Bird enthusiasts record bird sightings via GPS


By: Corey Ellingson

This past weekend, the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club participated in the Ebird Global Big Day. A group of 12 hearty souls started their day in General Sibley Park. The calm frosty morning allowed for the serenading sounds of birds to echo through the woods loud and clear in hopes of attracting a mate.Another vehicle participated by canvassing the favorite haunts in Morton County before heading east to the local favorite Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Amazingly, a third enthusiastic birder began in the southeast corner of the state and birded across the southern tier of counties, not realizing that all three groups would serendipitously end at the refuge at sunset.


Ebird is a popular internet reporting tool developed by Cornell University which uses GPS to pinpoint where people look for birds and allows them to record the date and time, distance covered and catalog all the birds observed. This is an immensely powerful database being built by citizens that has a multitude of uses.Cornell University, in an effort to promote birding to new and old birders alike, planned a Big Day for May 4. Using all the submitted data nationwide, the database built would give a telling snapshot of migration throughout the country for all species. Complex visual maps could be built to display bird migration by tabulating species reported throughout the country at a point in time, and these images could follow through the entire migration north and south.


Some species are already through North Dakota and setting up territories for the summer. Yet other species are just now hitting the Gulf Coast and will arrive here in a few weeks. Unfortunately, these birds don’t all make it to their summer homes. Given the cold mornings recently, some birds are forced to forage on the ground in search of food. Having no time to watch their back for predators, they are frantically looking for their next morsel wherever it may be. For some, that next morsel may be found by perching on cattails in the water and skimming insects off the surface.


In Sibley Park, one of my co-birders pointed out a tiny bird in big trouble. I was quite saddened to see one of my feathered friends, an orange-crowned warbler struggling to get out of the water in some dense vegetation. Somehow, it had attempted to pick up a meal and fell into the water. Immediately, the wet feathers did not allow for flight. The little gem struggled to get out of the water, but didn’t have the strength to climb up on the branches. Additionally, the thick vegetation didn’t allow for it to swim to shore. My comrade waded in thigh deep to rescue the little guy from the cold water. We gently held the bird in our hands in hopes it would dry out a bit but sadly this did not happen. I am sure since it was soaked to the core, the cold temperatures immediately forced hypothermia to set in, and the bird faded away within minutes. Sad to see it go. And this happens millions of times over.


The next time you observe that robin attempting to build a nest on your entry way light, imagine the arduous journey it has survived to make your yard its home.

Bismarck Tribune Article



Bird activity expands with warmer temperatures


By: Corey Ellingson

We have all suffered through a long drawn out winter in the Northern Plains. It takes some pretty resilient people to push through the icy cold weather day after day. The entire month of February went without a temperature reading above freezing. March wasn’t much better with the snow so deep the sun didn’t have a chance to being the nice spring thaws we come to expect this time of the year.

However, the end of March temperatures finally broke into the 40s, so the snow piles began to recede to create flowing streams as they meander across the landscape and create field water in the low-lying areas.

With the return of warmer temperatures here, field after field was covered with standing water. You would think it would be duck heaven, but they were nowhere to be found. Canada geese finally moved in a few weeks ago only to stand on the ice at their favorite haunts. I find it humorous in the spring to see the Canada geese standing on the ice staking claim to a territory knowing it will be a few weeks before the actual water appears. Maybe they should have given their winter luxuries more time.

The resident hawks are also pushing their way north. With most of South Dakota covered by water or snow, it was hard for them to get the thermals of warm air to migrate north. For this reason, many raptors follow the valley as the hillsides blow clear of snow, melt first and provide the needed lift to carry them north, but some chose the hard way cross country.

In my recent birding trip east of Bismarck, I checked all these open ponds with hopes of spotting migrating waterfowl. Many species of avifauna are past their normal migration windows. The first ducks to arrive are mallards and pintails. They were represented, but not in large numbers, and very few of the other arrivals, such as northern shoveler, gadwall, wigeon and green-winged teal,  were here. I did find a few of each, but I must wait another week to see many more of these friends. I was surprised to see so many red-tailed hawks winging north given the 20 mph north winds they had to fight through that day. Such a cold wind but yet they pushed on knowing they are behind schedule. A golden eagle was a nice surprise to observe, as one bird was taking a rest on the leeward side of a towering cottonwood.

