Spring 2022 VOL. 70 No. 1
From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing - What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Sibley
Reviewed by Lauren Husting. Published by Alfred A Knopf, 2020
Did you know that hawks process moving images so quickly that they would see a movie as a slideshow? Or that there is no such thing as blue pigment in birds, but rather an effect of structural light refraction? That larger birds don’t have more feathers than smaller ones, just bigger ones?
Acclaimed ornithological author and illustrator David Sibley’s latest book is designed to pique the curiosity of anyone interested in the life of birds. What It’s Like to Be a Bird is full of humor and fascinating trivia, packaged in a Choose Your Own Adventure-esque format.
The book starts with an introduction grouping different aspects of bird physiology and behavior into categories that then guide you to different sections of the book, sending you on a journey of ornithological evolution and experience. The bulk of the book collects birds into their families and species, partnered with beautiful art plates created by Sibley himself. I especially appreciated those that showed movement: flight patterns, courtship dances, and peculiar behaviors. You won’t find detailed bird identification information in the book; rather, you’ll learn how certain species exemplify the vast diversity of avian life.
Sibley describes the scope of the book as “designed to be browsed casually, so that different topics will spark connections and even a sense of discovery.” For myself, I started with each section of the introduction and read through until a fact piqued my interest, and then followed the prompt to a different page with a bird that exemplified the information. In the section about bird bills, for example, the fact that “some details of bill shape evolved specifically for feather care” caught my eye, and I was sent to page 145, the spread on Scarlet Tanagers. There I learned the general preening habits of most birds including that they reach back to a gland at the base of the tail, gather a little oil, and proceed to tend to each feather carefully. The pencil-illustrated preening study on the side of the page showed me all the familiar steps I’ve seen the little birds at my feeder do a million times, but never knew the real process.
Some of the information may not be surprising to dedicated birders and ornithologists, and it doesn’t stray far from common North American birds, but Sibley doesn’t claim that the book is the pinnacle of science. Rather, it’s a book designed to offer quick and informative glimpses into the winged world around us, and encourage further study and reflection. As a fairly novice birder, I found the book increased my interest exponentially, and I’m itching to take what I’ve learned out into the field.❖
Below: Page from the Sibley book.
Lauren Husting is a Friends member and on the Board of Directors.
Peering into the Garden from the Theodore Wirth trails, I see only shadows and silhouettes. Its January and the Great Horned owls are hooting their mating duets.
In February they will be nesting, following by owlets in March. Nature is transitioning into spring and the Garden will open in April for its 116th season. The blooms are ephemeral, and year-to-year blooming dates vary but the Garden with its familiar walkways is constant. Its why I return.
Lamenting the loss of native flora in the expanding Minneapolis, Eloise organized her three Minneapolis Public School botany colleagues, Clara Leavitt, Elizabeth Foss, and Julia Clifford to collect signatures of prominent citizens, University of Minnesota President Northrup, and other faculty members, including her former student, Josephine Tilden. The signed petition advocating for “a natural botanic garden” in the new Glenwood Park was presented to the Park Board and on April 15, 1907, the proposal was granted.
A generation later Rosalie Edge (1877-1962) appeared as a national advocate for natural spaces. The book, Rosalie Edge, Hawk of Mercy by Dyana Z. Furmansky highlights what one person can achieve. She grew up overlooking Central Park but did not become an activist until she joined the women’s voting rights movement in 1915. It was the voting rights movement that taught her the skills of advocacy: organization, publicity, policy and politics. As her marriage fell apart in the early 1920s, she became aware of birds everywhere. Birding in Central Park was visual and auditory, not the conventional killing and stuffing it. In 1929 she disrupted the National Associations of Audubon Societies’ annual meeting, by challenging the Society to respond to the accusations of a recent pamphlet, “A Crisis in Conservation” concerned about decline of many native birds and lack of bird protection.
She created the Emergency Conservation Committee, committed to protecting all wildlife species. While others wrote, she signed and distributed the ECC pamphlets. She successfully sued Audubon for their mailing list. She went on to create Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, led grassroots campaigns for the establishment of Olympic and King Canyon National Parks and lobbied Congress to annex 8000 acres to Yosemite National Park to protect old-growth pines. It’s an inspiring read of a woman who wasn’t familiar with, but did much for conservation.
