prairie smoke at Holy Wisdom Monastery

May phenology

Holy Wisdom MonasteryCare for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie, Phenology 1 Comment

By Sylvia Marek

prairie smoke at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Prairie smoke at Holy Wisdom Monastery

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.

No two Mays are the same. Events can be a few weeks earlier or later than the average, depending on temperature and precipitation.


  • Fifteen hours of daylight by mid-May
  • Birdsong month
  • Warbler migration!
  • Soft pastels
  • Flower bloom


  • Goldfinches sing and males turn yellow due to a partial feather molt
  • Robin and starling bills turn yellow
  • Many species build nests, lay eggs and raise young (bluebird, tree swallow, house wren, robin, cardinal, chickadee, mourning dove, house finch, geese, ducks and many more)
  • Barred, screech and great horned owl babies leave their nests and beg for food

Migrants arrive from the south (see April phenology for earlier arrivals)

  • May migrants include 20-30 warbler species; veery, wood, gray-checked and Swainson’s thrushes; several vireo, flycatcher and sparrow species; marsh and sedge wren, oriole, blue-gray gnatcatcher, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, wood-peewee, catbird, scarlet tanager, yellow-billed and black-billed cuckoos, kingbird, bobolink, chimney swift, ruby-throated hummingbird, nighthawk and whip-poor-will
  • White-crowned and white-throated sparrows arrive from the south and depart for the north by the end of May

Winter visitors depart for the north (some leave in April)

  • Purple finch, junco, tree sparrow, siskin, brown creeper and red-breasted nuthatch


  • Young are born (fawns, coyote pups, mink, cottontail rabbits, raccoon, skunk, opossum…)
  • Woodchucks and ground squirrels are active
  • Male deer start growing antlers

Insects (many are active)

  • Solitary bees
  • Bumblebees and honeybees
  • Ants
  • Aphids
  • Treehoppers and leafhoppers
  • Six-spotted and other tiger beetles
  • Dragonflies
  • June beetles emerge
  • Field crickets chirp
  • First fireflies (end of month)
  • Moths (tent caterpillars)
  • First monarchs arrive from the south
  • Butterflies (black swallowtails, spring azure, skippers, cabbage, sulphurs, painted lady…)
  • Female mosquitoes bite
  • Tick season (deer, black-legged wood) take precaution!

Plants in bloom

  • Dandelions, creeping Charlie, remove garlic mustard!

In woodlands

  • Spring beauty, toothwort, wild ginger, woodland phlox, Jacob’s ladder, trillium, wild geranium, mayapple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trout lily, bellwort, wood poppy, Virginia bluebells, Solomon’s seal, Solomon’s plume, starry Solomon’s plume, wild strawberry, Virginia waterleaf, baneberry, columbine, violets—yellow, white and blue

On prairies

  • Prairie smoke, puccoon, lupine, white lady’s slipper, shooting star, creamy and white baptisia, golden Alexander, prairie phlox, spiderwort, Canada anemone, wood betony, blue flag iris, bird-foot violet, blue-eyed grass, yellow star grass, sedges…

Trees and shrubs in bloom

  • Lilac, crabapple, redbud, serviceberry, viburnums, pagoda dogwood, red-osier dogwood, black cherry, choke cherry, black locust…

Other events

  • Song of the American toad
  • Eastern gray and Copes treefrog, leopard and Green frogs call and mate
  • Morel mushrooms
  • Ferns unfurl

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).

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