For the Birds Radio Program: Birdathon 1987

Original Air Date: May 15, 1987

Birders are setting out tomorrow to see as many birds as they can in various Minnesota counties.

Audio missing


![Le Conte’s Sparrow] ( “Le Conte’s Sparrow”)

(Recording of a Yellow Rail)

That’s the call of a Yellow Rail. It sounds like a person clicking two stones together, and, as a matter of fact, if you stand in the middle of the right marsh and click two stones together, a yellow rail may very well answer.

(Recording of a Yellow Rail)

The Yellow Rail is a rare and elusive bird which is high on the most wanted list of many serious North American birders. One of the most reliable places to find it in the whole country is the McGregor Marsh in Aitken County–right along Highway 65 in the 2 mile stretch south of Highway 210. This year’s first Yellow Rails were heard last week at the McGregor Marsh.

The Yellow Rail is one of the glamour birds that the Northland is famous for. Others are the Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, LeConte’s Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Spruce Grouse, and Connecticut Warbler. Of course we don’t have a monopoly on any of them, but it’s easier to see them here than most other places, so birders flock to Duluth from the Twin Cities and sometimes all over the Midwest to list our birds. This past winter I’ve had birders from Indiana, Iowa, Colorado, and South Carolina visiting my yard just to see my Boreal Chickadees. Birders keep track of what birds are where by calling tape-recorded bird hotlines. Last week the Duluth hotline mentioned scoters, an American Avocet, Western Grebes, and a Clark’s Grebe–all seen in the pool enclosed by the gravel access road to the bridge construction site beneath 40th Avenue West. And a Thayer’s Gull and two Little Gulls showed up in a sandspit on Herding Island. Local birders call one another to spread the word about rare birds, so several people did see the rare gulls before they lighted out for the territory.

Although many birders are involved in a form of gentle competition to see the most birds, this is a civilized sport, and birders are almost as glad to show a rare bird to their friends as they are to see it themselves.

Up until just a few years ago, the competition to see the most birds was purely an informal game between and among friends. Then the American Birding Association started a contest called the Big Day, wherein birders joined teams–usually of three or four people–and tried to see as many birds within a 24-hour period as possible. This developed into a bit of a cutthroat sport, team against team, city against city, state against state, and even nation against nation. Then the National Audubon Society gave the sport a new twist–birding for money. The first Birdathon took place in the 1970’s, and now birdathons take place all over the country. They work much the same way as walkathons or bikeathons–People pledge a certain amount of money for each species that a birding team will see. The teams list their species on an honor system. Tomorrow the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union is sponsoring Birdathons in most counties of the state. Money from pledges in Saint Louis County will go to Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve. If you’re interested in making a pledge or joining a birdathon team, call Kim Eckert at 525-6930.

(Recording of a Yellow Rail)

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