What is “spring?” Spring is a time when weather conditions generally become warmer for longer periods of time and rain occurs more often than snow. It’s a season of renewal when plants start to revive. Leaves and flowers appear. Seeds start to grow. Colors appear on the landscape. You may see sap dripping from trees that have wounds. Mushrooms pop up.
Wildflowers of the forest floor bloom and grow rapidly in spring before tree leaves emerge and block sunlight to them. Their life cycle is completed very quickly while sunlight is available. Their seeds will not grow until the next spring. Here are a few varieties of woodland wildflowers found in Illinois. White dog-tooth violet, bloodroot, skunk cabbage, wild phlox, spring beauty, Dutchman's-breeches, dwarf larkspur, bellflower and wild ginger.
Spring is when hibernating animals or those that were inactive become active again. You may start seeing snakes, turtles, woodchucks (Marmota monax) and ground squirrels. Tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) may move about on rainy nights. Listen for the calls of frogs and toads. Insects will be busy, too.
Spring is a time for many migrating animals to move into or through our state. Migrating waterfowl, such as the northern shoveler (Anas clypeata), blue-winged teal (A. discors), green-winged teal (A. crecca) and lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) may be seen on lakes and rivers. They do not stay in one place for long, though, as they are headed to the breeding grounds. Shorebirds like the greater yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) and least sandpiper (Callidris minutilla) can be observed. Swallows return as insects become available for them to eat. Warblers bring their bright colors and songs. The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) and Baltimore oriole (Icterus glabula) are just two of the many other songbirds that return to Illinois from their winter homes.
Spring is a season for mating, egg-laying, nesting, hatching and birth. Small woodland pools, ponds and other aquatic areas are locations for amphibian breeding. You may hear frogs and toads calling and see eggs in the water. Some fish species use their fins to fan out a depression on the bottom close to shore. These "nests" are where their eggs will be laid and guarded. Bird songs become regular as the males mark their territories. Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) males strut and fan their tails in mating displays. Birds can be observed busily building nests and caring for young. Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) nests are commonly found in yards. Other young animals that may be seen are coyote (Canis latrans) pups, striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) young and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawns.
Spring is often a time for flooding. Flooding is a natural process that occurs when there is too much water at one time for a river or stream to contain all of it in a channel. Snow melt and increasing rainfall may produce large amounts of water flowing into streams and rivers in spring. Floodwaters can cause damage to human-made structures and crops, but they provide important ecological functions.
Spring is a time when the daylight length increases, and people participate in outdoor activities like fishing, turkey hunting, boating, bicycling and hiking. Spring is a great time to get outdoors and experience Illinois' natural wonders!
Classification and taxonomy are based on Mohlenbrock, Robert H. 2014. Vascular flora of Illinois: A field guide. Fourth edition. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale. 536 pp.