What’s all that Croaking You’re Hearing in Your Neighborhood? It’s the Soothing Sound of Chorus Frogs

The recent day or so of cold, gray and wet weather notwithstanding, spring has sprung on Bainbridge Island and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Early growing flowers like daffodils are blooming, birds are returning to nest, squirrels are coming out of hibernation, yard grass is growing long and thick, and the familiar sound of chirping frogs can be heard throughout the day, and especially into the evening.

Frog No. 1
Have you seen any of these frogs in your backyard?

The melodious chorus of these so-called “Tree Frogs” always reminds me of Mark Twain and one of his many wondrous tomes from yesteryear, such as Tom Sawyer, or the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I can picture Tom and Jim or was it Huck and Jim? sitting by a fire on the banks of the Mississippi in the early evening, with the sound of frogs croaking in the background. There’s something truly magical about that scene and that memorable sound.

But I digress. If you are hearing frogs in your neighborhood or in your backyard, you likely live near a stream, a pond or some standing water of some sort. We happen to live close to two large retention ponds that support a small nearby subdivision. The chirping has been going on for months now.

“What you are hearing is a bit earlier (than normal) this year,” says Christina Woolf, a senior naturalist at Islandwood IslandWood on Bainbridge Island. “Usually, they start chirping in mid-to-late February but they (were) early this year probably because of El Nino and the warmer winter we had.”

Woolf, who is an expert in amphibian vocalization and monitoring, says our Pacific Chorus Frogs, which some folks call Tree Frogs, will be chirping or croaking through the end of April and into early May. Then, “their breeding pools (usually) dry up,” she explains. “They can’t lay eggs if they’re not in water.”

What all the chirping is really about is, well, the birds and the bees, so to speak. Male frogs are doing their level best to impress their female counterparts in hopes of mating. “Male frogs are talking (chirping and croaking) to female frogs,” Woolf says, basically announcing, “’I’m the most fit male out here, mate with me.’”

Frog 2
These cute little creatures have huge eyes.

The whole process is something you probably learned about in your high school biology class. It begins in water, as a male and female frog mate. Not long after the female lays an egg, which hatches into a tadpole. These little creatures eventually metamorphose into frogs. (By the way, as a general rule, female frogs can lay up to 30,000 eggs once or twice a year depending on the species).

The transitional stage between a tadpole and a full fletched frog is what Woolf calls a “frogette,” a small green, brown or mottled-colored amphibian you might see hopping around your lawn or garden. These tiny frogs possess color-changing chemicals in their skin.

Once these frogetts mature and turn into an adult frog, they spend most of their lives roaming around in the woods or nearby forests, breathing through both their skin and nostrils to stay alive. Once spring rolls around – or the temperature feels right, like this year – the frogs return to the same waters where they bred before and start the mating season all over again.

Woolf doesn’t “have a (good) sense of the population” of Pacific Chorus Frogs on Bainbridge Island, but she says the population of amphibians – including frogs – is generally going down. For example, most toad species, which were found on the island for thousands of years, no longer exist on Bainbridge. They can, however, still be found in Poulsbo and the Olympic Peninsula.

Frog 3
A Spring Peeper, mostly found back east, sings its song.

“We just didn’t have the breeding habitat any longer” for the toad (a distant cousin of the frog), Woolf explains. “We live on an island; everything is just that much more precious.”

She says the best approach most residents can take to preserve our amphibian friends is to create a backyard pond, if possible, leave root balls from trees and shrubs in place, and inspect your lawn before you mow it. Also, “be mindful of amphibians crossing roads or paths.” … and “don’t wash your car in the driveway. The pollutants go right into the water and have a cumulative impact.”

The fact is, Woolf adds, “we co-exist with these amphibians. They impact us and we impact them. We need to treat them like they are (indeed) precious (creatures).” Croak, chirp, rib it!

Learn more about frogs and their life cycles by visiting: Spring Frog Sounds: Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs | The Old Farmer’s Almanac

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