Monday, May 26, 2008

Dead Birds Reported In Minnesota In April

Late April was a tricky weather month in Minnesota for birds. Cold temperatures and heavy snows created harsh feeding conditions for insectivores just arriving from migration. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The Minnesota DNR received numerous reports of dead swallows, bluebirds, sparrows, robins and warblers. Because of the cold spring, migrating songbirds found few insects when they arrived. Then the late-April snow hit in northern Minnesota. Birds that eat insects couldn't find food, and some starved.

In Brainerd, 19 dead swallows were found in nine different nest boxes. There were 27 more swallows and two bluebirds found dead in nest boxes at Crow Wing State Park,

“Citizens can help by putting out meal worms for bluebirds and other worm-eating birds. Unfortunately, there isn't anything we can do for the swallows that rely on flying insects for their main food source,” Henderson said. “Temperatures above 60 for a period of two to three days should produce enough insects to revive birds currently in peril.“

Conrad Christiansen, retired DNR biologist, said migrating birds are always pushing the snowline.

“Birds such as woodcock return about mid March,” Christiansen said. “If we experience a heavy, late snowfall some birds will suffer.“

However, some remained skeptical, according to an article in the River Valley Outdoors:

I still remain puzzled by the report. Gaylord Perry, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Onalaska, WI, agrees the DNR may be jumping to conclusion with out looking at all the facts.

Perry agrees it may be a possibility the birds are dying from starvation, but is quick to point out that most insect-eating birds will also eat seed and fruit.

“They not only eat insects, but will eat seed as long as it’s out of the shell,” he said. “They’re also fruit eaters.”

Perry said he was skeptical about bluebirds eating seeds until one of his customer brought in a photo to prove it.

“When I asked them what they were feeding the bluebirds, the customer said our garden mix,” Perry said. “Sure, everything is out of the shell in that mix.”

Rather than starvation, could the birds found in the nest boxes have died from exposure from the cold, or from predation?

Perry says those are certainly possibilities and that’s why he remains very skeptical about the report.