WILD GEORGIA: March is the time for birds to begin courting and singing

For most of the year, romance is the furthest thing from most birds’ minds. During fall and winter, their aggressive nature diminishes. Many birds, particularly songbirds, even form flocks to cooperate in finding food and seeking protection from predators.

But now it’s early March. Longer day length is triggering hormones and causing the birds’ sexual organs to return to full function. Their urge for romance is back. Their congenial flocks are breaking up. Their vibrant, spiffy breeding plumages have appeared; their voices have become fine-tuned.

Now the birds’ aim is to woo a mate for spring nesting. Several species this week appeared to be doing just that — mockingbirds, blue jays, cardinals, bluebirds, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, Eastern phoebes, nuthatches and others.

I watched as a male cardinal in my Decatur yard tried to entice a female into a relationship by inserting seeds into her mouth. He did this supposedly to show her that he can be a good provider for baby cardinals. During such encounters, in fact, the female may act like a begging baby bird, presumably to see how well the male performs at feeding.

Similar courting behavior is taking place among other birds, including blue jays, titmice, nuthatches and others. The males of some species, such as the titmouse, not only will feed females during courtship but continue to do so until after the eggs hatch.

Perhaps the most conspicuous way, however, that songbirds attract mates is by singing, which also is cranking up now. The intricacy of a male bird’s voice and the variety of its songs advertise its maturity and intelligence to females and also define its territory.

But it’s only the first week of March. The full glory of Georgia’s spring nesting season is still weeks away, when the state’s Neotropical migrants — warblers, tanagers, flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, ruby-throated hummingbirds — return from winter homes in Latin America. It’s then, at daybreak on an April morning, that you may hear some 30 or more species singing vibrantly at the top of their little lungs in the “dawn chorus.”

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be first quarter on Thursday. The only visible planets now are Venus, Mars and Saturn — low in the east just before sunrise.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.