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SUSTAINABILITY COLUMN: Bemidji is ‘Home Sweet Home’ for the birds

Brian Hiller from the biology department at BSU researches Purple Martins that nest near campus. Submitted photo.

On June 11, Bemidji can add another “feather to its cap.” On that day, Minnesota Audubon will designate Bemidji as the state’s third Bird City.

Bird City Minnesota recognizes and celebrates communities with a long-term commitment to creating bird habitat, reducing threats to birds, and engaging citizens in birding, bird conservation and outdoor recreation.

To qualify as a Bird City, a community needs to complete seven of 18 specific Bird City criteria. These criteria include taking actions to create and protect habitat; promote use of native plant species; create and protect nesting opportunities; practice conservation planning, reduce collisions with windows; increase awareness of birds in the community; educate and engage youth audiences; and promote citizen science monitoring and research. Over the past few months the Mississippi Headwaters Audubon Society led the city of Bemidji and local organizations to identify activities they each have completed. They found that Bemidji Bird City Partners are already engaged in 15 of the criteria!

Among the activities included in Bemidji’s Bird City application were native plant gardens and landscaping projects being carried out by the Bemidji Monarch Committee, MHAS Bemidji ABC (Audubon Bird Collaborative) project, BSU and at South Shore and North Country City Parks.  

“Bemidji is a great place for birds, and people” said Jaime Thibodeaux, chair of MHAS. “So many local organizations, agencies, and residents are involved in conservation and stewardship projects that benefit birds and other wild creatures.

“Just to give you a few examples; the Bogs and Logs Master Naturalist group has put up a bluebird house trail at North Country Park; Headwaters Science Center has a great “Raptors Rule” display and program with live hawks and owls; the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources DNR is trying out innovative window films and decals at their regional office to reduce bird strikes (the largest human-caused factor in bird mortality); and Dr. Brian Hiller, associate professor at BSU, and his students are banding purple martins and doing important research right here in town!”

A local campaign titled: “Birds, Bees and Butterflies – Bemidji” will be starting this spring to promote planting native wild flowers, shrubs and trees. Signs downtown, on the BSU campus and around the city will highlight planters and gardens featuring bird and pollinator-friendly plants. Local garden centers will also display these signs to help customers find native plants they have available.

Native plants are the plant species found naturally in our area. They evolved with the local soils, rainfall levels, weather and climate conditions over the course of thousands of years. Every region has different native plant communities and groups of insects, birds, and other wildlife that depend on them. Plants introduced from other regions of the country or other parts of the world are called exotics. When it comes to attracting beautiful butterflies and birds to your yard or community, the best thing you can do is use native plants.

The public is invited to join in a celebration of Bemidji’s Bird City designation on June 10-11. Saturday, June 10:

  • Bird Hike – Lake Bemidji State Park, 7:15 to 8:30 a.m.
  • Minnesota Raptors at Lake Bemidji State Park, 1 to 2 p.m.

(Entry to LBSP is free on Saturday, June 10)

Sunday, June 11:

  • Bird and native plant restorations walk, BSU campus. Meet at the southwest corner of the Bangsberg Fine Arts Parking lot – near the Lakeshore Trail, 10:00 a.m. to noon.
  • Bird City designation event, Cameron City Park, 1 to 2 p.m.

For more information on Bemidji’s Bird City activities, visit

Peter Buesseler and Diana Kuklinski are members of the city of Bemidji's Sustainability Committee.