Adventure in the air: A Birding Scavenger Hunt

By Kate Havelin

December in Minnesota can sometimes seem like living in a snow globe. We’ve got sparkly swirling snow, glittering ice, and oh yeah, lots of lung-chilling air.  But no dinky snow globe can match what’s in our sky: a never ending bird show, replete with raucous sounds, a few cool colors, and a flock of weird words (read on for more about naked birding, pishing, and oology). 

More than three hundred species of birds regularly inhabit Minnesota and now is the perfect time to start seeing birds. This week starts the 108th Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest running citizen wildlife survey. The count starts this Saturday, December 14 and runs through January 5. (For details or to register, see the Audubon link below)

This Saturday, Dec. 14, you can also head to Coldwater Spring for our Winter Bird Walk with National Park Service Ranger Sharon Stiteler. From ducks and sparrows to woodpeckers, juncos, and eagles, we’ll see which birds are using Coldwater in winter. The walk starts at 3 PM, so we might get a chance to see some of the larger groups of Twin Cities crows heading to their urban roosts. And if we’re lucky, we could spot one of Coldwater’s resident barred owls. No reservations needed for this free walk; just show up.

Walking with a ranger who knows her birds is an easy way for non-birders like me to see and learn more about the winged world. The National Eagle Center in Wabasha offers half-day Eagle Field tripsthat include a classroom program, coach bus tour to prime eagle viewing locations, and refreshments. (Two tours are scheduled for January; see the National Eagle Center link below for fees and other details.)

If bird watching outside leaves you cold, just brush up your birding indoors. Stay cozy inside the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum and savor a gorgeous exhibit, Audubon and the Art of Birds, which runs through May. Websites like the Minnesota Ornithologists Union and Audubon Minnesota offer terrific pictures and facts about local birds. The Audubon’s FAQs are quite helpful, ranging from what to do about downed birds (turns out, more than 75 percent of all “rescued” young birds don’t need help) to what to stock in your backyard feeder (artificial suet that’s sold in bird food stores is better than raw suet, which melts easily.)

I loved the fun facts in 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know. Reading it taught me that naked birding means looking for birds sans binoculars, notebooks, or guides. The book explains that pishing is the sound of birders whispering “pish” to attract warblers. And oology is the collection of wild bird eggs—a cool-sounding word for an antiquated and cruel hobby. Author Sharon “Birdchick” Stiteler has a breezy style that makes birding seem like an endless adventure. She calls bird watching “a scavenger hunt, and the objects fly and sometimes change color!” A birding scavenger hunt seems like a lively adventure fit for our wintry snow globe.