Maybe it’s not so hard being green

The way the Internet works keep surprising me.

A journalist in Brooklyn writes a feature piece for the New York Times. Then, I suppose, he wants to get it seen as widely as possible. So he explores the Internet, finding blogs and Web sites that might want to refer their readers to his article.

So the Wannabe Birder in Duluth finds an e-mail in his in-box from Joseph Huff-Hannon: "I thought this might be interesting for The Wannabe Birder. It’s a feature I just wrapped up for the New York Times about an order of Episcopal nuns who are building what will be the first ‘eco-convent’ in New York City:"

And gives me a link, which I pass along to you:

Huff-Hannon’s piece has nothing to do with birds, but it might be of interest to some folks who like to read about birds and love the environment. In any event, it’s a fun story. I especially like the fact that the convent has a resident yellow Lab, and I like the closing quote, which I won’t give away here.



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Pictures! The owl and the cardinal

Ask and ye shall receive. I’d barely mentioned pictures when Todd Fedora e-mailed a picture of the boreal owl he had described (top), as well as a cardinal, resplendent with a snow-covered evergreen for a backdrop. The cardinal visited the Fedoras’ yard a couple of weeks ago.

Doesn’t it feel like the owl is looking right at you?

Todd sent these pictures via the magic of the computer and the technical assistance of his son Jordan, 15.

See? It’s not so hard. Put your own 15-year-old to good use and send those bird pictures. That address again is:

And thank you.

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A boreal owl outside

Todd Fedora of Duluth reports seeing a boreal owl hanging around in a tree off the deck of his house for a few hours on Wednesday. "Haven’t seen an owl in years so it was a welcome sight," Fedora writes. "Must be looking for squirrels or something."

A welcome sight indeed, except possibly to the squirrels and small birds in your neighborhood. Thanks for sharing the observation, Councilor.

Bird reports are always welcome; pictures too, if you have them. Send them to me at


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At Mr. Cooke’s park


I took a walk on the Grand Portage Trail at Jay Cooke State Park today. The snow has gotten slick, so I spent some of my time walking and some of my time falling.

I saw two birds: probably a crow and some sort of hawk, or possibly a young bald eagle. The only other wildlife I saw was a red squirrel.

I decided to walk on the St. Louis River for a while. When I glanced back, I thought my single set of snowshoe tracks with the weak sunshine and the water towers in the background might make a neat picture, so I took it.

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Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • Here’s a reminder that the Sax Zim Bog Winter Bird Festival is fast approaching: Feb. 13-15. Headquarters are in Meadowlands, about 45 minutes northwest of Duluth on U.S. 53. As of Sunday, 142 people were registered for the festival, with room for 35 more. To register and for more information, go to the festival’s Web site, here:
  • If you come across a boreal owl, living or dead, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources biologist Steve Wilson wants to know about it. Wilson’s request was posted on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv. Because of the large number of boreal owls seen in the region this year, Wilson wants to collect as much information as possible. If you see one, jot down the date, your name and contact information and precise information about the location. If you find a dead bird, freeze it in a plastic bag and include the information in the bag. These can be dropped off at any DNR Wildlife Office, or contact Wilson at (218) 753-6110 (home) or (218) 753-2580, Ext. 270 (work). And you might want to let the rest of your family know if you’ve got a dead owl in the freezer.
  •  Snowmobilers ran over and killed 60 ducks in two incidents while racing across open water beneath a bridge on the Rock River in downtown Fort Atkinson, Wis., the Associated Press reported on Monday, citing police sources. The incidents happened over the weekend. Two similar incidents have been reported in Wisconsin this month. Two weeks ago, a snowmobiler ran over and killed 57 mallard ducks on the Fond du Lac River near Fond du Lac, Wis. And three Weyauwega, Wis., men have been charged with animal cruelty in what authorities describe as the thrill killing of five deer by running them down with snowmobiles on Jan. 9.

    It’s tempting, when wondering from what hole such people emerge, to brand all snowmobilers with the same brush. But that wouldn’t be fair or accurate. As a matter of fact, you can read an account in Tuesday’s News Tribune Opinion page from a woman whose snowshoe hike went awry about how three snowmobilers from Duluth came to her aid.
    But it takes a lot to get the sickening accounts of those incidents in Wisconsin out of one’s mind.


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Dethrone the loon



I hesitate to bring this up, because I know it will ruffle some feathers.

But it must be said: The black-capped chickadee, not the common loon, should be the Minnesota state bird.

I like the loon as much as you do. I’m excited every spring by reports the loon has returned to Minnesota. There’s nothing more mystically thrilling than listening to loons call across a northern Minnesota lake when one is camping or staying in a backwoods cabin.

Nor do I fault the loon for spending its winters in the South. They must go where there is open water. We understand this. We understand this just as we understand that some Minnesota residents must spend their winters in the South. If you have a weak constitution, you do what you must do.

But the state bird should be a full-time resident of the state. And no bird fits the bill better than the humble black-capped chickadee.