The most amusing experience was at Long Lake NWR headquarters. I was watching an American tree sparrow, which appeared to have no tail, scratching at the ground. Somewhere along the line, it must have had a close call with a cat. It seemed to be doing fine as it scratched away at the dirt. However, it and all the nearby friends immediately froze, not moving a muscle. They didn’t even twitch in the wind for minutes on end, until finally I saw the culprit, a northern shrike suddenly appeared. The robins and grackles in the area frantically zipped their way through cover as the shrike chased several of the large birds around as if playing tag on the school playground.

After several minutes of fun, the shrike disappeared behind a shelterbelt. Many minutes went by before the sparrows relaxed and resumed activity. I am always amazed at how nature seems to take care of itself — knowing danger was coming long before it appeared.

With the arrival of spring, hopefully you all will find a way to enjoy nature at its best.

Birders await the return of spring


By: Corey Ellingson

It’s that time of the year when folks yearn for spring to come. Spring means green grass, colorful flowers and the beautiful sound of Meadowlarks ringing across the prairie, or robins announcing their arrival from parts down south.

As I sit at the dining room table looking out the patio window, I can see a steady stream of furnace exhaust coming out the neighbor’s roof. Snow is blowing sideways as it floats its way across the ridges and valleys created by three months of snow pack and drifting. Most years, we are a week away from the arrival of waterfowl coming up the Missouri River, or a mountain bluebird in brilliant sky blue showing up in the Badlands announcing spring is near. Not this year.

The river is still frozen solid and the 10-day forecast is not showing highs above the teens for another 10 days.

February is the toughest month to come up with material to share with folks. The unusual species found on the Christmas Bird Counts have probably passed. Birds spend the winter simply in survival mode. If they try to relocate to a better location, they may never find it and succumb to winter’s harsh climate.

This particular winter, there was very little excitement. In the winter of 2017-2018, irruptive species were aplenty with both species of crossbills coming down from the north. Folks were willing to brave subzero wind chills to get a look of the pinkish plumage accentuated with flashy white wing bars on black wings of a white-winged crossbill in local spruce stands. Their counterpart, the red crossbill, was also well represented.

Folks would drive miles of back country roads to get a photo of a hard-to-find snowy owl minding its own business on the prominent perch of leftover hay bale. The large white bird would swivel its head surveying the countryside with striking yellow eyes, perhaps planning the hunt under the cover of darkness.

People would come up to me and share the excitement of having 100 common redpolls descend on their thistle feeders for the afternoon. These birds depend on birch catkins in the far north for food, which apparently bloom on a two-year cycle, because the redpolls come down in big numbers every other year. This is the off year with just a few scattered reports in the northern part of the state.

With the loss of CRP years ago, and the deeper snow in much lighter grass cover these days, the hawks and golden eagles of winter are less common now, too. Maybe due to the dry summers the past couple years, the rodent population may be at a low point. If there is less food, these birds of prey move on to find a more suitable wintering location.

So, with few snowy owls, fewer than normal raptors, few irruptive crossbills and redpolls, even fewer robins than normal, I have been catching up on other tasks. I am dreaming of birding trips that may be on the horizon come spring, whenever that may be.

For you folks that are able to travel south and enjoy the warmth, sun and birds, take your time coming back. For the rest of us, spring will return eventually, and hopefully with that comes the wide expanses of green prairies, crocus flowers and singing meadowlarks. Spring will come folks, spring will most definitely come, eventually.

Happy 4th of July

Happy Independence Day everyone. Today, as we celebrate the fourth and this month’s birds post, will be in line with our national symbol. So what bird will be for the month of July? Why the Turkey of course. The wild turkey is found throughout North America. Restoration efforts for the turkey are one of the nations most successful management programs. Reintroduction in the 40s into many different states, Turkeys now can be found beyond their pre-existing range included here in the state of North Dakota. This game bird is predominantly a forest, they have adapted to live in areas that were not favorable including swamps and grasslands. Within the turkey species, there are six different subspecies of turkey (National Wild Turkey Federation list). The Eastern Wild Turkeys are the subspecies found in North Dakota. These birds are social and live in flocks that have hierarchy order within each flock. They tend to move throughout their habitat on foot but can fly to escape predators or fly into low limbs of trees to roost. Wild Turkey is one of two domesticated birds native to the New World. In the early 1500s, European explorers brought home Wild Turkeys from Mexico, where native people had domesticated the birds centuries earlier. Now might be wondering why it is in line with our national symbol the Bald Eagle. Benjamin Franklin thought the Bald eagle was a poor choice for a national seal, a year after its image was adopted by Congress (Great Seal). He explains in a letter to his daughter that a Turkey was a more respectable bird as a symbol of courage.


