Many places in Canada are starting to see regular signs of spring.
The temperatures are hitting double digits during the day, birds are returning from the south, and little shoots of spring flowers are popping up in sheltered gardens.

Nature is in full transition mode and it couldn’t come at a better time as most of Canada is at home under physical distancing restrictions. As our daily activities become more and more routine, wildlife is doing the opposite and putting on a show right before our eyes.

In these strange times, where the fast pace of life has seemed to slow to a crawl, maybe it’s time to take a cue from Mother Nature and enjoy the simple and beautiful changes that will occur in your own backyard over the coming weeks.

We’ve gathered some ideas to make the most of spring time at home.

1. Give bees a chance

Most of us are jumping at the opportunity to get outside this weekend and tidy up our yards. I don’t think there has ever been a time where raking has been such an enjoyable activity. But we caution you to not pick up that rake just yet!

Did you know that many of the insects that we look forward to seeing in the spring are spending their last few weeks of development in your leaves? Butterflies and bumble bees (and many other insects) finish their development when the warm weather returns in March and April. So if you are looking forward to seeing your favourite swallowtails or bumbles flying around your yard this summer, best to let them finish up development over the next couple of weeks.   

When can I rake the leaves? The answer depends on your region, but the general rule of thumb is to wait until temperatures are consistently over 10C (50F). This is when most insects have completed development and are able to move about safely.

So what can I do to clean up my yard? We understand that it may not be practical for you to leave the leaves in some areas. If you must move some leaves, do it with care by gently brushing the leaves out of the way with your hands and placing them in a sheltered area. Avoid using hard tools like rakes and shovels that will physically harm the soft insects. The insects hiding in the leaf litter will be happy to continue their development safely in the new location. 

What else can I do instead of raking? If you are looking for an at-home project this weekend, you can build an insect hotel. The best part is that hotels can be made with a variety of materials that you have lying around the house.

2. Backyard phenology

To everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn). This classic song has a deeper meaning when you apply it to wildlife. Phenology is the study of plant and animal life cycles, and how these are influenced by the seasons. Many of the ‘firsts’ that you associate with spring – the first flower, the first bird nest – are all examples of phenology. By tracking when ‘firsts’ of the season occur annually, we can start to understand how these seasonal events may be changing over time.  

You don’t need a large parcel of land to take part in the study of phenology. You just need to take a few moments each day to look around at your environment. This can be especially therapeutic these days when we are spending so much time looking down at screens.

You can even create a database of your own yard with a notebook. Write down the dates of significant seasonal events like ‘spring firsts’ or ‘fall lasts’. After a few years of record keeping, you’ll notice that the dates may change slightly from year to year, but the trends are quite consistent. Mother Nature is a creature of habit!

Get your whole family involved in backyard phenology.

Print out this Signs of Spring Checklist and put it somewhere visible in the house. Every time you see a ‘first’, mark the date down on the list. You can even challenge your friends or family members to complete a list for their yards and compare the results.

For more information on phenology, check out this blog written last spring by WPC’s Conservation Programs Director, Jessica Steiner: 
Science of the Seasons

3. Welcome home party for the birds

You may be starting to tune out some of the sounds of your household: the constantly running dishwasher, the click click of the keyboard as everyone is trying to work, or the repeated requests for a snack.

But there may be some new sounds that you are noticing outside your window. Birds have started to return to Canada and they are making their presence known. Even the birds that stayed all winter are getting a bit more chatty as they begin their courtship rituals.

Welcome birds back with a few extra treats in your yard.

You can hang a bird feeder with some seeds or nectar. There are some great examples of homemade feeders that you can make as a family project. You can also clean out the bird bath and put out some fresh water. The returning birds will appreciate the amenities after their long journey home, and you can enjoy the delightful soundtrack they provide.  

Wondering what birds you are seeing? Birds Canada has some excellent resources that help you identify which birds you should be seeing this month in your region of Canada: Birds of your region

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