- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
May is a time of flowers, singing birds, long evenings, and other beauties of spring in southeastern Pennsylvania. And it’s the time of tender, new growth on coniferous trees, birds nesting in many conifers, and other attractive, interesting aspects of those local evergreen trees.
Little groves of wild eastern hemlocks inhabit cool, shaded ravines in this area, and many red junipers grow along roadsides and hedgerows here.
But most coniferous trees in this area, especially pines, spruces, firs, and cedars, have been planted on lawns for their striking, pyramidal shapes and evergreen-needled beauties.
But the soft, new needles developing on the tips of needled twigs in May is another pretty feature of conifers.
Those infant needles are a lighter shade of green than needles from last year, offering a lovely contrast of colors in May. And young needles on blue spruces have a light-blue hue, compared to the green of older needles.
White pines have thin, erect “candles” on the end of each of their twigs in May, offering more springtime splendor and intrigue. Those pale-green candles are new twigs and needles growing rapidly, the twigs becoming part of branches that grow longer each year.
Female flowers on Norway spruces are upright and bright-red in May, adding much beauty to each tree. Those blossoms become the attractive, beige cones that have a fertile seed under each protective scale of every cone.
Several kinds of adaptable, common birds raise young in nests in conifers on lawns. Needles and twigs protect young birds from weather, hawks, crows, raccoons, squirrels, and other predators.
Some smaller birds that raise young in conifers include mourning doves, American robins, house finches, chipping sparrows, blue jays, and small colonies of purple grackles.
One summer a pair of jays raised young in a 10-foot-tall juniper tree in our yard. And a group of grackles is currently setting up a rookery in spruces in our neighborhood.
Doves have more nesting success by laying their two eggs per brood in the nurseries of other birds. Doves are poor nursery-makers, often losing eggs in storms that blow their cradles out of the trees.
Some adaptable pairs of American crows, Cooper’s hawks, and red-tailed hawks rear chicks in stick nests, high in older evergreens in many suburbs, often without homeowners suspecting their presence.
Crows eat invertebrates and small birds’ eggs and Cooper’s consume birds, while red-tails ingest mice, squirrels, and other rodents, hence reducing competition for food among these predatory birds.
Study conifers on lawns more closely in May to see their many beauties. They provide another inspirational lift.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.