Some resident birds start singing their spring songs in late February and early March like clockwork, no matter what the weather is doing.
Even when winter keeps its grip on Massachusetts with snow and freezing temperatures, these birds mark the lengthening days with songs to attract mates, define their territories, and prepare for breeding season.
Early songsters respond to the amount of time between sunrise and sunset—called the photoperiod—and shift their behavior towards spring patterns accordingly.
Here are some of the earliest sounds that prove spring is just around the corner.
Black-capped Chickadees whistle a thin, pleasant “fee-bee!”:
Northern Cardinals give high, piping warbles from exposed perches:
Mourning Doves make low, resonant coos throughout the day:
A week or two after these birds start sounding off, the earliest short-distance migrants arrive from the southeast part of North America: Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.
Blackbirds’ jangling, metallic song is most often heard in marshes and wetlands:
Grackles give a chorus of creaks and harsh “chack!” notes in large, transient flocks:
The arrival of spring accelerates after the first few migrants arrive, with skunk cabbage poking through the soil in wetlands and more birds like Ruby-crowned Kinglets to Yellow-rumped Warblers showing up.
All of these species are out and singing by the second week of March. Which ones have you been hearing so far this year?
There are not-so-hidden messages in the weather and storm trends we’ve been seeing. What does it mean when our winters are shorter and milder or when we experience an increase in storm-induced flooding?
It means our climate is changing.
Climate Versus Weather
While weather refers to short-term changes to the atmosphere, climate encompasses long-term trends and patterns – such as average temperatures. Climate change, therefore, is the lasting shift in long-term patterns because of the excess greenhouse gasses we release into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
Massachusetts, along with the rest of the world, is gradually getting warmer on average, and rising temperatures affect the intensity and duration of our four seasons. Spring temperatures arrive sooner than they have before, hotter summers last much longer, and winters tend to be milder and shorter.
These shifts are evidenced by their impacts on the nature around us. You might have noticed your favorite buds and blossoms sprout earlier every year. Perhaps you’ve seen your favorite birds breed or migrate sooner. You might have even noticed a decline in populations facing new threats because of shifting seasons: like bees that missed early blossoms or moose that struggle under the now thriving winter tick.
Weather Weirding & Temperature Extremes
These weather-based impacts aren’t only about the gradual and consistent changes. They also comprise temperature snaps – sometimes referred to as “weather weirding.” Such snaps are characterized by abnormally cold (or hot) temperatures compared to what the average temperature should be: like a freezing cold day in the middle of spring, or an incredibly warm day towards the end of winter.
Dr. Greg Skomal, Senior Fisheries Scientist at the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, explained that it was most likely cold snaps that led four thresher sharks to strand in Wellfleet and Orleans in 2018 as they tried to move towards warmer waters at a much faster pace than normal.
Surges in Storms
As temperatures increase, so too does evaporation of moisture and water – so while our summers are getting really hot, they’re also getting really dry, which can lead to long summer droughts. But this extra-evaporating effect has a flip side. All the additional moisture gets sent into the atmosphere, which increases precipitation (rainfall, snow, sleet, or hail).
In tandem with sea level rise, we’re watching extreme weather events, storm surges, and significant flooding rise in frequency and intensity around us because of an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere and changes in sea-surface temperatures.
Whether you live on the coast, in the city, or amidst our region’s forests, weather and storms impact all of us and the nature around us. While something as intangible as atmospheric changes might seem near-impossible to tackle, we have good news: you can make a difference.
Here are some ways you can join us in fighting climate change to protect our world:
Nature can be our first line of defense when it comes to buffering extreme storms and helping us, and the wildlife we love, adapt to climate change. Support one of our urgent, regional land projects to protect these important, natural climate allies.
Climate mitigation tackles the crisis at its roots: the greenhouse gasses we emit. Remember to challenge your friends, family, and community to take these pledges with you – we can make a difference when we work together.