February phenology

Holy Wisdom Monastery Care for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie, Phenology 5 Comments

By Sylvia Marek

Cedar waxwing feeding on crabapple

Cedar waxwing feeding on crabapples

Phenology is a science focused on observing and recording biological events from year to year and their relationships to the change of seasons and climate.

These are the “normal” phenology events we expect to see here and in the Madison area this month. We would love to hear about what you are seeing on the grounds of Holy Wisdom Monastery. Please comment on this post with what you are observing, where at Holy Wisdom and the date you observed the event.


  • Daylight increases to 11 hours during the month
  • The sun is higher and melts snow
  • Look for dark snowfleas (springtails) hopping on the snow during sunny, warm days
  • Look for sundogs (shafts of rainbow colors on each side of the sun)
  • Jupiter and its moons are bright during clear nights

Resident birds

  • Start to sing courtship songs and form pairs
  • Cardinals sing throughout the day. Male and female countersing. Winter flocks break up
  • Chickadees whistle “fee-bee” notes
  • White-breasted nuthatches give rapid “ank, ank” and “wer-wer-wer-wer-wer” calls. Male and female “ip-ip” call to each other
  • Woodpeckers drum
  • Tufted titmice call “peter-peter”
  • Blue jays form courtship flocks usually led by one female. Bobbing displays and musical “wheedelee wheedelee” calls
  • Flocks of wandering cedar waxwings
  • Goldfinches flock
  • European starlings prepare for breeding—beaks turn yellow and feather tips wear off revealing iridescent plumage
  • Cooper’s hawk
  • Mallards perform courtship displays
  • Large flocks of noisy crows
  • Great horned owls continue to call and mate. Female lays eggs in abandoned hawk or crow nest
  • Barred owls call more frequently
  • Red-tailed hawks perform aerial displays. Pairs soar close to one another

Winter visitors

  • Juncos form larger flocks, chase and start trilling
  • Tree sparrows gather in larger flocks and start singing sweet “tinkling” songs
  • Look for purple finch, pine siskin, brown creeper and red-breasted nuthatch
  • Along roadsides and open fields and grasslands look for snow bunting, lapland longspur, horned lark, rough-legged hawk, harrier, snowy and short-eared owl
  • Look for saw-whet owls roosting in conifers
  • Bald eagles head north

Irregular visitors from the north

  • White-winged and red crossbills
  • Evening and pine grosbeaks
  • Common and hoary redpolls
  • Bohemian waxwings

Early migrants from the south 

  • Migrants follow the northward advance of 35 degrees
  • In late February look for: male red-winged black birds, grackles, robins, Eastern bluebirds, Eastern meadowlarks, sandhill cranes and possibly woodcocks


  • Squirrels continue to chase and mate
  • Striped skunks emerge from hibernation and mate during warm weather
  • Mating season for coyote, raccoon, opossum and fox
  • Rabbit courtship—look for pinkish urine
  • First active chipmunks
  • Deer (tear) browse branches
  • Rabbits cut branches at 45-degree angle
  • Mice gnaw bark

End of February

  • In wetlands, brownish green tips of skunk cabbage poke through snow
  • Pussy willow buds expand and silver-furry catkins become visible
  • Red osier dogwood bark turns bright red
  • Willow branches have an amber glow
  • Uncovered mosses are lush green
  • Sap rises in woody plants
  • Look for sapcicles (especially on maple trees)
  • Overwintering butterflies such as mourning cloak, angle wings and red admiral can be found nectaring on sap when it is around 50 degrees

Sylvia Marek is a highly trained and experienced naturalist. She works for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and is a first rate birder.

Please share the biological events you notice while at Holy Wisdom Monastery below (remember to include what you see, where and when).

Comments 5

  1. Interesting info on rabbits. I haven’t been out to Holy Wisdom to look, but here in my yard I have seen the pink urine, and wondered what was going on with the rabbits I see every evening under my willows. For sure I will be out to hike the Holy Wisdom land this week. There is so much going on!

  2. My 9-year old son and I visited Holy Wisdom Monastery this morning. We saw geese circling overhead. He noticed a molehill. We heard chickadees and cardinals. We saw many dried flowers, the orange branches of the weeping willows with buds. Over by the garden, we noticed wild turkey tracks in the snow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *