Listen Closely – Love is in the Air
A screech in the night. A quick whistle through the trees. The stink of a skunk …? These are some of the sounds and scents of mating season in the forest.
When forests otherwise seem relatively quiet, it might be alarming to some when they suddenly bustle with sound. Yet late winter is a crucial season of communication for many species.
Perhaps the most common and perplexing sound people hear this time of year is the sound of a red fox. A hair-raising scream that rivals horror movie soundtracks, this call is often used to locate potential mates. It might be surprising that such a screech can be attributed to this sly wild species, but red foxes are largely solitary so they must be able to locate one another during their brief window of breeding opportunity. While their screams aren’t exclusively reserved for luring in a mate, late December to mid-March (breeding season) is certainly the peak of when folks report hearing this unique call. Gestation for a red fox is approximately 52 days, so for the next few weeks they will be preparing their denning site for the arrival of their pups.
Like foxes, this other local creature also only mates during one season of the year: the raccoon. Breeding season for raccoons occurs late January to mid-March. In order to locate a mate, a raccoon may let out a loud bird-like whistle to locate nearby potential mates. While breeding, raucous screeches resembling fighting sounds can frequently be heard. Among family members, any number of vocalizations can be heard, from chirps to mews, grumbles, hisses, and whines.
Sounds aren’t the only indicator that it is breeding season. Though actively looking for mates at this time of year, striped skunks also have a unique way of fending off unwanted courtship. Female skunks will reject certain males in no uncertain terms: by spraying them in self-defense. There is a distinct possibility that if you detect that very particular smell during February and March, that it was a clear message from skunk to skunk: “I’m just not that into you.”
Now enough about the smells … A species whose courtship behaviors you might have a chance to visually observe are red-tailed hawks. Breeding season for this bird of prey occurs from March through May. Red-tailed hawks are a monogamous species, meaning they mate for life. Their courtship behaviors can be a true spectacle. A pair will gracefully soar and glide together, tracing circles through the sky at towering heights. Males will then plunge toward the ground before making their way back up to the level of the circling female. Suddenly, the pair will begin to plummet toward the earth at nearly 100 miles per hour, often clasping bills or talons as they dive before finally breaking apart as they approach the tree tops. This display is typically followed by their breeding from the safety of a nearby perch.
These indicators of this exciting season aren’t exclusively observed in the forest; you’ll be able to detect these in the suburbs as well so be sure to pay attention over the next few weeks. Whether it is through sights, sounds, or smells – love is undeniably in the air!