BIRD WATCH: Watch birds for signs of spring

DARK GRAY CLOUDS, pouring rain and gale force winds one minute; sunshine and blue skies the next.

That’s a familiar winter weather day in Western Washington.

This is a good time to think about what we will be facing in the coming weeks.

Groundhog Day is almost here.

One question has everyone holding their breath: “Is spring far behind?”

Will Punxsutawney Phil see his prophetic shadow?

I’m consulting the birds.

His success rate isn’t very impressive.

There’s a bird most of us see only in the winter and only some winters.

Varied thrush numbers have been low this year, but they have been around since early winter.

Some years they remain closer to their mountain homes and the deep forests.

Does their lingering visit suggest they are expecting more winter weather and a late spring?

There’s another bird to watch when considering this possibility.

Anna’s hummingbirds winter over a large part of Western Washington.

We have them visiting our syrup feeders all winter.

When spring arrives, they nest here.

They are resident birds and the way they deal with our cold, wet, windy weather always amazes me.

When you are the size of a hummingbird, large raindrops of water pouring down on you in torrents is like standing under a waterfall.

This is a good time to take a second look at the Anna’s at the feeders.

Changes in the male bird’s plumage are underway.

This is easy when these birds are at the feeders.

Even better is a syrup feeder that attaches to a window.

The one I have enjoyed this winter is on a kitchen window.

Many visitors have sat alongside it and experienced watching a hummingbird feed only inches from them.

They can’t resist trying for a photo.

One young male has been visiting the feeder all winter and now his plumage is changing.

Fully adult Anna’s males wear their red throat and head coloring all year.

The juvenile males look a little like a female with a red spot on their throat.

I had assumed this bird was a female until his color began undergoing a change.

Bright red spots on his head and throat now catch the rare rays of sunshine.

He is beginning to get his adult plumage and that means just one thing.

It means spring and the nesting season will once again favor us.

Winter won’t last forever whatever that groundhog in Gobbler’s Knob, Pa., says.

The presence of the varied thrush might hint of more cold weather ahead but the Anna’s hummingbird leads us to think it will be short-lived.

In a few weeks, the hummingbirds won’t be the only bird hinting at the coming spring.

Chickadees look for nesting locations in February.

That means their bird houses had better be ready.

I thought I had all winter to get that chore done.

When signs of winter first greet us, it feels like we are in for an endless spell of dreary or cold weather.

We put off some tasks that have until spring to get done.

There’s tons of time to clean and repair the bird houses.

No, there isn’t and I have at least three maybe four that need repair and location changes.

I’m watching that hummingbird’s plumage every day now.

The sign of a varied thrush scratching under the mountain ash tree keeps the panic from setting in.

There’s still time.

There’s plenty of winter left, groundhog or no groundhog, but those chores can’t be put off much longer.

We all know how time flies.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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