Tuesday, August 18, 2009

10 Most Beautiful Birds in Minnesota

Posted by Kirk
I debated a lot about this post. Do I just go for the flashy birds or subtle beauty? I decided subtle beauty will be another post for another day. This is a list of the must see flashy colored birds of Minnesota that even a non-birder would find beautiful.

1. Scarlet Tanager
Many people dream of one day taking a trip to an exotic Central American birding locale and taking in beautiful brightly colored tropical birds without realizing many of those tropical birds come to Minnesota in the summer. The Scarlet Tanager is one of my favorites. I'm fortunate to work at a nature center with large unbroken tracks of forest so I get to happen upon Scarlet Tanagers all summer. (photo credit Vincent Lucas)

2. Red-headed Woodpecker
I was initially going to say Pileated Woodpecker on this top ten list as it is an enormous bird and the red crest is impressive but as I was browsing though my photos I came upon some shots of a Red-headed Woodpecker and I was reminded that I would rather see a Red-headed Woodpecker any day. This is probably partly because they are rare but the red on the head of this bird is just incredible. It is even more striking in contrast with the completely white breast and belly and the black back with patches of white on the wings. Photos cannot hope to do this red justice. When you see a well-lit red-headed woodpecker for the first time it is though you have been living a lie and have never actually seen the color red before. "Ah," you say, "So THAT'S what red looks like!" (photo credit Kirk Mona)

3. Baltimore Oriole
This one was easy. The Baltimore Oriole is a showstopper. When I took the photo to the left, it was still a gray dreary spring. I think it may have even been raining that day. That eye-popping orange is a sight to behold. I never tire of watching orioles. I don't think we take this one for granted as much as some others but it is easy to forget that the western half of the country never sees this gorgeous bird. This is another example of a tropical bird in Minnesota. Baltimore Orioles winter in Central America. (photo credit Kirk Mona)

4. Blue Jay
Go ahead, leave hateful comments in the comment section about this choice. Why do people dislike Blue Jays so much? This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful birds on Earth. Look a the iridescent blue on the wings, the crest, the contrast of black and blues on the tail and wings, the black collar. This bird is incredible yet some people despise this bird. I think there are two things people hold against it. First off, they are common. People see Blue Jays all the time and the wow factor wears off. I guarantee, if this were a tropical bird only found on some remote, hard to get to island, birders would write entire books about their quest to see this bird. They would make derisive remarks about other birders claiming you aren't a real birder unless you've seen a Blue Jay. The other reason people don't seem to like this bird is some misplaced notion that they are mean. That's ridiculous. Birds aren't mean. That's ascribing human emotions to evolutionary adaptations. Blue Jays know how to scare other birds away from the food they want. If we're going to ascribe human characteristics to them, let's call them clever. (photo credit Mdf)

5. Wood Duck
The male wood duck is one of the most beautiful birds in the world and since iridescence comes into play a photo can only capture part of their beauty. They need to be appreciated in person. They are truly a marvel to behold and a wonderful example of the evolutionary adaptation of coloration to attract mates. It makes one wonder what wood duck drakes (the males) looked like 10,000 years ago and what they will look like thousands of years in the future. Will selection pressures make them even more flamboyant or at some point are there diminishing returns due to predation? (photo credit Adrian Pingstone)

6. Blackburnian Warbler
Probably the least common and hardest to locate bird on this list. The first time I saw a Blackburian Warbler, time stood still and I thought it was a little piece of burning hot plasma from the sun dancing about in the tops of the trees. The orange on the head of this bird defies effective description when the sun shines on it. I'll simply do my best and describe it as ocular bliss. (photo credit Mdf)

7. Great Blue Heron
In terms of color, this is probably the least showy bird on the list. This is an incredible bird though. It makes up for lack of bright colors by size, grace and delicate breeding plumage. I just love all the delicate feathers coming off this bird. The long black feathers on the head are particularly striking. I could just watch these guys all day. (photo credit Patrick Colin)

8. American Goldfinch
I have to admit, I swapped the American Goldfinch in at the last minute. I had a photo all picked out of a Common Yellowthroat and was prepared to talk about the wonderful coloration from olive to white to black to yellow on their head. I realized though, that I was selling the American Goldfinch short by not having it on this list. My bias against common birds was peeking through. I think in times like these I need to refer to the ultimate authority. Kids. When we do bird-banding at the nature center pretty much every warbler we show the kids gets from a polite yawn to an interested smile. When the banders pull a goldfinch out of the bag, the kids gasp and cheer. This is a beautiful little bird and when the sun is right and you it hit the peak of breeding season the yellow feathers seem to blaze. (photo credit Mdf)

9. Indigo Bunting
Speaking of blazing color, the Indigo Bunting wins the award for mastering the color blue. This coloration is achieved through the reflection and refraction of light instead of through pigmentation in the feathers which makes it all the more impressive. If Bluebirds are pretty, Indigo buntings are stunning. They are another bird that must be seen in person to appreciate how their color changes with each subtle shift in angle. (photo credit Dave Menke, USFWS)

10. Northern Cardinal
The Northern Cardinal is easy for many people in Minnesota to take for granted. I hear the males singing every spring day when I step out my back door. I think of them as such a common bird that it is easy to forget they aren't even found everywhere in our state. Interestingly though, they are pushing their range further north and are not as rare in Northern Minnesota as they once were. A good reminder as to how incredible this bird really is came when I was down in Arizona doing some birding at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. I had an incredible day of birding adding lifers left and right. There were hand fulls of hummingbirds and even a Vermilion Flycatcher. At one point we saw a group of very excited birders standing on a small foot bridge. We meandered by and asked what they were seeing. "A Northern Cardinal!" they shouted with glee. We shrugged our shoulders and continued on. They were from the Pacific Northwest and the cardinal was a real rarity for them. I try not to forget that while it may not be rare where I live it is still a spectacular bird. The males are a beautiful red with a nice crest and the black on their face adds an interesting contrast. Just like the blue jay, if this were a bird I'd spotted on a rare visit to a tropical locale I would probably be shouting and cheering just as those people on the bridge were. This is a beautiful bird.

