Sherburne refuge count tallies 2,217 birds

It was a cold, gray morning when 25 birders met at the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge near Zimmerman Dec. 22 for their annual Christmas Bird Count.

The female pine grosbeak is rust and gray. Photo by Rebecca Field

The female pine grosbeak is rust and gray. Photo by Rebecca Field

A total of 41 different bird species were tallied, which included 2,217 individual birds.

Some of the day’s highlights included a golden eagle, wood duck, 238 wild turkeys, a pair of red-shouldered hawks, more than 200 common redpolls and a shivering song sparrow, which had stayed much later than is normal for this species, according to according to Betsy Beneke, visitor services manager for the refuge.

But no doubt the highlight for the day was finding pine grosbeaks in two different locations, Beneke said. This large, pink and gray (male) or rust and gray (female) bird is seldom seen this far south in Minnesota.  Beneke surmises that the birds are here because of poor food crops in Canada.

Male pine grosbeak.  Photo by Rebecca Field

Male pine grosbeak. Photo by Rebecca Field

“They feed a lot on mountain ash or crab apples, and drought conditions may have contributed to poor crops in the north, so the birds have come farther south than their normal range, looking for food,” she said.

Sherburne’s count is one of more than 50 done in Minnesota, and thousands done throughout North America within two weeks of Christmas each year.

Friends of Sherburne NWR coordinates the refuge count, organized by volunteer and Friends member Dean Kleinhans.  For more information, go to 

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