Links to the Prairie

Before we get to the blog post, I just wanted to get a quick shout out to Char Binstock. If you did not know Char has stepped down from her seat as president of the Bismarck-Mandan Birding Club. I would like to say thanks to her for getting this group up and running again. Though the start seems a bit slow, we have progressed into trying to provide some activities and try to get resources running smoothly. Thanks again Char, I do not think the club would be able to start off again if it was not for you and knowing new people to going and starting the old group up again.


Now back to the post. Now that birds seem to be everywhere again and as the leaves on trees have developed, woodland birds are coming harder to see. But as we know of North Dakota, is more known as a prairie state. One species, the Bobolink, has returned to the grasslands and prairies of North Dakota. They can be seen perched on grass stems or seen displaying over open fields as the males return to the nest territory before their female counterpart. These little birds are quite impressive as they are some of the farthest traveling birds over their migration routes. They migrate to southern areas of South American, which can be over 6,000 miles of flying. Males of these birds are easy to identify with their white back and black underparts, or how some described as wearing a tuxedo backward. To go with their “Tuxedos” is the males yellow patch on the back of his head. It’s important to remember that North Dakota is a prairie state as these with other grassland birds have started to decline over the years due to turning over areas of grass for development and crop production. These birds are known as indicator species, since they are not shy about showing themselves, to see how healthy grasslands are. If the bobolink disappears, other grassland birds are sure to be not far behind.


Other Facts

  • The species name of the Bobolink, oryzivorusmeans “rice-eating” and refers to this bird’s appetite for rice and other grains, especially during migration and in winter.
  • A migrating Bobolink can orient itself with the earth’s magnetic field, thanks to iron oxide in bristles of its nasal cavity and in tissues around the olfactory bulb and nerve. Bobolinks also use the starry night sky to guide their travels.
  • On migration, many of these birds fly to Florida. Normally a daylight forager, they sometimes feed after dark on bright nights during migration, to build fat reserves for its long flight over the Gulf of Mexico to South America.

International Migratory Bird Day

Saturday May 12th was the International Migratory Bird Day. In 1993, the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center created IMBD, and it has been celebrated during the second weekend in May since. Environment for the Americas has been coordinating the event since 2007 to celebrate and bring awareness to the spectacular phenomenon of bird migration, as well as bird conservation!

Traditionally, the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club has chosen a county and created a list of species observed in that county during the 24 hours. This year, we were lucky to have two groups get out, covering both Morton and Burleigh counties. Morton county observers reported 132 species and Burleigh county observed reported 143. Combined, a total of 166 birds were observed! It was a great day for birding, with some exciting finds, including a snowy owl, common loons, and a greater black-backed gull.

Below are a few photos taken by Catrina Terry, Elisha Mueller and Dale Heinert, as well as the comparison of bird lists for both counties! Enjoy… and happy birding!