Oh yes, mailing lists. Our membership mailing list is confidential and will not be sold. 37% of our membership has not shared their email address with us. We were unable to timely contact 78 of you with the Zoom link for the John Moriarty presentation at the annual membership meeting. Please when you renew, document your email address, or send it to our membership committee. Our emails will be important and few.
With thousands of visitors annually to the Garden, our membership numbers remain static at 210. The membership fees support our mission of funding projects for the Garden. I trust you are inviting and encouraging your friends and neighbors to enjoy the Garden and Support the Garden.❖
See you in the Garden,
Susan Wilkins' comments appear courtesy of the MPRB.
It is early February now and a week of warm weather is forecasted ahead. As the sun sets a little later each evening and the yellow rays feel just a tad warmer in the crisp afternoon air, these February days remind me just how close spring’s approach really is.
Winter is generally a quieter time in the physical Garden for us humans (the trails are full of animal tracks right now). As curator, I am busy interviewing and hiring all of the seasonal staff for 2022 and preparing trainings and schedules for the months ahead. Plants are being ordered, important tree management work is occurring and diseased tree debris is being burned all this month by MPRB staff. In-depth programming and plant collection management planning for this and future years is also underway.
Garden staff are planning for a season full of thoughtfully tending the Garden, as we do each year, and providing opportunities for visitors to enjoy and learn about the plants and wildlife of the Garden. We look forward to offering public programs this season for all ages and remain hopeful that we will be able to expand on what is offered this season as compared to the last two years, based on how the pandemic continues to unfold.
We are also delighted to share that the Garden gates will open, once more, at 7:30 AM this season! I imagine many happy birders smiling with the arrival of this news. We are all excited for this return to an earlier opening time.
The Visitor Shelter Improvements project has proved to be more complex than originally planned and will continue to be thoughtfully worked on as the season progresses. We do not anticipate Garden operations being impacted by this project this season.
As we approach that most exciting time of year when the scents of subtle spring things like moist mosses and warming bark emerge and the sounds of water trickling and cheerful birds pop up here and there to our delight, I want to wish each and every one of you the very best for a season of touching down, deeply, on the beauty of nature that lives inside and outside of each one of us. May we all take good care of ourselves, each other and this incredibly beautiful planet, our only home, now and always. Enjoy the start of spring!
Below: Lone Oak Hill at the top of Blazing Star Blvd. with Wild Plum in bloom. Photo Bob Ambler.
by Howard Towle
Spring is the favorite season for many Garden enthusiasts, enjoying the newly emerging ephemerals that carpet the woodland floor.
Spring is also the favorite season for most birders, as winter’s hardy residents are joined by throngs of migrants returning from their more southerly winter homes. Among these, the most anticipated for many birders is the return of the colorful and lively warblers. From late April through the month of May, migrating warblers can be encountered on their northward journeys. Twenty-seven warbler species have been reported in the Garden and surrounding Wirth Park. In a typical Spring season over twenty of these can be seen in the Garden. Only two of these species, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Warbler, regularly nest in the Garden with the majority continuing their treks to breeding grounds in northern Minnesota and Canada. Some of the most abundant migrating warblers that can be found in the Garden are the aptly named Yellow-rumped and Black-and-White warblers, as well as the oddly named Tennessee and Nashville warblers.
While these same birds and their offspring will make a return trip through our area in the fall, spring has many advantages for spotting warblers. First, in the spring all warblers sport their brightest and most colorful plumages, prepared for the annual ritual of attracting mates. By fall, many, but not all, warblers will molt to considerably duller and harder to distinguish plumages. Second, in spring there is often less foliage to thwart efforts to find warblers as they rapidly move about in the trees. Third, warblers and all other birds are more vocal as they prepare for defending territories and attracting mates on their breeding grounds. Often warblers are first detected and identified once their songs are learned by hearing them rather than seeing them.
Identifying warblers can be challenging for new birders. Most frustrating is the fact that they seldom stay in one spot for more than a few seconds, constantly flitting from branch to branch and leaf to leaf in search of their insect prey. In addition, chances are you may only get a glimpse of your quarry, perhaps only the undersides or a portion of the bird.
