Dani’s Birding Journey


By Bloomington Sales Associate DANI COLLIER



My earliest memory of a bird was from when I was about six or seven. We had a giant weeping willow in the front yard of my first home in North Dakota and it was the perfect climbing tree. This particular spring, an American Robin had decided to make her nest in the large crook of the tree from which most of the large branches sprung out from. My little sister and I would take turns quietly climbing up and peeking over the crook of the tree to get a closer look at the Mama Robin and the charming blue eggs that she sat on.

When I continue to flip through the memories of birds from my childhood, I recall the warm and soothing sounds of the Mourning Doves as I sat outside waiting for the bus to pick my siblings and I up for school. I would stare up at them sitting on the telephone wires, usually in pairs of two, and would feel the comfort of what I can only explain as a warm hug from a cherished loved one. I always looked forward to seeing their sweet faces and soft colored plumage every morning

When I was 10 years old, we moved out into the country, about 13 miles from my hometown. As a child that was relatively introverted and loved spending hours in the forest near my house (which I later learned was just simply a good old fashioned North Dakota wind belt), I was ecstatic at the new outdoor adventures that awaited me. Of all the birds that I could have fond memories of during this time in my life, I can only recall the constant run-ins with Red-winged Blackbirds, Canada Geese, and Wild Turkeys. The geese and turkeys were to my childhood self, formidable adversaries. I remember riding my bike, glittering pink handlebar streamers flying backwards ferociously in the wind, as I rode as fast I could through the large mobs of Canada geese that often chose to set up camp on the dusty gravel country roads. Only seemingly moving aside for the large, fast moving grain trucks but challenging every other truck, car, or small-girl-on-pink-bike that tried to pass through their large gaggles.

Mourning doves on feeding station

Mourning Doves enjoying a recent feeder set up at my Bloomington home.

The Wild Turkeys that took up residence in the woods near the after school day-care center connected to my father’s work were a bit more tenacious in their attacks than the geese who just sat and waited for you to try to pass. I remember, with laughter now, the many afternoons when I was little being chased by Wild Turkeys up on to the play equipment, teasing turkeys had its downfalls it seems.

Every now and then the turkeys or a surprise pheasant would leave behind a feather. Their feathers were to me a treasure that I loved collecting. I became that child who would constantly be drawing feathers in the margins of my homework and notes, daydreaming about their shapes and colors. My father would tell me about the Northern Cardinal that he grew up seeing in Illinois, with its beautiful red feathers, orange beak, and spiky crest. I looked around my own town and did not find something as alluring as the stories of the birds my father grew up seeing. For the remainder of my childhood and teenage years, birds were something in the background for me. I enjoyed drawing them and hearing their beautiful songs in the morning, but there were no resources in my small town to help nurture that budding interest.


Fast forward a decade, post college, and my partner and I had purchased a small bungalow in the city of Fargo, North Dakota. One morning, when I was leaving for work, I heard a familiar cooing and a warm memory of waiting for the bus as a small girl came rushing back to me. I looked up at the power line running over my garage and there they were, two old friends, my much-loved Mourning Doves. It was then that I suddenly realized that I could feed the birds in my backyard! I was no longer limited by college dorms and rented apartments. A quick trip to a local hardware store after work and my tiny backyard was transformed into a mini waystation for hungry Mourning Doves and… European House Sparrows. While some folks may have groaned at that, I was none-the-wiser to what I was seeing. There was no Merlin app at this time, and I was not aware that you could go and buy a bird guide. For the five years we lived there, I fed my Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, and beautiful yellow Goldfinches. The joy I had had watching birds as a child was starting to make its way back to the surface.

In April of 2016 my partner, three cats, mutual best friend, and his snake picked up our North Dakota roots and made the move to South Minneapolis. We were in a small townhome in a semi-industrial area, so my hopes for feeding birds weren’t high, but the landlord was a kind woman from small town North Dakota as well and she approved the bird feeders that I asked to put out. I will be forever grateful for that kindness, as I don’t think I’d be here writing this article if she hadn’t allowed me to put out my feeders.

It took some time to unpack everything and get my feeders set up. Shortly after, the usual suspects showed up: Mourning Doves, Goldfinches, and so many European House Sparrows. I was thrilled to be able to still observe my feathered friends, some of which were brave enough to land on the feeders while I was outside sitting on our tiny slab of concrete. Being only a foot or two away from my sweet Mourning Doves was a thrilling experience for me – they really have a soft, calm beauty about them that instantly makes me happy, even today.


