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Minnesota’s Warblers

Up to 20 different species of warblers pass through the Twin Cities area between mid-April and the end of May, with the bulk passing through between the 5th and 15th of May. If you’d like to catch a sighting or two of these colorful migrants—in your backyard or around town—Minnesota birding expert Bob Janssen has helped us to prepare this guide to both common and noteworthy warblers.

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Your Donated Feeders Make a Difference!

Your feeders found new homes with the Scouts of America, a nature center and Wayzata Schools.

Each year we hold a Feeder Swap sale, during which we ask our customers to bring in a used bird feeder to donate in exchange for 20% off a new feeder (in addition to their Frequent Feeder Member Discounts).

In turn, we fix and clean the donated feeders and present them to local organizations.

This year, we were approached by the regional director of Scouts of America, who requested some of the donated feeders for families in need as part of their Unite for Earth Day.

We thought this sounded like a great fit, so we prepared 110 feeders for donation to the Scouts, including: 44 mixed-seed feeders, 27 Nyjer Feeders, 8 hummingbird feeders, 7 squirrel-resistant feeders, 6 oriole feeders, 6 peanut feeders, 6 tray feeders, and 6 suet feeders.

We also provided 12 feeders to the nature center in Orono, Minnesota and 3 feeders to Wayzata schools.

Finally, All Seasons Wild Bird Stores donated 60 pounds of Joe’s Mix, 30 pounds of Nyjer, 12 pounds of Peanut Pickouts and 6 peanut butter suet cakes.

THANK YOU for donating feeders—your gift gives youth and adults a window to nature!

Male and Female Look-Alikes

Bird species in which the male and female look the same are called monomorphic. Several of our favorite backyard bird species are monomorphic, such as Black-capped Chickadees, Blue Jays, House Wrens and Mourning Doves. Other monomorphic species in Minnesota include American Crows and Bald Eagles. Here are some clues to help you figure out who’s who of the look-alike birds in your backyard.

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How to create a pole system for your feeders

Pole systems allow you to create a feeding station that’s optimally placed in your yard. They also allow your to customize the number and placement of feeder and perching spots. It may seem daunting when you’re considering how to set yours up, so we created this video as a guide to the Erva pole systems we carry in our stores.

Click here to view on our YouTube channel

As always, ask any of our local backyard birding experts for help creating your system. We love to help!

Assemble a pole system

Orange & Black Minnesota Birds

Minnesota hosts several birds that sport orange and black coloration. Let’s take a closer look!

Baltimore Oriole

This eye-catching songbird (8-1/2 in / 22 cm) is a summer visitor throughout most of Minnesota, coming to feeding stations to dine on orange slices, grape jelly, nectar and mealworms. The male Baltimore Oriole has a black head and back with orange chest and belly. Its mostly black wings are touched with orange and have white wing bands. Females are a pale yellow-orange with grayish-black wings and white wing bars.

American Redstart

This warbler (4-3/4 in/12 cm) is a summer visitor and one of the few warbler species that stays to nest in the Twin Cities area. Look for them to arrive starting in May. Males have a black head and back, white belly and patches of orange at shoulders, wings and base of tail. Females are olive-gray with yellow accents under wings and at side of tail.

While American Redstarts do not visit feeders (they eat insects), they may come to visit birdbaths.

Blackburnian Warbler

Another warbler, this handsome bird (5 in/13 cm) passes through the Twin Cities area around the 10th of May en route to breeding areas in Northern Minnesota and Canada. The male is a black and white bird with bright orange on its head and throat and a black mask. The female has paler orange/yellowish coloring. You may seem them flitting along tops of conifers and deciduous trees in your yard, hunting for insects and larvae. They may also stop for a drink at birdbaths.

Eastern Towhee

This striking size-large sparrow with red eyes (8 in/21 cm), is widely seen in Minnesota during the summer in open woods, undergrowth and brush edges, and browsing in leaf litter beneath feeders for seeds and insects. Technically more rufous or rust-colored than orange, the male has a black hood, back and wings, white belly and rusty-orange sides. The female is similar with brown instead of dark black.

HONORARY ORANGE & BLACK:

American Robin

This widely common thrush (10 in/ 25 cm) deserves a mention for its color scheme of a dark gray back and bright rust-orange belly. Female coloration is a slightly duller version of the male. American Robins prefer to browse for insects and fruit, but may visit feeders for mealworms, and—infrequently—grape jelly. They love to visit backyard birdbaths. American Robins are becoming a more common sight year-round in Minnesota as birds follow availability of food sources.

Spring Migrant Arrival Dates

Prepare Your Yard for Spring Migrants

To be sure, one of the joys of feeding birds is hosting migratory birds for a brief time each spring as they make their way to summer breeding grounds.

With some preparation—and a little luck!—you may be able to entice one of
these migrants to stay and raise their broods in your own backyard.

