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.

Winter finch forecast

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird feeding, Bird sightings Updated: September 29, 2014 - 10:52 PM


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.

Woodpeckers of North America

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird books Updated: September 28, 2014 - 10:32 AM

Woodpeckers of North America: a  naturalist’s handbook, David Benson and Paul Bannick, Stone Ridge Press,Wrenshall, MN, 90 pages, photos, range maps, soft cover, $12.95.


How a book presents its content to readers can be as important as the content itself. In this case, the content is excellent, the photos are excellent, and so is the design. Content is pleasingly broken into short-takes of text offering a brief but complete discussion of everything important to knowing and identifying North America’s woodpeckers.


Design is by Mark (Sparky) Stensaas.  He and Benson are from Duluth. Bannick, the photographer, lives in Seattle. Benson writes clearly and cleanly. Bannick is an accomplished photographer.


And Stensaas has an eye for design as sharp as the content. Design is simple and clear. Text includes asides that explore different facets of a bird’s life or history. These are attractively denoted with color. I moved through the book with a sense of anticipation. 


The range maps, drawn by Matt Kania, are worthy of comment. I’ve never seen maps like this before in any birding guide. The illustration shows the complete western hemisphere of the world with breeding, winter, and year-round ranges shown in color. The maps put the birds in an overall context other range maps miss. This is a very good idea, something other book designers should copy.


200 attend protest rally

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: September 27, 2014 - 6:51 PM

The refusal by the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority and the Minnesota Vikings to use bird-safe glass in the stadium now under construction drew an estimated 200 persons to a protest rally Saturday afternoon. Birders gathered across the street from the stadium site to hear speakers, and wave banners and signs. They want the stadium's huge signature "window" which will cover the end of the stadium facing downtown to be made of glass which does not reflect what is in front of it. Those reflections visually continue the natural world as birds see it, causing them to attempt to fly through. Most birds colliding with windows die. Below, author Laura Erickson from Duluth speaks to the crowd, which gathered in front of the construction site.

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

Posted by: Jim Williams under Birds in the backyard 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.


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