Fast forward to early summer that year, when I happened to look out my kitchen window one evening and was greeted with what those in the birding community call your gateway or spark bird. Sitting atop my small shepherd pole, carefully observing his surroundings and tossing his crest up and down was a beautiful, red, male Northern Cardinal.

I admit that I am the type of birder that when alone or in similar company, lets out the kind of excited cry that is akin to what fans of the 1963 Beatlemania sounded like. I was so excited! I instantly texted my father “DAD, THERE’S A NORTHERN CARDINAL HERE!”, all capital letters so he knew just how serious my excitement was. I ran upstairs and grabbed my partner and made him come downstairs and peek around the corner of the kitchen window to see what bird had turned his girlfriend into a frantic-bird-fangirl. He agreed the bird was cool, but not with the same fervor that I had. I realized that night, that like Dorothy “I was not in Kansas (North Dakota), anymore”. I had moved to a place that had way more trees around than what I was accustomed to, despite being a large city. I needed to know more about the birds that may be coming to my feeders.


The next day I did a quick Google search “Minneapolis Bird Seed Store”. The Bloomington All Seasons Wild Bird Store was the first hit and not too far away, so I got in my car and made my way to the small store. It was there that I picked up the Birds of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela, my first guide to birds and the one that I now often recommend to new birders. I took that book everywhere with me. I worked in downtown St. Paul at the time and look around during lunch break at the different birds flying around. A lot of Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows. I realized that I probably wasn’t going to find a lot of diversity in the busy downtown area, so I took to Google maps again to find a less gray and more green space near me. A magical place was revealed that day: Wood Lake Nature Center. My partner and I were absolutely in love with this place within the first five minutes we were there. How could such a serene and green place be tucked into such a busy city? As someone who grew up in a prairie biome with wind belts as my only “forest” to run around in, this Nature Center was an absolute dream. There were birds everywhere! And not just birds in trees, there were birds in the water! Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and one of my personal favorites: the Green Heron!

Northern cardinals

Northern Cardinals

Birds of Minnesota Book

My first guide to birds and the one that I now often recommend to new birders.

These birds weren’t like the colorful songbirds that I was seeking in the woods. They had different personalities, they moved differently, they hunted in different ways. I was as equally enchanted with these new feathered friends as I was with the Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinals.

In July of 2016, shortly after discovering Wood Lake Nature Center, a new mobile game debuted on the Android and iOS app stores: Pokémon GO. To a lot of folks this meant nothing, but to my friends and I it was an exciting piece of our childhoods that had been reimagined in a game format we had not played before. The best part of all was that you had to go out walking to truly progress in the game. Suddenly, lots of my friends wanted to go to green spaces that functioned as “gyms” for the game. This meant that I had tons more excuses to go out birding! During this time when my friends and I played a digital game while exploring the analog world around us, it dawned on me that one of the reasons why I loved birding so much was because it was very much like the premise of the Pokémon games themselves, something that I loved dearly as both a child and an adult. Instead of catching the birds though, I was simply discovering them and adding them to my life list. When I explained this “a-ha!” realization to my partner, he was stunned – birding was like Pokémon! That was his “spark” moment, and I’ve gained a lifelong birding partner because of it.


While the Northern Cardinal may have been my “spark” bird, I joke that the Blue Jay was my “engine” bird. This intelligent and feisty Corvid propelled me forward headfirst into backyard bird feeding in a way I didn’t think was possible for someone still in their 20s. I went from Bird-Curious to Bird-Obsessed. I felt a certain odd attachment to this bird, as my high school mascot growing up was the Blue Jay. At the time I would roll my eyes at the thought of this bird being the mascot that we took across the state against such teams as “The Knights”, “The Bruins”, and “The Spartans”. I had never seen a Blue Jay though, until one hot, humid July summer day at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. Two Blue Jays were calling loudly and flew across my path at eye level, their beautiful plumage and intelligent eyes stood out against the tall golden wildflower prairie I was walking through. I watched them fly into an oak tree across the way and stood there stunned at how amazing they were.

