Five things birders should watch in March

OK, everybody, migration is on. I repeat, migration is on and this is not a drill. Not only that, but avian breeding season gets serious this month too. Here are the top five changes to notice in the next two weeks.

Crow roost break up 

Crows begin pairing off and searching for just the right tree to build their nests. The roost will grow smaller throughout March. Interesting side note: Young of the previous year will help feed the chicks hatched this year. It’s kind of a training program for crows to learn how to be adults. 

Waterfowl moves north

The high temperatures mean open water is on the way. Ducks typically start to arrive in southern Minnesota in early March but with more open water on the rivers and possibly opening up on area lakes we could see more canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, American wigeon and even American coots around. If you have been procrastinating cleaning out the duck boxes and adding fresh cedar bedding, I’d get to that sooner rather than later. 

The call of the red-winged blackbird

It’s about the time of year when people suddenly notice the American robins that have been around all winter and think it’s a sign of spring. They are unreliable. What really tells you that spring is inevitable is the din of red-winged blackbird flocks. You walk around a park with a pond or any wetlands and as soon as you hear the familiar “conkaree” you can be sure the red-winged blackbirds are here to stay. Experienced males risk an earlier arrival to claim the prime territories. 

Red-tailed hawks mating

Though bald eagles and great-horned owls get a jump-start on breeding in February, red-tailed hawks get serious in March. Watch for these common raptors carrying sticks or even pairing up along highways. This is a naturally solitary bird, so if you see two sitting side by side on a highway light post, you’re looking at a happy couple, and the birds have a nesting territory. 

Cavity nesters desperately seeking cavities 

Black-capped chickadees already have been practicing their two-note call, but some ambitious birds may start checking out for good nest boxes if the weather stays warm and there’s ample food. Make sure chickadee and bluebird boxes are completely cleaned out so these birds might get a head start. Woodpeckers also will engage in loud, rapid territorial drums and laying eggs by the end of the month. 

It’s still early in the upper Midwest to be overzealous about spring but some birds arrive and start nesting regardless of how many snowstorms we have left to hit us between now and the end of May. Some birds can handle surprisingly cold and snow weather. 

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