Signs of spring in Central Alberta:

Darkening hares, nesting owls, finch baskets ready for the outdoors

Spring is less than two weeks away and Central Albertans are still ankle deep in snow.

But winter-weary residents, take heart! Although this region continues to wallow in double-digit sub-zero temperatures in the lead-up to the official start of spring on March 20, there are subtle signs that warmer weather is ahead.

One obvious change is the sprinkling of brown that can be seen on the topcoats of urban white hares hopping around Red Deer neighbourhoods. While the hares’ colour transformation is so far outpacing snow melt, it leaves hope for a balmier tomorrow.

Another optimistic portent are the eggs laid by the great horned owl at Ellis Bird Farm (you can watch the nesting through live-time video caught by owl cam showing at Naturalist Myrna Pearman said owls are among the earliest nesters in Central Alberta, so “it’s a good sign” that winter will soon be over.

Yet another indication are the nesting baskets of artificial flowers that residents of the Sierras of Taylor condo complex are again preparing for brooding house finches.

The songbirds, originally from Mexico and the southwest U.S., have been acclimatizing to Alberta. Many are now staying year-round. The Central Alberta-based finches are descendants of a flock released in New York State in the 1940s and have slowly been making their way west, said Pearman.

The rosy birds are not overtaking native species, added the naturalist. “So far, no one is seeing a down side.”

They are also highly adaptable when it comes to nesting. About seven years ago, Sierras resident Norma Bouteiller noticed the birds flying around a hanging basket of fabric flowers on her balcony. “I thought, why are these bird flying in and out of that thing?”

She had a closer look and saw a nest and four little eggs, under the fabric flowers. “I was thrilled!” said Bouteiller, who later showed her grandson the babies and watched him get excited.

Every year, more finches build nests on Sierras balconies as more residents of the complex put out hanging baskets of artificial flowers, rooted in soft florist foam.

Sometimes, two sets of finch families have started from one nest, with one bird laying eggs after another finch’s chicks have cleared out, said Sierras resident Claudette Godbout, who put protective chicken wire around her flower basket so magpies wouldn’t disturb the finch nests.

“They are a delightful bird that (produces) a beautiful song,” added Godbout, who has observed courting rituals, involving males and females fluttering up into the air. “Some of them will flirt all winter along.”

For more information about finch baskets, please call 403- 340-1917.

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