Nature’s Calender & Timing Are Changing


Painted Lady Butterfly sips nectar from Rabbitbrush

Phenology is happening all around us. Here in the West, spring is coming earlier, summer is lasting longer, and winter is shorter. Flowers are blooming earlier, some birds that normally migrate are staying put, and it seems we’ve lost our normal summer rains. This affects you, your allergies, the birds, insects, and other wildlife in your yard, your gardening practices, and the plants that surround you. Desert plants are responding to these changes as well. Some are actually slowly moving on their own, including some of our desert’s most iconic symbols such as the Joshua Tree. Due to these changes, plants are moving—slowly trying to adapt to new areas of suitable conditions, while dying off in areas that are no longer suitable for their survival.


Hummingbird sips nectar from Eaton’s Firecracker


Nature’s timing is intricately connected to all other organisms. Plants’ reactions to our climate affect birds, bees and other pollinators, wildlife—and us. This reaction to nature’s calendar is called “phenology”, and it affects every plant, animal, and human every day. The relative timing of how each plant and animal reacts to nature’s calendar is critical, as it affects when birds migrate, when insects hatch to provide food for nesting birds and other creatures, when farmers plant crops, it triggers bees to pollinate, and determines when your allergies kick up. However, not all species are changing at the same rate. These changes will paint a new picture across our landscape.


For example, when our local birds begin nesting and other species begin to migrate through, it is incredibly important that their food source is available when they need it—not too early and not too late. If spring temperatures heat up too early, it stimulates the early hatching of insects and the early flowering of plants. If the birds are still on a nesting schedule that is timed with the season and day length, but their food source has already peaked, then there may not be enough food for them or their babies, whether it be insects, nectar, fruit or seeds. As the cliché goes, timing is everything.