Burleigh County Morton County
1 American Avocet  
2 American Bittern
3 American Coot American Coot
4 American Crow American Crow
5 American Golden Plover
6 American Goldfinch American Goldfinch
7 American Kestrel American Kestrel
8 American Redstart
9 American Robin American Robin
10 American Tree Sparrow
11 American White Pelican American White Pelican
12 American Wigeon American Wigeon
13 Bald Eagle Bald Eagle
14 Baltimore Oriole Baltimore Oriole
15 Bank Swallow Bank Swallow
16 Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
17 Belted Kingfisher Belted Kingfisher
18 Black and White Warbler
19 Black Tern Black Tern
20 Black-bellied Plover
21 Black-Billed Magpie Black-billed Magpie
22 Black-capped Chickadee Black-capped Chickadee
23 Black-Crowned Night-Heron
24 Black-headed Grosbeak Black-headed Grosbeak
25 Blackpoll Warbler Blackpoll Warbler
26 Blue Jay Blue Jay
27 Blue-winged Teal Blue-winged Teal
28 Bobolink Bobolink
29 Brewer’s Blackbird Brewer’s Blackbird
30 Broad-winged Hawk Broad-winged Hawk
31 Brown Thrasher Brown Thrasher
32 Brown-headed Cowbird Brown-headed Cowbird
33 Bufflehead
34 Burrowing Owl
35 California Gull
36 Canada Goose Canada Goose
37 Canvasback Canvasback
38 Cattle Egret
39 Cedar Waxwing Cedar Waxwing
40 Chestnut-collared Longspur Chestnut-collared Longspur
41 Chimney Swift Chimney Swift
42 Chipping Sparrow Chipping Sparrow
43 Clark’s Grebe
44 Clay-colored Sparrow Clay-colored Sparrow
45 Cliff Swallow Cliff Swallow
46 Common Grackle Common Grackle
47 Common Loon
48 Common Merganser
49 Common Raven
50 Common Tern
51 Common Yellowthroat Common Yellowthroat
52 Cooper’s Hawk
53 Double-crested Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant
54 Downy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker
55 Dunlin Dunlin
56 Eared Grebe Eared Grebe
57 Eastern Bluebird Eastern Bluebird
58 Eastern Kingbird Eastern Kingbird
59 Eastern Phoebe
60 Eurasian Collared-Dove Eurasian Collard Dove
61 European Starling European Starling
62 Ferruginous hawk
63 Field Sparrow
64 Forster’s Tern
65 Franklin’s Gull
66 Gadwall Gadwall
67 Golden Eagle
68 Grasshopper Sparrow
69 Gray Catbird
70 Gray-cheeked Thrush
71 Gray Partridge
72 Great Black-backed Gull
73 Great Blue Heron Great Blue Heron
74 Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
75 Green-winged Teal Green-winged Teal
76 Hairy Woodpecker Hairy Woodpecker
77 Harris’s Sparrow Harris’s Sparrow
78 Hermit Thrush
79 Herring Gull
80 Hooded Merganser Hooded Merganser
81 Horned Lark Horned Lark
82 House Finch House Finch
83 House Sparrow House Sparrow
84 House Wren
85 Killdeer Killdeer
86 Lark Sparrow
87 Least Flycatcher Least Flycatcher
88 Least Sandpiper
89 Lesser Scaup Lesser Scaup
90 Lesser Yellowlegs Lesser Yellow Legs
91 Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
92 Loggerhead Shrike
93 Long-billed Dowitcher Long-billed Dowitcher
94 Mallard Mallard
95 Marbled Godwit Marbled Godwit
96 Marsh Wren
97 Mourning Dove Mourning Dove
98 Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
99 Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
100 Northern Pintail Northern Pintail
101 Northern Rough-winged Swallow Northern Rough-winged Swallow
102 Northern Shoveler Northern Shoveler
103 Northern Waterthrush
104 Orange-crowned Warbler Orange-crowned Warbler
105 Palm Warbler Palm Warbler
106 Pectoral Sandpiper
107 Peregrine Falcon
108 Pied-billed Grebe Pied-billed Grebe
109 Pine Siskin Pine Siskin
110 Piping Plover
111 Purple Martin Purple Martin
112 Red Crossbill Red Crossbill
113 Red-breasted Nuthatch Red-breasted Nuthatch
114 Redhead Redhead
115 Red-necked Grebe
116 Red-necked Phalarope
117 Red-headed Woodpecker
118 Red-tailed Hawk Red-tailed Hawk
119 Red-winged Blackbird Red-winged Blackbird
120 Ring-billed Gull Ring-billed Gull
121 Ring-necked Duck Ring-necked Duck
122 Ring-necked Pheasant Ring-necked Pheasant
123 Rock Pigeon Rock Pigeon
124 Rose-breasted Grosbeak
125 Rough-Legged Hawk
126 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
127 Ruddy Duck Ruddy Duck
128 Savannah Sparrow Savannah Sparrow
129 Say’s Phoebe Say’s Phoebe
130 Semipalmated Sandpiper Semipalmated Sandpiper
131 Sharp-tailed Grouse
132 Short-billed Dowitcher
133 Snow Goose
134 Snowy Owl
135 Solitary Sandpiper
136 Song Sparrow Song Sparrow
137 Sora Sora
138 Spotted Sandpiper Spotted Sandpiper
139 Spotted Towhee Spotted Towhee
140 Spotted x Eastern Towhee (hybrid)
141 Stilt Sandpiper Stilt Sandpiper
142 Swainson’s Hawk Swainson’s Hawk
143 Swainson’s Thrush Swainson’s Thrush
144 Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
145 Turkey Vulture Turkey Vulture
146 Upland Sandpiper Upland Sandpiper
147 Vesper Sparrow Vesper Sparrow
148 Virginia Rail
149 Warbling Vireo
150 Western Grebe Western Grebe
151 Western Kingbird Western Kingbird
152 Western Meadowlark Western Meadowlark
153 White-breasted Nuthatch White-breasted Nuthatch
154 White-crowned Sparrow White-crowned Sparrow
155 White-faced Ibis
156 White-rumped Sandpiper
157 White-throated Sparrow White-throated Sparrow
158 Wild Turkey Wild Turkey
159 Willet Willet
160 Wilson’s Phalarope Wilson’s Phalarope
161 Wilson’s Snipe Wilson’s Snipe
162 Wilson’s Warbler
163 Wood Duck Wood Duck
164 Yellow Warbler Yellow Warbler
165 Yellow-headed Blackbird Yellow-headed Blackbird
166 Yellow-rumped Warbler Yellow-rumped Warbler

