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.
During a recent visit to South Carolina I watched Common Grackles feeding on tiny clams they dug at low tide from sand along an Atlantic beach. The birds walked, looking for holes the self-buried clams made in the sand for breathing purposes. A quick poke of the bill down the hole produced a clam. Several grackles were seen doing this.
If you're killing office time today by scanning the Internet for this and that, you've certainly seen the photo of a weasel clinging to the back of a flying woodpecker. This happened in England, captured on camera by an alert and extremely lucky photographer. The bird is a European Green Woodpecker, a fairly large fellow, a foot or slightly more in length. The weasel runs seven to nine inches. The woodpecker eats ants, which probably explains why it was on the ground when jumped by the ambitious mammal, which will eat birds. Weasels are known for ferocity and disregard of what might seem like odds-against. They can't fly, though. The news stories coming from England all mention that the woodpecker escaped, apparently good to go. Unmentioned is concern for the weasel, which fell off, its end of the story unknown. Just Google "woodpecker weasel." There is no end of coverage.
We spent the first week of this month (January) in Costa Rica. Hummingbirds were the feature for us, as we didn't hike or tour with a guide. We chose lodges where good birding was available on site. Feeders brought birds to us. Interesting was the food used to lure orioles, tanagers, and a few warblers -- bananas. No other food was offered. Bananas were opened by removing one strip of peel, then stuck on nails that had been pounded into feeding posts or simply laid on flat surfaces. Come spring we're going to leave the grape jelly in the frig, and try bananas. Below, a male Baltimore Oriole eating banana.
Holiday gift ideas from birding consultant Paul Baicich, an experienced birder and educator (with over 800 species on his North American life list):
Shade-grown Coffee — This is a wonderful gift, ideal to bring along to a holiday party. It should start up a conversation about shade-coffee vs. sun-coffee and the ways that certified arabica shade coffee helps sustain our Neotropical migrants in coffee country throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp — The "Duck Stamp" is a fine gift, and a great conservation-supporting item. Since almost all the funds collected from the stamp go to building wetland and grassland habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System, it sends a great message, too. Besides, you will probably be at the Post Office anyhow, so picking up a $15-stamp or two should be easy. You can also download a free and unique stamp-related certificate describing just how much one stamp secures in habitat, attach the stamp, put it in a frame, and you're set!
Bird Art — Speaking of frames, how about some bird art? No, not an original piece of expensive artwork, but a quality print. Whether your recipient favors waterfowl, gamebirds, raptors, shorebirds, hummingbirds, orioles, or warblers, the options are vast. Just search online!
Bird t-shirt — Yes, lovely bird t-shirts are often perfect gifts. In fact, you can combine the previous two suggestions — the "Duck Stamp" and bird art — in one t-shirt purchase. Buy a t-shirt with a Duck Stamp design on it! You can find one here: http://www.friendsofthestamp.org
Bird Feeder - Few backyards are so full of bird feeders that another one
wouldn't help. Another tube feeder? A suet feeder? A hopper feeder?
Bird Seed — And there should be quality feed to fill those feeders. A large bag or two of high-quality bird seed can go a long way. Think especially about getting black-oil sunflower or Nyjer.
Window Protection — Birdseed and feeders are great gifts, but they can also attract birds to potentially dangerous windows, a situation with creates unfortunate collisions. Short of retrofitting entire windows, some outdoor hanging bird-screens or large "one-way-view" stickers or films can alleviate the situation. These are fine gifts for the season.
Catio — Also in the realm of backyard bird protection, there is the opportunity to address the issue of outdoor cats. There are an estimated 84 million pet cats in the U.S., and perhaps 36 million of them are let outside to roam. This is deadly for our wild birds. Now cat owners who wish to allow their cats outdoors have a bird-safe alternative. These are called a "catios," and they come in a variety of configurations available in various sizes and finishes. Check out these two sources for catio ideas: Catio Spaces and Catio Showcase.
Optics Gear — No, it doesn't necessarily have to be new binoculars, but it could be associated optic gear. How about a new binocular strap-harness? A traveling case? A quality cleaning kit?
Field Guide — There are so many excellent field guides out today that it may be hard to choose. But pick one that fits the individual recipient. For kids? Try a Thompson guide. Otherwise, you might consider a National Geographic, a Kaufman, a Sibley, a Crossley, a Stokes, or even a classic and ever-reliable Peterson. They all have their own individual advantages.
American-grown Rice — A festively-wrapped bag of fine American-grown rice is another great gift that sends a message about habitat for our wetland-associated birds (waterfowl, shorebirds, long-legged waders, and more). No other mass-produced U.S. crop can claim to have such benefits for our birds.
Gift Membership or Subscription — There are a number of bird, nature, and conservation organizations or magazines that offer special annual gift memberships or subscriptions at this time of year. This is sometimes an ideal quick solution to your shopping problems, and the recipient is often contacted directly about your thoughtful gift.
Fifty pounds of black oil sunflower seed for $16.95. That's the current price at Krause Feeds in Hope, Minnesota, an hour's dash down I-35 if you are a southern suburber. That's just a twitch above cost.
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