This year the delayed spring has had unintended consequences. The confusing spring warbler migration is being appreciated by an inordinate amount of folks because the leaves are not hiding their northerly progression.

South Western Minnesota has been witness to the House Finch influx over the past decade. Many people confuse this bird with the Purple Finch. The House Finch is an aggressive early nester and has pushed the English sparrow out of its dominate role in the south of Minnesota. It lays its eggs a week or so earlier than the English Sparrow, hence it gets the best nesting sights.

Once found only in the South & South West U.S. the House Finches territory has expanded to the North East U.S. and have quite rapidly spread westward. Appropriately a decade ago we witnessed this bird in Western Wisconsin. and with a year it was at bird feeders in SouthWestern Minnesota. This birds expanding range went from both coasts of the U.S. and it has now met in the middle of America. Speculation is that bird feeding has allowed this bird to expand its territory.

The Harris’s Sparrow is the largest sparrow (7 to 7.5 inches) and has been seen recently in backyards in South Western Minnesota. It is readily identifiable by its black cap, face and throat. It migrates precisely through the Missouri River Basin on its way northward to the western regions of the Hudson’s Bay where it nests. Its nesting grounds are so remote that it was not know where they nested until the early 1900’s.

Recently I was traveling with some artist friends in South West Arizona just a few miles from the Mexican border. Our birding instincts were refueled when we sighted a Vermillion Flycatcher. (the bird pictured) The following day in Arizona I heard the call of a dove that I recognized as a new visitor to my community in South West Minnesota. The sound that I heard was that of a Eurasian Collar Dove, it arrived in my community a few years ago. The bird looks so much like a mourning dove that most people do not readily see the difference. With close observation this bird is 20 % larger and has a slightly different flight pattern. It has a distinctive call that is quite comical and melodious. I decide to tell my artist friends about this bird, because I am certain we can find it and identify it for them. It is a “pole sitter” and often times can be seen sitting on light posts and other singular poles. I travel with these friends far and wide. My artist friends are from Bulgaria and have taken up residence in New Mexico because some of the best artistic lithographers live in this region.

As I listen to this bird I realize that it has European origins. When I tell them to listen to the bird sounds that we hear, they look at me puzzled and say “that is a goo gootka!”. Goo Gootka is an onomatopoetic sound, the name phonetically imitates the sound that the bird makes! We search in vain to try and find the origin of the sound and eventually find the bird sitting on a light pole. Indeed, it is a “Goo Gootka” the Eurasian Collared Dove that we have come to enjoy. The bird is an international emissary of good will and friendship. Other birds that have an onomatopoetic names? consider Chickadee (chick a dee dee dee) Bobolink, Bobolink, spink spank spink and the Yellow Billed Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.

Tonight we walk to a bicycle bridge that spans Whiskey Brook. Along the way a dark shadow of a falcon appears along the shoreline. It can easily be identified by its “elbow silhouette” in the wing. The bird flies with great deliberation, there are very few glides in its flight. It is a top order predator in the bird world and starlings and pigeons should take heed. It does not have a large enough wing span to be a Peregrine Falcon. This observation leaves only one choice a Merlin, the second smallest bird in the falcon family.

We have a population of falcons in my state. The American Kestrel is the smallest and most common of falcons. Many people refer to it as a Sparrow Hawk, in other areas of the United States the diversity of names is plentiful….Kitty Hawk, Grasshopper Hawk, Rusty Capped Falcon, Mouse Hawk, Short Winged Hawk and my favorite “WindHover”. Killy killy killy is the sound it makes as you see it hovering next to the highway. (Birds of America-Louis Agassi Fuertes-1936)

When your daily routine gets boring…..cast your eyes to the sky and see whats about!

Bill Keitel

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