Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Boundary Waters could resemble our Orono yard

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird conservation Updated: October 27, 2013 - 8:41 PM

Scary thought: by the end of this century or close to it, far northern Minnesota could resemble from a vegetative standpoint our Orono neighborhood, in particular our yard. This would be the undesired result of a warming climate.

I learned that when reading the excellent article on forests of the future in the StarTribune of Sunday, Oct. 20. The article focused on our boreal forest, the forest you see in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

An illustration with the article showed “A possible 2100 BWCA Landscape.” The plants depicted were:

* Little blue stem, a prairie grass that isn’t on our yard but grows about a mile north of us.

* Prickly-pear cactus. We have it in our flowerbeds, imported from Nebraska and South Dakota, and thriving.

* Red oak and burr oak. Not in our yard but close.

*Basswood. We have it.

* Hackberry. We have it.

* Hybrid cattail. We have that, too.

* The only plant I'm not certain of is juniper, although it could be nearby and unnoticed.

That vegetative change, of course, would produce a profound change in bird life as well. Many species would disappear from the state, moving north with the climate and vegetative change.

Minnesota is home in the breeding season to about 20 species of warblers. Several of them depend upon spruce trees, which would be among the plant species considered non-survivors.

Birds are very good at finding specific niches in which they find food. In a single spruce tree you could find five species of warbler making a living, each staking out a particular part of the tree.

Yellow-rumped Warblers feed mostly in the tree’s understory, below 10 feet. The Black-throated Green Warbler works the mid-portion of the tree. It shares these branches with Cape May Warblers. They can share because Black-throated Green hunts on the branches, while Cape May looks for insects attracted by sap on the trunk.

Blackburnian Warblers and Bay-breasted Warblers share the treetops. The former feeds on outer branches and by fly-catching aerial insects, while the latter finds insects closer to the trunk.

You can see what happens to bird diversity as spruce trees fade to cooler climes.

Read the article. Consider our future. Do something about it.

(The information on warblers and spruce trees was taken from the book “How Not to Be Eaten By Insects,” author Gilbert Waldbauer, newly released by University of California Press.)

Below, Black-throated Green Warbler

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