By Mary Alice Hartsock
For many of our local animals, spring is a time for mating. If you love nature, it’s a time to observe some fascinating courtship rituals as birds, mammals, and other animals work to attract mates. Below, Special Exhibits Educator Mary Bailey explains how you can observe the courtship displays of frogs and birds in the Philadelphia area.
The Spring Peeper
The spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) is a small (1–1.5 inch), brownish-tan frog with a dark “X” on its back. It is common in the eastern United States and Canada, where it can be found in wooded areas and grassy marshes near ponds and swamps. Its high-pitched call, recognizable by its sleigh-bell-like sound, is among the first frog calls heard in spring.
At dusk, a male spring peeper hides in grasses or shrubs near the water’s edge and begins his mating calls. Often listening from low vegetation nearby, the female joins the male at the water to mate and lay her eggs. The spring peeper is likely to evade your glance, but if you travel to a moist or swampy area such as the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge between March and June, you may hear its call, says Bailey.
Visit aza.org to find out about FrogWatch USA, a citizen science program in which individuals and families can learn about the wetlands and help conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads.
The Eastern Bluebird
Growing up to 21 cm, the adult male eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis) has royal blue feathers on its back and head, white on its belly and under the tail, and a chestnut throat, neck, and breast. The female is gray, accented with bluish tints. This bluebird prefers to build its nest in cavities of trees or posts, and it also is attracted to human-built nest boxes in open woodlands, fields, parks, and backyards.
Attempting to attract a female to his territory, a male bluebird sings a low, warbling song from a high perch or while in flight. When a female enters his territory, he displays his feathers while perching or dancing at the nest. He also may move in and out of the nest hole, sometimes appearing to carry nest-building material.The female may visit the nest several times before settling down permanently to build her nest.
If your yard is large and open, you may consider building a nest box to attract eastern bluebirds. The North American Bluebird Society offers detailed online instructions. Bailey loves to observe these birds at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, a 175-acre bird sanctuary hosting a large variety of different bird species.
This article was adapted from the spring 2014 issue of our member magazine, Academy Frontiers.