For the Birds Radio Program: Brambling Rose

Original Air Date: Feb. 27, 1989

A strange bird from Europe turned up in East Grand Forks this winter. (4:04) Date verified

Audio missing


(Recording of a House Sparrow)

Last weekend I headed out with a couple of friends all the way across Minnesota to East Grand Forks, where a Brambling has been visiting a feeder every day since December 26.

The Brambling is a striking House Sparrow-sized finch. It has a bold white rump and abdomen, white wingbars, and bright pinkish-orange breast, upper wing coverts, and sides. It takes its name from the brambles in its native home in northern Eurasia, though it is actually more commonly found in birch stands and mixed evergreen forests. It’s the most abundant species on the highlands of Norway and Sweden—sort of the Ole or Lena of the bird world. As with a few other northern Eurasian species, it’s also an uncommon migrant in the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands.

The first Brambling ever recorded in North America was a male shot at a watch house on the Pribilofs on October 25, 1914, and it’s been found regularly in Alaska since then. Unlike other Eurasian species, an occasional Brambling also mysteriously turns up here and there throughout the rest of North America. The first one found in the lower 48 states was shot at a feeding station in Stanton, New Jersey in December, 1958–that bird is now lying in state in the Princeton Museum, its tail feathers missing. Four Bramblings turned up at feeders in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York between 1961 and 1965. And one spent the winter of 1967-68 eating sunflower seeds with a pack of House Finches in Portland, Oregon.

The first Minnesota record of a Brambling was of an individual that visited a feeder in Owatonna from January until March of 1984. That same winter Bramblings were recorded in California, Utah, Colorado, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

This year’s Brambling turned up at Angie Schneider’s East Grand Forks feeder during a blizzard the day after Christmas. Angie isn’t what you’d call a bird watcher—she just likes to feed the birds, and since she gets a few chickadees in with her abundant House Sparrows, she figures it’s worth while.

When the Brambling arrived, she knew it was different from the sparrows, but didn’t have the foggiest idea what it was until she called a local newspaper columnist. Poor Angie didn’t know what she was in for. Since word got out, birders from all over Minnesota, as well as Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio, have been flocking to her house. The bird is hidden from view at all angles except from her kitchen window, but she has kindly opened her home to every stranger who calls and arranges to come between eight in the morning and noon. One obnoxious Twin Cities birder almost ruined it for everyone who followed, making rude demands of her and even scolding her three-year-old grandson. But by the time he came, she had fortunately learned that most birders are pleasant people.

When we arrived at 8:15 last Saturday, there were already four other birders from Rochester and the cities gathered around her kitchen table, and another soon joined us. Little Lena, or Brambling Rose, flitted in for a few brief appearances, but is clearly more at ease when only Angie is around—it must have heard about the Princeton Museum. We filled the time between the bird’s visits chatting. Angie’s been having a hectic season, to say the least, but she also has an abundance of stories, letters, photos, and clippings to remember the bizarre winter when a little lost bird blew in on a storm.

Of the two hundred and forty million people living in the United States, that stranded Siberian bird turned to Angie Schneider when it needed help on its North American adventure. If you ask me, it made the right decision.

(Recording of a House Sparrow)

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