Posted by: tysonrc | February 19, 2010

Is that spring I hear?

It is still frigid cold here at Tyson Research Center and it seems as if winter doesn’t want to let go this year.  We have had below normal temperatures for weeks and plenty of snow this season.  While this seems to effect people, the animals seem to go on with the rock solid logic that spring is coming and nothing will stop that.  Many animals don’t pay that much attention to the temperatures to guide seasonal behavior, although it may seem like it.  Animals mainly rely on photoperiod, the amount of sunlight in the day, to guide seasonal patterns.  This way, even in a colder than normal February, they know what time of year it is and what tasks they should be preparing for.   

The days are still far too short for most birds to be vocalizing the beautiful songs that we associate with spring.  The sunrise bird chorus throughout spring is one of the greatest gifts that the prairies and forests can give us, but it is still too early in the season for that.  Most birds, however, don’t have the sort of resolve that the Northern Cardinal has.   

they sing even when it is snowing


The Cardinal is a very large finch.  It has a specialized beak that is used for breaking open seeds with speed that would make most baseball players envious.  It is also a very aggressive and territorial bird.  Even though it is colder than it should be and many other birds are still flocked together to find more food, the cardinal is out there, right now, singing a song that is one of the main chorus’ of the spring symphony.  The territorial song of the cardinal is a delicate, but powerful lilting call that is sung by both the males and the females.  Northern cardinals mate for life, but still appear to sing directly to each other.  These calls  serve as a vocal fence line for all other cardinals, much like the famous “aunkereee” of the red-winged blackbird in the marsh.  The aggression of the cardinal can be evident when some human decides to park a car, with side view mirrors no less, right in the middle of their territory.  The cardinals will destroy that mirror thinking the reflection of themself is another bird.  Only once the mirror is so mucked up with saliva and scratch marks that the reflection is no longer visible, will the cardinal declare victory and stop.  Truly, among the songbird world, the cardinals are not to be messed with.   

Those eyes hold just a little "crazy" inside them


So, even though it is cold and dreary, the spring songs of the cardinals are filling the air and lifting peoples spirits; reminding us that, even though it doesn’t always seem like it, nothing will stop the arrival of spring.   

–Travis Mohrman



  1. In St. Louis on Saturday, when it hit 55F, I heard a robin singing rather softly. So I started looking in the right direction, but to the very top of the tree, for the “distant” bird. Turns out it was practicaly right over my, barely over 2m. away, singing softly.
    — A shy start to what will be much louder singing in warmer days to come.

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