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Spring Has Sprung

April 3, 2011

Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
They say the birds is on the wing.
Ain’t that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.


Spring Has SprungWhen I was young, my father often used to recite the first two lines of this poem at the first hint of spring. For some reason (perhaps the catchiness of the words?!?!?) it is one of those rhymes I’ve never forgotten, and it resurfaces every year about this time – I even used to recite it to my own boys when they were little.  (Confession: I had to look up the rest of the poem online – and while it has often been credited to Ogden Nash or ee cummings, the author is, in fact, the very famous poet, “Anonymous”). 

I found myself repeating this little poem (silently, to myself) yesterday.  We had a full day of glorious sunshine, temps inching into the double digits (Fahrenheit), and – for the first time – tiny green sprouts (snowdrops) in the garden, pushing their way through the last vestiges of a nasty mid-March snowstorm.  NOTE: I have no grass to ‘ris’ – the sheer number of trees on my property, and the deep shade they produce once they come into leaf, makes it impossible to maintain a lawn.  The front yard is primarily wildflowers and ground cover; the back is nicely carpeted with moss. The ‘upside’ to this, of course, is that my husband doesn’t have to expend time and energy in the too-short summer months pushing a lawnmower back and forth across our property; the ‘downside’ is that he spends a significant amount of time raking and carting leaves to the roadway in the fall.  We still prefer the natural state of our yard, though!

I do NOT ‘wonders where the birdies is’.  I saw my first robin ten days ago (although I had heard them singing several days earlier, and the neighbourhood is now thick with them), the cardinals have been calling to one another since mid-March, and the back yard was alive with chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and downy woodpeckers long before the ‘official’ first day of spring came and went.  However, the yard is much quieter now, because my major feathered ‘tenants’ have returned for the sixth year in a row and driven the rest away (actually, they left the immediate area and/or are keeping quiet primarily because they represent prey, not neighbours!)

Cooper's Hawk In TreeI first noticed the (Cooper’s) hawks in 2006, early in July, when – sitting in the back yard, waiting for company to arrive – there was significant commotion in the trees above our house.  Two adults were helping a pair of fledglings master the art of manoeuvring through the thick forest foliage.  It took quite a bit of doing, and provided us all with a couple of hours of entertainment. During the following weeks, we watched as the adults tutored the young ‘uns in ‘how to hunt squirrel’ (the squirrel managed to escape, but it was close), how to bathe in a birdbath meant for much smaller birds, and how to intimidate and thrill humans by sitting on a branch less than six feet from where they were enjoying their dinner (on the second storey deck).  It was an exciting few weeks, but I didn’t expect to get that ‘up close and personal’ with these magnificent birds again. I was wrong.

Hawk Nest Above My House 2007

Red circle indicates nest in tree above house; click for larger image

The following year, they built their nest in the ‘V’ of a huge branch in the giant oak tree beside my deck. I spent countless hours with my binoculars watching – and listening – as the male would call to the brooding female as he swooped in with her meals (talk about room service!)  Occasionally, she would take a short break and leave the nest to sit – sometimes for as much as an hour – on a nearby branch, while the male tended to the eggs and then the hatchlings.  For some unknown reason, that year the adults disappeared before the (single) baby bird could take care of herself and she ended up in our driveway (we assume she fell from the nest), and then hopped into the neighbour’s yard.  We kept an eye on her for hours (she couldn’t fly) and finally caught her (before she could stray out onto the road) and put her in a box below the nest.  When the parents hadn’t returned by nightfall, we poked holes in the box, put a lid on it, and put it in the garage overnight.

In the morning, after several frantic calls to a number of animal rescue and nature centres, we drove up to the Open Sky Raptor Foundation in Grimsby and turned the young bird over to raptor rehabilitator Carol Ricciuto (this is when I found out the bird was a ‘she’ and a Cooper’s hawk).  NOTE: we also got a tour of the volunteer facility – you have NO IDEA what it’s like to stand in a free flight aviary and have peregrine falcons and giant turkey vultures swooping low over your head!  The young hawk was given a name (Laurie) and spent the next year a half adapting and learning how to be a hawk (Carol phoned me several times with updates and notified me when the hawk was released into the wild the following year).

