Lake Carlos' open water draws thousands more birds for Christmas Bird Count

Park naturalist points to climate change as a reason for open water.

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This pair was among 134 white-winged crossbills spotted during the annual Christmas Bird Count at Lake Carlos State Park. This year, volunteers counted about 80 more than they ever had before during the event's 12 years at the park, said naturalist Ben Eckhoff. (Contributed / Ben Eckhoff)

CARLOS – This year's Christmas Bird Count at Lake Carlos State Park drew some surprising avian visitors — many more Canada geese, trumpeter swans, ducks and even birds that normally don't even live around here, like the mute swan.

"It all stems back to open water," said Ben Eckhoff, park naturalist. "Lake Carlos was the only open water this year for miles upon miles. Not sure exactly, but probably 50 or more miles in any direction. The lake was loaded with birds."

The reason Lake Carlos was not iced over, he said, can be traced back to climate change. Lake Carlos is one of the deepest lakes in Minnesota, and so it freezes later than most other lakes anyway, but its ice-over was delayed because of warmer night-time temperatures.

The park logbook shows that Lake Carlos iced over on Dec. 19, said park office manager Maddie Fischer. Typically, the lake freezes by late November or early December.

"We are probably two to three weeks behind this year," she said.


During the 2020-2021 bird count, Canada geese numbered 2,030. This year, volunteers counted 3,429. Last year, there were 349 trumpeter swans, while this year's county found 691. For years, volunteers only spotted a handful of common goldeneye ducks. For instance, the high was in 2011-2012, when they counted 105, but most years since then saw a dozen or fewer, whereas this year there were 925.

Volunteers had never seen a cackling goose during the previous counts, but this year they saw 43.

The Christmas Bird Count was started by the National Audubon Society 122 years ago, and Lake Carlos joined in about a dozen years ago.

Eckhoff said that based on bird count result, this will be a good winter to see white-winged crossbills, red crossbills, common redpolls, evening grosbeaks and pine grosbeaks.

"We have already seen lots of redpolls around I have seen more and more reports of pine grosbeaks coming further south and west," he said. "Drought, fires, and poor seed/cone crops in Canada are pushing many of these species further than most years."

Snowy owls are on the move as well, he said, and have been seen all the way into Iowa already.

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