Mourning Doves mating 1800x ab BINNS AQ9I1600 copy copy

IN THE BACKYARD : Philadelphia in March

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Mar 31, 2021 | by Adrian Binns

March is a month of transition, as winter melts into spring, and brings exciting changes in my backyard flora and fauna. While snow lingered in the first week after late-February storms, crocuses bloomed and a chipmunk emerged from its winter slumber to look for seeds under the feeder. Several rabbits criss-cross the yard frequently – at least one lives under my brush pile. One sunny afternoon a large groundhog ambled close to my kitchen window, with a thick fur coat, ragged with shedding.

Fox Sparrows were a backyard treat this month – on February 25th I was delighted to see one hop-scratching in leaf-litter under my spicebush shrub. It was still present the next day and every day thereafter until March 11th – a total of 15 straight days.  On March 5th a second Fox Sparrow appeared and there were at least two for 6 consecutive days. On the 9th they were joined by a third for one day!

15 days is the longest continuous timeframe that a Fox Sparrow has been present, and 3 individuals is the highest count observed at one time, in 10 years of tracking backyard birds.  There is a solid correlation between species presence and birding effort; it has now been a year since the pandemic relegated us to birding locally.

March has been mostly chilly, but a few warm days felt like spring fever. On March 14th a pair of Mourning Doves exhibited courting behavior – a male followed a female around, then the two preened together on a favorite branch. The female quivered her wings and the male mounted her for a quick copulation. We witnessed this two days in a row.

On the 25th a male Eastern Bluebird showed up to check out the nest box that was currently claimed by a pair of House Sparrows. The encounter was brief, and the outcome inevitable, as the sparrows promptly chased the beautiful bluebird back into the nearby cemetery, where it would hopefully nest.

By the end of the month, spring had sprung, with trees budding, perennials pushing up in our garden beds, and birds singing boldly. Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos and Northern Cardinals were in full song, while the White-throated Sparrows were given a half-hearted effort. An Eastern Phoebe appeared briefly, crossing paths with a Brown Creeper. On one 70-degree afternoon, doves, juncos, and Song Sparrows were sunning themselves in the warmth, laying sideways with wings splayed wide.

I’ve enjoyed documenting daily occurrences of my common backyard birds, and look forward to spring migration to see what shows up next.

updated March 1-30, 2021

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