2015 March – Savoring Spring



The energy spent producing blossoms that attracted pollinators now centers on creating seeds, those miracles of life that will ensure a new generation of plants and feed a multitude of animals.

Baby bird season swings into high gear. Often during this time of year, baby birds will be found on the ground. Great horned owls, mockingbirds, curved billed thrashers, towhees and even bald eagle babies may fall or flutter from their nests and be stranded on terra firma. In most cases, the parents will continue to care for young, guarding and feeding their wayward children, hopefully well away from the threats of traffic, domestic pets, pools, and even well-meaning humans.

In other cases, help is needed, and baby bird season is the time when Liberty Wildlife really shines. Even as you read these words, a baby bird is most probably being delivered to the drop-off window, where it will be cared for by hard-working volunteers.

This time of year, the growing families of Sonoran desert residents are supplemented by migratory species. Swainson’s hawks complete a spectacular migration from South America, where they have been feeding on grasshoppers and other insects. Swainson’s that choose Arizona as a stopping place find reptiles and rodents provide a steady diet. Migrating prairie hawks and peregrine falcons join resident populations, searching out territories and mates. Turkey vultures return to the state in March and resume their important clean-up duties.

When the glorious spring annuals set seeds, a keystone species of the Sonoran desert prepares a banquet of crimson tassels. The ocotillo’s colorful blossoms stay on the shrub for a full month, feeding insects, birds and mammals. Hummingbirds depend on ocotillos for nectar and resting sites, and verdins and carpenter bees also relish this reliable food source. The petite verdin, with its small beak, slits the long tubular flowers at the base to sip nectar without offering any pollination services in return. Carpenter bees also come in the back door, but crawl around inside the flower, picking up pollen to distribute on their rounds. Antelope squirrels scamper up the whip-like canes to feast on flowers and seeds. Herbalists advise that a tea made from ocotillo blooms helps the human system prepare for the heat of summer.

The black swallowtail butterfly is apparent in gardens and roadsides around the equinox. Using strong thorax muscles, butterflies slap the air with wings set at a steeper angle than those of birds, pushing more air in flight. When they linger near a flower, their wings have twice the efficiency of any hovering bird. The black swallowtail, like other butterflies, looks for host plants whose chemistry matches hers. She uses tiny hairs on her legs to detect chemical signals. The hairs are taste receptors activated when she drums her feet on the leaves, releasing the plant’s liquids.

If you too feel the stirrings of spring, don’t be caught indoors cleaning your house. Get outside and see the wonders that surround you.

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