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Naturally Speaking


Naturally Speaking, today's topic, the Michigan native bird, specifically MI birds. Erin Rowan, Program Associate, talks on this segment in partnership with the DNR.

Full Transcript:

Shelly Irwin: Are you looking for a good reason to get outdoors during this long stretch of winter? Speaking of dressing appropriately let us take a cue from our feathered friends, we are going to talk about on our regular DNR segment we call naturally speaking, and we are going to put the spotlight on native Michigan birds as well, we get the best from our own backyard. Erin Rowan program associate with MI Birds and that is M I birds. Hi to you Erin.

Erin Rowan: Good morning. Thanks, Shelley, for having me.

Shelly Irwin: let us get right into this conversation and before I ask about what your favorite bird is tell us a little bit about what MI Birds, is and how the program came to be.

Erin Rowan Yeah, so MI birds short for Michigan Birds is a public engagement and outreach program created by Audubon Great Lake and Michigan Department of Natural Resources that aims to bring together wildlife enthusiasts to engage with and conserve Michigan public land for the benefit of birds and people. So, across the state, MI birds give public talks and virtual webinars on bird conservation and engages Michiganders in stewardship activities to protect and restore Michigan land as well as participate in community science projects.

Shelly Irwin: So, Devil's advocate MI Birds is not just about talking about pretty birds and where to find them, it is also what? To create more understanding about the value of our natural habitats and more?

Erin Rowan: Yeah, that's right so Michigan is a really special place it's got more than a hundred state wildlife and game areas that are home to over four hundred bird species and countless other wildlife, and it is up to us to care for those natural areas which are critical for birds and wildlife, but also for our own quality of life. Here in Michigan historically, hunters have supported state lands and conservation across the state, but it is also up to the rest of us to engage with our natural resources too which provide essential support for the lands and waters that we share.

Shelly Irwin: Thank you for that birdwatching or birding. What the benefits during the winter season Erin?

Erin Rowan: Yeah, so with so many people adjusting to life at home during the pandemic, we have actually seen a real influx of those who are using birding or birdwatching as a way to connect to nature, it is a great way to still connect to nature from the comfort of your own home. Winter in Michigan is actually a great time to go birding, not all our birds fly south for the winter, so in addition to some of the birds that stay here year-round that you might see in your backyard, we also welcome a lot of new visitors from the north during these colder months.

Shelly Irwin:  Wonderful so what do I look for? What species should I keep an eye out for? What are the best locations to search for them?

Erin Rowan: Yeah, this year was actually the biggest eruption of northern finches in recent history, boreal finches have moved south in search of food, Conan seed crops and have descended on Michigan in record numbers. It has been really exciting for birdwatchers to see species like Evening Growth Beaks, Red Cross Bills, Pine Siskin and other finches overtaking their bird feeders we have also got Snow Buntings which have arrived this winter which are one of our usual snowbirds. As well as our northern owls which are always magical to see. So, in addition the snowy owl which we have seen getting a lot of attention on social media lately, we also happened to get Great Grey owls, Northern Hawk owls, and Boreal Owls visiting the UP and the northern lower Peninsula.

Shelly Irwin: I do not know if I have ever seen an owl out in our good land. Well, how do Michigan winter, birds stay warm during the colder temperatures, that is a blunt question.

Erin Rowan: Yeah, so birds that actually stick around here in Michigan are really adept at staying warm as the temperatures drop so on a particularly cold winter night, they can fluff up their feathers for insulation and often hunker down over their bare legs and feet to keep them warm. Birds cannot actually tuck their heads under their wing as we've been led to believe, but they do turn their heads around and poke their beaks under their shoulder to keep their beaks warm. They also have this great circulatory system that allows their bodies, to stay really warm while their extremities, their legs, and their feet can stay cool without dropping their body temperature.

Shelly Irwin: Wow, Talking all things birds. MI birds, M I birds is a partnership of Audubon Great Lakes, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, speaking with MI Birds program associate Erin Rowan again I want to get into a tip or two for how to bird watch but are there community science opportunities related to birds or maybe bird counts that we can participate in?

Erin Rowan:  Yeah, oh yeah, we have a couple of upcoming winter bird counts and these counts really help scientists better understand winter bird movements, assess winter bird population health so we can guide meaningful contravention action. You also do not have to be an experience birder to participate all ages and experience levels are welcome to join these community science winter bird counts. So, the first count I want to mention is the Climate Watch which is Audubon’s community science program, that informs how birds are responding to climate change and that began on January 15th, a recent Audubon study found that more than half of Michigan, bird species are actually vulnerable to climate change across seasons so volunteers collecting data for the project are going to help Audubon scientists document which birds are responding to climate change and shifting their ranges. The second community science bird count coming up is the great backyard, bird count which runs from February 12 to 15 and this is a free, fun, and easy event that engages birdwatchers of all ages in counting birds across the globe. So, if you are interested in learning more about our webinar and upcoming community science opportunities you can visit MI Bird online at gl.Audubon.org/mi-birds or follow us on Facebook Instagram or Twitter.

Shelly Irwin: Oh My I’ll ask you that in just a second, couple of seconds set to repeat important information what is a tip for a beginning birdwatcher who wants to well attract my bird to my backyard?

Erin Rowan: Yeah, so when deciding which feeder to use we recommend using tube, hopper, suet or platform, bird feeders rather than spreading the seed directly on the ground. This will help prevent uninvited guests from visiting your feeders, but it will also bring a more diverse group of birds to your yard and you can visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology feederwatch.org/learn, to learn more about bird food and feeder preferences of common backyard birds. You also want to be sure that your feeder is inaccessible to deer and elk if you live in an area where they are prevalent because feeding these animals is band in many parts of the state because of chronic wasting disease. So a good way to help keep our deer herds safe, is to use mess free bird feeders, keep the ground clean beneath your feeders or installing a fence around the feeder to keep it out of reach and as far as bird feeder placement goes wherever you live in Michigan, it might seem counter-intuitive but it's actually best if you place your bird feeders within 3 feet of your windows that will actually reduce the chances that birds will collide with your Windows plus it give you a great view of who is visiting your yard so it's really a win-win.

Shelly Irwin: is the robin, Michigan’s State bird?

Erin Rowan: It is yes, it is also the state bird for a ton of other state in the country it is one of our most prevalent thrushes.

Shelly Irwin Wonderful we will continue looking for the robin, the cardinal, and what did you say is another popular bird I should be looking for?

Erin Rowan: Right now, pine siskins are moving through in good numbers as well and that's one of the northern eruption finches, but you can see organ or dark-eyed juncos, excuse me organ juncos I use to live out west that is different species all together.

Shelly Irwin: That is cool, well, thanks for living here and talking about the MI Birds program one more time detail that website, if you would Erin.

Erin Rowan: Yeah, yeah folks want to find out more about the MI Birds program you can visit us online at gl.audubon.org/mi-birds or follow us on Facebook Instagram or twitter.

Shelly Irwin: All right, thanks and thanks of course to the Michigan Department of natural resources for the work done there speak again, thank you very much, Erin, on behalf of the bird.

Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.