Signs of Spring Everywhere Signs of Spring Everywhere
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Signs of Spring Everywhere Update: March 1, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Lighten Up!
In the middle of winter, newspaper carriers in Duluth, Minnesota (47.11, -91.85), work in the dark. Papers have to be delivered by 6:30 am, so carriers are outside by 5:45 or 6:00. In the past few weeks, they've been noticing the sky brightening by the time they finish, and now it's bright in the east by the time they start out. Sunrise today, March 1, 1999, is at 6:49 am in Duluth, so unless papers are late, carriers don't see the actual sunrise yet, but in a couple of weeks they'll be seeing the sun come up as they deliver papers.

What time is sunrise where you live? What day this month will your city have the exact same length of day as Duluth, Minnesota? (If you don't know when sunrise or sunset are where you live, you can find out here: worldwide sunrise times US sunrise times.) To learn more about how light affects animals, try Journey North's Seeing the Light lesson, also in the printed Teacher's Manual on page 93.

Just Duckie
Birds don't deliver papers, but they also detect changes in daylight. Right now ducks are starting their journey north. Throughout the continent, birders are reporting the new arrivals. Wally Jobman is Journey North's correspondent from the Platte River of Nebraska, right smack in the center of things. He wrote, "As usual there were many overwintering Mallards along the Platte River, especially since it was an "open" winter without much ice or snow cover. Many pintails, shovelers, and teal are presently migrating across Nebraska. From my few observations, numbers appear to be normal."

Duck Watching Tips for This Week:
  • How many different species can you find?
  • How many are alone, how many in pairs, how many in small groups, and how many in flocks?
  • Are all the ducks in the water? Can you find any ducks in other places?
  • Virtually all ducks are in their adult plumage now, so count males and females.

Usually our counts show more males than females. When nesting begins, that difference will get much bigger. Which leads us to this week's:

Challenge Question #4
"Name at least two different reasons why we usually count more male than female ducks in spring."

(To repond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Neotropical migrants have no idea what the weather will be like on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico when they strike out. They time their migration by daylength. But many ducks spent their winter in North America. Their migratory restlessness seems to develop as a combination of opening water and increasing daylength. It can be tricky for us to figure out which individual ducks arrived from farther south and which were nearby all winter, but we CAN watch one sure sign of spring. At the same time that they're migrating, drakes (male ducks) that don't already have a mate are trying to attract one. It's fun watching drakes try to get the attention of hens. Some use bright feathers and noisy quacks to impress females, but one, the Common Goldeneye, has a spectacular mating display.

Observation from the Past

Photo: Dave Rintoul, Patuxent Bird ID Info Center

Here's a description of the courtship written by Dr. Charles W. Townsend in 1910: "One or more males swim restlessly back and forth and around a female. The feathers of the cheeks and crest of the male are so erected that the head looks large and round, the neck correspondingly small. As he swims along, the head is thrust out in front close to the water, occasionally dabbling at it. Suddenly he springs forward, elevating his breast, and at the same time he enters on the most typical and essential part of the performance. The neck is stretched straight up, and the bill, pointing to the zenith, is opened to emit a harsh, rasping double note, "zzee-at"? The head is then quickly snapped back until the occiput (back of the head) touches the rump, whence it is brought forward again with a jerk to the normal position. As the head is returned to its place the bird often springs forward kicking the water in a spurt out behind, and displaying like a flash of flame the orange-colored legs."

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1.Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 4
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The Next Signs of Spring Update Will be Posted on March 15, 1999

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