Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Northern finches and a few oddities highlight bird counts

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 1/10/19

REGIONAL—An abundance of northern finches, along with a few surprises, proved the main story of Christmas bird counts held across the area.

Count participants in Ely recorded 844 pine siskins, …

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Northern finches and a few oddities highlight bird counts

Posted

REGIONAL—An abundance of northern finches, along with a few surprises, proved the main story of Christmas bird counts held across the area.

Count participants in Ely recorded 844 pine siskins, a new record. “The pine siskin numbers completely blew everything out of the ballpark,” said Norma Malinowski, of Ely, who is one of the compilers of the count. Indeed, at 844 individuals, pine siskins accounted for nearly one of every three birds recorded during the Ely count. Pine siskins are small brown-streaked birds with flashes of yellow on the wings. Like most northern finches, they feed primarily on the seeds of conifers.

Counters in Ely also saw large numbers of pine grosbeaks, which have been abundant at most area feeders this winter. But the 181 grosbeaks recorded in Ely was just a fraction of the record-setting grosbeak tally on the Aurora count, where participants recorded 485 pine grosbeaks, the highest ever in the 39-year history of the count.

Two experienced Ely participants spotted a golden eagle, the first ever for the Ely count. While distinguishing a golden eagle from an immature bald eagle can be tricky for the inexperienced birder, Malinowski said she’s confident in the identification since it was two expert birders who saw the bird and made the call.

The gradual disappearance of some northern bird species seemed to be confirmed even as a new, more southerly, bird species appeared on the scene. Neither the Ely nor the Isabella counts included any spruce grouse, which had been routinely sighted in years past, in at least low numbers. At the same time, the Aurora count recorded its first-ever wild turkeys, yet more evidence of this species’ steady encroachment into the North Country. Whether it’s climate change, the now-widespread practice of deer feeding, or both, that is altering the range of the wild turkey is unclear at this point but Malinowski, who actually spotted the birds during the Aurora count, said they were present at a residence that feeds large numbers of deer.

In Isabella, Malinowski and count coordinator Steve Wilson, of Tower, can certainly lay claim to the most effort expended for the least number of birds. The two gluttons for punishment spent the day breaking trail on snowshoes through two feet of powder. During one three-hour stretch on their arduous trek, the pair failed to spot a single bird. They don’t call it the Silent North for nothing.

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