Natural History Topics - February

Great blue heron
Great blue heron male takes a stick to the female waiting in the nest

©JIM SCHMIDT

Love is in the Air
Gestures of love are memories we behold and cherish. St. Valentine’s Day is a special time for us, and for some very impressive birds along the Cuyahoga River Valley. A trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park during the late winter may reward us with a chance to observe some striking courtship rituals.

Great Blue Herons
In late February or early March, the three heronries in the Cuyahoga Valley break into a noisy ruckus of courtship rituals. Great blue herons, four feet tall, sport brilliant breeding plumage with striking long plumes. The birds go through an elaborate repertoire of courtship displays using their long necks. They sometimes lock the tips of their beaks and sway their heads in a fencing-like motion. Often we see male herons fly to their nests carrying sticks in their beaks. The males present their sticks to awaiting female partners, who add them to the nest. This action strengthens the pair bond. We can observe courtship displays throughout their breeding season, which typically ends in July, once the young fledglings take flight.

Bald Eagles
Bald eagle pairs along the Cuyahoga River also display their courtship rituals. They roll in large loops and perform spectacular dives from more than 200 feet high in the air, often separating at the last possible second, and often just six feet above the ground.

 
Beaver
Beaver swimming in winter

©JOHN CATALANO

Also This Month
Early February is often a great time to see beaver during the day as they make their way to small openings on the winter ice. They have been in their dark dens for most of the winter and are continuing to adjust to true daylight periods.

 

Later this month, look for blooming pussy willows in the wet thickets along the Towpath Trail, informing us that spring will soon be here. Please note that it is unlawful to take plants from Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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