For the Birds Radio Program: Rare Birds

Original Air Date: Aug. 21, 1987

Laura talks about some of the rare birds that have shown up in Duluth and has suggestions if you want to see a rarity. (3:36)

Audio missing


Rare Birds

(Recording of a Common Nighthawk)

Fall migration is well underway now–birds are passing through about two weeks ahead of schedule this year–exactly opposite the pattern found at Northwest Airline. A flock of 750 Common Nighthawks flew along the north shore of Lake Superior last week, and 20 species of warblers were sighted along the shore, too.

As birds light out for the territory, a lot of them get lost. Some fly north when they should be heading south, like the Painted Bunting that showed up at a Duluth feeder a couple of years ago. Some catch a prevailing westerly wind and end up far east of where they belong–like the Barrow’s Goldeneye that showed up on Lake Calhoun in Hennepin County last November. Some ocean birds follow the Great Lakes system from the Atlantic, especially jaegars. At least a few rarities can be expected during every migration, which is part of what makes even lackadaisical bird watchers keep pulling out their binoculars each fall. If you want to see a rare bird, migration is the time to look.

The very fact that these are rare, and even accidental, birds, makes predicting them difficult. But Duluth is probably the best single location in the Midwest for finding rare fall migrants. Why? Well, no bird wants to fly over a large body of water–it’s too easy to hit a sudden storm or just get tuckered out and drop into the water. Migrants from Canada and the Great Plains that find themselves on the shore of Lake Superior simply follow the shore along until they hit Duluth, and then they fan out and proceed south. That’s why Hawk Ridge and Park Point, called Minnesota Point on most maps, are so great for birding. It’s also why bird watchers flock to Duluth in fall from all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

If you’d like a shot at seeing some rare birds, you can call a rare-bird-alert. These telephone numbers give you a recorded message which is usually updated weekly. Duluth’s rare bird report is at area 218-525-5952. Minnesota rarities outside of Duluth are reported at area 612-544-5016. And Wisconsin rarities are reported at area 414-352-3857.

You can also take classes or go on field trips. Kim Eckert, author of A Birder’s Guide to Minnesota and past president of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, teaches a fall bird identification class in Duluth which is so popular that people from the Twin Cities often sign up to attend at least a few sessions. He offers them on weekday mornings and evenings as well as one weekend morning each week so it’s possible for most people to attend at least once a week. If you might be interested in attending the class, or one or two field trips when you’re visiting Duluth, call Kim at area 218-525-6930.

And if you didn’t have a pencil handy when I was firing all these numbers at you, or if you just want more information about birds, write to “For the Birds” in care of KUMD Radio, University of Minnesota, Duluth, 55812.

(Recording of a Common Nighthawk)

This is Laura Erickson, and all these numbers have been “For the Birds.”