For the Birds Radio Program: How to Enjoy Migration

Original Air Date: May 22, 1987

In anticipation of the best bird-watching of the year coming up now, Laura gives some tips on how to find and identify birds. (3:42) date confirmed

Audio missing


(Recording of a Black-throated Green Warbler)

This week and next are traditionally the best two weeks of the whole spring for bird-watching in north country. The beautiful weather which has marked much of this May has allowed many birds to move all the way up to Canada without a stopover in our area, but a few of those wonderfully dreary, drizzly, dank, dark, drippy, dull, Duluth days bring the birds flocking again.

The best hotspots in Duluth include Park Point, Chester Bowl, the Western Waterfront Trail, mudflats in the harbor at 40th Avenue West and the Port Terminal, and Stony Point, up the shore across from Tom’s Logging Cabin. Although Minnesota birders flock to Duluth because of its unique location on Lake Superior, migrants visit other areas, too– especially along river valleys. Wisconsin Point is one of the best migration magnets in the upper midwest in spring, and many rarities show up in the Ashland and Bayfield areas.

If you want the latest bird news, you can call Duluth Audubon’s hotline for a recorded message. That number is 525-5952. But you don’t have to go on a special outing to find interesting birds. Rarities often turn up in backyards.

The trick to birding in the Northland isn’t finding birds–it’s figuring out what they are once you see them. Among the trickiest groups are the shorebirds and the warblers. You’ll need a reasonably good pair of binoculars, but don’t overdo it–seven- or eight-power is as much magnification as you want unless you’ve got a very steady hand.

Then you need a field guide. Most birders recommend the Golden Guide titled Birds of North America, or Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, or the National Geographic Society’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America. All three include every species you’re likely to encounter in Minnesota or Wisconsin. The National Geographic guide is my favorite. It’s not available in commercial bookstores, but you can get it at Second Edition–UMD’s paperback bookstore–or you can write to the National Geographic Society. If you can afford it, buy two or three different guides–comparing different pictures of the same species is often a big help.

Whichever field guide you choose, become familiar with it. It’ll be much easier to thumb through it quickly when you discover a new bird. But whenever you try to identify a new bird, spend most of your time studying the bird–not your book. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t figure out most of the birds you see. At first, it may even be hard to find any birds in the first place. It takes years of experience to get really good at birding. The more birds you learn to recognize on your own, the better you’ll get at identifying new ones, and at noticing all the little birds around you. When I set out to become a birder in Michigan on a winter day 1975, it took me several hours just to find my first bird. Then I raced through two field guides and narrowed it down to two species. That night I went to the library and listened to bird records, and finally figured out for sure what my bird was–the number one bird on my lifelist–the Black-capped Chickadee.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

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