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Too Early for Signs of Spring


Fri Feb 22 14:03:00 MST 2013

By Bruce Auchly
FWP Region 4 Information Officer

It’s way too early to think about spring.

C’mon. It’s barely past Groundhog Day – a day devoted to a creature that doesn’t exist in Montana, trying to tell us about early springs which often don’t exist either in Montana.

It’s way too early, and yet…

The recent spate of warm temperatures, with the thermometer playing with the 50 degree mark, has us wishing.

Then there are robins.

Last week a friend spotted several robins in her backyard. What gives?

Well some of our robins do migrate, head south at the end of summer each year.

Others don’t leave at all. At least they don’t go far. They just find a favorable micro climate, with food they can digest, like juniper berries, and wait out the worst of the winter.

When winter’s cold periodically breaks as it has recently, those groups of robins will break out of their enclaves in search of food.

That’s probably where those robins in the backyard came from – nearby birds that were just searching for food amid the higher temperatures.

When winter returns, as it surely must, the groups will reform and hunker down.

Robins are an interesting bird. Not only are they are recognizable by nearly everyone, birders and nonbirders alike, but they have actually expanded their range over the decades along with our urban areas.

n warmer months, robins like to eat worms and bugs. While robins can be found in forests and tundra, they are especially at home on lawns and short grass environments.

Since the end of World War II, one thing American society has been good at is urban expansion, including suburbs, golf courses, and parks. Much of which has a base of short, well-watered grass.

Of course a manicured lawn obtained through the use of chemicals doesn’t help robins or any birds, really. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates seven million birds a year die from chemical exposure.

But a bird-friendly lawn will bring in many feathered friends.

Okay, maybe this talk of manicured lawns and chirping robins is too much too soon. We’re getting ahead of ourselves; which is easy to do on sunny, warm February days.

Better to remember that Montana's winter is only about half over. On March 1 there should still be half a woodpile.

Better to remember, too, that February is the month when everything hunkers down, waiting, waiting. The stirrings of spring tempt, but they are hidden or far to the south of us.

Within a month so much will begin to change. March will bring more robins and western meadowlarks and ground squirrels (gophers) and daylight savings time.

The calendar says spring begins March 20, though it will be wise for us to remember winter sometimes takes in a chunk of April, concluding with a May 1 blizzard.

For now, however, consider warm temperatures and occasional robin sightings as mirages on the road to spring.