Nature news

Bruce Johnson, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, shares what’s happening in nature around the Northern Shenandoah Valley during the month of January:

• Now through late March is a difficult time for birds. Providing food and an open source of water is important. Place a heated birdbath on the deck or close to bird feeders.

• Watch for mixed flocks of birds to feed on winter berries, poison ivy and cedar trees.  This is the reason eastern red cedar is the first tree introduced on vacant pastureland.  And the same reason poison ivy pops up in the flower garden in the spring.

• Woodpeckers are easy to spot on leafless trees, including the red-bellied, hairy, downy, red-headed, pileated, northern flicker and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

• During late January and early February, great horned owls will be sitting on their eggs. Listen for their hoots as they are still pairing up.  No need for a nesting box as they use the nesting sites from other large birds.

• Look and listen for the short-eared owl.  They are only here during the winter, leaving in late winter for breeding in Canada.  The best time to see the short-eared owl is from dawn and dusk, flying close to the ground listening for their prey.

• Late in the month, as days lengthen, tufted titmice and cardinals begin to sing. Cardinals flocking; they’re usually the first and last birds to be seen at feeders. Set feeders close to forest edge, bushes and trees for protection.

• Look for hawks such as red-tailed, Cooper’s and sharp-shinned in the backyard.

• Waterfowl are present on deep-water lakes.  Go to Lake Frederick and Abrams Creek Wetlands to observe many winter residents like scaups, gadwalls, grebes and the cackling goose.

• Now is the first of two squirrel mating seasons.  On average they will produce four pups per litter.

• White-tailed deer bucks are beginning to shed their antlers.