For the Birds Radio Program: Gyrfalcons on the Information Superhighway

Original Air Date: Feb. 5, 1996

Birders (except Laura) are starting to get their bird sighting information from the Internet, including keeping track of two Gyrfalcons hanging around in the Duluth area this winter. 3:49

Audio missing


This will long be remembered as the winter when the birding world jumped onto the information superhighway. Serious birders have long called up hotlines to get information about the latest rarities. For the past 10 or 12 winters, birders throughout the country have called the Duluth hotline to get the scoop on winter birds that the Northland is famous for. Kim Eckert operates our local hotline. Every Thursday he compiles all the reports people have called in that week and tapes a new message on a telephone answering machine. Most active birders call Thursday night or Friday morning—the Duluth number is 525-5952. If a really rare bird turns up, sometimes Kim tapes a special update, but since most birders are in the habit of calling just once a week, we miss some rarities that were on an updated message but stuck around only a day or two.

Now birders have a new source of timely information—the internet. My friend Karen Keenan, who is fairly new to the birding game, is a subscriber, and calls me up sometimes to tell me what birds people are reporting. Mike Hendrickson, one of the best field birders in Duluth and the organizer of the North Shore Bird Club, has been doing a great job of keeping cyberbirders abreast of important events on the bird scene. The internet had Duluth and the Sax-Zim Bog Christmas Bird Count totals long before hte Duluth News Tribune got around to publishing them. Thanks to Mike’s reports, along with reports by other net surfers, birders all over have kept informed about this year’s owl invasion. And when Dave Evans netted and banded a Gyrfalcon in the harbor, internet birders knew about it within hours.

The Gyrfalcon is one of those birds that are virtually impossible to see in most places in the United States. It’s the largest falcon in the world, the bird of kings, and one of the top birds on the American Birding Association’s Most Wanted List. We in Duluth are extremely lucky, because most winters a Gyrfalcon turns up in our harbor. This year there are actually two—the adult female that Dave banded and what appears to be an immature, with birders still debating whether it’s a male or female. Ben Yokel, whose sharp eyes helped count the 49,560 birds that flew over the main overlook on September 18, 1993, is also the only one I know who has counted two Gyrfalcons simultaneously in downtown Duluth this year. According to Mike Hendrickson’s internet reports, the best place to see them is from the DECC parking lot, where you can scan all the large buildings for a large falcon that may be sitting on a window ledge or rooftop. Of course, these falcons are supporting their winter lifestyle by catching pigeons, and roam all around the harbor and downtown areas of both Duluth and Superior. In my personal experience, they tend to be wherever I happen to not be, but Karen and I did get a split-second look at one cruising away from us into the sun at high speed one afternoon.

Anyway, if you want to know the latest scoop on where Gyrfalcons are hanging out, check out the MNBird address on the internet. But you won’t fun into me on the information superhighway—I’m still pedaling along at slow speed on the bike lane of life.