crane wafting down from far up in the sky. While individuals of some migratory species such as blue herons, geese and swans choose to winter over, I’ve never seen a sandhill tough it out. He was surely just up from the south.

Thursday was also the first time this year I heard doves cooing. Knowing how doves like to get an early start on kid production, they’ve probably been warming up for some whoopee for a while now but that’s the first I’ve heard them. Throughout the day a number of doves chased the woman of their dreams under the bird feeders while the gals coyly tantalized them by staying just out of reach. I also noticed a tiny bird on the feeder that I didn’t immediately recognize.

It was drab but had a conspicuous, light colored spot on top of its head. The binoculars proved it to be a female goldfinch just starting to molt into her cheery summer colors.
We live about a half mile off the road and a portion of our driveway runs through a woods. Friday I was heading out the drive and noticed a huge pile of stringy wood chips at the base of a big oak tree. I couldn’t figure out where in the world that came from until I looked further up the tree. There was not one, but three big holes bored into the trunk.  From their large, oval shape I knew it was a pileated woodpecker building a new house for his bride and upcoming family. I don’t know why the triplex condo, maybe he had trouble getting it just right.

During lunch I was thinking with all the spring goings-on it was about time for the wood ducks to start showing up. I glanced down at the creek and there, right on cue, was a male woody, the bright sun showing his dazzling colors to their fullest. Next to him was his potential bride. Of course, the first real spring harbingers to show up every year are red-winged blackbirds. You guessed it, Friday afternoon a red-wing landed on the feeder. The spring-has-sprung declaration was right on. Just days later it turned a toasty 50 degrees.

Carpe diem.

Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at