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Red Wings and Early Spring

Written by Jennifer Callaghan
    Wednesday, 01 March 2017
Red Wings and Early Spring

For those of you who may not know, we have an organization-wide phenology competition every year to document the first of year (FoY) Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Chipmunk, Mourning Cloak, and Butler's Gartersnake. The documentation of these four species typically signifies the arrival of spring and the dismissal of winter. This year's unseasonal warm weather, however, has a resulted in an uncomfortably early kickoff.

Unbelievably, Red-winged Blackbirds were reported yesterday [February 19th] at our Menomonee Valley branch and then today at our Washington Park and Riverside Park branches! And, while it may still be too early to put your winter boots away for the year, the arrival of Red-wings does mean you can at least start dusting off your spring boots.

For those of you keeping track, this is incredibly early. Like, almost a month early. In fact, since we have been keeping track (officially since 2011), February 19th is the earliest Red-wings have ever arrived at our three branches. The dates for FoY's appear below.

  • 2011- 3/7 Washington Park
  • 2012- 3/6 Riverside Park
  • 2013 - 3/7 Washington Park
  • 2014 - 3/11 Washington Park
  • 2015 - 3/11 Riverside Park
  • 2016 - 2/23 Menomonee Valley
  • 2017- 2/19 Menomonee Valley

What does this warm winter mean for early arriving animals? Well, that's bit difficult to answer. Animals rely on photo periods and/or local weather cues to drive their migration or hibernation. A poorly-timed arrival could mean shortage of food if the animal arrives before plants have budded or insects have emerged. However, there is also the possibility that given the right conditions, early food emergence and early animal arrival could coincide. But, this depends on a lot of "if's" and makes assumptions about what the weather will do for the rest of winter.

So whether we have a late blanket of snow or more 60 degree days in February, it's still too early to tell what this weather means for our critters. Best case scenario, the animals make adjustments and scrounge up enough food to last till spring. Worst case scenario, bitter temps and snow move in and decimate the food supply for those that already believe it is spring. Let's hope the groundhog had it wrong this year and that our Eastern Chipmunks emerge from hibernation with caution.

Jennifer Callaghan

Jennifer Callaghan

Jennifer came to Wisconsin later in life, but has fully embraced the great state of Wisconsin as home.  Her first career was as a professional ballet dancer, but a lifelong passion for nature and animals led her to a second career in environmental biology.  She loves to learn new things and share her love of nature with others.  In her free time she likes to travel and stay active with her awesome husband and sweet little dogs.

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