Senior Naturalist, Blendon Woods Metro Park
While you might be inclined to hole-up and just wait for spring, here are some things to love about the shortest month of winter.
Squirrels – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, this is the month to watch them. February brings amore for squirrels. Watch for several males chasing a female with mind-numbing agility and a singularity of purpose – to father the next generation!
Turkeys – It’s only now, months after the holiday, when the iconic image of a Thanksgiving turkey makes sense. The males (toms) love to strut about with their feathers puffed up, tails spread in a colorful arc, and bare heads and waddles glowing bright red and blue. It’s all a show to impress the other turkeys. The toms are showing off to other toms, trying to avoid a fight, and the hens are watching closely (despite their blasé appearance) to see who is the strongest, most handsome dude in the park. If you are close enough (your car makes an excellent bird blind) you can even hear the deep drumming noise made when the toms vibrate their wing feathers.
Ducks – Winter is the best season to love ducks! You are probably familiar with mallards, but it is easy to spot 10+ species during the winter in central Ohio. On any given day at Blendon Woods you might see American, black, northern pintail, hooded merganser, northern shoveler, American wigeon, ring necked, blue-winged teal, redhead, wood or gadwall, to name a few. Bring a pair of binoculars and see how many you can find.
Tracks – Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Take a hike after it snows and you will be amazed by the amount of animal foot traffic in the woods. Where were they going? What were they doing? What species were there? If we aren’t lucky enough to get snow, (yes, we said lucky) try looking in the soft mud near a stream. For more information on how to identify common animal tracks and prints in North America, visit this site.
Feed the birds – Love watching birds, but don’t love February weather? Put a feeder outside your window and be amazed by the variety of birds you’ll attract. Sunflower seeds and suet attract the greatest variety of birds. Don’t worry if you can’t provide for them daily. Wild birds are very capable of finding natural foods. Your bird cafe will just become part of their feeding routine.
Skunk cabbage – Who doesn’t love a plant that can generate its own heat? Skunk cabbage pokes through the ground in February and can actually melt a hole in the surrounding snow through a process called thermogenesis. The purple and green speckled spathe that surrounds the actual flowers might be 20 degrees warmer than the surrounding air. This allows it to emit it’s foul, fly-attracting fragrance and provide a cozy spot for pollinators. This plant only grows in swampy forests, so you may have to get your feet wet to see it.