Feathery indicators of springtime weather

By: Frank Waugh Email
By: Frank Waugh Email

Long before the days of computer generated weather models, people turned to nature for signs of changing seasons. To this day some people still look to their backyards for indications that spring has sprung.

StormTeam 16 Meteorologist Frank Waugh took a look at a popular spring sign that actually might not be a sign of the season at all.
The snow covering the ground may make it seem as if spring is months away, but as birds flock to feeders, many bird watchers have flocked to Facebook posting things like: “We have Robin's all over our tree in the front yard and in the neighbor's tree also. Lots of them, I'm talking like dozens of them. Early Spring?” and “20 large robins were spotted in yard in Jimtown area.”

According to Vince Gresham of the Rum Village Nature Center, “Robins can survive here in the winter time. And we always have a few that stick around in this area.”

Gresham also said that these hearty birds are often thought of as a sign of spring, but it turns out than they have just adjusted to the nasty Michiana weather.

“Robins can change their diet a little bit during the winter time,” Gresham noted, “We think about robins being out in the front yard pulling worms out of the yard, but in the winter months they can go ahead and eat berries that are left on trees.” So as long as robins can find food, they can stick around.

Even though robins in particular may not indicate an early spring, Gresham says there are other birds that give a better clue of what weather is to come.

“Around here, bird watchers are really into looking at warblers there are a lot of different varieties of warblers and they eat small insects so we are not going to see insects today so you are not going to see warblers today, so they are a pretty good indication,” said Gresham.

Insect eaters such as the fly catchers return to Michiana after winter, others actually flock to the area in the colder months.

“There are a number of different birds that only show up here in the winter time, in my observation, most of those birds are ground feeders, they find their food on the ground.”

Gresham said, that in the fall many bird watchers are on the lookout for junkos, a bird in the sparrow family with a dark gray color and white belly, he said, “when you see those in the fall, it is like, winter is here. it is right around the corner and so that can go both ways, they are indicators of the winter and indicators of the spring,”

As the snow recedes north the junkos go with it, eventually making way for one of nature’s best and smallest indicators that spring is here to stay.

“I would say, especially when it comes to birds, if you want to look for a bird, look for a hummingbird, because humming birds, they really need the warm weather for insects and for the flowering plants, so that's what I always look for,” Gresham says when he sees the first hummingbird of the year he knows the warm weather is here to stay.


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