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.

Posts about Bird biology

Warbler at sapsucker well

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 13, 2014 - 10:51 AM

As migrating warblers moved through Duluth last week, Will Stenberg took this photo of a Palm Warbler drinking sap from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s well. Sapsuckers drill wells, often in large numbers of rows, to draw sap. The birds eat the plant tissue, and drink the sap. They also eat the insects attracted to the leaking liquid.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are one of four North American members of that family. The warbler might have been thirsty, might have liked the flavor. Very nIce photo. Thanks for sharing, Will.

Winter finch forecast

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 29, 2014 - 10:52 PM

WINTER FINCH FORECAST    

Each fall Ron Pittaway of Ontario gathers information on the tree-seed crops that will or won’t keep some of our hoped-for winter bird visitors north of us. From a variety of sources he collects data on three species of trees key to winter bird food — spruces, birches, and mountain ash trees.

Here is his forecast, with my disclaimer that things might not go exactly this way. Our thanks to him for this annual peak into the future at this winter’s feeders. 

One good piece of news is that cone crops are called poor west of Ontario, which might help birds in that region to move south.

Do not expect to see Pine Grosbeaks. Mountain ash crops are good in key Canadian areas. That is likely to keep these birds north.

We should see Purple Finches. They feed on seeds of coniferous and deciduous trees. Those seed crops are low. (Purple Finches favor black oil sunflower seeds at feeders.)

Red Crossbills are unlikely. Red and white pine cone crops in Ontario are good.

White-winged Crossbills are possible in areas where cone crops are strong.

Common Redpolls should return after an almost complete absence last winter. Birch seed crops are poor to average in Canada’s boreal forest. (Redpolls prefer niger thistle seed at feeders.)

Hoary Redpolls: watch for them in northern redpoll flocks.

Pittaway’s report says Blue Jays have been migrating south out of Canada.

Red-breasted Nuthatchs will be moving south because spruce cone crops, important to that bird, are low to average in number.

Bohemian Waxwings are predicted to stay north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop throughout the boreal forest is very good to excellent.

House Wren nest with feathers and flowers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 20, 2014 - 10:16 AM

One of the nest boxes in our yard held an unusual House Wren nest this summer. The nest proper is quite visible from above. Wren nests far more often contain a narrow passageway leading from entry to nest proper, preventing a direct look at eggs or chicks. More unusual are the feathers woven into the stick structure (Cedar Waxwing feather at the far right with yellow tip), and the bits of flower petal added to the floor. I’ve seen many wren nests in a dozen years of tending nest boxes. The feathers and flowers are a first. The nest was built in section of four-inch PVC pipe, one of the box designs created by Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin. 

 

Steve, by the way, has retired from building his popular and successful boxes, both the PVC model and his wooden Gilwood box. His box designs were used throughout Eastern Bluebird range by hundreds of bluebird fans. Located in proper habitat, House Wrens obviously found the boxes attractive, too, as did Tree Swallows.

Wren nest with feathers and flowers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 19, 2014 - 10:10 PM

One of the nest boxes in our yard held an unusual House Wren nest this summer. The nest proper is quite visible from above. Wren nests far more often contain a narrow passageway leading from entry to nest proper, preventing a direct look at eggs or chicks. More unusual are the feathers woven into the stick structure (Cedar Waxwing feather at the far right with yellow tip), and the bits of flower petal added to the floor. I’ve seen many wren nests in a dozen years of tending nest boxes. The feathers and flowers are a first. The nest was built in section of four-inch PVC pipe, one of the box designs created by Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin. 

 

Steve, by the way, has retired from building his popular and successful boxes, both the PVC model and his wooden Gilwood box. His box designs were used throughout Eastern Bluebird range by hundreds of bluebird fans. Located in proper habitat, House Wrens obviously found the boxes attractive, too, as did Tree Swallows.

If pigs could fly .....

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 2, 2014 - 11:18 AM

Commmon Grackles, uncommon most of the year in our yard, thank goodness, are far too common on some early fall days. I remove feeder trays to reduce the amount of seed they eat, but the birds work hard to grip anything that gives them seed access, often sparring for position. Last week, as this acrobat and its companions raided us, I simply let the feeders go empty. We'll fill them today, with crossed fingers. Grackles are beautiful birds, very photogenic, all angles and iridescence, one of my favorites. Some days, actually, the seed is worth the photos. The bird in the second photo, being confronted (not fed!), is a juvenile, as shown by its red eyes.

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