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May phenology with Pam Perry: Which bird sings about V8?

A Yellow-throated Vireo perches on a branch near Red Wing, Minnesota, on Sept. 26, 2023. It has a yellow head, neck, and breast, with dark wings and a pale belly.
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iNaturalist user cebye
A Yellow-throated Vireo perches on a branch near Red Wing, Minnesota, on Sept. 26, 2023.

Pam Perry, a retired non-game wildlife biologist and birding enthusiast, joined us on May 14, to talk about the latest birds she was seeing and what to look for in the upcoming weeks.

A birding hike kicked off the month on May 4, at Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge south of McGregor. The Bee-Nay-She Bird club organized the hike, and John Latimer and Pam Perry led the way. A trip highlight was seeing a Loggerhead Shrike, an endangered species in Minnesota. Despite the light rain, a great time was had and the group plans to do it again on the first Saturday of May 2025.

Frogs and toads

John and Pam are both enthusiastic about reptiles and amphibians, so it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to frogs. John, eager to see his phenology students exploring nature, offered the Cohasset Elementary students a dollar to bring him back a boreal chorus frog. (Apparently, he could have offered them $100 – boreal chorus frogs are very tiny and hard to catch!)

A boreal chorus frog sings from a vernal pond near Northfield, Minnesota on April 3, 2021. It has contrasting tan-and-brown stripes running down its back and its throat sac is inflated as it calls.
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iNaturalist user Mathew Zappa.
A boreal chorus frog sings from a vernal pond near Northfield, Minnesota on April 3, 2021.

In Brainerd, a fast-moving kid caught a grey treefrog, which he showed off to Pam Perry. “He was so excited I thought, ‘Oh this is great,’” Pam Perry said. “That’s the beauty of frogs and toads and turtles and all that: you can catch them. You can’t catch birds easily or anything like that.”

Pam and John are hearing spring peepers, boreal chorus frogs, and leopard frogs. The wood frogs, which begin calling early in the spring, are done calling for the season in the Grand Rapids area. Near Cass Lake, the American toads are so loud they’re drowning out the bird song!

“That’s what toads do. When they all get going, it’s deafening,” Pam said.

The joys of Merlin Bird ID

Pam paused to congratulate John on his successful identification and sighting of a Yellow-throated Vireo. (Listen to John’s story here, beginning at 15:30.) His sighting hinged on the success of the Merlin Bird ID app, which uses your phone’s microphone to listen to bird song around you and identify which birds are singing. While the app isn’t 100% accurate, it can cue folks to look more closely for unfamiliar birds.

A screenshot of the Merlin Bird ID app on a cell phone shows bird songs detected during a recording on May 14, 2024. Before being cut off by the length of the screen, the list of detected species includes Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, and Mourning Dove.
KAXE
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Charlie Mitchell
A screenshot of the Merlin Bird ID app on a cell phone shows bird songs detected during a recording on May 14, 2024.

This is just what happened to John in mid-May. Merlin Bird ID results indicated that a Yellow-throated Vireo was calling nearby, so he went looking – and found it! “If you had told me a week ago or a month ago that I should listen for the Yellow-throated Vireo, I would be like, ‘What? Is there one?’” John said. “Learning their song is going to change everything for me, because they are fairly loud. I wouldn’t put them with the Northern Cardinal or Carolina Wren... but loud enough, when I heard it, I was like ‘Oh, what bird is that? I haven’t heard that.’”

Pam’s mnemonic device for remembering the call of the Yellow-throated Vireo is, “V8... for you. V8... for you.” What good hosts, serving their woodland neighbors a drink!

A bounty of birds

Other than the Yellow-throated Vireo, Pam has observed warblers, vireos, thrashers, catbirds, orioles, hummingbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers,

“Everything has come in, it’s just fabulous,” Pam remarked. “This time of year, I’m working out in my yard, my gardens, I’m spending the whole time listening to everything.”

Barred Owl dialects

Another bird with a distinctive call is the Barred Owl, the most common owl in Minnesota, whose hoot sounds like a loud “Who, who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-ahh.” Pairs will sing in duets, with one calling back to the other. They are most often heard at night, but commonly hoot during the day as well.

Just like us, birds have regional accents and variations to their song. Pam reports that in Florida, the Barred Owl says, “Who cooks for y’all?”

An adult Barred Owl perches near its chick in an oak tree near the Twin Cities in June 2022. Both birds have a pale beak. The adult has brown wings and a pale chest with dark brown streaking. The chick is fuzzy and gray with white circles around its eyes.
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iNaturalist user Trent Jonas
An adult Barred Owl perches near its chick in an oak tree near the Twin Cities in June 2022.

Pam is lucky enough to have a pair nesting in her backyard. Barred Owls are cavity nesters, unlike Great Grey Owls or Great Horned Owls, which use open nests. She hoped to find the cavity soon to watch the family grow.

Spring colors and the importance of green

Near Brainerd, where Pam lives, the Juneberries were flowering and the crabapples were in full bloom. The Brainerd Garden Club distributed the crabapple saplings about 20-30 years ago, as part of an effort to beautify the city.

Just as beautiful as the flowers are the huge variety of greens in the forests. “In the spring, it’s like I’m soaking it up,” Pam enthused. “I have read too about how green is a very calming color for people. It’s something certainly that... we have evolved to be very in tune with.”

John agreed and added that distinguishing between similar shades of green was an important adaptation for humanity’s ancestors, who needed to find fruit-bearing trees by color from long distances.

The season waits for no one

As they wrapped up the conversation, John mentioned that he’d be in Pam’s neck of the woods soon. Pam, however, had other plans. “I’m going to be off camping, otherwise I would join you,” Pam responded. “For me, it’s the season to be out, so I’m going out.”

“Yeah, alright. Get out and enjoy,” John replied.

Do you have plans to get out and enjoy the many sights and sounds of late spring? Let us know: email us at comments@kaxe.org.


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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