Spring on the Wing: Can You Hear It?

It’s spring. Can you feel it in the air? Smell what can only be spring?

Pussy willows are out where the sun shines bright, and I’m sure some of you have seen the welcome burst of spring blossoms. For those of us in the northern reaches of North America who haven’t put our shovels away, well, we know it’s spring, too: We can see it on the calendar.

Spring first comes to us in the form of signs. Are you watching for the telltale signs of spring? For me, the surest sign of spring is the menagerie of winged messengers who return to northern nesting grounds from (typically) more southern winter habitats after a winter absence.

This year, one bird song I’m anticipating is the single clear note of the varied thrush, a bird I began to notice as a kid. In places like the temperate rainforests of Alaska’s Tongass, the territorial call of the varied thrush pierces the silence of old-growth cathedral forests long before winter snows are melted.

It’s hard to have a true favorite: I’m listening for the far-off bugle of the migrating sandhill cranes, too. If I were in the Great Plains, I’d first listen for the thin, tinkling cascade of notes signaling the arrival of what is often the first spring migrant: the horned lark.

And how about the clever wolf-whistle of the upland sandpiper? The ebullient songs of the meadowlarks, the welcome cheer of the bobolink , and the song — oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada — of the migrating white-throated sparrow? The earnest courtship displays of common goldeneyes on spring wetlands? The run-across-the-water ceremony of the Western grebe? At dusk, do you wait to hear the friendly rhythm of the whip-poor-will?

Are you waiting for the birds to arrive this spring? Which bird signals spring for you? Where will you hear it, or see it? Let’s hear it!

(Image: Varied thrush. Image credit: Minette_Layne/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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  1. My favorite bird song is to awakened by the cardinal singing his heart out.

  2. I was up by the Pribilof Islands until just last week, and the first signs of spring I saw were black-legged kittiwakes and fork-tailed storm petrels. Such a nice change from the sempiternal glaucous-winged gulls and northern fulmars!

  3. Mountain Blue Bird, Red- Wing Blackbird, and of course, The Sand-hill Cranes. All show up around the same time in the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado.

  4. My favorite avian sign of spring varies depending on where I am when I can smell earth breathing a sigh of relief as the snow recedes. Here in Montana I listen for the red-winged black birds. They swarm our feeder for about a month before the females come and they head for “greener pastures.”
    Then, there are the sandhill cranes – all those many feet of vocal chords wrapped inside their bodies and time echoes when they call. When the robins arrive I know that there will be another big wet snow, but the daffodils just protruding will prevail soon. House finches perk up their songs as the days lengthen. Maybe my favorite bird sign of spring is I don’t really have just one.

  5. In New England one of the first migrating species to arrive is the Golden Finch.I have passed my love of Bird Watching on to my Daughter and she recently bought a Finch feeder. WOW! What a difference it makes in attracting greater numbers of these tiny, yet vibrant colored, birds.

  6. Spring, as a child in Barrow, Alaska, was when the snow buntings first arrived and started singing from the roof of my grandmother’s house.

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