The chickadee not only spends the entire year in Minnesota, it never even changes its colors as many birds do. It hardly bothers to puff up its feathers to keep out the winter cold. A chickadee in July is no different than a chickadee in January.

Minnesota nice? That’s the chickadee. There’s seldom a conflict when you have a flock of chickadees at your feeders; they simply take turns.

Minnesota pluck? That’s the chickadee, too. In the deep midwinter, when it feels as if spring is nothing more than a fantasy, one suddenly hears a chickadee chirping its sunny "SPRING-time" song.

Minnesota fearlessness? Yep. Walk out to your feeders, and much bigger birds will scatter. The chickadees will go about their business. The only thing that makes them edgy is if you look directly at them. That’s Minnesota shyness.

Folks in the southern and western Minnesota prairies might never see a loon. Chickadees are everywhere, from Worthington to Grand Portage, from Moorhead to Lanesboro.

Loons? Love ’em. Can’t get enough of them. But no bird says Minnesota like the unassuming chickadee.


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Christmas is over …

… but reports have trickled in from Christmas Bird Counts in the Northland. Here are a few things I’ve noticed from reports that were listed on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv:

  • HIBBING: The folks in Hibbing did their count on New Year’s Day and came up with 26 species. The most common, by far, were black-capped chickadees: 118. The least common, one each: hoary redpoll, purple finch, house sparrow, ruffed grouse, rough-legged hawk, bald eagle.
  • SAX-ZIM: This birding mecca attracted 13 intrepid birders for the bird count on Dec. 22 — a day when the high temperature on the bog was -1 and the low was -24. Among the most notable birds seen were great gray owls, northern hawk owls, hoary redpolls (uncommonly seen cousins of common redpolls), a black-backed woodpecker, a three-toed woodpecker, boreal chickadees, sharp-tailed grouse, northern goshawks and black-billed magpies. They found 35 species in all, a record for the Sax-Zim Christmas Bird Count. Goodness.
  • DULUTH: About 50 people recorded 57 species on Dec. 23, including quite a few that are far from everyday birds for this area in December: a golden-crowned sparrow, a harlequin duck, long-tailed ducks, a Cooper’s hawk, peregrine falcons, a Thayer’s gull, a glaucous gull, snow owls, black-backed woodpeckers, a varied thrush and a boreal chickadee. People also saw record numbers (for Duluth at Christmas) of robins, cedar waxwings and common redpolls.
  • TWO HARBORS: The Christmas Bird Count was on Dec. 21 and turned up 39 species, including red-necked grebes, Thayer’s gulls, glaucous gull, a three-toed woodpecker and black-backed woodpeckers.
  • PINE COUNTY: Watchers counted 52 species, including a snowy owl, a black-billed magpie, a boreal chickadee, white-winged crossbills and a gray jay, and the first robin anyone has seen during a Pine County Christmas Bird Count.
  • ELY: Forty-one volunteers watched feeders and went out on foot, by snowshoe and in vehicles and came up with 35 species on Dec. 27. Again, the most common bird was the black-capped chickadee, but one group saw more boreal chickadees than black-capped chickadees. Least common (one each): spruce grouse, barred owl, brown creeper, white-throated sparrow, dark-eyed junco.
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More redpolls

The two or three redpolls I had at my feeders were AWOL for a few days. Suddenly this morning they were back, and they brought a few of their friends. I had at least seven at my feeders today.

Although the picture I took won’t make it into any bird books, you can see the most distinctive feature in the bird that’s facing you: the brick-red yarmulke on the front of the head that gives the redpoll its name. (Yarmulke would be a great Scrabble word, by the way.)

I’m delighted to have seven or so redpolls, but seven isn’t very many when it comes to redpolls. Someone in Minnetonka had been seeing about 15 redpolls at his feeder; suddenly, there were 60. And I’ve heard that some folks around here have been awash in redpoll flocks in the triple digits. That will make your niger (thistle seed) disappear in a hurry. (Redpolls love thistle; that feeder in front has a mixture of thistle and sunflower chips.)

Whether seven or a hundred, I intend to enjoy them while they’re here. In a month or two, the redpolls will have returned to their summer homes in far northern Canada and Alaska.

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Pool party

It was so mild today that the house sparrows had a pool party in my heated birdbath. They were having a high old time.

And I’m almost sure I heard a chickadee down the street singing the two-note "SPRING-time" song.

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About owls

Lots of people have been seeing owls in the Northland lately.

These people do not include me.

According to the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s e-mail listserv, someone in the Hunters Park neighborhood of Duluth found a boreal owl in their garage — perched on a bicycle.

Sadly, not all of the owls that have been found have been alive. Debbie Waters, education director at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, reports receiving three dead boreal owls within the past week. One was found in Two Harbors, one in the University of Minnesota Duluth area and one in Lakeside.

If you come across a deceased raptor, Hawk Ridge is willing to collect it and has the necessary federal and state permits. You can contact Waters at

I’ve never seen a boreal owl, and I’ve never seen an owl on a bicycle. But we can imagine what it might look like if we had a…

boreal owl on a …

bicycle. (The owl and the bicycle are not to scale, but they might not be far off.)




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