Is Spring Early or Late?


Is spring early or late this year?

Technically, by the calendar, spring has barely sprung. Ouch.

The warm weather of February and early March could lead one to believe in an early spring, which feels nice but is not necessarily a good thing.

Look, we’re bound to get cold, wet, snowy weather, though don’t make any bets on that proposition.

Temperatures too cold will kill blossoms on trees and wildlife, though birds and mammals are more adaptable.

Migrating birds that many of us recognize, like robins, meadowlarks and bluebirds, were sighted or heard by early March in parts of Montana where they don’t show up till the middle of the month or later.

Cold, snowy weather can briefly halt, even kill early migrant songbirds, but the majority copes.

Most songbirds don’t arrive this far north until well into May. Bluebirds winter from Utah and Arizona south through Mexico and arrive in north-central Montana in early to mid-March. That’s taking a chance because a prolonged cold snap could kill those lovely feathered patches of blue.

However, when the weather plays nice, as it may this year, the early bird gets the pick of the choice nest sites, and its young stand a better chance of surviving the rigors of the nest to make the trip south in good shape.

western meadowlark

The song of the western meadowlark signals spring is fast approaching.

Robins that had started to disperse to nesting areas go back into winter flocks when faced with a return to winter. Others just hunker down. Around open water, like the Missouri River, it can be warmer or at least out of the wind and hold insect life, which means food.

Our state bird, the western meadowlark, has a distinct melodious song that it seems defiant in the face of a March snowstorm.

Long ago, the meadowlark’s song, a gushing of notes like water pouring from a bucket, signaled to homesteaders the end of another long, dark winter. Today, life is easier, and the meadowlark’s song is just a pleasant reminder of better days ahead.

Birders, like gardeners, trade sightings and tips on where to go and what to see.

To find out what Montana birders are seeing now, go to the Internet (where else?) and type in Then click on the North America link followed by regional under mailing lists and look for the new link at the top of the page.

Better yet, skip all that and go directly to the states’ directory,, and find Montana.

For mammals, there are a few hibernators out and about, seemingly earlier this year.

Gophers, really Richardson’s ground squirrels, were noticed by many in mid-February. That might be a bit early, but not too much.

The early appearing gophers are usually males. Females emerge mid-March to mid-April just in time for breeding season.

Because they spend half of the year, or more, hibernating, gophers have a specific time period to come out of hibernation, breed, birth, then get ready for winter again.

Starting in mid to late summer, the small rodents disappear into their underground lairs and sleep.

Bears, both grizzly and black, are the mega fauna of spring harbingers. Despite the warm February and early March, not many seem to be in a hurry to awake from their winter sleep.

Maybe they know something we don’t.