Songbird carnage hits Duluth

Laura Erickson/Laura’s Birding Blog

In Paul Douglas’ weather column on the Star Tribune yesterday, Todd Nelson reports on an odd phenomenon on the North Shore over the weekend.

I had one of the worst driving trips along Minnesota’s North Shore this weekend. While the fall colors where a treat to look at, I couldn’t help but notice how many small birds were being hit by cars.

It seemed as though these small warbler, wren-like birds were sure having a tough time combating the gusty winds on Saturday. My only thought is that they were so tired out from the wind and potential migration that they were unable to dodge oncoming traffic.

The drive switched from enjoyable to somber as we noticed more and more small birds on the side of the road… anybody have any ideas on what was going on here?

We have an answer, thanks to Sam Cook at the Duluth News Tribune today, who reports that at least 68 songbirds had died as of Monday. They were migrating when pushed along by northwest winds and to avoid Lake Superior, they hugged the shoreline.

Many will not make it to their winter homes in Mexico and Central and South America.

The migrating birds typically are weary and hungry and less able to avoid the hazards of moving vehicles, Erickson said. One driver estimated in a Facebook post that he had hit 20 songbirds while driving over the weekend.

“On Highway 61, the pavement warms faster than the grass or plants,” (Bird expert Laura) Erickson said. “Insects are more prevalent on the road itself and next to it. That draws the birds in. They’re so confused and hungry. They’re in this really keyed-up, stressed situation.”

Erickson said she has no way of estimating how many birds may have been killed in car collisions.

“A lot are killed by cars,” Erickson said. “I don’t think anyone driving along (Highway) 61 this weekend didn’t hit a bird or just miss them. One person got two birds with their bike.”

The influx of migrating birds that has ended up in or near Duluth is called, in ornithological terms, a “fall-out” of birds. Duluth has seen similar fall-out events in some past years, Erickson said.

Laura Erickson is documenting the bird deaths on her website.

Heartbreaking as this is, it’s only by reporting all these tragic deaths that we’ll be able to raise awareness of this awful issue so we can inspire people to 1) Stop constructing these bird-killing structures in the first place; 2) change killer glass where feasible; 3) get up netting, American Bird Conservancy Bird Tape, or other way of at least reducing the number of kills where changing the glass isn’t feasible.

  • Josh

    In my experience driving closer to the 55 mph speed limit vs 65 mph enforced limit greatly reduces the number of animals hit with ones car – this includes even smaller animals like bugs, dragonflies. They just seem to be able to get out of the way.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Well, that’s a bummer. Saw a motorist strike a hawk with his windshield in the lane next to me on Highway 10, near Anoka. Guy/Gal had nerves like Steve McQueen — they didn’t serve or slam brakes, just slowly reduced speed and moved to side of road. Thank you, whoever you are. Sorry about the damage, and about the hawk, too.

  • Jim G

    Todd Nelson is an excellent observer of all things related to weather and its effects. He’s very familiar with the Duluth area having started out as a local TV weather person there a couple of years ago. He’s also a superb communicator, filling in when Paul Douglas is unavailable to write his daily weather column. In addition, he does the morning weather on the Star Tribune web site. I like his professional style, though as his uncle, I may be a little biased.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I saw one stuck in a grill when I was up there a few weeks ago and figured it was because of the Vikings stadium.