Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

Summer brings millions of migratory birds back to their northern breeding grounds. Every year, they course their way across the United States from tropical winter homes. Many of them though do not complete that long journey. In 2009, several hundred dead song birds were found at the foot of the Coast Guard tower outside Baudette, Minnesota. That is about as far north as you can get in the continental United States.

Producers Elizabeth Meister and Dan Collison offered this story as told by all possible attack.

Ms. PENNY MIO HIRST (Editor, Baudette Region Newspaper): So you're going on this long, straight highway and it's nothing but bog on either side of you, and you can see this tower up ahead. And it's just like you're just trying to get to this tower, because you know home is just after that tower.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Mr. TOM HANSON (Manager, LORAN Station, Coast Guard): My name is Tom Hanson. I ran the Coast Guard station, the LORAN station here in the Baudette, Minnesota.

Ms. HIRST: My name is Penny Mio Hurst, editor at the Baudette Region, which is a weekly newspaper.

Mr. HANSON: What the LORAN tower is LORAN actually acronym for a Long Range Navigation. It was the predecessor to GPS.

Ms. HIRST: The tower is kind of the beacon.

Mr. HANSON: At the times it was put there, it was for, if you want to call it, a lifesaving purpose. I mean getting the captains across the Great Lakes in a safe manner.

Ms. HIRST: The wires go from the top of the tower and out a long distance.

Ms. KATIE HAWS (Regional Nongame Wildlife Specialist, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources): It's painted red and white in alternating sections, obstructed by clouds at times.

Ms. HIRST: It's taller than any radio or TV tower, so it's the biggest thing we've got.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Ms. HAWS: My name is Katie Haws. I'm a Regional Nongame Wildlife specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in northwest Minnesota. In 2009, there was an incident where a large number of birds were observed dead in the vicinity of a LORAN tower.

Mr. JEFF DIETRICH (Area Wildlife Manager, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources): This is Jeff Dietrich and I am the area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. There were birds scattered all around, the combination of live and dead and, you know, just parts of birds due from what the with the predators had been working on.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Ms. HAWS: There 35 different bird species found at the base of the LORAN tower.

Mr. DIETRICH: And the list starts with Hummingbird 26. Tennessee warblers 29. Common yellow throat 23...

Ms. HAWS: The bird species with the greatest number found dead was Swainson's thrush.

Mr. DIETRICH: ...110.

Professor BILL TEFFT (Naturalist, Vermilion Community College): I am Bill Tefft and I'm primarily a naturalist. The Swainson's thrush is a large songbird.

Ms. JENNIE MORMON (Teacher, Lake at the Woods School): My name is Jennie Mormon. I am currently a sixth grade teacher at Lake at the Woods School.

(Soundbite of birds chirping and bird calls)

Ms. MORMON: They have flute-like sounds.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

Ms. MORMON: And you hear it in the deep woods.

Prof. TEFFT: They essentially filled the space with their song.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

Mr. TED DICK (Wildlife Biologist, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources): I'm Ted Dick and I work for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

Mr. DICK: I've actually stood outside and looked up a lot of times on those quiet evenings. You can hear chirping birds, little call notes when they're going by communicating and there's obviously just masses of birds going by.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

(Soundbite of music)

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Ms. HAWS: Five palm warblers.

Mr. DIETRICH: Connecticut warbler 2.

Ms. HAWS: Four, Lincoln's sparrow.

Mr. DIETRICH: You know they had hit this LORAN tower.

Mr. DICK: It sort of looks like a spider web or something when you look up from here.

Prof. TEFFT: Probably hit the tower and the guy wires.

Ms. MORMON: I thought, wow, if you were standing there it must be raining birds. That would be pretty scary. Kind of Hitchcock-like or something.

Mr. DIETRICH: Maybe one drops in occasionally or maybe you don't even notice a whole lot of it. You know, they're pretty quiet. They hit hard and then they just flutter down.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Ms. HIRST: My first thought was what was weird about that night.

Ms. HAWS: We have a lot of ground fog.

Ms. HIRST: When it is foggy, oh boy. You better be careful.

Ms. HAWS: So, even if you miss the tower, you'd be kind of flying a gauntlet of wires.

Ms. HIRST: It is ironic that a tower that would be used to help people find their way on the Great Lakes would also become a death trap to birds finding their way home.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Mr. HANSON: You always think about their migration and, you know, their journey across the country and then just suddenly stop like that when you run into that sort of thing. And I remember I thought if they didn't die at this tower they're going to die at another one along the way. But there's a lot of massive dangerous things when you're just a little bird flying by in the dark.

Prof. TEFFT: You know, the number of towers that are being built has probably just gone up exponentially with this explosion in cell phone use. Society is...they want these kinds of services, you know, and they're willing to pay what it takes to get them, you know. And some of it's dollars out of your pocket and some of it is dead birds.

Ms. HAWS: ...and one rose-breasted gross beak.

Mr. DIETRICH: A total of 375.

Ms. HIRST: That's a really horrific number. There aren't many secrets in this town, and since I've found out about the birds that were last at the tower, I've kind of asked around and nobody knows about it. And for that to not get around our community is pretty amazing.

Ms. MORMON: You don't just go up to people and say, guess, what, 700 birds were killed last night at the tower. That isn't pleasant. And I think people are Minnesota nice. You know, we don't like to be seen in a way where people would believe that we would let something like that happen without doing something about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

Ms. HAWS: My husband and I were driving back from the Twin Cities and it was during a snow storm. It was dark and we were within a mile of the tower before we could see it. And that night, I thought of those birds because, you know, on a night like tonight, it would be pretty dangerous to be flying by that tower. It wasn't safe for us. Maybe they were flying when it wasn't safe for them.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group): (Singing)

STAMBERG: This story produced by Elizabeth Meister and Dan Collison as part of Long Haul Productions Song Stories series. The original song, "Vision," was written and performed by the group Mountain Man. For photos of the tower and to hear the song, go to NPR.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Visions")

MOUNTAIN MAN (Singing Group: (Singing)

STAMBERG: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: