Chirping goodbye – Many Minnesota birds will soon depart for warmer windsAs the sweet-smelling crackle of autumn approaches, the blissful days for many Minnesota birds are dwindling.
By: Wendy Wilson, Alexandria Echo Press
As the sweet-smelling crackle of autumn approaches, the blissful days for many Minnesota birds are dwindling.
Survival for birds during wintertime is a consistent challenge. While many mammals are able to hibernate when the weather grows colder, for birds the change of seasons is a yearly struggle.
During springtime, birds alight blue skies, journeying from hotter climes to Minnesota where they will breed and find seasonal foods like insects.
After winter throws its icy cloak and mosquitoes and other insects disappear, some birds will adapt to the change and find alternate food sources, according to Lake Carlos State Park Area Naturalist Alex Watson.
Those that cannot adapt, like loons, will migrate.
“Each bird has a strategy for finding food and if the foods are not available in winter, migration is their best option,” he said. “You can migrate, hibernate, or deal with it.”
Most birds summering in Minnesota will head south in September and October, usually to Florida.
Sapsuckers that drill holes in trees to eat sap and insects are one of those that must migrate because the sap freezes during the wintertime.
“Butter butts,” as Watson affectionately calls yellow-rumped warblers, are able to spend a little more time in Minnesota – from April through late October, partially due to having a longer intestinal tract. Eventually, however, they will leave the state.
“But there are some stragglers,” Watson said.
While most area birds migrate, some birds summering in Minnesota choose the “deal with it” option.
Robins that used to head south each winter sometimes linger in Minnesota to eat berries from bushes people have planted, like buckthorn.
Black-capped chickadees are another species that stay here during the winter, feasting on seeds.
IT’S FOR THE BIRDS:
“Would the northern cardinal be so abundant without bird feeders?” Watson said. “Probably not.”
Bird lovers that supply seeds to birds during winter must be diligent, according to experts.
The birds are relying on that generosity. If the food source a feeder provides were to suddenly disappear, the birds might not survive the season. So, bird watchers who fill feeders during the winter should take care to keep their feeders well stocked, or the birds may become malnourished or starve.
“It’s all about the food in the wintertime,” Watson said.
Foods that are high in fat, like black oil sunflower seeds, suet or peanuts provide the greatest energy source to birds. And leaving sunflower shells on helps prevent potential mold growth.
December brings snowflakes, ice-covered lakes and the Alexandria Area Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, December 17.
The count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, sheds light on the birds that are able to withstand the harsh winter climate.
During a 24-hour period, participants note all species of birds seen and count the number of birds identified in each species – including those found at home feeders in the area.
“Each bird on the list has a story of why it is here in the wintertime,” Watson said.
For example, woodpeckers are able to survive by eating insects wintering inside plants.
Seed-eaters like goldfinch and nuthatches are also able to winter in Minnesota.
Likewise, owls that eat primarily smaller animals like mice are able to stay in the area during the winter.
And while most are heading further south, the snow buntings are migrating from the high Arctic region to northern Minnesota, usually eating prairie seed heads located above the snow line, Watson said.
In all, 632 individual birds were sighted from 34 different species during last year’s count.
People interested in participating in this year’s Christmas Bird Count may attend a warm-up meeting on December 16 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Lake Carlos State Park.
On Saturday, September 24, Lake Carlos State Park presents the program “Loon Migration: Lake Carlos to Florida” from 7 to 8 p.m. Interested participants should meet Watson at the Visitor Center.
Other programs at the park include:
Thursday, September 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. the park offers the presentation, “Leave No Trace,” discussing how to enjoy nature while respecting it.
Saturday, October 8, brings an exploration of the fall colors and area history in “Fall Founders Day” at the park from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
October 15 and 16 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., snowshoeing enthusiasts will have the opportunity to build their own snowshoes using Ojibwe-style lacing. A materials cost of $70 applies.
See the website www.dnr.state.mn.us for more information. Alex Watson may be reached at (320) 852-7471.