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Pam Perry: April phenology and a suet-scarfing warbler

A group of breeding adult pelicans swim in Lake Bemidji on April 15, 2024.
Steve Patterson via the KAXE-KBXE Season Watch Facebook group
A group of American White Pelicans swim in Lake Bemidji on April 15, 2024. A vertical yellow plate forms on the upper bills of adults during breeding season.

Pam Perry, our favorite retired non-game wildlife biologist, stops by each month to talk about Minnesota phenology with our staff phenologist, John Latimer. Pam is broadly knowledgeable about Minnesota's environment and particularly excited about birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Pam Perry, a retired non-game wildlife biologist and huge birding enthusiast, joins us each month to talk about the latest birds she’s seeing and what to look for in the upcoming month.

Migrating masses

The end of March brought a lot of snow to the area, but that did not deter an influx of migrating birds in early April.

Pam introduced us to the remarkable BirdCast website last month. This program uses weather radar to determine how many birds fly over any given county each night. On Saturday, April 6, over a million birds had already flown over Crow Wing County, where Pam lives. Ten days later, that number rose to 10.4 million!

A Yellow-rumped Warbler forages by a stream at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve on May 9, 2019.
Lorie Shaull
A Yellow-rumped Warbler forages by a stream at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve on May 9, 2019.

When she went out the next few mornings to investigate, there were Fox Sparrows, Killdeer, Northern Flickers, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Harriers, Turkey Vultures, herons, grebes, Song Sparrows and Eastern Phoebes.

Pam’s big surprise of the month was seeing a Yellow-rumped Warbler at her suet feeder. It’s the first time she’s ever seen one at her feeders!

Typically, these birds are insectivorous and spend a lot of early spring finding early emerging flying insects near streams and rivers and don’t find much value in seeds or suet.

The huge quantity of snow and regrowth of ice must have made Minnesota an inhospitable place for the little bird, however. Luckily, it found some high-calorie food at Pam’s suet feeder, where it was a regular visitor throughout the cold snap.

What’s in a name?

Many people — including phenology coordinator Charlie Mitchell — would likely have missed this unusual event, since small birds can look a lot alike to the untrained eye. This is a good example of how learning species names — on the face, a seemingly dry skill — can pay dividends for your enjoyment of and interest in nature.

For Pam, learning to name and distinguish the different species helps her be more aware of nature's variety.

“Learning the names, knowing what things are... It just deepens your appreciation of what's out there,” she said.

The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a great way for a novice birder to learn some bird calls.

Upcoming birding events

The Northland Arboretum in Brainerd will have bird hikes again this year. The hikes will run on Wednesdays and Saturdays for five weeks, beginning Saturday, April 27 at 8:00 a.m.

Additionally, staff phenologist John Latimer will be leading a birding hike, hosted by the Bee-Nay-She Bird Council, at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge on May 4. The event is open to the public and starts at 9 a.m.

What birds have you been seeing lately? Have you spotted anything surprising? Let us know at

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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Jennifer has worked at Northern Community Radio since 2006 and spent 17 years as Membership Manager. She shifted to a host/producer position in 2023. She hosts the Monday Morning Show and is the local host of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" a few days a week. She also writes public services announcements and creates web stories.
Charlie Mitchell (she/they) joined the KAXE team in February of 2022. Charlie creates the Season Watch Newsletter, writes segment summaries for the website, and coordinates our Engaging Minnesotans with Phenology project. With a background in wildlife biology, she enjoys learning a little bit about everything, whether it's plants, mushrooms, aquatic invertebrates, or the short-tailed shrew (did you know they can echolocate?).