For the Birds Radio Program: Rare Birds Showing Up

Original Air Date: Sept. 8, 1986

Some cool birds have turned up in Duluth in the past few days. 3:13

Audio missing


(Recording of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher)

With the rain and generally junky weather last week, several very rare birds found their way to Duluth. Park Point is a magnet for migrants in fall, because birds don’t like to migrate over water, and so many of them follow the shoreline along, swarming over Park Point as the first access to the south. And among all the normal migrants, a few rarities are bound to show up. Because the prevailing winds in the United States come from the west, many of the rare birds which show up here are western species.

Three Red-necked Phalaropes showed up on the Park Point ballfield August 30. These shorebirds normally migrate along the coastlines. Phalaropes are unique among birds for reversing normal sex roles. Females are brightly colored, and males are dull. Females arrive on the breeding grounds before the males do, and aggressively compete to attract a mate with display flights and calls. Naturally it’s the female who lays the eggs, but it’s the male who loses the feathers on his abdomen, forming a brood patch–he is the one who incubates the eggs. The female does occasionally condescend to help him care for the young, but clearly considers it his primary responsibility–she often abandons her family while the young are still dependent–and virtually never sends even token child support payments. As far as I know, Phalaropes are not the mascot of any feminist groups–but they’d be a good one.

Another rare shorebird, called a Whimbrel, also turned up on the ballfield last week. This bird, almost as large as a Ring-billed Gull, has a very long, slender bill which curves strongly downward.

Two western songbirds turned up in Duluth last week. A Lark Sparrow, which has a distinctive, pretty head pattern–reddish brown and white stripes–and large white patches on its tail, turned up on the lake shore just below London Road’s franchise restaurant ghetto. A Western Kingbird was seen at Park Point–this relative of the Eastern Kingbird has lemon-yellow underparts, and has white along the sides of the tail instead of at the tip.

Finally, a more southern bird found its way up here–a blue-gray gnatcatcher. This tiny, slender bird is a relative of our kinglets. It constantly flits around, but is easy to identify by its call, which birders hear as spzee.

(Recording of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher)

This is the right week to see hawk migration–on a single day last week, over 700 hawks were counted. Remember: When the wind is northwest,/ Hawk watching is best./ And when the wind’s from the east,/ Hawk numbers are least. But those lousy east wind days are the perfect time to get over to Park Point and look for those rare shorebirds and songbirds. You’ll also see plenty of common species–like the 21 species of warblers seen there last weekend.

(Recording of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher)

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