Prairie Talk—"Birds at First”

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If you asked someone, “What birds have you seen on the FUMC prairie?” the answer would depend on when they visited our property. If most visits are on Sunday mornings, the answer would be ducks, geese, sparrows, and maybe a sandhill crane during mating season in the spring. If they visited during the week and at different times of the day, they may see a variety of other birds, even if they don’t walk the prairie trails. Carl Bublitz, who regularly walks the prairie trails monitoring our prairie restoration efforts, has identified at least 18 different species of birds, and seen other species he was unable to identify. Land stewardship has installed bird houses around the edge of the prairie to encourage nesting birds, such as the Eastern Bluebird. We have a Bluebird nesting pair this year. The Memorial Garden and nearby respite areas will make it easy to observe the variety of birds in the wetlands west of our property.

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Native prairie birds are an important part of prairie restoration. In 2017, the World Wildlife Fund released a report on wildlife population declines throughout the world and found that in the prairie, grassland birds are the wildlife most at risk. Many of these birds migrate from Mexico, through Minnesota, to Canada, while others are more local. Audubon Minnesota has identified Important Bird Areas, which are designated essential bird habitats for counteracting bird population decline. Just to our west is the Avon Hills Important Bird Area which includes woods, marshes, and restored prairie. Avon Hills is home to over 231 species of birds. The FUMC prairie can be an important resting spot for birds from Avon Hills, as well as habitat for grassland birds who nest on the FUMC prairie.

If you visited FUMC during the week, what birds might you see? As you walk from the parking lot to the building, you might hear a bird call that seems to scold you, and then see a moderate sized bird run out from under a bush that has a white breast, brown wings, and black, white and brown rings on the neck and head. You have seen a Killdeer, a ground nesting migratory plover. In 1932 killdeer were abundant in Minnesota. Today, they are of moderate concern for conservation.

Swallows are abundant on our property. There are cliff swallows that build mud nests on the building. Near the wetlands you can find Song Sparrows, a bird of low conservation concern. But not all sparrows are abundant. Minnesota Audubon has designated the Grasshopper Sparrow a target species for conservation. We have yet to see a grasshopper sparrow on the FUMC prairie. You could be the first to see one.

As you move away from the building to the edge of the prairie or along the county ditch north of the building, you may see an Eastern Bluebird or a Baltimore Oriole. In the county ditch or in the pond south of the FUMC prairie, besides geese and ducks, you may see a Solitary Sandpiper or a Great Blue Heron. In the wetlands west of the Memorial Garden are many varieties of warblers. Red-tailed Hawks are often seen flying overhead or perched in larger trees. There are occasional reports of a Bald Eagle and an Osprey flying overhead.

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Walking prairie trails you may spot an Eastern Meadowlark or a Western Meadowlark. Sighting the Eastern Meadowlark on the FUMC prairie is important, because the Eastern Meadowlark is an Audubon target conservation species. Both are important prairie birds.

What is so enjoyable about watching birds at FUMC is that the best birding occurs when you slow down and relax. You don’t need to walk the prairie trails. Sit in the Memorial garden, bring a chair to sit on the edge of the prairie, or sit on one of the rocks at the head of a trail. Sit quietly. Watch. Listen. Open your mind and heart to the winged creatures of God’s creation.