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Birding Through the Seasons - February

Winter's grip may be loosening in late February. Resident birds begin to sing during the early warm spells sometimes seen this month. The songs of the Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren, and Song Sparrow are a welcome call to the coming spring.

In addition to the resident birds increasing activity, some birds begin to migrate back from the south. Waterfowl, such as geese, Tundra Swans, American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, and Common Mergansers may begin to return to the Commonwealth this month. Tundra swans and snow geese are picking up in numbers as migrants join those that over-wintered along the lower Susquehanna River or at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, in Lancaster County. Also, Horned Larks, Eastern Bluebirds, Song Sparrows, and a few robins begin their return to the state in February.

Red-winged Blackbirds, arriving in droves overnight, can be impressive. One day not a blackbird may be seen or heard and on the next morning dozens can be seen and heard. The male red-wing's song, a gurgling, metallic "konk-la-ree", can suddenly fill a once quiet marsh or weedy wetland with such noisome melody in late February. Male red-wings arrive first, generally establishing territory before the females arrive a week or two later in March.

Where there are some thawed out spots, the American Woodcock begins its unique nasal "peeent" call and courtship flight sounds, a certain sign that the grip of winter has slackened. You may not think of February as nesting season for birds, but the Great-horned Owl and some Bald Eagles are sitting on eggs by late February, occasionally sitting on eggs through snowstorms.

Like in January, open water and fields provide the best birding anywhere in Pennsylvania. Any persistent wild fruits attract a wide variety of birds as the food stores get thin in late winter.

Dan Brauning
Pennsylvania Game Commission