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Nature Watch: Everything from Armadillos to Zebra Butterflies

American Goldfinches
© George H. Harrison

Sandhill Cranes
© George H. Harrison

In Search of Spring

If you're a bird-watcher and looking for signs of spring, you can find them right now, anywhere in the country, without much effort.

Take a close look at the American Goldfinches eating niger and sunflower seeds at the feeders, for example. They're still in their dull olive-green winter plumages, but on close examination, you'll find spots of bright yellow starting to appear as the birds begin their spring molt.

Red-winged Blackbirds, perhaps the most common birds in North America, winter south of their breeding grounds in most areas of the continent, often in larger flocks. But right now they're moving north, headed for cattail marshes to stake out territories. The advanced guard, always males, has been sighted as far north as Wisconsin.

Sandhill Cranes are also on the move northward and will be congregating in one of the world’s greatest flocks of that species along Nebraska's Platte River in mid-March.

And if that’s not enough of a spring tonic, take a walk and open your ears. No matter where you are, birds are practicing their spring songs. Listen to male the Northern Cardinals, Black-capped Chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches piercing the cold air. And just after dark, listen for owls. You should be able to hear the basso profundo "hoo-hoo-hoohoo" of the Great Horned Owl and the higher-pitched whinny of the Eastern or Western Screech-Owl as these creatures defend breeding territories and serenade mates.

No doubt about it, spring is in the air.