For the Birds Radio Program: Migration Update
A few stragglers are sticking around even as more and more new birds arrive.
(Recording of Purple Martins)
Purple Martins are back in town, along with lots of other birds. On Easter Sunday I tallied 71 species along my favorite route in Port Wing, Wisconsin. There were lots of hawks flying, more ducks than I’ve ever seen in Port Wing, and even a single Trumpeter Swan! The listener who unearthed the first Northland robin of spring this year has been seeing eagles, herons, and several ducks in Cornucopia–that’s on the South Shore between Port Wing and Ashland. On the last day of March he had Snow Buntings and one very lost looking Mourning Dove at his feeder.
(Recording of a Mourning Dove)
Although an occasional Mourning Dove overwinters in the Northland, these birds have fleshy feet which are very susceptible to frostbite, and so they usually retreat to the south during winter and don’t come back until late March or April.
Spring migration is often better along the South Shore than along the North Shore, because birds heading north pile up along the shoreline, unwilling to cross the open lake. Once they follow the shore to its end in Duluth, they fan out and don’t stay as concentrated. But some birds do use the North Shore as a landmark, so you Minnesotans don’t have to go to Wisconsin to see a good variety of birds. Many birds follow major river systems, too, so migration is quite good in Grand Rapids, right on the Mississippi. Eagles are especially abundant there.
So far, though, this year’s migration has been poor compared to other springs, because the weather’s been too nice. Birders look forward to the DDDDDDD’s–those wonderfully dull, dank, dark, dreary, dismal, drizzly, drippy, depressing Duluth Days that non-birders decry. Few birds are willing to migrate through rain or fog, so they stop and feed until the sky clears. This spring has had more than its share of MMMMMM’s–those Magnificent Minnesota Mornings that Make Migration Mediocre.
Bur even if this year’s migration has been less than spectacular, it’s nice to have our old friends back home again. Meadowlarks are singing in pastures along highways–if your car window is open you can usually pick out the song even if you’re driving at 55:
(Recording of an Eastern Meadowlark)
And Purple Finches are everywhere now–especially piggiong out at feeders. These birds confuse many people because they are not purple at all–males are wine red on the head and breast, and reddish brown on the back and tail. Females look like sparrows, mottled brown and white. Purple Finches were named by an ornithologist who was either color-blind or had a classical education. The word purple comes originally from the Greek “porphura” for a shellfish, from which the Tyrean purple dye was obtained. This crimson color was the imperial purple of the Romans– their senators wore togas bordered with the same color as our purple finch. Perhaps it would have been more wisely named the imperial finch.
(Recording of a Purple Finch)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”