With winter almost gone and spring right around the corner, there’s plenty for you to discover outside in February and March. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
If you want to enjoy bluebirds, Missouri’s state bird, all summer long, build them a birdhouse they’ll be proud to call home. Download easy-to-build plans at xplormo.org/node/2937. Bluebirds begin nesting in early March so be sure to set it up by late February.
Spring beauty is Missouri’s most widespread spring flower. You might have to look hard to find this beauty, though. It’s only about 5 inches tall. You can find it blooming from February through May nearly anywhere the soil is moist — fields, woods, even lawns. Native Americans ate the roots of spring beauty. Its leaves are also edible, and have a fresh, tangy taste. Just be sure to check with an adult before tasting spring beauty or any wild plant.
Near wooded areas, look for newly emerged zebra swallowtail butterflies fluttering about in search of flower nectar. You may also find them grouped up near puddles, “puddling” up moisture and minerals with their feeding tube, or proboscis. Butterflies can even add a few drops of water from their own bodies to dissolve food so it’s easier to suck up.
On your next hike, explore a gravel bar along a stream or creek. They’re a great place to look for cool rocks, bones, and other interesting keepers. You might find a deer antler, a snake backbone, petrified wood, several mussel shells, and an arrowhead.
Keep your ears peeled for the early spring sounds of pileated woodpeckers drumming on wood. Rat-a-tat-tat! Sometimes they peck away for hours on tin roofs and even metal church steeples. All that racket establishes their territories and helps attract mates. Between the drumming, the fiery red mohawk, and a loud, rapid-fire call that sounds like crazed laughter, the pileated woodpecker truly is one of nature’s rock stars. Listen in at mdc.mo.gov/node/981.
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, are unlike anything else you’ll see on the end of your fishing line. Like a small shark, the paddlefish lacks scales and bones. Like a baleen whale, it filters its dinner from the water — and no other fish on our continent has a paddle for a snout! Once you reel one in, you’ll be hooked for life — fishing for one of our oldest and most unusual species. Missouri’s paddlefish snagging season kicks off March 15. Watch a 2-minute video at mdc.mo.gov/ node/15884.
Don't miss the chance to Discover Nature at these fun events.
Cedar waxwings are named for the waxy red nubs on their wing feathers. Biologists aren’t sure what the nubs are for, but they may help attract mates. In winter, waxwings form noisy flocks and feast on cedar berries and wild fruits. The birds can survive on berries alone for more than two months, but their fondness for fruit sometimes gets them in trouble. Waxwings occasionally become drunk from eating overripe berries.
Nichole LeClair Terrill