Valentine’s Day has a different meaning to local bird enthusiasts. About this time every year, romance starts heating up at great blue heron nesting colonies. Each male begins gathering long sticks in his beak, which he presents one by one to his partner. The female adds these sticks to their treetop nest, strengthening their bond.
If you’d like to see this family drama unfold, it will be on full display through Independence Day at the Bath Road Heronry in Cuyahoga Valley. Just park in the pullout east of Riverview Road and look up.
The weekend around Valentine’s Day is also time for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Begun in 1998, this count was the first online community science project. Now it’s a global event that celebrates people’s love for birds.
The 2021 dates are Feb. 12-15. You don’t need to be an expert birder to participate. To learn more, visit www.birdcount.org.
If you are new to bird watching, winter is a good time to get started. There are fewer species to learn and no leaves to block your view. It helps to have a pair of binoculars or a camera with a zoom, but these aren’t required. Mornings are the best time to observe bird activity. When it’s cold, small birds must hustle to find breakfast after burning up most of their fat reserves overnight. Many put their differences aside and travel in groups. The extra eyeballs help find food and watch for hungry hawks. Look for mixed flocks foraging through the woods. Other birds often follow the lead of the tufted titmouse, an intelligent little grey sprite with a crest on its head.
For those who have a birdfeeder nearby, look for hoarding behavior by titmice, black-capped chickadees, and blue jays. They will do lap after lap, hauling future meals to their hidden food stashes. You can also pay attention to social hierarchies—who gets to eat first and who knocks who off their perch. Bossy blue jays often top the pecking order.
Mid-month, make a date with yourself or with a sweetie to spend time observing nature’s colorful ambassadors. These feathered charmers might just steal your heart.
Arrye Rosser is an interpretive and education specialist at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Feature photo: A couple gaze up at a nesting colony of great blue herons along Bath Road. (Photo: NPS/Robert George)