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It's Not the Groundhog, It's the Birds

Image: the Red Wing Blackbird

I always laugh at Groundhog Day and the idea that the little varmint can predict an early spring. It doesn't matter if he sees his shadow or not. It's a simple math equation: March 21 or 22 minus February 2nd equals six weeks, no matter how you slice it. If the model for Groundhog Day were accurate, it would mean that if wild groundhogs (not ones held in a zoo, etc) were to leave their dens without interference from humans at the beginning of February, then we should expect spring-like weather to return earlier than normal.

A better harbinger of the arrival of spring is the return of migratory birds. In rural Ohio, winter can be a very quiet time. Stand outside at 5 or 6 in the morning, before the sun rises, and if you're not in the city, you will hear nothing. It's even more noticeable when it's snowing. The snow swallows sound, and it's absolutely still.

Until sometime in the middle of February, when the birds begin to come back. One of the first species to return are the buzzards, either Turkey Vultures or Black Vultures. They don't break the silence of winter, but after months of not spotting a buzzard, suddenly you will see them in the sky, soaring in circles, riding thermal updrafts as they search for carrion. (Writer's tip: whenever you can use the word carrion in a narrative, please do. It adds a certain gothic elegance to your prose and is much classier than the Ohio alternative: roadkill.)

Once you start to see the buzzards, it won't be long before the songbirds return. It is rather magical when they return, because it feels like mornings move from the deep stillness to this brilliant cacophony of sound all in one moment. Culturally, we have been raised on the image of songbirds as soft and sweet, trilling quietly but beautifully as they flutter around Snow White, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our yard has no trees (it was formerly a farm field, rotating corn and soybeans), so the closest concentration of trees is 500 feet behind our house, but once the birds begin their calls you would think they were nesting in our eves. Beautiful, yes, but loud, both at dawn and in dusk. Amazingly, in all that sound, I find a different kind of stillness, one that extends the silence of winter into spring and summer.

One of my favorites is the Red Wing Blackbird. They like the tall, prairie like grasses that grown between the house and the tree line. While many of the songbirds prefer the trees and remain invisible, the blackbirds come very close. They perch on the most unlikely supports, sitting right at the top of slender saplings and shoots that bow gently under their weight, but don't break. This gives them a view of all the activity happening in the tall grasses as they search for food. As a kid, I thought of blackbirds as a nuisance bird, but now I see them as they truly are --beautiful harbingers of spring.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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