Some bird species began the search for a mate months ago. Some birds mate for life. But springtime is reserved for those birds with more prominent courtship rituals.
For example, what better signifies the arrival of spring than the gobble of a mature tom turkey as it struts among the oaks? The tom is an audio and visual delight — apparently to a hen turkey, too.
Or consider the dull "thump-thump-thump" of a drumming ruffed grouse vigorously beating its wings against the air from a log nestled among the aspen trees?
In farm country, a spring dawn is incomplete without the crowing of a rooster pheasant, his swollen red wattles ablaze with color and iridescent plumage glowing in the sun. On the prairie, male sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens gather for a good old-fashioned hoedown as they dance and yodel under the discerning eyes of females.
Observe a marsh or lake this time of year and you'll likely see flocks of ducks that contain only one hen surrounded by numerous drakes. Look for the drakes gathered tightly around the hen as she leads the flock aimlessly around the marsh. The group will often dive, dart and suddenly change directions. They'll sometimes nearly stop in flight, the drakes grunting, clucking and otherwise carrying on. These actions are uncharacteristic for waterfowl except during the breeding season.
These noisy midair chases are called courtship flights. Conventional wisdom says the drake that stays nearest the hen during these flights becomes her mate.
Other harbingers of spring are the songbirds. A male red-winged blackbird will perch on a puffy cattail and flash its bright, red shoulder patches as its sings. The song also is one of warning for other males to stay away. Mourning doves will coo from power lines, robins will warble from back yards, and song sparrows will chant from willow perches.
It's spring and, among birds, love is in the air.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.