A total of 298 bird species regularly occur within the metro area; of those, 163 are breeders or permanent residents, while the others are migrants or winter/summer visitors (Appendix A). This impressive tally doesn’t include an additional 97 occasional/accidental visitants that have also been documented within at least one of the seven counties of the metro area (Appendix B). While it is important to acknowledge and continue to track the presence of accidental species, these birds will not be discussed further as it is difficult to determine their habitat associations and they are not present in manageable numbers. Species considered to be regular visitors to or residents of the metro area can be further categorized into three groups; migratory species (non-breeders), birds that nest in the metro area (common backyard birds, nuisance species and birds enhanced by human alterations to the environment), and breeding birds of conservation concern.
Birds that Nest in the Metro Area
Bird life throughout the Twin Cities metro area is rich and varied. Metro area residents are fortunate to enjoy a surprising diversity of common birds. A colorful array of birds, including Northern Cardinals, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinches, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Orioles, and American Robins grace even the most densely urbanized areas. Even some larger birds are easily found along rivers and other water bodies, including Ospreys, Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets. Other iconic birds that were once hard to spot are rapidly increasing in numbers, such as the Cooper’s Hawk, Bald Eagle and Wild Turkey.
Because the nuisance designation is one of human perception, any species, including native species, could potentially be considered a nuisance. A species generally becomes a "nuisance" when its population becomes so dense that it causes human/wildlife conflicts. Some familiar "nuisance" birds found throughout the metro area include Canada Geese, and non-native European Starlings, House Sparrows, and Rock Doves (pigeons).
Canada Geese thrive where lakes or wetlands border the open space of parks, golf courses and athletic fields, a combination that is very common in the metro area. A large resident population is present year-round and it can almost triple when fall migrant Canada geese come through. Large concentrations of Canada geese are often considered both a messy nuisance and dangerous. Geese are also the biggest concern at metro airports, followed by starlings.
European Starlings consume a wide variety of food but are mainly insectivores. They nest in cavities and will aggressively displace native cavity-nesting birds such as Purple Martins, Bluebirds and Woodpeckers. By competing for these nest sites, Starlings are believed to be partly responsible for the decline of some of these native species.
House Sparrows are considered a nuisance in the Twin Cities primarily because they dominate bird feeders and may drive away native birds such as Northern Cardinals, various finches and Chickadees. Like Starlings, they also compete with some native cavity-nesters. It appears that repeated introductions occurred in various parts of the U.S and Canada in the 1850’s and in Saint Paul as early as the fall of 1876. They are now one of the most abundant songbirds on the continent.
Rock Pigeons are ubiquitously associated with city landscapes. They are social and can nest and forage in large flocks, leaving large amounts of droppings which can pose a human health hazard and be destructive to buildings and other structures. The city of Saint Paul is experimenting with contraception, mixing OvoControl-P with cracked corn and grain scattered about the rooftops. The pellets do not harm the birds, but prevent eggs from hatching.
Birds Enhanced by Alterations in the Urban Environment
Birds of Conservation Concern
As part of the Audubon Minnesota 2012: Operational Blueprint for Bird Conservation in Minnesota, priority bird species were identified for major landscapes throughout the state. The metro area is part of a larger landscape, identified for bird conservation purposes as Bird Conservation Region (BCR) 23 - the Prairie Hardwood Transition. Priority bird species in BCR 23 which also occur in the metro area are listed as “Birds of Conservation Concern” (Table 1.1). Species in all three categories of concern share each of the following characteristics: 1) populations in decline, 2) dependency on vulnerable habitats and 3) are present in manageable numbers.