Tackaberry has been watching birds for 60 years

FRONTENAC, Minn. -- Alice Tackaberry has been a bird watcher for most of her life. But the 90-year-old remembers almost the exact moment when her interest really took off.

Alice Tackaberry
Photo by Sarah Gorvin/Forum Communications Co. Alice Tackaberry, 90, Frontenac, Minn., has been watching the birds outside her Frontenac home for 60 years.

FRONTENAC, Minn. -- Alice Tackaberry has been a bird watcher for most of her life. But the 90-year-old remembers almost the exact moment when her interest really took off.

It was the late 1950s, and Tackaberry and her husband had just moved from the country outside Red Wing to Frontenac.

"I found out at an early age that Frontenac had a lot of birds," she said.

But one Sunday after church, a handful of birdseed created a lifelong passion and hobby.

"We threw some birdseed out one day and that's the first time I ever saw slate-colored juncos," Tackaberry said. "Then I got more interested than ever."


When she was younger, Tackaberry used to don her husband's hip boots and wade through the area's streams, dodging logs and other hazards, in hopes of catching a glimpse of some of her favorite songbirds.

"I used to see an awful lot of birds when I'd walk the cricks. I'd take my bird books and my binoculars, my movie camera," she said. "That was a lot to hang onto so you wouldn't get wet."

Tackaberry said her bird walks are less frequent today, and she no longer wades through the creeks.

"I'm limited because of my age," she said.

But every Sunday after church, Tackaberry still takes a drive around Frontenac and the surrounding woodlands. She keeps a well-used bird book in her glove box, marking down the date of any new bird encounters. So far, the book is dotted with dates and notes, indicating Tackaberry has spotted hundreds of bird species.

Now, as Tackaberry looks back on nearly 60 years of watching, there are a few bird encounters that stand out to her. Like the varied thrush, a native of Canada, that visited Tackaberry's yard in January 2008.

"They sure don't belong here," she said.

But a flash of the bird's orange breast caught Tackaberry's eye as the creature landed in the snow. It took the bird watcher a few minutes to figure out what type of bird it was and then, finding she had no film in her camera, Tackaberry called in a friend to take a photo.


There was also the time "at least 10 years ago," Tackaberry said, that the mayfly hatch corresponded with the migration of many species of songbirds. As the birds swooped down to the catch the bugs hatching near Lake Pepin, they collided with cars on the adjacent Highway 61.

"It was just the wrong time," Tackaberry said. "It was a regular massacre. ... It was just a heartbreak."

A happier sighting was when Tackaberry spotted a Rufous-sided Towhee, another species rarely spotted in Minnesota. After her encounter, Tackaberry was visiting neighboring friends and explaining the bird's sighting.

"I was telling them that I'd seen one, and then one landed in their yard," she said grinning.

In Tackaberry's living room, an orange upholstered chair faces a large picture window that overlooks the woods behind her house. A long table -- covered in several pairs of binoculars and a couple birding books -- flanks the chair's left side.

It's Tackaberry's birding station. Just outside the window, a large green suet feeder stands on a stake that is plunged into the ground just in front of a heated water dish. That way, Tackaberry said, the birds can drink all year round.

"The birds rely on that," she said. "They know where to get water. You'll get almost as many birds as you would with feed."

Currently, Tackaberry is trying to attract the pileated woodpecker, a mammoth, 16-inch tall black, red and white creature. The giant bird came once, but Tackaberry said he couldn't get a good grip on the smaller suet feeder she had at the time. After that, the bird-lover added on to her feeder, making a bigger perch.


"I'm always going to have suet up in case he comes by again," Tackaberry said.

Still, the bird watcher said she would be happy to have any new species land in her yard.

"That's why it's so exciting," Tackaberry said of seeing a new creature and then working to figure out what species it is.

Frontenac sits in the Mississippi River Flyway, a migration route for an estimated 40 percent of all North American migrating waterfowl and shorebirds, according to the Audubon Society. Half of all species spend at least a portion of their lives here, making for prime watching.

"I'd like to see all the birds that I haven't seen. ... Every year, you learn more about the birds than you ever did before."

Gorvin is a reporter for The Republican Eagle in Red Wing (Minn.), which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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