Southern Minnesota experienced a blizzard this past weekend, up north we escaped the really heavy snow, but on Sunday night we did receive 6 inches of snow.
Common Redpoll, male
I remember years ago, the park ranger at Voyageurs National Park told me that Redpolls are a sign of Spring. I have always kept that comment in the back of my mind and have compared it with reality every year since. Most of the time, in the fall, when the Redpolls come down from Canada they get counted on the annual Christmas Bird Count. But, they usually aren’t coming in to the bird feeders – they stay up high in the Birch trees eating the seeds. Most of the Redpolls continue to migrate south – out of northern Minnesota.
Through out the winter, as their natural food source diminishes, the Redpolls start coming to the feeders.
And today, they are mobbing the feeders – a huge flock of 100 Redpolls are descending on the bird feeders. I guess it might be a sign of spring, now we need to get that snow melted!
One Owl that is an abundant breeder in northern Minnesota is the diminutive Saw-whet Owl. They are moving back to northern Minnesota in droves now. If you go out in the evening, you might hear what sounds like heavy equipment backing up with their warning beeper going off. That is pretty much what a tooting Saw-whet Owl sounds like.
Spring migration is underway right now, but it may not seem like it when looking out the window. Crane Lake set a record low on Sunday morning, it was -8 below zero. It sure looks like the ice on the lake will be out very late this year. There may still be ice on the lake by the Walleye fishing opener on May 12th – it’s happened before.
This blog will be tracking the spring migration. The first bird that migrates to Crane Lake is the American Crow. This bird leaves for a short time during the dead of winter – December and January. In February, the Crows start coming back north to join their bigger cousins, the Common Raven. In recent history, Crows may not go very far south as I have seen wintering Crows on the Iron Range. One year I had a resident pair of Crows over-winter as I would see them every day at the sunflower feeder. The following year was a colder winter and the pair departed for warmer climes, returning to their nest site in the spring.
I have had a flock of 20-30 Pine Grosbeaks this winter at the feeders. But now there are only about 6 coming to the feeders and they are all females.
Pine Grosbeak female
As with many birds, the males migrant to the breeding grounds first. They set up territories and wait for the females to arrive. That might be the case with the Pine Grosbeaks. Most all of them have left northern Minnesota by March 15th. It’s a sure sign of spring, even though there might still be lots of snow on the ground and a chill in the air. It seems the Pine Grosbeaks go entirely by length of day to determine their migration patterns.