For the Birds Radio Program: Christmas Bird Count 2003 summary

Original Air Date: Dec. 22, 2003 (estimated date)

Lots of exciting and unusual birds showed up on Duluth’s Christmas Bird Count.

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Saturday, Duluth Audubon held our annual Christmas Bird Count. About 40 birders covered our count circle, finding a total of 57 species, about average. Two species were seen that had never before been found on a Duluth Christmas Bird Count—there was a Western Grebe still hanging out in the lake off 22nd Avenue East, and a Cooper’s Hawk over Hawk Ridge.

There were plenty of other good birds, too. A Red-necked Grebe was found at Brighton Beach. A Peregrine Falcon was found on the Cargill grain elevator in the harbor. One Ring-billed Gull was still hanging out in the harbor, too—I’m surprised we didn’t find more of those, because this week I was still seeing a few flying over the mall parking lots, but Ring-bills normally winter well south and east of here, and since they’re functionally illiterate and don’t have a clue when the Christmas Bird Count is, we can’t expect them to stick around for that precise date.

Two Brown Thrashers, three Golden-crowned Kinglets, one Tree Sparrow, and a Rusty Blackbird were other unusual birds that were found. Ten Evening Grosbeaks were tallied—far fewer than average, but ever so much better than last year, when we found zero.

There were 717 Common Redpolls counted, which is an all-time record. Unfortunately, we also broke the all-time record for European Starlings counted, with 2107. My group had quite a few in Lakeside. Starlings are not native American birds, but they’re a migratory species in their native Europe, and when they were brought to America, continued their migratory ways. Some always do spend the winter up here, but the past mild winters have apparently augmented their numbers.

My group had a splendid morning. We started out at my house before sunrise, with chickadees coming to our hands to eat mealworms. Then we scooted over to the mouth of the Lester River and found a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers swimming far out. It was a cloudy morning, and songbirds took a while to become active, but we found a few flocks of redpolls and White-winged Crossbills, quite a few chickadees, both nuthatches, and other typical winter birds. My group had six people, so we split into two or three groups several times to comb the streets of Lakeside. One group had a male cardinal, and later when we were a mile from there, a guy we were passing told us he had just had a cardinal at his feeder. The cardinal total for all the groups on Saturday was a very respectable 13. My group’s best bird was a female Red-bellied Woodpecker, which the whole group got to see. There were two Red-bellies on the Two Harbors count last Sunday, but this one was the only one spotted in Duluth on our count day. Red-bellies are very common farther south, and their population is increasing, but they’re still quite rare up here, so this bird was a lifer for several of the people in my group.

Several species were missed which may well have been around on Saturday, and also some people watching their feeders hadn’t called in their totals yet when this report was made. If you saw any rare birds I haven’t mentioned on Saturday, let me know and I’ll pass them on to Jim Lind, the count compiler, so they can be added in.