A visit from Mr. Thrasher

The most frequent visitor at my backyard feeders lately has been, strangely enough, a sleek, male  red-winged blackbird. A couple of other male red-winged blackbirds have shown up from time to time — no females that I’ve noticed — but this one hangs out a lot. It likes a tray feeder that held a variety of seeds — left over from an emergency run to the grocery store; I don’t ordinarily buy mixtures. Recently, it has only had millet, which seems to be fine with the blackbird. 

It’s a particularly striking bird. The epaulets on its shoulders are bright red lined with equally bright yellow. On the other guys that have made brief visits, the shoulder patches aren’t nearly so vivid. I always know when it’s going to come to the feeder, because it first gives a single, loud but short call: wheeHEEE.

The surprise came this morning. The blackbird was perched on one side of the feeder; a brown thrasher was perched on the other. They regarded each other with suspicion, but neither prevented the other from feeding.

I’ve seen brown thrashers along the Lakewalk before, but I had never had one at my feeders. For a while, I wondered if I had somehow mistaken a female red-winged blackbird for a brown thrasher, but I really don’t think that’s possible. The brown of a brown thrasher is distinctive — about as pure a brown as you’ll see on a bird. Female red-winged blackbirds can best be described as drab. Brown thrashers are anything but drab. (I think, by the way, that Mr. Thrasher would be a good name for a Charles Dickens character.)

In the "Birds of Minnesota Field Guide," Stan Tekiela writes that the male brown thrasher has the largest documented song repertoire of all North American birds, with more than 1,100 song types.

And I think I’m doing good if I can remember seven or eight songs from Bible camp.

Seeing the thrasher at my feeders for a few minutes was a treat in the midst of a spring that hasn’t brought many treats to my feeders so far.


  • The folks at the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota are trying to figure out why they are seeing a huge drop in the number of kestrels being brought in for treatment, and they want your help. If you see a kestrel, they’d like to know about it, including any information you can add — date, time, location, numbers, gender, behaviors. For more information, go to the Raptor Center’s Web site, here: www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/  Click on "Kestrel watch" on their home page.
  • A couple in Shorewood, Minn., reported on the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union’s listserv that they had seen a common redpoll and a ruby-throated hummingbird at their feeders on the same day, two days in a row (sadly, not at the same time). They wondered if these two species have ever met. Not in my yard — I’m happy if I see a common redpoll and a hummingbird in the same year.
  • A few people in Minnesota have reported seeing orioles. I don’t think they’ve been seen here yet, but … they’re coming.
  • Has anyone out there seen a hummingbird yet?
  • And a reminder: I welcome your observations on the comment link, and your observations and pictures at jlundy@duluthnews.com.


Can lights stop bird strikes?













Posted in Uncategorized

A meadowlark, a bluebird … and hummingbirds?

Far Side of Fifty sent these picture of a meadowlark (Eastern? Western? I can’t tell the difference) and a bluebird (an Eastern, I think, but there are also Western bluebirds) taken on April 22 and April 17, respectively, in the Osage area between Park Rapids and Detroit Lakes. The bluebird is nesting in Far Side’s yard.

I haven’t seen either a bluebird or a meadowlark for many years.

But I’ve seen hummingbirds, and Henry Bird wants me to remind everyone that it’s not too early to get hummingbird feeders out and ready for the little wonders’ arrival. Here’s a reminder that you can follow the progress of hummingbirds as they head north at this Web site: hummingbirds.net/

The hummingbird migration map shows a couple of sightings in Minnesota and several in Wisconsin, but none close to the Twin Ports … yet.

And one more thing: Far Side of Fifty noticed that the looncam is up and running. The Web site has changed slightly from last year. Here it is: www.mnbound.com/live-loon-cam/

The site cautions that there are a few kinks in the early going this year. My only complaint is I couldn’t figure out a way to make the video take the full screen, so I was distracted by an ad on the left side for some sort of pet cremation service. But I’m glad the looncam is available on the Web.

Mallards out back

Tony M sent in this picture on Tuesday of a pair of mallards hanging out in his backyard. Tony reports a mallard couple hung around last spring in his yard for about a month and a half; he’s not sure if this is the same pair.

