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 Birds in the backyard

How long for birds to return to once-empty feeders?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 25, 2014 - 9:13 PM

We were gone for 10 days. The pair of feeders on our deck and the five hanging in the backyard went empty, probably within four days of our departure. I refilled the feeders on Tuesday morning, watching for returnees. I was curious about how long it would take the birds to find and begin using the now-filled feeders.

Forty-eight hours.

Later: Well, except for the finches. Chickadees, nuthatches, Blue Jays, Downy Woodpeckers, yes. American Goldfinches and House Finches, no.

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.

Swifts and grackles

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 18, 2014 - 11:03 AM

Common Grackles are back our feeders. We rarely see them in spring or the middle days of summer. They wait until fall approaches. If robins are the signs of spring, perhaps grackles fill that role for fall. Grackles eat a lot of seed. They sit on the feeder trays, the perches too short to be comfortable for them. Removing the trays discourages them. I don’t do that, though, unless we get a flock of grackles. There were half a dozen this morning (Aug. 13), so, no problem. We’ve had dozens of them at one time. They empty feeders quickly, and keep regular bird visitors away.

 

Warblers are migrating, too. This past weekend at Lutsen, we watched warblers move through spruce trees, feeding as they leisurely moved south. Half of the warblers we saw were Cape Mays. Interesting that one species was so dominate.

 

Chimney Swifts also are prepping for the seasonal change. They are beginning to flock up in the evening, choosing a chimney for mass roosting at night. There might be such a chimney in your neighborhood. At heavy twilight, just before it is too dark to see, check a large chimney. Schools are good. Chimney Swifts are not hard to find during breeding season, if you keep watching the sky, particularly at dusk. Swifts hunt airborne insects, feeding exclusively in the air. Now is the time, though, to watch the swift show, dozens or hundreds of birds circling, then pouring into a chimney, gone, like magic. 

 

The photos show swifts at a chimney, and two swifts in hand. The long claws on their toes allow them to cling to rough surfaces. The spines on their tail feathers help support them.

 

 

 

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