Take heed: Bears are out in parts of Yellowstone National Park. They can be out anywhere in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so take your bear spray and know how to use it.

When bears emerge from hibernation they need to eat.

A surprising number of my friends and acquaintances have been talking about spring. We have had, after all, successive days in the 40s. A person is entitled to think spring on a couple of days when she can get along with just a light jacket. Other hints of spring are in the increasing chatter of our birds.

The European starling’s many songs can be heard in Jackson Hole these spring days. In the preceding sentence are words that deserve, or demand, amplification: “European starling,” “songs” and “spring days.”

The starling, one of “those black birds,” is an exotic, not native to our continent. In 1890 there was this Shakespeare freak in New York City who decided to bring to the New World all of Britain’s birds mentioned by Will (as my high school English teacher called him) in his work. He therefore released 100 pairs of European starlings (in Central Park; where else?) although he might have chosen the somewhat more attractive pink-sided starling. Will wasn’t specific as to species.

For you trivia buffs “he” was Eugene Scheifflin, and he released 60 birds on March 16, 1890, and 40 on April 25, 1891.

The starlings took to the opportunities offered them with astonishing results, even acknowledging that they are generation-a-year animals. In 50 years starlings appeared on the Pacific Coast, not just as explorers but with an almost populated continent behind them. The species can now be found in the Arctic and far to the south. (I honestly don’t know how far south.)

Such a rate of spread — 3,000 miles of forest, plain and desert — is a pretty good clip. This is another example of what an introduced animal species can accomplish when it’s not native to a land mass, is compatible with the newfound situation and has no natural predatory controls.

The starling, the pigeon, the house sparrow and most recently the Eurasian collared dove — all exotics — have conquered this large land mass partly by driving some native birds from traditional nesting sites with consequent reductions, often severe, of populations of these native species.

The starling is not a true black bird. In winter it has brown wings and a gray speckled chest. It has a noticeably shorter tail than true blackbirds have. During spring, in breeding plumage, it has a glossy greenish head plus a distinctly yellow beak. Despite that it’s not a handsome bird.

The starling is communal and so becomes a pest at times. It is noisy and really has no song: Its voice is a series of squeaks, whistles, grunts and clicks. It is an accomplished mimic of many other birds and even of mechanical noises such as electric motors and slamming car doors.

A prolific bird, the starling now often nests twice a year in the West. Starlings are exceptionally aggressive, using their sharp bills and sheer numbers to attack and intimidate. It eats about everything from grubs to carrion. A tough critter.

Field Notes: Whatever the recent thaw is followed by, some animals and birds are beginning to respond to hints of spring. Look for anything but insect-eating birds to pop up at any time, singly or in a group. Look for four-legged critters on the highways.

Actually, if you want to you could look for any adventure in wildlife viewing at all times. You can’t lose.

It’s a couple weeks early, but it’s time to keep an ear out for the welcome return of the red-winged blackbirds.

Bert Raynes © 2016

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

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