Studying your field guide before heading out helps immensely, as knowing what identifying features to look for is essential. Migration does not occur in a uniform manner but is greatly affected by weather patterns. Look for days with southerly winds, especially following a period of more northerly winds. Some of my best warbler outings have occurred following a late night or early morning rain, which can interrupt migrating warblers. This phenomenon is known as a ‘fallout’. Migrating warblers often follow resident chickadee flocks who know their way around the woodlands. Finding a spot near a stream, pond or lake edge can often lead to highly productive ‘warbling’.
As you get more experienced, learning the songs of warblers can be a great aid in helping to focus your search for new species. There are a number of resources that have recordings of bird songs and calls, including eBird, the bird tracking resource of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at http://ebird.org. You might want to consider joining the Early Birders group that meets each Saturday from April to October to bird in and around the Garden. Having knowledgeable birders to help identify birds can be of great value in learning and more eyes searching often means more birds found. During the Garden Season check with the Garden Shelter at 612-370-4903 for starting times and to sign up. Both experienced and new birders are welcome.
Howard Towle has actively birded at Wirth Park for over 30 years, having seen more than 160 species in the park. Since retirement from the University of Minnesota, he has been a volunteer at the Eloise Butler Garden shelter.
In Years Past;
Eighty years ago on May 19, 1942 Garden Curator wrote in her Garden Log and her diary “A red letter day.” She recorded 24 birds and these 20 warblers: Golden-wings, Parula, Canada, Caye May, Mourning, Yellow-throat, Black-throated, Green, Blackburian, Red Start, Magnolia, Black & White, Wilsons, Tennessee, Nashville, Myrtle, Chestnut-sided, Black-poll, Bay-breasted, and Connecticut. A day later Miss Aler was in and logged 86 species, including 22 warblers. Lulu May Aler originated a bird feeding station at the Garden in 1932 and led an earlier version of “Early Birders” in the Park. For more details on Miss Aler and bird feeding use this link:
by Gary Bebeau.
April and May is the time for Trilliums. There are nine species in the The Eloise Butler Wild-flower Garden. They bloom at different times so you will never see all nine on a single visit. All are found in the woodland part of the Garden.
Only four of the nine are native to Minnesota. All the others are native elsewhere in North America but continue to grow here. Over the 115 years of the Garden’s history there were six other non-native species experimented with by the Curators, but they have not been survivors and are noted below as “historical.”
Trilliums are based on the number 3. There are 3 colored petals, 3 sepals that are usually green but colored on some species. Stamens are in 2 sets of 3, the ovary has 3 united carpels and the big green parts at the top of the stem number 3. They look like leaves but are not, they are extremely large size floral bracts that in the case of Trilliums fulfill the function of leaves. The leafless aerial stem, called a ‘scape’ is the above ground portion of the rhizome. Most plants with scapes also have leaf stalks rising from the root, but not Trilliums. Most flowers are atop the bracts but Nodding Trillium flowers hang beneath them.❖
Wax Trillium, Red Trillium, Ozark Trillium - Thomas G. Barnes
Western Trillium, Nevada Native Plants
Rose Trillium, G. A. Cooper
Painted Trillium, Nelson de Baros
All others - G. D. Bebeau
Detailed information and photos for each of the existing Garden Trilliums can be accessed here.
Gary Bebeau is a member and a Director of the Friends and website manager.
In 1997, the Friends completed funding for the reconstruction of the back gate to the Wildflower Garden, replacing the cyclone wire fence and gate of 1938 vintage. Designed by Brower and Associates for the MPRB, the gate mimics the 1990 front gate in design but with 2 columns instead of 4. The Friends paid LaMere Concrete and Able Fence $12,895 for the stone and iron work, followed by $3,649 to Selby Ornamental Iron for the wrought iron fencing. The fencing was just near the gate and did not include the fence section along the north boundary - that was replaced in 2005. The back gate was the main entrance for years when people arrived by Streetcar or walking. Tamaracks were so prevalent in the early Garden that the path in from the back was known as “Tamarack Trail.” ❖
The Garden back gate, completed in 1997, seen here in 2016. Photo G D Bebeau.