Its Warbler Time!

Now that spring has officially started after a long prolonged winter, every day more of our migratory friends start to return. With the late winter, some of our usual early feathered friends have frantically started to show up. Warblers have started to show up throughout the state. These little guys, some of the most common songbirds, are found throughout the entire United States. New World Warblers or often called wood-warblers are some of the smallest and harder birds to see. This family has 57 species found in the United States, with 37 species recorded in North Dakota. To find these small birds, most species are found living and nesting the tree canopy. Only 2 species, the Oven bird and Waterthrushes, are primarily terrestrial. These small birds migrate from Central and South America and travel as far as Alaska and northern Canada. As they move northern, they arrive with the emergence of insects as most are insectivores. Keep your eyes looking up as you travel within our forested and treed areas. As the warm weather increases, leaves will start to appear where warblers can easily hide within the canopy.

Few other facts

  • Warblers are small birds. Most are around 7 inches long.
  • Warblers have been known to become caught in the webs of orb spider.
  • One threat to warblers are cowbirds from nest parasitism.
  • One warbler tracked by scientists in the wild lived for 11 years and is known to be one of the longest lived tracked warbler.

Good birding

Pictures: Alex Dohman

Dancing to the Start of Spring

Hello fellow birders and welcome to the Bismarck-Mandan Bird Club Blog.

Before we get into our first blog post, we wanted to give you a quick introduction. At the beginning of each month, we will post on a bird of the month. These posts will include information, photos, and fun facts about a particular bird you may find in the area at that time! If anyone has an idea for a bird of the month post, please send it to (photos to go with the post are a big plus). This blog will also feature posts on field trips (including photos and bird lists from that day), different events, and any other topics our members might find interesting.

Now on to our first Bird of the Month!

As winter finally starts to release its grip on North Dakota, the excitement of returning raptors and waterfowl start to fill the sky. As these migrants are focused on making the long journey to their breeding grounds, our year round residents are focusing their concentration on mating. This truly is an exciting time to see spectacular dancing displays! As dawn breaks over the grasslands in April, displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus) males start their elaborate mating ritual. Males will point their tails up, spreads their wings out wide, hold their heads low, and stamp their feet rapidly while moving forward or in circles. To create a ‘tune’ to dance to, their purple neck sacs inflate and deflate to create a hollow cooing sound and they use their tail feathers as a sort of rattle. Below are a few more interesting facts about the Sharp-tailed Grouse:

1.     Defending small “territories” on the leks (their dancing grounds), males will fight to keep other males away from females.

2.     When flushed, sharp tailed grouse rise up by rapidly beating their wings and then alternating between a series of rapid stiff wing beats and glides on slightly drooping wings.

3.     It is estimated as much as 1/3 of the entire population resides in the state, making North Dakota an extremely important part of its core range.

4.     The birds can be found commonly through the Missouri Slope region of North Dakota.

5.     Native American called these birds “Fire birds”, as fire is an extremely important in maintaining the open grassland that this species relies on.

Photo Credit: US Fish and Wildlife