Don MacLean 12/04/14
I have been desperately looking for signs of spring lately. The last two storms reminded me how tired I am of ice and snow. While it appears that we may be in for a late spring the seasons will not be denied and I have seen enough signs to give me confidence that spring is on the way. This week I saw my first red winged blackbird and the cormorants have returned to the Pictou Causeway. Robins have been around my house for a month and I also saw my first woodcock of the season on the weekend. However the sign I am taking as a sure sign that the season is changing came from crows.
The other day I saw a crow attacking a dead poplar tree in the woods behind my house. After pecking at the tree for a few minutes the crow gathered up a handful of wood and bark in its beak and flew off into the woods. I watched as it landed in a big spruce tree. I will be keeping an eye on it this spring to see if they have moved into the neighbourhood. While I have probably seen thousands of crows in my lifetime I have only seen a handful of their nests. By their nature they are secretive and, in my experience, do a great job of hiding their nests. The few crows nests I have seen have been fairly large structures located high in spruce or pine trees which they use year after year. They look like a smaller version of an eagles nest.
I find birds nest to be a fascinating part of their life’s cycle. Winter is a great time to see nests which are difficult to see during the spring and summer when leaves are on the trees. The variety of building materials, styles and where they build them is amazing. Some birds create a nest by digging into the earth or trees. There is a pool on the Margaree River known as the Swallow’s Bank where the swallows have dug their nests into the soft earth of the river bank. If the fish aren’t biting I enjoy watching the bank swallows as they fly over the river.
Some birds do not build a nest. The murres found on Newfoundland lay their eggs on the rocky cliffs of the Island. Nesting material is scarce so the murres lay their eggs on their ground and cover them with their bodies. Having an egg roll away could be a big problem but murre eggs have a pointed end which makes them roll in a circle, providing some measure of protection from rolling off the cliff.
Sometimes birds take advantage of our attempts to help them out by nesting in bird houses. Usually they attract smaller birds but many conservation groups have helped wood duck populations in the province by setting out nesting boxes for these species. Wood ducks normally nest in natural cavities in trees but when these sites are scarce they will take advantage of artificial boxes and successfully produce broods. So, if the crows believe spring is coming that is good enough for me. Better weather is on the way.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.