This time of year, sure signs of spring are falling from the sky, popping on the trees, and hopping in the grass. Spring showers, blooming buds and cute baby critters mean that summer is right around the corner.
After a long, cold winter, it’s good to let it rain! Ohio gets a total of about 38 inches of precipitation (rain and snow) during the year. Usually, the fall and winter months are the driest. When April comes around, though, so do the raindrops. Some of the rain falls right into streams and lakes, and some of it soaks into the soil and becomes groundwater.
These spring showers are important for helping plants to grow. You may notice how green your backyard looks after a spring rain. Our state parks get green, too, and the spring wildflowers really pop after a good rain. It’s true - April showers really do bring May flowers!
Tree buds are the dark and scaly tips on the ends of twigs. Buds are nature’s way of protecting the tree’s flowers and young leaves. The tree buds actually form in the late summer, but they are hard to see when the tree is full of large green leaves.
The buds stay curled up tight all through the fall and winter to keep the tiny leaf and flower inside warm and snug. The buds have a special kind of cell that is sensitive to light. As the days grow longer and the sun gets brighter in the springtime, the extra sunlight triggers a change in the bud. When there is enough light for the baby leaf to survive, the tightly closed bud starts to swell.
When the bud pops open, the little flower and leaf pop out. All trees have some kind of flower, even though some do not look pretty or colorful. In Ohio, the dogwood and redbud trees have pink or white flowers that brighten up the forests in springtime. Buckeye, black locust, and tulip popular trees also have beautiful flowers that smell sweet. The flowers of sycamore trees form fuzzy brown balls. Birch trees and cottonwood trees have bundles of flowers called catkins that look like furry caterpillars.
This spring, take a walk through the woods in your nearby state park, or in your neighborhood, and see how many blooming buds you can find!
Cute Baby Critters
Most animal mothers take good care of their babies. If you see a baby animal or bird sitting all alone in the grass, you may think it’s in trouble. It’s so cute, and it looks helpless. You want to rescue it, but is this the best thing to do? Probably not.
A mother cottontail rabbit leaves her nest of bunnies alone most of the day so that predators can’t find them. The babies have no scent, and their earthy colors blend in with the environment. If you should find one of the little rabbits sitting outside its simple nest of grass and fur, don’t worry. Just leave the baby be, and shoo the dog away, if necessary. The mother rabbit will surely return at dusk to feed and care for her little ones.
Young songbirds grow out of their baby fuzz and sprout feathers quickly, but many still need mamma bird to feed them for a while. Young birds may leave their nest and hop around on the ground or on lower branches of the tree, waiting to be fed. If a predator comes by, mamma bird may fly off, trying to distract it. She is trying to keep her babies safe – not abandoning them. Don’t worry, just leave the babies be. Mamma bird will come back as soon as she can, and guide the youngsters back into the nest.
Sometimes, animals can end up in the wrong place and they may need some help to get home. If a baby bunny has been chased from its home, or a fuzzy baby bird has fallen out of its nest and can’t fly back, it’s OK to try to help. If you can’t safely reach the bird’s nest yourself, place the baby bird in a plastic container lined with dry grass, and put the container in a sturdy spot on the highest branch you can safely reach.
The old wives tale about touching baby animals and then having the mother abandon them is false. She’ll return when you are gone and take care of her litter.
Still, the less you handle any wild critter, the better. Wild rabbits do not like to be held and cuddled, and they may go into shock if touched too much. Even if they are tiny or injured, wild animals may bite or scratch, and they may carry diseases.
Cute baby critters are a sure sign of spring. Look all you like, take a picture if you can, but don’t touch!