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By Friday the metro area will have gained two hours and 12 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice Dec. 21.

All of us can appreciate that fact, and many bird species have responded with their special music. Some examples: pileated woodpeckers drum on resonant trees; house finches sing their cheery warbling song; and northern cardinals sing "what-cheer, cheer, cheer" loud and long. Ring-necked pheasants have begun to crow. Their loud double squawk is the sound of a courting male. American crows make rattle calls, a spring sound.

American crows spend winter days in small groups searching for food. These omnivores will go after corn kernels in harvested fields, weed seeds, wild fruits, animal matter collected near water, roadkill, and garbage.

Yes, they are one of nature's many cleaner-uppers. They gather in communal roosts of hundreds to thousands in fall and winter, no doubt for safety in numbers. I have found roosts of crows to observe by watching the direction of flight of their small groups in late afternoons. They disperse every morning from their roost to feed and then return in the same way at sunset. Roosts break up in March as pairs of crows take off for nesting duties. This behavior is similar to cold-season roosts of European starlings, Canada geese, and even wintering American robins. Also, now is the time migrating crows are returning to northern Minnesota.

Some other observations:

  • Expect to see a feeding frenzy at wildlife feeding stations just before and when a snowstorm hits. Gray squirrels, dark-eyed juncos, common redpolls, black-capped chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and others come in numbers and eat in earnest.
  • Tiny springtails, also called snow fleas, are jumping about on the snow surface at the edges of forests near wetlands when the air temperature is above 27 degrees.
  • Red foxes are seen in pairs.
  • Whitetail deer have begun shedding winter fur and continue to drop antlers.
  • Black bear cubs, now about a month old and weighing less than 3 pounds, nestle close to their mothers in dens.

Jim Gilbert has taught and worked as a naturalist for more than 50 years.