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 conservation

Cynical words from Windex

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 28, 2015 - 11:09 PM

The other night on television I saw a commercial for Windex, the window-cleaning product. In it, two birds were exclaiming about what an excellent job Windex does. It makes windows so clean, the birds said, that birds cannot see the glass, and fly into it, hurting themselves. Don't buy Windex, the birds told us. Let your windows be dirty. Windex is bad for birds.

Obviously, the ad is playing cute with the message delivered by the birds, one of which wore a bandage, supposedly covering a window-related injury. 

The Windex folks cynically and harmfully are using the injured-bird story as a way to show you, the consumer, that their product does an incredible job. It cleans windows so well they become invisible. My interpretation: birds be damned, buy our product.

There is a second ad in which a woman dressed as a scientist (white lab coat) tells viewers to ignore the ad supposedly created by birds, the ad telling you that dirty windows are better. Clean windows are better, she says, and Windex is the product for you. 

Not for me. Advertising often is crass and stupid. These  take top prize. The manufacturers of Windex and its ad agency should be ashamed of making light of the millions of bird deaths caused each year by collisions with windows. 

(These two commercials are part of a long-running series of ads in which two birds, generally resembling magpies, help sell Windex. Other commercials in the series avoid disdain for birds. One, in which the birds trick a man into walking nose-first into his very clean glass patio doors, actually is funny. The newest in the series, though, is not funny. Windex is manufactured by the S. C. Johnson company. The ads were created by the agency Grey Worldwide.)

CO2 reading for April 12: 403.77

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 14, 2015 - 12:06 PM

Atmospheric CO2 reading for week beginning April 5 was 403.42 parts per million (ppm).

Weekly value one year ago was 401.22 ppm

Weekly value 10 years ago was 382.26

Records are kept daily by the Scripps Institution of Oceanograpy at the University of California, San Diego, measurement made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Graph comes from the Scripps web page.

Go to https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve

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

Wingnut blog gets prominent mention in New Yorker

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 1, 2015 - 11:31 PM

My name appears twice this week, along with a mention of this blog, in the current issue of “The New Yorker.” That hardly ever happens.

Jonathan Franzen, staff writer for the magazine and book author, mentions me in an article about bird conservation. I’m more or less the genesis of the piece. Franzen writes that while having a bad day in California (hot, dry), he came upon a quote from me in a story about — what else? — Viking stadium window glass. Apparently, I made Franzen’s bad day worse.

He also pokes at the National Audubon Society, which is why I received on Wednesday an email from Mark Jannot, Audubon’s vice president for content. We then had a nice telephone visit. 

Jannot felt that Franzen mischaracterized a quote from me published last September in the Star-Trib. The story was about an Audubon birds and climate report. Jannot felt that Franzen did the same to Audubon’s position on the issue.

Franzen worries that broad concern for bird welfare will override specific concerns. Worry about climate change, he fears, will lessen concern about window glass, for instance.

Jannot and I don’t believe that concern about climate will trump specific threats to birds — glass, cats, etc. We agreed that Franzen, as he said, was having a bad day.

I was happy to see my name in print, particularly in one of my favorite magazines. I’m glad that Franzen mentioned me at the top of the story. I might otherwise have been missed. It is a very long article.

(Read it at  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/carbon-capture.)

30 acres of Big Woods -- goodbye

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 29, 2015 - 1:24 PM

A piece of wooded land near our home is about to be developed. This will mean removal of some trees that are 200 years old. The woods is a remnant of the Big Woods that once covered much of east central Minnesota.

The owner cannot maintain the land, and so chooses to sell. That’s understandable.

There about 30 acres of old trees there, a woods deeply shaded in the summer, an understory so thin that walking is unimpeded. I’ve spent a lot of time there; it’s beautiful. It’s not particularly birdy; old woods tend to be that way. It’s heavy on woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. Owls have nested there, and Red-shouldered Hawks, I believe. Wild Turkeys are common, as are deer and coyotes. 

Thirty acres could be called mostly edge. You can’t walk very far into 30 acres before you come out the other side. The impact of edges on use by animals extends far enough into this woods that little of it is untouched. But five homesites, an access road, and driveways all create more edges, and will turn the entire piece into habitat dominated by edge. All of it will change.

The negative impacts created by edges, according to a study in New York state, bring decreased nesting near trails, altered bird species composition near trails, and increased nests predation by cowbirds, skunks, raccoons, and foxes using the clearings, trails, and roads as corridors. The study also showed that some species of animals are reluctant to cross openings, even to fly across openings. This reduces land available for nesting territory and foraging. 

On the other hand, some species find edges attractive. Vegetation types change. There is more light and more rain. 

Plus and minus. 

Overall, though, with this change we lose more of a habitat type that is disappearing. 

A recent article in “The New Yorker” addressed the environmental impact of roads (“What Roads Have Wrought” by Michelle Nijhuis).

She quotes Prof. William Laurence of James University in Cook, Australia, as saying: “Roads scare the hell out of ecologists. You can’t be in my line of business and not be struck by their transformative power.”

Nijhuis writes: “No matter the ecosystem — forest, prairie, patch of moss — the effects of habitat fragmentation are ruinous.”

So, the woods change, the animals likely leave, and that's the way it goes.

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