For the Birds Radio Program: Crows and other spring arrivals

Original Air Date: March 11, 1988

Seeing crows brought a poem by Wordsworth to Laura’s mind, and she has a tip for smelters.

Duration: 3′56″


Spring Migrants

(Recording of an American Crow)

This past weekend I set out in search of signs of spring. My favorite place in Duluth to look for early migrants is the Western Waterfront Trail, where the earliest killdeers, robins and blackbirds can usually be found. So

I wandered, lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd, A host of cold and daffy crows. Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and cawing in the breeze.

Yes, the only migrants I could find were crows. As Indians, and possibly William Wordsworth, have always known, crows are the true harbingers of spring. They pick up bits of dead fish and other aquatic garbage on melting ice, and scout for nesting spots while the competition from other migrants is nil. The presence of crows holds the promise of warmer days and more exciting birding, and so

Now oft, when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
which is the bliss of solitude.
And then my heart with pleasure grows,
and dances with the daffy crows.

Crows aren’t the only migrants back–some merlins are back in Duluth again, and a Belted Kingfisher was sighted last week, too. This year several hawks and a Bald Eagle wintered in the Duluth harbor, and there are other wintering birds that are nice to see–a Saw-whet Owl was spotted roosting at Hawk Ridge last week, quite a few redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings are around, Hawk Owls and Great Gray Owls are hanging out in Aitkin county, and there’s always the hope for something really exciting like a Boreal Owl. So even without spring migrants, a bird outing is still worthwhile.

I always record this program on tape a week in advance, so by now more migrants may have returned. With the warm weather last weekend, some robins should certainly be around. I heard more robin sightings from Duluthians again this week–some people at the Sea Grant office reported three robins which wintered on Wallace Avenue in Duluth and one more on Park Point. So far I haven’t heard from any KAXE or WOJB listeners. Now come on–there really should be more robins in the Hayward area than in Duluth, and someone should be able to find a robin in Grand Rapids. The Last Robin of Winter contest continues through the first day of spring, so keep track of the robins you see before then. Every robin report will be entered into the random drawing, so even if you only see one robin you have a chance of winning. Whoever sees the most robins of all between Feb. 19 and March 20 wins the grand prize. Send reports to For the Birds, KUMD Radio, 130 Humanities Building, Duluth, Minnesota, 55812.

Blackbirds and Killdeers should also be back soon. Last Saturday I saw a big grackle flock down in Minneapolis, and there are quite a few Horned Larks being reported from southern and central Minnesota. And according to one Duluth TV station, some people are already on the lookout for smelt in Lake Superior. Lazier and wiser fishermen know that the best way to find smelt is to watch for Red-breasted Mergansers, which enjoy smelting as much as any human. It’s pretty hard for smelt to outfox mergansers, so if you want to go out smelting this spring, you might as well bide your time until the mergansers return–it’s just one more way that birds help observant people in their daily lives.

(Recording of a Crow)

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