Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Schprig is schprug
Today is the first astronomical day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere! Unless you pulled an all-nighter and were up at 4:37 a.m. to experience the amazing change, you went to bed in winter and woke up in spring! Today is a half and half day. Across the world, the day and night are about equal in length. The sun comes up due east and sets due west. While we eagerly anticipate spring flowers and break out the garden tools, the Southern Hemisphere is now entering fall.
The sun shifts northward as it crosses the sky each day and birds migrate north following the sun’s path. As days lengthen, the extra light prompts male birds to sing and sing.
The first day of spring my mom would recite her favorite spring poems. Be prepared. She was a fifth-grade teacher for years. Most effective said out loud just as the words are spelled while pinching nostrils closed.
De boids is singin’ in da trees, Da sky’s lousey mit stars, De Oith stinks mit poi-fume, Schprig is Schprug.
The Budding Bronx
Der spring is sprung, Der grass is riz, I wonder where dem boidies is?
Der little boids is on der wing. Ain’t dat absoid? Der little wings is on de boid!
The teacher at Horace Mann Elementary School wants to attract boids, birds, as part of her students’ education. The selected spot: Bermuda grass, ringed by three red brick walls of the school, transected by sidewalks leading to the playground. No trees or shrubs.
Deep Fork Audubon Society members were there on the designated day. Five people assisted as three bird feeders were attached to each of the three poles and anchored into the ground. One small feeder was attached to a window with suction cups. All feeders are visible from the windows of the classroom. The feeders were filled with mixed bird seed. The small white plastic reservoirs were later filled with water. Binoculars and resource books were stacked inside the classroom at the ready. The teacher plans to assign students daily bird counts. The data will be used in math classes.
The teacher is on the right track with multiple feeders, but the birds need places to perch or shelter in safety, such as logs, rocks, flowers, trees or shrubs. Luckily, a multitude of potted spring plants are now on the market. She may decide to set up a small garden plot with student help and plant flowers. The flowers attract insects (40% of the insect population is in decline). Insects attract birds (bird species have fallen 30%). A necessity is a birdbath with fresh clean water. As the days warm, there may be more birds at the birdbath than the feeders. The idea is to create a little bird-friendly ecosystem right there at the school.
Not only does it help the birds, but increases awareness of the outdoors in her students. Birds are fun to watch and are great wildlife ambassadors. The students see and hear actual birds not on a computer screen. Welcome back to the world of nature. Students realize everything they need—food, water, shelter, air—birds also need.
The migration has started. Waterfowl, tree swallows, kildeer, and purple martins are arriving. Tropicals come later. The Pine Siskins have moved on. The American Goldfinches now control the thistle (Nyjer) feeder.
Nyjer is not a thistle at all but an African daisy. Guizotia abyssinica is native to the highlands of Ethiopia. Imported Nyjer seed is now cultivated in Ethiopia, Myanmar, India and Nepal. The plant is related to Cosmos in the Coreopsis family, has a Cosmos-like flower and grows 6 feet tall.
Nyjer seeds contain 40% oil, something finches love, but if the seeds dry out, the birds stop eating them. Nyjer seeds are heat-sterilized to prevent sprouting and kill the Dodder seeds often present in the crop at harvest. If you have a Nyjer feeder, dump those seeds if they become moldy. Sterilize or replace the sock. We have a metal mesh feeder which has held up to the investigating raccoon. The smart mammal had a notorious habit of ripping holes in the sock feeder at night. Squirrels don’t like Nyjer seed. They are into sunflower seeds.
The hawks have been keeping an eye on the bird buffet for weeks. No threat by the pair of the football shaped red-shouldered hawks looking to build a nest, but the Cooper’s Hawk is something else. This larger version of a Sharp-shinned hawk with long tail has an appetite for smaller birds. It zooms through the trees and picks off cardinals, finches or red-winged blackbirds.
The male Cooper hawk is much smaller than the female. The hen shares something in common with female spiders. The male can become a meal unless she tells him it’s okay and he can come closer. If all goes well, the male will construct the nest and bring food to his family for the next three months. The female Cooper hawk is truly a queen.
The red-winged blackbirds now fly to fields to forage during the day, only coming to the feeders either in the evening or during cold spells. During the breeding season they go to the marshes, wet areas or fields with cattails and abundant plant life. One naturalist in the 1930’s tethered apart a red-winged blackbird nest. After removing the fine dried soft grasses which lined the interior and the layer of mud below, he discovered 34 strips of willow bark and 142 cattail leaves, each about 2 feet long. How did she weave all that into a nest 3 to 7 inches wide, and 3 to 7 inches deep?
Have you listened to BirdNote found at Birdnote.org? It airs on KUCO 90.1 at 7:06 am and 1.58 pm. Two minutes to lift you away from your daily routine and drop you gently into nature. Celebrating the spring birds.
Does your garden plan include birds? Encourage birds to become part of your biological arsenal of defense. They eat veggie eating insects.
Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.