March Feature: Early-Breeding And Migrating Birds
March ushers in the beginning of the bird breeding season. While most native songbirds wait until late spring and early summer to find mates and build their nests, a few get their start in early spring. Migrating birds will appear on lakes and marshes, some just passing through and others returning for the summer.
Starting in March, male American woodcocks perform a spectacular courtship flight. As the sun sets, the male flies up from the grass and circles around until he is several hundred feet above the ground. Once he is back over the point where he left the ground, he will plummet straight down emitting a chittering sound. At about 50 feet above the ground, he goes silent before landing. He repeats this over and over again, hoping to gain a female’s interest. If she emerges, he prances around her with his wings spread and held high while she decides whether he is a suitable mate.
Great Blue Herons
In March, great blue herons migrate back to this area and build large stick nests high in the trees. Most herons nest together in large groups called rookeries close to areas where they can forage, including trees near ponds and backwater areas near rivers. These landscapes are often less accessible by mammalian predators. Nesting in colonies provides “strength in numbers” — more individuals keeping watch for predators, as well as more individual eggs and nestlings to overcome predator pressure.
Great blue heron rookeries are located in various forest preserves in DuPage County, including Danada in Wheaton, Winfield Mounds in Winfield and Churchill Woods in Glen Ellyn.
Sandhill crane calls can be heard overhead this month as they migrate from their winter habitats in Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico to their breeding grounds including Idaho, Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Canada. Groups with as many as 1,000 birds can be seen flying in formation, which helps minimize the energy needed to fly.
For more information about District’s volunteer monitoring programs, see the Natural Resource Management Volunteer Program page.
Image © Manjith Kainickara