Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis

Birds in spring


March 28, 2017

I’m not what you would call a “birder”; that is, a person with a deep fascination with birds, who invests a lot in seeds and binoculars, but I do notice birds, especially in the spring. And what I’m seeing recently are creatures that migrate; something like half of all bird species migrate.

This week I spotted in our yard a robin, that wonderful harbinger of spring; I think it was the first robin of this year. My wife and I had been discussing robins and she noted that we had not seen any over the winter. I think she was right and I presumed the reason is that our winter has been so harsh. During mild winters more robins stick around, so long as they can find food and water. Sometimes, though, I think it’s so cold that robins will go south even if they do have food and water. Still, I remember a drain out at my dad’s farm that usually remained open during the winter. It was surrounded by Russian olives and it seemed that robins rarely left this site, staying throughout the entire year. So, I concluded that the biggest consideration for a robin is whether it has food and water, and while really harsh snow and cold can chase them out of here in the winter, they can put up with a lot of cold if they have the basics of food and water.

Of course, it’s not just song birds that migrate during the winter. Surprisingly, some species you’d think of as really tough, almost impervious to winter, migrate also. I’m thinking primarily of the big, soaring hawks, such as the red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks. But these big birds go south almost every winter, and then return north in the spring. I’m guessing that snow makes it difficult for them to hunt and that the winter replacements, such as the ferruginous hawks and the rough-legged hawks, are more efficient winter hunters.

Ducks and geese also go south in the winter, although this winter it seemed like most of the ducks migrated south, but most of the geese remained here. These water birds have different considerations than other birds, primarily whether there is open water, and it appears ducks need more open water than do geese.

For most small birds, especially those whose diets depend primarily on insects, the key factor in whether to migrate is the presence, or absence, of bugs. When it freezes, the bugs go away (as we know from not having to clean our windshields so frequently). I like a lot of small birds, but my favorite bird in the spring is the mountain bluebird. I’d drive 50 miles to see one. In fact, I did, many times, going to our land up in the Big Horns, where we eagerly looked for bluebirds. In May and June, we’d frequently be rewarded, seeing little flocks of mountain bluebirds going about their lives. They nest in hollowed out places in dead trees, I think created by woodpeckers.

I especially noticed the male mountain bluebird, a creature you might describe as electric blue, a blue so sharp and true that it affects you emotionally.

There’s an old song about the “bluebird of happiness,” and I think that expression must have come from how a bright blue color affects people’s feelings of well-being. It just makes you feel good!

I remember one tree in particular near an old cabin that during almost every spring supported a bluebird family, and how we’d park our vehicle close by and spend a good deal of time watching these lovely blue creatures of the Rocky Mountain spring.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books. John and his wife, Celia, were married in 1967, have two adult sons, and several grandchildren.


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