If you have birds around, listen carefully.
If you hear a cardinal's springtime call, only soft and truncated and mixed up with their sharp anxiety sound, you are listening to a newly mature male cardinal. They spend a lot of time low in the brush practicing. Next spring they'll sit in the top of the trees for better acoustics, to announce which patch is their turf. I've seen my young man in his very bright new adult plumage, on my fence and porch.
If you hear what sounds like cawing on the ground, that's not a crow. That's probably a young blackbird, following a parent around, crying for food. The parent hunts fast and stuffs food in the kid's mouth, but one good gulp and it's down the throat, and the kid is crying for more. Still, this takes less energy than leaving the kid in the nest, finding food, and flying back.
The parents will also be giving the kid lessons in swimming and flying. The catbirds are doing the same thing. I've seen their chick land on my fence, teeter a little, and then chase off after the parent again.
The house sparrows are out in their half dozens: wives, husbands, co-husbands, and kids who are learning to fly and hunt bugs. Welcome them; they love aphids.
You should also hear Carolina wrens. More bug-hunters: in a couple of months they will switch from their turf-claiming "right here, right here, right here" to a sort of raspberry and a lot of scolding.
The goldfinches are back with their peeping whistle and cheery home-coming song. They'll be looking for seeds. They like blue flowers like chicory, and yellow flowers like golden cosmos, but they will also strip zinnia petals to get at the seeds. They are trolling my yard watching for some cabbage seeds to get ripe, and for the cilantro seeds to brown up. I suspect they will also mob my horehound for seeds.
And finally, if there's any dead wood around (and to hear this you have to make sure your neighborhood isn't too carefully groomed), you'll hear the hammering of woodpeckers early in the day, alternating with their "whinny". Count yourself lucky if you hear both calls, each in a different place. That might mean you have a nesting pair.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved