February is nearing its end, and one of the oldest-used indicators of impending spring and warmer weather is the arrival of migratory birds. New technology helps scientists keep an eye on where birds are moving using tools like this Ohio State University composite radar map, which shows bird movement in real time. I contacted my former bird science professor, Dr. Robert Zink, the Breckenridge Chair in Ornithology at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History, to ask a few questions about returning birds.
Nick: Is there a species of bird whose return you consider to be indicative of spring?
Dr. Zink: Horned Larks are one of the first. But the “fee-bee” call of the Black-capped Chickadee beginning in January is a reminder of spring to come.
Nick: What are some resources for information of the return on Minnesota migratory birds in particular?
Nick: What bird's call do you most enjoy hearing upon its return to Saint Paul?
Dr. Zink: All of them.
For Saint Paul residents who share Dr. Zink's and my own passion for birds, a wealth of online resources allow citizens to contribute data on local birds. Some of this data is used for research projects performed by scientists and ecologists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Cornell's ornithology program leads the nation, and in 2002, with the National Audubon Society, they launched eBird, an online data submission service, which “provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales”. Natural areas depend on birds to distribute seeds and pollen among plant communities, so the importance of knowing which species are where is crucial to ecosystem studies. If your interest is peaked by the opportunity to do real science while watching birds, consider participating in eBird or the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union's rare bird reporting hot line, or even becoming a member.
I took a walk at the Battle Creek Regional Park off-leash area with my dog, Zip, and heard a bird I couldn't identify. Can you? Later that day I saw a robin, and smiled at knowing that spring is near. Here's looking forward to those warm mornings waking up to dense birdsong!
Nick Kiecker is a Greenhouse Assistant volunteer with Saint Paul Natural Resources who also lends his pen and expertise by submitting regular contributions to our blog. If you are interested in volunteering or writing for our blog, please visit bit.ly/NaturalResourcesVolunteers.