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

Colorful spring birds

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 25, 2015 - 6:10 PM

Wild Turkey males dress for the occasion when its time for courtship. Few other bird species can match the bright shades of red and blue, or such a vivid combination. This tom was following a hen in our neighborhood a few days ago.

Egret hunts lizards

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 14, 2015 - 5:28 PM

This Snowy Egret was hunting lizards in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge during a recent visit. I watched the bird from our car as it walked a wood edge, its head pointed into the brush. The bird moved slowly, with purpose. At times it began to sway its body, almost like a slow dance. This happened when something in the brush caught its interest. When the bird stopped advancing and seemed to focus more intently, it moved its head and neck in a wave pattern, undulating slowly as it extended the neck. The capture movement was too quick to follow. The bird shook the vegetation loose, and ate its prey. I have no idea what the body and head/neck motions meant unless they were to confuse or distract the lizard. The next day, in roughly the same location, I watched another Snowy, perhaps the same bird, on another hunt, everything similar to Day One except success as I watched.

Eagle mug shots

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 13, 2015 - 6:12 PM

Four live eagles are on display at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. They were injured once, healed now, but unable to fend for themselves in the wild. Three Bald Eagles and one Golden Eagle offer very close views. Especially impressive are the talons of the Bald Eagles. A trip down the Mississippi River as migrants move north in May, usually a fine opening scene for the heart of spring, could include a visit to the center. Find it by driving through town toward the river.

Bald Eagle, above, Golden Eagle below, Bald Eagle talons at bottom

Creepy creeper feet

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 5, 2015 - 5:31 PM

Brown Creepers are common Minnesota yard and woodland birds, but uncommonly seen. They've evolved colors that blend almost seamlessly with tree bark. Their rapid and continuous movement up tree trunks is their most visible element. Today, as I was on our deck with a camera in my lap, a creeper began working a tree about 15 feet in front of me. The bird stayed on that tree for about 10 minutes, an opportunity I've never had before, especially while seated. Creepers cling to tree bark with long, sharp claws attached to long pink/buff-colored toes. I think the toes resemble spiders. They’re creepy. This species eats insects. Hunting on trees, it pokes a sharp, long, curved bill behind bark flaps, seeking spiders, spider eggs, and other bugs. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site reports a single spider will provide the bird with enough energy to climb 200 feet vertically.  Creepers burn from four to 10 calories a day. 

The bird's toes are long, the rear toe very long. The feet remind me of spiders.

Wood Ducks right where they belong

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 3, 2015 - 9:41 AM

There were 17 Wood Ducks on our pond this morning, with four Canada Geese and a pair of Mallards. Some of the ducks moved from the water into trees bordering the pond, although we have no natural cavities here. There was much courtship activity -- heads bobbing, males chasing, females checking out nesting boxes. We have five boxes surrounding the pond. Two of the boxes had visits this morning by possible occupants. Both Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers have nested here in past years. The mergansers were seen here three days ago, but not this morning. We also have one muskrat, an entertaining mammal that we've welcomed before. Two years ago a pair raised four young. Our pond and the swamp behind it hold no native cattails, the invasive species of that plant and purple loosestrife replacing much of the natural vegetation. That loss was underway long before we arrived. I think it poses a food problem the the muskrats. Two nights ago something ate the bark from two tamarac trees, young ones I've been nursing along. I suspect the muskrat. I wish it would eat duck weed and floating algae clumps. We have lots of that.


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