Over 200 birders flocked to Detroit Lakes for 21st Festival of Birds

It's not just birds that flock together -- birders do too, as evidenced by this past weekend's 21st annual Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, which drew well over 200 people from across the United States and Canada (and even The Netherlands!) to th...

The Festival of Birds field trip to both the Tamarac and Hamden Slough wildlife refuges on Saturday, May 19 was sold out. (Photo by Kelly Blackledge)

It's not just birds that flock together - birders do too, as evidenced by this past weekend's 21st annual Detroit Lakes Festival of Birds, which drew well over 200 people from across the United States and Canada (and even The Netherlands!) to the community.

"All of our events - dinners, presentations and field trips - were sold out," said festival organizer Cleone Stewart.

Thursday night's kickoff social at Hub 41 and birding by pontoon "was very well received," she added. "Forty-seven different species (of birds) were seen, and Hub 41 opened up its upper deck, with a fire pit and hors d'oeuvres for the attendees."
Friday night's sold-out dinner and presentation at The Barn at Five Lakes Resort featured one of the festival's favorite guests, Carrol Henderson, who treated the 100-plus attendees to an engaging and entertaining look back at his 45-year history with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - where he was instrumental in establishing the Nongame Wildlife Program back in 1977.

Henderson recalled how he started the program with a $25,000 budget and a staff of one - himself - by gathering together a group of dedicated volunteers to begin doing wildlife surveys.

It was during that first year that he saw a newspaper article about a bald eagle that had died from eating a Canada goose that had been tainted by lead shot; by 1987, the efforts of Henderson and his department had resulted in state legislation that required the use of nontoxic shot for all waterfowl hunting in Minnesota.


America's bald eagle population as a whole, and Minnesota's in particular, has "come back remarkably" since a ban was placed on the use of the pesticide DDT back in 1972, he added.

Henderson credited U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson - who at the time was a state senator - for helping to establish the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff, which it first appeared on Minnesota income tax forms back in 1980, has raised an estimated $30 million for the DNR's Nongame Wildlife Program.

"Almost overnight, my budget went from $25,000 to half a million dollars," Henderson said.

Since that time, the money has been used to help support the recovery of peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans, golden eagles, and many other bird species that were once indigenous to Minnesota, but had all but died out due to factors like loss of habitat, environmental toxins and other factors. In addition, it has been used to assist with the recovery of loons and pelicans that had suffered long-term effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010.

Over the years, Henderson has also been involved in various projects aimed at instilling a passion for wildlife conservation among Minnesota's youth, through Project Wild, Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), and the Digital Photography Bridge to Nature, to name a few.

In addition, he has written many books for the DNR as well as field guides to the wildlife of Costa Rica, where he and his wife have led hundreds of birding expeditions through the years.

On Saturday night, Oregon author and birder extraordinaire Noah Strycker spoke to another packed house at the M State Conference Center in Detroit Lakes, recalling his global quest to set a new world record for seeing the most different species of birds in a singular calendar year - a quest known to birders as a "big year."

During that quest, which took place in 2015, Strycker visited 41 different countries, on seven different continents, and saw 6,042 different species of birds - which beat the previous world record by more than 1,000.


But as Strycker put it, his quest "wasn't just about the numbers."

"Two and a half years later, I do still remember each and every one of the people I met," he said. "Those are the memories that I think stick with you the most."

And even after all that time spent birding, Strycker said, he found his love for his favorite pastime hadn't diminished - in fact, it burned brighter than ever.

He even joined in on a couple of field trip expeditions during the festival, and added two more "life birds" to his list: The Greater Prairie Chicken and LeConte's Sparrow, taking the total number of different bird species he has seen in his lifetime to 6,382.

According to Stewart, other memorable birds sighted during the festival included the Chestnut-collared Longspur, Scarlet Tanager, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red Crossbill, Nighthawk, Loggerhead Shrike, Wilson's Phalarope, and more than 20 different species of warbler. The total number of different species sighted during Friday and Saturday's field trips reached 159.

"It was a fun success!" she added.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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