For the Birds Radio Program: Songs and Calls of Northland Specialties

Original Air Date: July 1, 1988

While the American Birding Association is in Duluth, Laura shares some of the songs of our most-sought-for species.

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Transcript

Unusual Bird Calls

(Recording of a Connecticut Warbler)

This week the American Birding Association is in Duluth– bringing birders from throughout the United States and even beyond to the Northland to get a glimpse of our bird specialties. What birds do we have here in Minnesota and Wisconsin that people from other parts of the country want to see? Probably the most wanted of all is the Boreal Owl. There are a few records of this elusive little owl nesting in Minnesota, and thanks to a study put together by Steve Wilson of Isabella, quite a few boreals have been heard this spring in northern St. Louis County. Their call follows the rhythm pattern of a winnowing snipe, and can sometimes even be mistaken for a snipe, although the Boreal Owl’s call is sharper and more ringing.

(Recording of a Boreal Owl)

Birders will also be looking for the most spectacular of the northern owls, the Great Gray Owl. This enormous raptor, with its haunting yellow eyes, conjures up the loneliness, wildness, and mysterious beauty of the northwoods more than any other bird. People will be most likely to find it by listening for jays, which harass predators mercilessly this time of year, but a few lucky birders may actually hear the deep, steady hoot of this fascinating bird.

(Recording of a Great Gray Owl)

Another predator that is often looked for in north country is the Merlin, a falcon much smaller than a Peregrine but larger than the kestrel, or sparrow hawk. The past three years Merlins have nested right in the city of Duluth, in abandoned crow nests high up in spruce trees. They’re so noisy that they’re hard to overlook during the breeding season.

Recording of a Merlin)

Yellow Rails, which are fairly reliable at the McGregor Marsh in Aitkin County, are hard to see, especially because these secretive birds call mostly at night. But hope springs eternal in the birder’s heart–two field trips this week bring birders right into the middle of the mucky marsh at nighttime with flashlights, their sneakers slurping and sucking in water, the soles smacking like suction cups as they tramp through the mud, clicking stones together in hopes of hearing and flushing a Yellow Rail.

(Recording of a Yellow Rail)

One northern specialty that birders from further south will be looking for in bog country is the Boreal Chickadee. People are often afraid that they might confuse a Boreal with a Black- capped Chickadee, but the two species don’t look at all alike. The boreal chickadee looks very dark, with its brown cap just about the same shade as its brown back. The black-cap’s body appears much lighter, and its black cap sharply contrasts with its pale gray back. Boreal Chickadees aren’t nearly as active and perky as Black-caps, either. And the call of a Boreal Chickadee is hard to confuse with a Black-cap’s–it does say “chickadee,” but in a wheezy manner that sounds at best like a Black-cap with a terminal disease.

(Recording of a Boreal Chickadee)

Birders that need a Black-billed Cuckoo for their life lists couldn’t have picked a better year than this to see one up here– when army worms invade an area, cuckoos are sure to follow, since they eat a great many army worms and tent caterpillars. Cuckoos call loud and often, with their diagnostic “cuckoo.”

(Recording of a Black-billed Cuckoo)

All in all, the Northland has lots of avian riches to offer both the serious birder and anyone else interested in the natural world.

(Recording of a Black-billed Cuckoo)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”