“Ah, now I get it!” I thought to myself. My high school mascot wasn’t lame at all, but instead a glorious example of how songbirds were so much more than pretty feathers and cute faces. I pulled out my handy bird guide and looked up what they ate. When I was done birding that day, I drove to my All Seasons Wild Bird Store and bought a small bag of peanuts. The Blue Jay tested my patience. I tried several different types of feeders, moved my feeders around the small patch of yard that I had, thinking that being further away from the window may entice them more. I battled squirrel after squirrel, day after day, to protect the haul of peanuts that awaited my hopeful new yard bird. I wasn’t even sure if Blue Jays were in the area where my townhome sat – was I just wasting money on feeding the ever-growing population of Eastern gray squirrels? Patience and research paid off though, in early Autumn that year, while on the second floor of my townhome, I heard a familiar and loud call. On autopilot, I ran down the stairs and crept slowly and quietly to the kitchen, where I peered around the corner and saw a beautiful Blue Jay, in all its azure splendor, picking up and putting back peanuts in the peanut wreath feeder I had recently purchased and put outside. I released a silent, panicked scream of excitement and as quickly but stealthily as I could crept back to the stairs to call my partner down to witness our success. This time, there was equal fervor and joy over this bird as we both were elated at having managed to bring it to our rather small, semi-industrial backyard.


That was it, there was no going back from there. I started researching specific birds and seeing if they were ever seen at feeders. If so, what did people use to attract them? What kind of feeders did they opt for? How was I ever going to win the war against the squirrels? If I couldn’t bring a certain bird to my yard, then I had to go to where the bird was.


A little after a year the Northern Cardinal landed on my feeders, my partner and I picked up our first pair of binoculars at REI in an effort to see the birds closer (we went birding a whole year without binoculars!). They weren’t the best, but they allowed us to feel a little closer to the birds that brought us so much joy. Shortly after I missed seeing a new bird because he had the binoculars in his hands and I had none, we ran back to REI and picked up a second. In August of 2019, I received one of the best, if not slightly life changing birthday gifts from my parents: a pair of Nikon 10×42 binoculars. A pair of binoculars gets you closer to birds, a pair of stellar binoculars gives you a front row seat to the theatre that is all their wonderful personality, beauty, and interesting and differing behaviors. It felt like I’d been given the ruby slippers to go home, but home was over there on a Cottonwood trunk next to that Brown Creeper I’d been searching for forever, under that bush where a Swainson’s Thrush was moving ever so slowly, or on the branch of a dead tree above water, next to the beautiful and talented Belted Kingfisher. Those binoculars would travel with me to California the following January where my partner and I would continue to build our life list, seeing gorgeous species such as the Yellow-billed Magpie, the California Scrub-Jay, the Brown Pelican, and the Acorn Woodpecker (a whole tree full of them, my friend was married underneath it, and I was incredibly distracted – sorry Cortney!)

Blue jay on wire hoop peanut feeder

I’ll never forget the thrilling experience of attracting a Blue Jay to my peanut feeder.


A life-changing birthday gift: Nikon 10×42 binoculars!


Shortly after this trip to California, we would move into our new house in Bloomington and the COVID-19 pandemic would swiftly shut everything down. It was through birding, both out in green spaces and in my own front and backyard that I would find comfort and stability. The world was quieter outside, and birds were suddenly easier to hear. I found the Merlin app during this time and IDing birds became easier. I was also able to start tracking my life list digitally in this app as well as being able to pull up data on specific birds quickly. Field guides still speckle the front seat of my car to this day, but the accessibility of the Merlin app made things much easier for me and I was able to more quickly identify birds. I felt like I was in the wings of the theatre of birds now instead of just an audience member.

I never knew one could feel so much joy from nature as I did during those solemn couple of years. I’ve met many wonderful people through the birding world, some of whom have changed my life for the better by introducing me to things such as bird banding, the Minnesota Master Naturalist program that has allowed me to teach kids and adults about birds, and volunteering for bird-centric organizations like Minnesota River Valley Audubon Chapter (MRVAC) and the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union (MOU).


After the pandemic, I decided I wanted to work somewhere where I could share my love and passion for birds and the natural world. When I started looking, I saw that my All Seasons Wild Bird Store, that had helped me bring that beautiful Blue Jay to my tiny yard years before, was hiring (and only 5 minutes from home!). I put in an application that same day and am happy to say I’ve been with the store for 1 ½ years now! If you had told that little girl frantically running from Wild Turkeys and Canada Geese in the late 90s that feeding and watching the birds would make her feel this amazing, I’m sure she would have crinkled her nose at you. The me now though? She wouldn’t have it any other way


Dani Collier at work at All Seasons Wild Bird Store

I’m happy to have a job where I can share my love and passion for birds and the natural world.