Goldfinches are a welcome splash of color at our backyard feeders

Goldfinches are a welcome splash of color at our backyard feeders

I’m thinking a lot about springtime. With March upon us and the official first day of spring only a few short weeks away, it’s easy to look at winter in the rearview mirror. And though we won’t see our first hummingbirds until around Mother’s Day weekend, it’s never too early to daydream, right?

Among the long list of favorite feather friends, is the ruby-throated hummingbird. These mighty mites that dart and weave around our feeders each summer provide us untold hours of delight. Arriving each year here in the Northland early to mid-May, hummingbirds reliably visit feeders and flowerbeds everywhere throughout Minnesota.

Two denizens of woodlands and forests that are especially pleasing to our ears are the eastern towhee and the ovenbird. Both birds’ presence is often first noticed by hearing them before observing them. Calling out its name towhee” throughout the thick understory of woodland, in addition to softly vocalizing another common phrase, “drink your teeeeeee,” is the delightful call of the eastern towhee.

In the spring and summer when male ovenbirds arrive from their wintering grounds, their calls echo continuously through the forest, sometimes even at nighttime. Loud and distinct phrases of “teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher teacher,” resound everywhere in ascending crescendos as male birds call in near-unison with one another.

Not only are the songs and calls of towhees distinctive, but the species are also noisy foragers. They have the interesting habit of scratching the earth like chickens as they search for food.

However, unlike chickens, which usually scratch with one foot at a time, towhees jump forward and quickly scratch backward with both feet at the same time to uncover seeds, berries and invertebrates from underneath leaves and debris.

Ovenbirds, on the other hand, seem to just appear out of nowhere only to slink or flutter away if they spot you. These insectivorous birds, less gregarious than towhees, typically hunt insects by stealthily stalking or by quick attacks. I’ve watched many of the attractive little birds chase, capture and consume tens of dozens of insects on areas of ground no larger than a pizza plate.

Though black-capped chickadees are year-round residents, their sociable and bold temperament is delightful. Easily responding to mimicked “fee-bee” whistles during the springtime mating and nesting season, singing males will frequently call back and approach to within mere feet to see who’s who in the zoo. And who among us hasn’t also experienced the thrill of a chickadee landing on an open hand filled with sunflower seeds?

Another resident bird, the gray jay, can sometimes seem an enigma. Almost ghostlike when they fly, generally in pairs or small family groups, gray jays, also called Canada jays, whistle endearing soft phrases to one another as they hunt for food. While most birds migrate to warmer places each fall, gray jays stick around and endure the harsh winter months.

Gray jays are somewhat fearless birds that will often come very close to people. They seem to be birds with no worries or fears. A true northland bird, gray jays are at home throughout northern Minnesota and Canada. Only during years of low food supplies will gray jays migrate further south. And even then, it’s not very far south.

Last September while sitting in my Rocky Mountain hunting camp in northwest Colorado, I coaxed a couple of gray jays to me by tossing bits of bread on the ground near my feet. After getting used to me and understanding that I wasn’t a threat, it didn’t take long until the jays were landing on my lap and feeding from my hand. What fun!

Soon, birds of many a feather will be making their annual treks to northern Minnesota. Some birds, like blue jays and nuthatches and those I’ve mentioned, are with us throughout the year, while others are here for only a few short months. Indeed, wild birds, whether seasonal migrants or year-long residents are certain to please as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at

[email protected].

Blane Klemek WEB.jpg

Blane Klemek

Blane Klemek is a wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a longtime outdoors writer.

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