Though it is generally included among the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere and often brings some of the heavier snows and more potent Nor'Easters of the year, February also harbors many of the early signs of spring.
Within its first week or so, snow geese begin to appear in the Heartland, stopping by to rest and feed on their way to the Arctic; close on their heels are greater white-fronted geese, the first wave of American white pelicans and early ducks such as northern pintails. In February, great horned owls are already caring for their brood and permanent residents such as magpies and red-tailed hawks are building nests or engaged in mating behavior. While a less stable jet stream brings the storms mentioned above, it also brings more frequent warm fronts and the higher sun keeps ice and snow from lingering on the open fields. In our wetlands, skunk cabbage melts its way through the frozen muck and, by the end of the month, spring peepers and chorus frogs call from the icy pools; closer to home, crocuses, hyacinths and other early bulb plants appear in city parks and suburban flower gardens. Cottontails generally produce their first litter by the end of the month and other mammals, including raccoons, opossums and skunks are wandering about, in search of mates. Finally, throughout February, the silence of winter gradually fades as a chorus of birdsong, led by cardinals and robins, reclaims the mornings.
Of course, some of these seasonal events will depend on the weather and, after this year's frigid winter, the cycle may be delayed for those related to soil and water temperatures. Chances are, however, that February, as maligned as it is by many humans, will deliver spring to America's Heartland.