Hawk on fence in my backyard

Red circle shows hawk on fence in my yard; click for larger image

In 2008, a pair of Cooper’s hawks (it could have been the same pair, returned – they mate for life – or a different pair; it’s hard to say) set up housekeeping in a tree at the front of our next door neighbour’s property.  Our yard, however, became their prime hunting ground and the half-dead tree beside the garage was their favourite family ‘dining room’ (my husband buried innumerable robin carcasses, and several skeletons of what we assume were mice that were dropped into the driveway below!)  The two young were frequently left in my backyard while the parents went off and did whatever it is that hawk parents do during the day (hunt, presumably). Surprisingly, they would sit for hours – moving from the ground to the fence, to the arbour, and back again – and wait until one of the adults would finally fly by and call to them; then they would lift off (yes, they could fly) and go back to the nest for dinner.  It was quite a thrill to be chosen as a sort of hawk day care centre!

In 2009, a pair built their nest one house further north, but the routine was much the same.  We could hear the calls during the nesting period, and we watched as the babies learned how to fly and hunt and – eventually – leave their parents and go off on their own.  A lot of this activity took place in, or above, our yard.  NOTE: eggs hatch in 35-36 days, the young fledge a month later, they stay with their parents – ‘learning the ropes’ – for several more weeks.

Fledgling Hawk in TreeIn 2010 they again nested in a tree on our property – this time in an evergreen at the edge of our back fence.  Three young hatched this time, and once more I spent the summer enjoying their antics and their proximity (one of the young liked to bathe in the shallow creek at the back of our yard, and another liked to just sit in a nearby tree).  Most nights my husband and I would sit on the back deck, before-dinner drinks in hand, and simply watch them for as long as an hour or more.  

This year I’m getting a first-hand look at their courting and nest building practices.  For the past week, two hawks (the same pair, perhaps) have been spending significant time in the (as yet barren) trees beside my house and I am able to observe them from the kitchen and bedroom windows.  The female sits – patiently – watching as the male dances around, executes a few fly-bys, and makes some standard calls.  He then jumps from branch to branch before selecting (after some consideration) an appropriate stick, breaks it off, and takes it to the nest (I am going out with my binoculars this afternoon to try to ascertain exactly where they are nesting this year).  According to my research, the male does most of the construction and it takes him almost two weeks to complete.  The female will then lay up to six eggs, although no more than two or three are likely to hatch.  And the cycle – that now constitutes my primary form of summer entertainment – will start once again.

60s Roller SkatesWhen I was young, spring meant I could dig out my roller skates and ride up and down the street beside my house to the lakefront and back.  In my teens, the season represented the near end of the school term and the beginning of the search for a summer job. When my boys were little, it signalled a return to the beach in Grand Bend (where their grandparents lived), baseball and biking.  For most of my adult years, spring was when I got down on my hands and knees in the garden, digging and planting, weeding and sowing. 

Now, spring is when I look forward to the return of the hawks.  I marvel at their beauty, their grace, their majesty.  I thrill at the fact that they return to my neighbourhood year after year (even if they do chase away the songbirds) and delight in watching them do what they need to do and teach their young how to manage.  It’s just one of life’s little miracles that I’ve learned to appreciate now that I’ve reached … the other side of 55.

Two Young Hawks in My Yard

Hopefully I'll 'babysit' more young hawks like these this year!

  1. April 28, 2011 12:30 pm

    nice one.. I really liked your blog.. you are very expressive and good at using right words…

    • April 28, 2011 1:43 pm

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my posts. Thanks for the positive comments.


  2. writerinlondon permalink
    April 26, 2011 5:08 pm

    Hi Margo.

    My father also used to recite the first two lines of that poem to me as a child and, as a result, I also recite the same two lines at this time of year. Thanks for the info on the rest of the poem. I often wondered where the rhyme came from!

    I found your blog through the ‘writing’ tag… I really enjoyed your CYOA post as I loved those books as a child.

    I’ll continue to read with interest.



    • April 26, 2011 5:55 pm

      Glad you liked the posts – and that you learned something!


  3. Sandy Sharma permalink
    April 4, 2011 7:54 pm

    YOU….are SO incredible!

    I love reading your work ~ What a joy!

    Hopefully, our paths will cross soon…before all the ‘grass has ris’ to the max.


  4. Cathy Hendrix permalink
    April 3, 2011 8:39 pm

    What a lovely blog! I’m very envious of you, Margo. My neighbourhood is still rather young and the trees are not quite big enough for such large birds. We did have a nest of mourning birds in my front weeping mulberry one year which we enjoyed. My kids marvel at my ability to spot hawks when I’m driving. I don’t know why, but they just seem to jump into my viewing space. (I still keep my eyes on the road) I can spot ’em a mile away! (I’m referring to the ones not flying. Although it’s pretty cool when one flies low in front of you.) It occurred to me once that perhaps they were my totem – my harbinger of good luck. Well, for whatever reason, I enjoy watching them. They are magnificent birds. Maybe I’ll get to see them when I drop by.


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