Reelected MPRB Commissioners The newly elected Commissioners of the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) have now taken office. We are pleased to have back in office Commissioners Meg Forney and Stephanie Musich, who are both strong supporters of the Friends, the Wildflower Garden and the work of the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group (FIPAG). Commissioner Forney has also been chosen President of the Board.
Member Notes - Spring 2022
Sign up for Twigs & Branches: A monthly email update from the Friends containing news from the Garden and relevant MPRB projects, as well as access to website content featuring short articles from our Board and membership. These articles are written to highlight connections of the plants, history and lore of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden with different time frames or outside events.
If you already are signed up for our emails, you should be getting these. If you are not here's the link to the sign-up form. The form also allows you to sign up for our Fringed Gentian™ announcements and for the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group's emails.
Diane Pederson - Basic
Joanne Patterson - Sponsor
Peggy Spaeth - Benefactor.
J. S. Futcher - Life (upgrade)
Membership information for
Joining the Friends
Renewing your membership
Can be found on our Website Support-Us page.
Information on paying by check or by credit card is found there also.
For changes to your mailing address or email address, please contact Membership Coordinator Christi Bystedt at this email address. or Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Membership, P.O. Box 3793, Minneapolis, MN55403-0793.
The Friends Board of Directors can use your talents! We are an all-volunteer board that meets several time per year and if you have an interest in the Wildflower Garden and in helping support it and our mission of educating the public about the Garden and the natural world get more details by sending an email to to our president at this address.
for Warren Johnson from Sheila Leiter.
for Helen Wright King from Susan Kornhaber.
for Juanita Lussenhop from Judy Remington & Julia Classon.
for Natalie Titrington Quinn from John & Carol Quinn.
In honor of Howard & Mary Jane Towle from Helen Towle.
In honor of Ann Lebens from Mary Abbott.
Donations Received in support of our programs
November 2021 to February 2022
Mark Addicks, Elizabeth Anderson, Michael & Romy Anderson, Rebekah Anderson , Anonymous, Mary Kay Arthur, Richard Baker, Candyce Bartol, Scott Beers, Carolyn Belle, Alan Branhagan, Kathleen Connelly, Pamela Desnick, Maria Eggemeyer, Elaine Eschenbacher, Greg & Sarah Feinberg, Meg Forney, J. S. Futcher, Tom Hoch, Elizabeth Kreibich, Dan & Vi La Belle, Julie Larson, Tim & Suzanne Lauer, Sandra Levine, Ruth Miller, Jeremy Nichols, Jennifer Olson, Joanne Patterson, Linda Powers, John & Carol Quinn, Win & Binky Rockwell, Kathryn Sado, Courtney Salvey, Carolyn Sampson, Carol Stone, Evelyn Turner, Susan Warde, Pam Weiner, Jim Wittenberg.
A gift in their honor can simply be a means of honoring a living person or some group
use this as an alternate type gift for a holiday, a birthday, an anniversary, etc. We will inform them of your gift, about the Friends and the Garden. Use the mail-in form or the credit card link on our website 'support us' page.
Student and Garden Support
We look forward to students coming back for field trips; to volunteers in the Shelter; and to new projects to support in the Garden. Go to our Support page to make a donation.
You can also support our program by buying a plant identification book.
Do you have our Plant Identification Guide? The 3rd edition has 1,950 photos of the 787 flowering plants, trees and the ferns of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden including many that are of historic interest. Three hundred of these books have been sold, so why not get yours!
From a buyer in New Hampshire: What a terrific collection of photos. I’m sure this guide will be a great compliment to other guides I have. From Minnesota: I love the book and will cherish it for many years to come. Credit card order or use the mail order form, both on our website here.
The MPRB has announced that the Garden hours and open days for 2022 will be as follows:
Dates: April 15 through October 15, weekends only October 15 to October 31.
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 7:30 AM to 6 PM; Thursdays - 7:30 AM to 8 PM; Mondays - closed.
©2022 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org.
Non-commercial reproduction of this material is allowed without prior permission but only with the acknowledgment to Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc., the author and the photographer.