Science Research, Academy of Mt St Ursula

Questions about Spring - April

by Drew Panko and Trudy Battaly

1)  Most of our native wild flowers bloom very early - in April and May.  They get their leaves up and out early as well.  They bloom and leaf out so early that they are always caught in a hard frost, sometimes in a significant snowfall or ice storm.  Why not wait until it is warmer?

Examples: Skunk Cabbage, Hepatica, Bloodroot, Trout Lily, Coltsfoot, violets, Spring beauties. 
2)  Many herps, such as frogs, salamanders and toads, even though they are cold blooded, arrive at the ponds as soon the ice has melted (and some times before) to breed and lay their eggs.

Breeding Wood Frog short video, longer video; audio only

Wood Frog Ecology:

1.  Answer question sheet for next class.

   2.  To find information:



3)  Males migrate earlier than the females on the northward migration in most migrant birds.  (But in the fall, males migrate later than the females, and often do not move as far south.)


Examples:  Broad-winged Hawk, Northern Harrier, Eastern Phoebe, American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cowbirds, and many others.


4)  Why do birds migrate at all anyway?  Eastern Kingbirds eat flying insects almost exclusively in the spring in our area.  So I figured that they had to migrate to avoid the insect shortage during our winters.  Sound good?  Then I learned that on migration and on their wintering grounds in South America they are entirely fruit eaters!  (Species such as Robins, Waxwings, Starlings, Crows, and others overwinter in our area eating mostly fruits.)  Why not Kingbirds?  It would save all that time energy and dangers involved in migrating more than 2,000 miles.


5)  The best time to observe some snakes (cold blooded) is early spring (late March/early April) on cool, sunny mornings.
  Examples:  Northern Watersnake, Garter Snake, Ribbon Snake.

   Water Snake ^                                                      Ribbon Snake >

Spotted Turtle^                                             Painted Turtles >


6)  The larger raptors are the earliest nesters.  The females are on the nest, in cold weather.  Under these conditions they cannot stop brooding their eggs, which would die in the cold, and they must depend on the male to bring food.  And after the eggs have hatched, the young are even more sensitive to the cold.  Some of these females are stuck, on nests, brooding 24/7, for 2 months or more.  Why not wait a week, or a month, or more?  (You think the females have it tough?  The males must catch enough prey, in the cold weather, rain or shine, to feed himself, AND the female, AND the young after they hatch.  That's pressure on the provider!)

Broad-winged Hawk, Adult and Young


(Trying to make sense about nature - and all biology, is really tough.  A wide knowledge base is required (and a lot of it hasn't been discovered yet), logic often fails, exceptions abound, and there are way too many variables involved in most situations.  Yet what are we going to do, not try to understand what we observe???  So we try, many times (most?) we are wrong, we get corrected and go on………it's science.)