With winter almost gone and spring just around the corner, there’s plenty for you to discover outside in February and March. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Chickadees are itty-bitty and hang it outside on a tree. birds, but they’re also fearless. With patience, you can coax these gutsy fluff balls to eat from your hand. Fill a bird feeder with seed, walk 10 big steps away, and wait quietly for chickadees to arrive. Each day, take a step closer. When you can stand beside the feeder without scaring the birds, grab a handful of seed and hold really still. Don’t be surprised if a chickadee lands on your hand for a quick bite to eat.
This Valentine’s Day, send some love to the critters in your backyard. Place a heart-shaped cookie cutter in a baking pan and line the inside of the cutter with plastic wrap. Drop in some birdseed and place a loop of red ribbon at the top. Pour water to just below the cookie cutter’s edge and put everything in your freezer. When your birdseed Valentine has frozen, pop it out of the cutter, remove the plastic wrap, and hang it outside on a tree.
Standing beneath a swirling swarm of yelping snow geese is thrilling. But with 5 million snows migrating north every spring, the geese are literally eating themselves out of house and home. The overabundant geese strip huge swaths of Arctic tundra bare when they feed, destroying habitat for birds and other animals. To help bring their numbers back to normal, a special hunting season runs from February 1 to April 30. If you’d like to participate—and help save the tundra— visit xplormo.org/node/16777.
Missouri’s tallest tree, a pumpkin ash in the Bootheel, stretches higher than four school buses stacked end to end. A cottonwood north of Kansas City is so wide, six kids holding hands barely encircle its trunk. Both are “champion trees,” the largest of their kind in Missouri. Even bigger trees might lurk afield, and you can join the hunt to find them. Discover a record breaker, and you’ll get a certificate for your wall—and bragging rights. Learn to measure enormous trees at mdc.mo.gov/node/4831.
Ancient sailors used stars to guide their boats across the oceans. You, too, can navigate by the stars. First, find the Big Dipper. It’s a group of seven stars that form the shape of a soup ladle. Trace a straight line from the last two stars in the ladle’s lip until you run into a star as bright as those in the Big Dipper. This is the North Star. If you face it, east will be to your right, west will be to your left, and south will be directly behind you.
Biologists call a dead tree still standing a snag. Animals call it home. Next time you’re in the woods, look closely at any snag you find. Do you see holes in its trunk? Those are made by insects tunneling through the wood—snug as a bug in a snag— or by woodpeckers searching for tasty insects. Knock on the snag to see if anyone’s home. Holes in snags provide cozy places for squirrels, raccoons and bats to rest, and nests for screech owls, chickadees and other birds. A snag is no drag!
Discover Nature at these fun events.
Looking for more ways to have fun outside? Find out about Discover Nature programs in your area at xplormo.org/node/2616.
In late February, male spring peepers begin singing to attract mates. Their loud, ringing calls are a sign spring is near. Peepers raise a ruckus by inflating their throats like balloons. To find these frogs, explore puddles and shallow ponds near woods. You must look closely, though. Peepers aren’t much longer than a paperclip and range in color from tan to gray with an X-shaped mark on their backs.
Who you calling chubby? Despite their potbellied appearance, muskrats are perfectly suited for life in water. Equipped with waterproof fur, paddle-like hind feet and lungs that would impress an Olympic swimmer, muskrats can stay underwater for 17 minutes at a stretch.
Nichole LeClair Terrill