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February birding with Pam Perry

A Northern Flicker eats at a feeder in Marshall on January 26, 2024.
Dalton Spencer via iNaturalist
A Northern Flicker eats at a feeder in Marshall on January 26, 2024.
A Northern Saw-Whet Owl perches in a juniper tree in Washington County in January, 2024.
Trent Jonas via iNaturalist
A Northern Saw-Whet Owl perches in a juniper tree in Washington County in January, 2024.

This month, our conversation started with Northern Saw-whet Owls. John and Pam both had friends who had heard their unmistakable call, which sounds like a truck backing up. However, these tricky owls can be incredibly hard to actually spot.

John said he once heard one in a Norway pine that stood by itself. “I knew it wasn't in another tree. I could hear it. It called and called and called, and I walked around that tree I'll bet you for 20 minutes staring and searching and looking at every branch and never found it. Never. And it was there.”

Pam said that these little owls have a hard time finding food when there is a lot of snow, so this winter’s lack of snow cover has been a blessing for them.

Boring feeders – riveting river

Pam mentioned that her feeders have been “pretty boring. I've got Pine Siskins and goldfinches and then all the regulars: the woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, Blue Jays.”

She has been checking the Mississippi River near Brainerd every day, which has been opening up more and more recently. On Monday, Feb. 5, she saw a Common Merganser. “And I’m going, ‘Oh, the ducks are coming! The ducks are coming!” Pam said. Goldeneyes will be arriving soon as well.

Red-Headed Woodpeckers

John mentioned that he had an email from some folks last week who had seen a Red-headed Woodpecker in the Brainerd area. Pam said, “They can over winter. When I have found them in the winter, it's a colony.... But it seems like if they do over winter, it lasts for a little while, and then they’re gone again.”

Birding is a Community

John also received an email from a couple in the Bemidji area who recently spotted a Northern Flicker. While relatively common in the summer, Northern Flickers are a pretty rare bird at this point in the year.

John said, “That's kind of the beauty of what we're doing here. When we get out and we speak about these birds, others who are also enraptured with birds will send us notes and say, ‘Hey, this thing is at my house and it's pretty.’ And that's kind of the cool thing about birding. It's a community.”

Pam agreed and invited everyone to the Bee-Nay-She Bird Council that meets at 7:00 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 8 at Northland Arboretum in Baxter. This month’s meeting features a program by Milt Blomberg, who regularly birds in southern Crow Wing County.

Each meeting also includes an ID segment with LeAnn Plinske. She and her husband, Ron, were just featured on the Lakeland PBS show Common Ground. Pam said, “They did a wonderful job talking about areas where you can go birding and walking. I use the word hiking, but it's really strolling, because you're stopping all the time to look at stuff.”

John said, “It doesn't matter your level of expertise. If you have just mastered the Black-capped Chickadee and you'd like to learn more, there are people there who will be so happy to meet you and so encouraging that you will not be sorry that you've made the effort."

Pam agreed, “Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You don't have to be a high-level birder to go to one of these meetings. We have lots of people who enjoy what they see in their backyard and on their property and they just want to learn more.”

Pam and John also talked about how birds see in a different light spectrum than we do and the expectation of early robins this year. Listen to the story above to hear their full conversation.

“You know, it won't be too long and you and I will be talking about frogs and frog songs,” John concluded. Let us know what you hear out there – send a message to

For more phenology, subscribe to our Season Watch Newsletter or visit the Season Watch Facebook page.

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

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