I’ve been on a road trip for the past couple of days, and it seemed as if there was some kind of waterfowl on every bit of water I saw along the way. But I never get them in my backyard.

As of Tuesday, Tony still had a few straggling redpolls at his feeders. As the redpolls are decreasing, Tony is seeing more pine siskins and a variety of sparrows on the increase, as well as turkey vultures overhead. He’s also seeing more robins, and although he has had woodpeckers all winter, he’s starting to see them in groups of two and three.

"Of course the chickadees, starlings, crows and nuthatches are still around," Tony adds.

Footnote: The consensus on the vegetation shown in the previous post, "O cedars," is that it’s buckthorn. Good bird, bad plant, or so I’m told.

O cedars

Bob King took this wonderful picture of a pair of cedar waxwings feeding today in woods in Lakewood Township. Does anyone know what kind of tree that is that they’re feeding in?

Also, Andrew Lundgren reports he saw six tundra swans flying over his yard in western Duluth on Tuesday. He also has seen robins and red-winged blackbirds, and might have heard an American kestrel.

Me, I saw my first housefly of the year today. It landed on my knee and said, "Hey, Bud, got any sugar?"

It may not have really said that, but that’s what it was thinking.


Readers report

On the subject of birds (and other critters) seen for the first time this spring, Ted and Jenni Worden of Superior report spotting a pair of wood ducks in a small pond as they drove through the Superior Municipal Forest on Monday afternoon. A few feet down the road, they saw a porcupine. They also saw a large flock of hooded mergansers off of Park Point in Duluth. And they’ve seen turkey vultures flying over Thompson HIll for the past couple of weeks.

Thanks for your observations … what are the rest of you seeing? I’d love to hear about it at jlundy@duluthnews.com. Pictures are welcome, too.


Spring firsts

Today, I saw a cluster of turkey vultures soaring over Haines Road. And just outside of Wild Birds Unlimited across from Miller Hill Mall, red-winged blackbirds were feeding.

I understand people have been seeing red-winged blackbirds for a while, and perhaps turkey vultures have been here, too. But for me, it was the first sighting of each species this year.

What about you? What are you seeing for the first time this spring? I know the birds are moving north quickly. Your observations and pictures always are welcome at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Is it over?

During the past two days, I’ve seen no redpolls at my feeders.

Have they finally gone north? Are you still seeing redpolls? Tony M reports that the numbers at his feeders are dwindling, and a nice variety of other birds has come to replace them.

At my feeders, in the absence of the redpolls, I’ve seen a few chickadees, a red-breasted nuthatch, a pair of purple finches, and a bluejay. It’s a nice change.

Bird droppings

Bits and pieces from here and there:

  • The Great Backyard Bird Count reports that its 12th annual count in 2009 set a record: Birders from the United States and Canada submitted more than 93,629 checklists during the four-day event, a 9 percent increase from 2008. The number of individuals counted also was a record: 11,550,200 birds representing 619 species. Species observed for the first time during the winter count: Sinaloa wren, Xantus’s murrelet, pink-footed shearwater, black-billed cuckoo, blackpoll warbler, Baird’s sandpiper.
  • It’s not directly bird-related, but birders are being encouraged to participate in the "Gunflint Green Up" May 1-2. The event’s sponsors,  the Superior National Forest and Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway, hope to plant 40,000 pine tree seedlings in the 2007 Ham Lake Fire area of the Gunflint Trail. That fire destroyed 75,000 acres in Minnesota and Ontario. You need to register by April 22 to participate. For more information, go here: www.gunflintgreenup.com
  • This is for those of you who haven’t already blown most of your vacation time and all of your vacation money for the year: The Allegenies Tourism Council of Altoona, Pa., thinks their region would be a great place for you to watch birds (and spend money). Their Web site will tell you about more than 30 bird-watching locations in south central Pennsylvania where you potentially could see more than 275 species of birds. Here’s the site: www.TheAlleghenies.com

A grouse in the hood

Bob King, aka Astro Bob, shot this silhouette of a ruffed grouse in his Lakewood Township neighborhood Thursday evening (April 9) just after sunset. Bob says several grouses have been feeding on buds in the neighborhood trees lately.

Your bird pictures are always welcome. Send them to me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com. Thanks!