Spring has Sprung?

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

As usual, Michigan is having a little bit of trouble deciding when it wants to transition into springtime. Don’t let the occasional snow shower worry you, there are a few sure signs that you can look for to keep up hope that spring is on its way! Michigan’s beloved flora and fauna will bring the sounds and sights of springtime, such as the spring peeper, the American robin, and wild trilliums.

spring peeper - tim mayo

Spring peeper. Photo: Tim Mayo.

Some music to your ears might be the classic “tinkling of bells” of the Michigan spring peeper. Around early March, when the ground begins thawing, this abundant amphibian species begins its mating season. The peeping you hear is the male frog calling out to potential mates. The more intense the peeping, the more likely the males are to attract their desired female. If you live near wetland areas, such as a damp woodland, marsh, or pond, you are likely to hear these creatures singing away on a warming spring night.

american robin - taran rampersad

American robin. Photo: Tara Rampersad.

While the spring peepers sing you to sleep, another sign that spring is near is being awoken by the return of migratory birds. The classic harbinger of spring is the American robin, Michigan’s state bird. You might recognize its song from the often repeated whistle of cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up. When the average temperature fluctuates around 37 degrees, the male robins will be the first to make themselves known as they establish territories and begin feeding. Female robins will return a couple weeks later to begin building nests and feeding on worms from the thawing grounds. You’ll hear them start singing as they arrive on their breeding territories!

Another bird that is usually a first sign of spring in Michigan is the red-winged blackbird, with some arriving as early as mid-February. Males will sing their song, conk-la-ree from a high perch, awaiting the female response of a series of several chits. These birds prefer wetland areas, so if you are near standing water and vegetation, look out for these birds. You will also start seeing more shorebirds and hearing more owls and woodpeckers. The return of these birds from late March through May marks prime bird watching season.

trillium - mary bohling

Trillium. Photo: Mary Bohling.

You might notice the budding of trees, and if you look closely some wildflowers are indicators that spring is on its way. The trillium is one that you might see first, a three petaled flower with dark green leaves and pale green accents. The arrival of the wildflowers ushers in the return of pollinators to help speed the spring process along!

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4 birds to watch for during springtime birding activities

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

As MNA gears up for some of its spring bird watching events, we thought we’d feature a few different birds that come back to Michigan in the spring. Keep an eye out for these four birds as you go birding this season!

Red-winged blackbirds can weigh roughly 3 ounces and can have a wingspan of nearly 14.5 inches. The male and female look strikingly different—the male is black with a large red spot on the shoulders, while females are brown and lack any red color. They prefer marsh habitats during the breeding season and open fields and croplands in the winter. While breeding, red-winged blackbirds can be found in cattail, tule, sedge and salt marshes, as well as wetlands. They begin building their nests between March and May.

Male indigo bunting

A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage. Photo by Kevin Bolton. Coutesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indigo bunting males are easy to spot during breeding season. The adult males are small—their bodies only range from 4.5 inches to 5 inches—but they are a brilliant blue with a purple crown. Females and young are brown and have a tinge of blue on their tail and shoulder. Indigo buntings are mainly found through eastern North America and south of the coniferous forest region, though some breeding populations exist in the western United States. They winter in the coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. Indigo buntings breed between May and September in brushy and weedy areas at the edge of openings, or in weedy open areas like old farm fields or swamps.

Green herons, unlike great blue herons and other herons, are small and stocky. The green heron has relatively short legs and a body length that ranges from 16 to 18 inches. Adults have a greenish-black cap, a greenish back, wings that are gray-black and fade into green or blue, and gray undersides. Young herons have a white and brown striped neck and chest, and their backs are brown with white and beige spots. Green herons have a wide range and are generally found near wetlands in North America. They spend their non-breeding season in Mexico and Central America, but some live year-round in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Green herons that do migrate travel north from March to April, which is earlier than most other herons.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny birds, with a body measuring between 3 and 3.5 inches long and weighing between 2 and 6 grams (0.071 to 0.21 ounces). Both males and females have an iridescent green back and head and a white belly. Males have a bright red, shiny throat and a forked tail, while females have a dull, grayish throat and a square, white-tipped tail. Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed throughout eastern United States and southern Canada and spend their winters in southern Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. These birds return to their breeding areas in April.

This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of birding events for members and guests. Be sure to check out one of MNA’s events this season!

For more information about MNA’s upcoming events, check out our website and events calendar.