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Vanishing birds have local conservationists talking about solutions

A Dec. 16 meeting about “Vanishing Birds — Why? What Are They Telling Us?" at the Detroit Lakes Public Library will inform people about declining bird populations and empower the community to do something about it.

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Detroit Lakes residents Bill and Nancy Henke used to frequently see Evening Grosbeaks at their feeders. Today, the birds are considered significantly at risk. (Submitted photo)
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Recent reports about declining bird populations have sounded an alarm for some Detroit Lakes area residents, and they’re taking it as a call to action.

A study published this fall in Science magazine made national and local headlines for its alarming conclusion that 3 billion birds have disappeared from North America since the 1970s . Many bird species are in steep decline, the study found, particularly those living along shorelines and in grassland and boreal forest habitats, all of which are found in Minnesota.

An October Tribune October Tribune article about the study stimulated about the study stimulated a response from local birders and conservationists, said Bill Henke. Henke is a conservationist himself, and a member of the local Prairie Woods Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America.

The “Ikes,” as league members are more commonly called, decided to organize a public meeting Dec. 16 to address the issue of bird loss. Called “Vanishing Birds — Why? What Are They Telling Us?”, the meeting will feature four expert speakers and is intended to inform people about the issue as well as inspire them to do their part to help protect birds.

“The plight of the birds is a warning sign for all of us, and we just really have to wake up to the message of why this is happening and what message they have for us,” Henke said. “And the message for us is, ‘All is not well out there, habitat-wise.’ We have to really realize that we’re all so interconnected, and if the birds are not thriving, it has ramifications for us.”


The Ikes are a nearly 100-year-old national conservation group with local chapters from coast to coast. The Detroit Lakes-based Prairie Woods Chapter was established in 1959 and has more than 30 active members today. The group's monthly meetings are often held at the library, and are always open to the public. They’re usually held the third Monday of the month, during the school year.

Focusing this month’s meeting on “Vanishing Birds” and doing more to spread the word for stronger public attendance, Henke said, “just fits with everything the Ikes are trying to do, whether it’s in terms of trying to be better stewards of our natural environment, or awakening to the threat of climate change and what we as a community can try to do.”

“Communities have real power to enact change, and the Detroit Lakes community has a lot at stake,” he added. “We live in a very beautiful area and we need to take care of it, on all fronts.”

Henke said the meeting is intended to build on the information shared in the Tribune article , to start conversations and form individual and collective action plans.

The meeting entails three related segments: First, speakers Steve Midthune and Nancy Henke will talk about the Science study and what is happening in terms of bird loss, especially in the Detroit Lakes area. Then, Willis Mattison will speak on ecosystem changes affecting bird loss, including climate change as recounted in the Audubon magazine’s fall edition. And finally, Scott Sonstegard will provide a call to action segment to empower individual and community efforts.

All the speakers are local, well-known in birding circles, and have expertise in their speaking areas.

Birding pictures will also be shared at the meeting, as well as new data from this year’s Christmas Bird Count. The count is led locally by Nancy Henke and happens to be taking place the same day as the meeting.

“We want to leave it on a positive note,” Bill Henke said. “We want to empower us all to get out and safeguard our birds, and in doing so, reach out and help conserve and enhance our environment, as well.”


If you go

WHAT: “Vanishing Birds — Why? What Are They Telling Us?” presentation and discussion by the Prairie Woods Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America

WHEN: Monday, Dec. 16, 7-9 p.m.

WHERE: Detroit Lakes Public Library, upper level meeting room

WHO: Guest speakers Steve Midthune, Nancy Henke, Willis Mattison and Scott Sonstegard

WHY: Learn more about declining bird populations and discover ways to help

A writer, editor and mom of four (two kids, two dogs), Marie's been in the newspaper business for over 20 years. She started at the Detroit Lakes Tribune in 2017 after working just down the road at the Perham Focus for several years. Before that, she was at the Herald-Review in Grand Rapids, Minn.
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