Brrrrr-ed report: Migration underway as cold continues its clutch

Feathered friends finding their way north despite weather that adds to difficulties.




3 minute read

Our feathered friends can only wait so long. Even as the weather has demanded lots of food to stay warm, and little food available because it’s cold, they feel the ancient urgent drive to reach their breeding grounds. I’ve found the migrants seeking a lot of shelter lately, especially around bushes and brush piles, and at the base of bluffs. Any open water also attracts them because of the greater amount of insect life.

In the past few days, when the temperature barely reached above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ve observed many new arrivals. There are sparrows and kinglets, hermit thrushes and yellow-rumped warblers. And many I’ve not encountered.

The sandhill cranes arrived several weeks ago, and now the turkeys are strutting their stuff in every open field. Today I saw a crane and two turkeys feeding a few feet apart in an untilled corn field. They present a strong juxtaposition. Tiny kestrels started appearing on power lines.

sapsucker flutters 
taps the maple tree, alights
into the snow squall
snowy spring morning
the first phoebe flicks its tail
checks the old nest site

One day as dusk approached, I sat in the parking of a wildlife area and watched a mix of song, white-throated, and tree sparrows fluttering around a brush pile and pecking at the gravel. Red-winged blackbirds crowded the crowns of nearby trees, singing to the setting sun. Woods ducks and other waterfowl whipped overhead toward open water in an adjacent marsh. A frigid wind blew across farm fields, prairie, and wetlands.

People using iNaturalist have also seen a lot of birds. In just the last two weeks, 15 people saw 42 species in the St. Croix River watershed. There were some of what I have seen, and many I haven’t.

The cold weather has definitely deterred some migration, with plenty of birds left to cross the region. A tool called BirdCast from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology released a new version this spring that uses complicated computer models, radar, and weather observations to predict how many birds are on the move on a given night. (Many species primarily migrate at night.)

BirdCast’s migration dashboard shows Minnesota and Wisconsin are behind the historic average so far, but there have been some nights with lots of movement. Just this week, on April 22, Minnesota saw its highest numbers yet at an estimated 13.5 million birds. The site also shows that, based on history, the greatest number are yet to arrive, concentrated in mid-May.


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Brrrrr-ed report: Migration underway as cold continues its clutch