For the Birds Radio Program: Christmas Bird Count 1988 Summary

Original Air Date: Dec. 26, 1988

Today Laura Erickson talks about the totals of this year’s Christmas Bird Count. (3:58)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Boreal Owl)

This year Duluth’s Christmas Bird Count tallied a respectable 52 species, which is about average but seemed extraordinary in a fall when not many birds have been around. The best sighting of the day was a Boreal Owl in the Central Hillside neighborhood. A Great Gray Owl was also counted, on the ski trail behind Hawk Ridge. There have been several sightings of both of these rare northern owls already this winter from Grand Marais to Aitken County in Minnesota, so as the winter progresses we may be in for an invasion of both owls and the southland birders who roam around searching for them. I’d love to hear about any sightings of northern owls in Wisconsin, too.

A few robins were found in Duluth on the count day, but the ones I knew about in northern Wisconsin have apparently retreated south with the last cold fronts. Other late migrants included a couple of White-throated Sparrows and a Fox Sparrow, a Purple Finch, a couple of Brown Creepers, and a few grackles. One alert birder found a Cedar Waxwing among the 2,000 Bohemian Waxwings counted, and a few Red Crossbills were found along with the many White-winged Crossbills. A few Boreal Chickadees turned up, including a wonderfully cooperative one which was the first songbird my group found Saturday morning. A Harlequin Duck was seen swimming in the fog near the French River, and there were hopes that northern gulls would join the Herring Gull regulars at the dump, but not one other gull species panned out.

Ruffed Grouse were all over the place–my group had five sitting in a mountain ash and munching a berry breakfast at first light. The Minnesota D.N.R. has called this an excellent year for grouse, though I wonder whether they actually asked the grouse about this or whether they didn’t in fact mean it was a great year for grouse hunters. Pileated Woodpeckers were also well-represented in Duluth. I’m eager to hear from a KAXE listener about how the Pileateds are doing in the Grand Rapids area, since they usually find even more than Duluth does. I’m also eager to find a Pileated Woodpecker in my own yard to add to my yard list–this winter is probably as good a chance as I’ll get, since there have been several in my neighborhood.

Probably the best news for most Northlanders was the fact that cardinals seem to be here in record numbers. A pair was found in Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood, and another pair is visiting a feeder in Morgan Park. There’s also a pair at a feeder in Port Wing, Wisconsin. Cardinals have been extending their range northward for the past century, and sooner or later we’ll have a population breeding up here–it’s quite possible that one of the pairs here right now will start the ball rolling. Cardinals come almost exclusively to sunflower seed feeders here in the Northland. Safflower seed is recommended further south for attracting cardinals–if any listeners have used safflower up here, I’d love to hear how it worked.

As winter progresses, more northern birds will come down, and redpolls and maybe even crossbills will start visiting feeders. A few out-of-place southern birds, like the fox sparrow or robins, may stick out the season, and have a good chance of surviving the cold as long as they have enough food. Already the days are growing longer, and the most cheerful sound of winter is ringing through the north woods–the song of the Black-capped Chickadee.

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

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