For the Birds Radio Program: Contest results, part 2

Original Air Date: March 21, 1989

Today Laura Erickson talks about some of the common and uncommon birds that turned up in the Northland this winter. (3:20)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Pileated Woodpecker)

The most interesting aspect of our winter backyard bird contest was learning how common or uncommon the various bird species were this season. A grand total of 44 species of wild birds were found, but absolutely no one reported any Mallards, gulls, Snowy or Saw-whet Owls, or White-winged Crossbills. Cardinals were reported on two Wisconsin lists—from Spooner and rural Superior—but not one was reported from Minnesota. Several species were reported by only one observer—goldeneye, merlin, Ring-necked Pheasant, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Great Gray Owl, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadee, Northern Shrike, and an unidentified blackbird.

Nine-year-old Katie Perushek wrote “I know I saw a robin before the snowfall but my parents say I didn’t and can’t put it down.” Actually, I believe Katie, because she doesn’t live far from where a robin has been sighted and heard singing in February in other years. The few robins that stick it out through a northland winter are very shy and secretive, and it’s just like one to show up long enough for a little girl to see it and then light out before she can prove it to anyone else. A probable Ruby-crowned Kinglet was seen for one day by Pat and Ron Schmitt of rural Duluth—most kinglets go to the southern U.S. and Mexico for the winter, but once in a while there’s a winter record.

The rarest bird of all was the Varied Thrush seen at the Kegel feeder in Spooner. I drove down to see it on March 12—it was a beautiful male. Wayne Kegel had described it perfectly on the phone to me—it was a sapsucker-sized, sleek bird with a long beak, a long tail, an orange-brown breast, orange-brown under the throat, a brown-black bib which came down from the head feathers, and 2 vertical and 2 horizontal wing bars of the same orange-brown color as the breast. Varied Thrushes are usually found in the far western U.S. and Canada, although one or two vagrants do appear in Wisconsin and Minnesota many winters. This bird was coming to a low bench feeder with sunflower seeds and cracked corn—many of the records of out-of-place Varied Thrushes that I’m familiar with are of birds feeding on cracked corn.

A few species were unusually widespread this year. I had lots of reports of Ruffed Grouse, and over half of the people reporting saw Pileated Woodpeckers in their yards. On the other hand, winter finches were very rare and hard to come by. Redpolls were seen on about 2/3 of the counts, but many of the people mentioned that they were there in fewer numbers than normal. Other winter finches only appeared sporadically at a handful of feeders. These birds all belong to a group called “irruptive species,” and so chances are they will be abundant again next year.

Finally, the Melis children of Washburn asked me a riddle: what bird plays with cubs? The answer–Goose Gossage.

(Recording of a Pileated Woodpecker)

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