Wait- Is It Still Winter or Has Spring Arrived?

By Dan Weisz

Two weeks ago it was in the very low 30’s in Tucson.  Friday’s high is supposed to be the upper 80’s with 90 degrees possible on Friday!!  What’s going on here?

 We have a resident pair of Cooper’s Hawks in the Foothills Clusters and they are common birds throughout the foothills and the Tucson area.Two weeks ago, it was 33 degrees at 8 in the morning as we began our Tucson Audubon Sweetwater Wetlands birding walk.  It was very cold out.  This Cooper’s Hawk had puffed up all of its feathers to trap body heat in the air pockets formed by the fluffed up feathers- think of a down jacket.  In the first light of the day, this bird looks more brown/orange than it will later in the morning. 

By 10:30, it had warmed up to the high 40’s and was even warmer in direct sunshine.  Here sits the exact same Cooper’s Hawk on a nearby branch.  Check out the tail feathers to see that this is the same bird!  It was still cool out, but not nearly as cold as it was after dawn.  The bird is much slimmer looking now.

In Sabino Canyon several days later, I saw a Roadrunner hunting for insects in the grass just below the dam.  It was late in the morning and still cool enough out for me to be wearing two layers.

At some point, the roadrunner also felt the coolness of the air and, as they do, he turned his back to the sun, flared his feathers to expose the black feathers underneath, and used the dark under-feathers to catch the warmth of the sun.  After a bit, properly warmed, he resumed his hunt.

But then the weather warmed up.  This week, I saw several birds who seemed to indicate Spring was in the air.  This pair of Mourning Doves was on a horse corral fence along River Road.  They looked like a Valentine’s card to me.

At Fort Lowell Park, a Mallard was seen mating with a domestic duck.  This type of mating behavior, when witnessed, appears very aggressive.  It is more common in “city” ducks than in wild ducks and is very different from that of other animals in nature.

The male is biting the neck of the female to prevent her escape.

So spring is definitely in the air.

For a discussion on this kind of mating behavior, check out this post:
http://askanaturalist.com/why-are-these-mallard-males-beating-up-this-female/

Also here is information about duck courtship rituals:
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/what-to-watch-for-duck-courtship-video/