Spring Migrant Arrival Dates Table

From our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter Archives; March/April 2014

By Minnetonka Manager CAROL CHENAULT

Watch for Returning Waterfowl this Month!

March is a month of transition from winter to areas of open water therefore signaling the return of water fowl.

Canada Geese

The first week of March often brings the return of the Canada Geese. Pairs claim nesting territory honking noisily. A pair of geese can be seen standing on the ice of the marshes and wetlands as if willing the ice to melt. The female chooses the site and builds the nest while the male stands guard. Egg laying is triggered by open water.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Herons have returned to the metro as early as the first week of March as well. They seek out the open water on the edges of ponds, rivers and marshes. Great Blue Herons feed on small fish, amphibians, small mammals, aquatic invertebrates and reptiles. They nest in colonies- tree top communal nests called rookeries. Once hatched the adults feed the young for eight weeks before they fledge the nest.

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Types of Nests

Note: this is the full article by Guest Contributor MELISSA BLOCK. An excerpt is featured in the March/April 2019 edition of our Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter

NEST DESCRIPTION : Cardinals

Northern Cardinal on Nest

Males sometimes bring nest material to the female, who does most of the building. She crushes twigs with her beak until they’re pliable, then turns in the nest to bend the twigs around her body and push them into a cup shape with her feet. The cup has four layers: coarse twigs (and sometimes bits of trash) covered in a leafy mat, then lined with grapevine bark and finally grasses, stems, rootlets, and pine needles. The nest typically takes 3 to 9 days to build; the finished product is 2-3 inches tall, 4 inches across, with an inner diameter of about 3 inches. Cardinals usually don’t use their nests more than once.

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What Birds am I Now (Not) Seeing?

Note: this is the full article by Guest Contributor MARK NEWSTROM. An excerpt of this article is featured in the March/April 2019 Bird’s-Eye View Newsletter

Since the beginning of this author’s life in the mid-1950s, the variety of birds seen in and around the Twin Cities area has surprisingly changed. Herein are five examples of bird species that were not here then or were much less abundant. I will then give two examples of birds that are, sadly, harder to find

Changing Birds in MinnesotaAmerican Robins

Until the late 1980s, I regularly participated in National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. At that time, American Robins were an exciting “rarity”. These winter days, it is even more surprising to not have numerous robins somewhere in town. Among factors contributing to this change are warmer winters, greater availability of open water and the large number of planted fruit trees.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Red-bellied Woodpeckers became a firmly established breeding bird in the Twin Cities area around the mid-1950s. They were not seen at all at the family cabin near Brainerd until the early 1970s and were confirmed nesting in the mid-1980s. At least one study notes their use of bird feeders as a factor in their increasing northern presence.

House Finches

The House Finch, or “Hollywood Finch” of the 1930s, was illegally sold in the eastern United States as a cage bird. To quote the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, “[a]lthough the evidence is circumstantial, it seemed that one or more local dealers released the birds to avoid prosecution.” These newly-freed birds were not expected to survive. Instead, the eastern House Finch population thrived and expanded westward. The first documented nesting in the Twin Cities was in 1989. Since 1992, House Finches have been seen in most of Minnesota.

Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese

Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese are quite common today. The latter considered by some people nearly a pest, especially should they defecate in areas well trafficked by humans. But both species were extirpated or nearly absent from the state, mostly from being sources of food and feathers.

Trumpeter Swans were gone from their traditional Minnesota breeding areas by the mid-1800s. Only a very concerted reintroduction effort by Three Rivers Park District (then Hennepin County Park Reserve District) has led to a small but steady and viable population. This effort was begun in 1966 and only ended in 2009.

Canada Geese were considered gone from the state, until a small population was discovered at Silver Lake in Rochester. From these approximately 4000 birds, intensive and very successful reintroduction efforts were begun in the mid-1960s. In only a decade, geese were again being seen nearly throughout Minnesota.

Veery

The Veery is a variety of thrush, slightly smaller than a robin, with mostly a light brownish head, back and tail,

and a whitish breast with smudgy light brown spots just below its head. It is known for its rich, downward spiral of song. In many parks around the Twin Cities area and in wet, wooded areas around Minnesota, the Veery would make its presence felt from mid-spring through mid-fall, migrating to Brazil in the winter. However, its song is becoming more scattered with the years, mostly due to loss of habitat and nest parasitism by Brownheaded Cowbirds.

American Tree Sparrow

The American Tree Sparrow was once a very abundant winter visitor. This feisty little sparrow was Jim Gilbert’s study species as he learned their habits and habitats in the early 1970s. However, a severe ice storm in the winter of 1983-84 decimated the population wintering in the Twin Cities area, and it is only since 2015 that this species has started to approximate its former numbers.

Which avian friends are giving you pause for thought nowadays?

