A white-breasted nuthatch. Credit: Courtesy of Bob Duchesne

Once again, Bangor just experienced the warmest January on record.

January was a whopping 11.2 degrees warmer than average for the month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Given February’s warm weather, I sense another record about to be broken.

I usually write a column in early March, pointing out the signs of spring arrival. I had better move up my timeline this year because I’m already seeing the omens in February.

Maybe you are too.

Some of it is comical. Recently, my neighbor resumed feeding birds in her yard. She discontinued it some time ago when a bear inconveniently removed her feeder, bending the pole into a pretzel. Now that we’re both feeding birds, our neighborhood attracts more birds than ever. Some of them are getting amorous.

I can’t step out to get the paper in the morning without hearing woodpeckers talking to each other. Woodpeckers can drum anytime of year, but they really ramp it up in later winter. Now I’m hearing male and female downy and hairy woodpeckers drumming back and forth to each other, sometimes in unison.

By the way, you can usually tell the difference between the two common species. Downy woodpecker drums are slower. You almost feel like you can hear each tap individually. Hairy woodpeckers drum so fast, it’s a blur. If there is a faster drummer in America, I don’t know what it is.

Black-capped chickadees are whistling their territorial songs more often now. That’s the “hey sweetie” that some folks might confuse with a phoebe call. Chickadees sing the song even in early winter, but they really get going when the time for establishing territories and attracting mates draws closer in the spring.

Now that there are two feeding stations in adjacent yards, the chickadees have gotten quite impudent. They have come to expect my sunflower seeds as their right. When I step out to fill the feeder, they barely flinch. They might go to the nearest branch, but only until I finish paying them what they think I owe. If they’re not satisfied, they just go next door.

The white-breasted nuthatches also believe I have an obligation to feed them. They’re getting more vocal with all the warm weather. Ironically, my resident red-breasted nuthatches expected a harsh winter, and fled my yard before Christmas. Whether they’re now munching seeds at a feeder in southern Maine or joined the many other nuthatches that escaped the state this year, I’ll never know.

On the other hand, blue jays stuck around. Last year, they didn’t. That means I’m going through my seed supply faster than ever. The jays might not even be the biggest culprits.

More than a dozen mourning doves are swamping the feeder, splitting their time between my yard and the neighbor’s. I usually have a few around all winter, but the numbers have gotten silly this season. Most amusing, I can’t look at them without thinking of one little-known factoid: mourning doves are the most-hunted birds in North America. Hunters take anywhere from 20 million to 70 million mourning doves a year.

Mainers may not realize doves are so heavily hunted, because Maine does not allow it. We’re at the northern end of the dove’s range, and numbers here aren’t high enough to sustain hunting pressure. In fact, Rhode Island is the only New England state where dove-hunting is legal.

Still, as I watch out the window at the dove throng and melting snow, I realize my neighbor and I may be single-handedly responsible for producing enough doves to warrant a future hunting season.

What annoys me most is that the chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers all welcome me when I visit the feeder. But the doves fly off, treating me with deep suspicion, even though they are chowing down on my generosity.

There are other signs of spring. Waterfowl are courting. Hawks are pairing up. All winter, any drive on I-95 usually turns up a handful of red-tailed hawk sightings. The median strip makes a good hunting corridor, so I will typically see at least half a dozen on any drive from Bangor to Portland. Normally, the hawks keep some distance from each other, so as not to compete for food. But now I’m starting to see pairs in adjacent trees as spring romance begins.

Feeding birds is fun, but it’s even more fun to actively spy on them as they prepare for spring. Watch and listen.

They’re trying to tell you something.

Avatar photo

Bob Duchesne, Good Birding

Bob Duchesne serves as vice president of Maine Audubon’s Penobscot Valley Chapter. He developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com. He can be reached at duchesne@midmaine.com.