Now then, if you have read this far you probably disagree with at least one of my picks. You probably think I hugely overlooked your favorite bird. Please feel free to leave other ideas in the comments section but...if you're going to suggest another bird then you have to also tell me which species it would bump off the list.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

This is a fun idea. I'll have to give some thought to my own list.
I've always found Blue Jays beautiful too, but often overlooked.
Your choice of the Blackburnian is spot on. It's my favorite warbler.

I do think I'd swap out the Goldfinch for a Magnolia Warbler and I'd kick out the Heron for a Black-throated Blue.

Unknown said...

Rose-breasted grosbeak?

Kirk said...

Penelope: good suggestion but which one would you take off the list? Coming up with new birds is easy, deciding which ones to take off is harder.

Lynne: Both good suggestions as well. The reason I didn't do more warblers was that I was trying to stick to more common birds that anyone visiting the state could see. I actually felt a little bad having the Blackburnian in there since they are hard to find.

birdchick said...

What? No raptors? The saw-what got robbed!

Unknown said...

I would agree with your list. I have even been fortunate to see all but 2 of the birds on your list, the red headed woodpecker and the Blackburnian warbler. I only saw a scarlet tanager and indigo bunting this year for the first time and only once, but they were marvelous. I also agree about the undreratedness of common birds. I love blue jays. I like cardinals too, but I have begun to appreciate the subtlety of the femal more than the brightness of the male.

Kyle Reynolds

Kirk said...

Shaz: I'm thinking I may do a 10 most unnoticed beautiful birds or some such thing. As I said in the post, the idea on this one was to come up with the ones even non-birders would appreciate. If I do the other list it will include such beauties as the rusty blackbird and certainly some raptors. I'm open to suggestions and bribes.

Anonymous said...

Lovely birds, all. The Wood Duck knocked my socks off the first time I saw a male in breeding plumage. Great choices for your list. :-)

genell029 said...

I have had a chance to see the indigo bunting at my feeders a couple of days ago. It is truely a beautiful bird to see.

Kirk said...

Congratulations. They are awesome birds. I saw my first of the year Scarlet Tanager this afternoon but no sign of Indogo Buntings yet.

Ter Scott said...

WHAT BIRD IS THIS? Hello, I hope you can help. I was traveling on US212 from Montevideo to Granite Falls on Friday evening where the trees were beautiful shades of green and every bend in the road revealed a new vista of valleys, hills, and variances of green.

As I came around a bend, just at a guard rail in the middle of the road I saw a bright yellow bird standing near another which was injured; it flew up as I drove by. Immediately as I passed it landed again by its friend and flew up again as the car behind me passed it.

I did a u-turn and returned to the scene. Again the bird was there and again it flew away as I approached. I pulled over. When traffic allowed, I went to the middle of the road and picked the dead bird up and moved it off the road where it's friend could return safely to pay its respects.

I was moved not only by the behavior of the bird to its deceased friend (or mate?) but also by the beauty of both birds; mostly bright yellow (entire body) with gray or brown wings, but I especially remember it's long black or grayish beak which narrowed almost straw-like to, sadly, a drop of blood at the tip.

I didn't' take a picture out of respect and honor for these beautiful creatures but later tried to find the type of bird that these are and so far I am unable to do so. What do you think?

Kirk said...

Hard to say without a photo or an idea of the size. Was it larger than your hand? Pam size, very small?

My first guess based on an all yellow and grey wings would be a prothonotary Warbler or maybe a blue winged Warbler. Check out those.

CCinStPaul said...

We just saw a scarlet tanager and its mate on our walk home from
school! Amazing to know it could’ve been flying from South America. - Catron family
Fun post of yours for us to read ! Thanks!

Reebledeavey said...

We have been blessed with a wooded yard, and have had 7 of the 10 at feeders this year. The woodducks and herons we see at the river about 4 blocks away, (a long with Eagles)

Holly said...

A couple of weeks ago I saw a beautiful red bird standing on the railing of my deck. I had never seen one like it before and I've been trying to find out what it is ever since. I just saw it again in the trees behind my house and I searched online and found your blog. I now know that I have a scarlett transfer for a summer visitor. This is all the more amazing ti me since I live in a first ring suburb by the interstate. Now I will start searching for a blue bunting. Thank you for the great article.

Mitz said...

I've got a soft spot for that bandit Cedar Waxwing. So sleek and yet fun, then there's the yellow-tipped tail.

Kat said...

We have a Oriole and for 2 days a Scarlet Tanger,wow!
Not to mention tons of finches, hummingbirds are back, Jays, downy woodpeckers and a nesting Wren! Love our birds!
I love all your choices, each has their own beauty!

Unknown said...

I agree with Mitz, the Cedar Waxwing is in my top ten