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Raptors! A Guide to Minnesota’s Birds of Prey

A raptor, also known as a bird of prey, is a carnivorous, meat-eating bird. All raptors share at least three characteristics: keen eyesight, eight sharp talons and a hooked beak. The word “raptor” comes from a Latin term rapere meaning “to seize or grab.”

Minnesota raptors include eagles, falcons, hawks, kites, osprey, owls and vultures. Most Minnesota raptors have plumage in some combination of earth tones to better blend in with their environment: light to dark brown, black and white or grayish blue. The following is an introduction to identifying some of Minnesota’s more prevalent birds of prey.


KEY FEATURES FOR IDENTIFYING RAPTORS

Key features for identifying raptors
Identifying raptors can be a tricky undertaking. For one thing, juvenile birds don’t look like parent birds for at least a couple years
Another complication: male and female birds of prey most often look identical, with only size to distinguish between the two (the female is typically larger than the male!).Complications aside, there are some key features you can look for when attempting to identify a raptor:

Overall Shape. Note the overall shape of the bird—shape of the head, wings, tail and body.

Flight Habits. Does the bird use “active flight”—meaning flapping wing beats—or does it primarily soar, glide or hover?

General Habitat. Look at the general habitat and determine if it would be considered prairie, woodlands or roadside.

Perching Habits. In general, perching raptors sit upright, whereas non-raptors, such as crows, lean forward over their feet.

 

Bald Eagle

LOOK FOR:

• Large: 31–37″

• Wingspan 7–8′

• Deep, powerful flaps in flight

• Can soar for long distances

• In flight: hold their wings directly out from the body

NOTES:

• Tend to be found near lakes and rivers

• Takes 4–6 years to develop adult white head & tail

Turkey Vulture

LOOK FOR:

• Large: 26–27″

• Wingspan 6′

• Featherless heads

• Gliding, teeter totter-like flight pattern peppered with a few shallow wing beats. Wings raised in a noticeable V-shape when gliding.

NOTES:

• Scavenge, don’t hunt—so not raptors by strict definition.

Osprey

LOOK FOR:

• Med/Large: 23–24.5″

• Wingspan to 6′

• Narrow, angled wings

• Flap frequently with only occasional gliding

• Body and head bobs up and down with each pump

NOTES:

• Plunge feet first into the water and can completely submerge in order to catch fish

Falcons

LOOK FOR:

• Varies: 16–25″

• Long, tapered wings and small bodies

• Active fliers, seldom glide

• Able to hover, change direction quickly and reach incredible speeds when diving

NOTES:

• Minnesota hosts American Kestrel, Gyrfalcon, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, and Prairie Falcon

Kites

LOOK FOR:

• Medium: 22–23″

• Slim bodies with long falcon-like
wings and long tails

• Active fliers—bouncy without much gliding—
and can change flight direction quickly

NOTES:

• Minnesota hosts the Swallow-tailed Kite* (*shown)

• Feeds mainly on snakes

• Prefers wooded river swamps and pine lands

Harriers

LOOK FOR:

• Medium: 18–21″

• Slim with long, narrow, round-tipped
wings and long tail

• Smooth, full wing beats with sudden drops to the ground to pounce on prey

• Fly extremely low to the ground along landscape

NOTES:

• Minnesota hosts Northern Harriers

• Wings are slightly raised in a V shape when gliding

Buteo-type Hawks

LOOK FOR:

• Varies: 15–24″

• Broad wings, wide, rounded tail

• Slow, heavy flaps for 3–6 beats followed by gliding

• Gain altitude by flying in consecutive tight circles until high enough to soar

NOTES:

• Minnesota hosts Broad winged, Red-shouldered, Swainson’s, Red-tailed*, Rough-legged and
Ferruginous Hawks (*shown, most common).

Accipiter-type Hawks (“Bird Hawks”)

LOOK FOR:

• Small to medium: 10–26″

• Short, rounded wings

• Slender bodies and long tails

• Flight is burst of quick flutters and a glide

• Compacted size equips them for rapid maneuvering around trees in pursuit of small birds

NOTES:

• Minnesota Hawks in this grouping are Cooper’s*, Sharp-shinned, Northern Goshawk (*shown).

Owls

LOOK FOR:

• Size varies widely by species

• Flattened facial disk with large, forward-facing eyes

• Nocturnal; perch during the day.

• Flight is noiseless, “mothlike”

• May have ear-like tufts

 

NOTES:

• MN: Great Gray, Snowy*, Barred, Barn, Northern Hawk-Owl, Burrowing, Boreal, and Northern Saw-Whet Owls (no tufts); Great Horned, Long-eared, Short-eared and Eastern Screech Owls** (tufts)

Minnesota Hawk Chart

Click the image to see it larger

By Minnetonka Manager CAROL CHENAULT
Reprinted from our Bird’s-Eye View archives from March/April 2013