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 identification

Last-minute shopper?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 19, 2014 - 11:18 AM

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. 

This app identifies birds by song

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 10, 2014 - 6:12 PM

BirdGenieTM is an app that enables anyone with an Apple® or Android® smartphone or tablet

to identify birds by recording songs. Hold up the phone, record the bird singing, and BirdGenie

will tell you what bird it is. 


There are separate apps for eastern and western regions of the U.S. Each regional app contains

80 vocalization types for 60 bird species. 


A clear recording with your smartphone or tablet is necessary. BirdGenie identifies the bird if it

is an included species, and tells you how confident it is that the identification is correct.


The app also provides audio samples of the bird’s various songs to compare with your own recording,

as well as color photos, basic information, and reading links.


The app, from Princeton University Press, will cost $2.99, and is to be available in the spring. No internet connection is needed to use it.


Technical requirements: iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4/5/6, iPad, iPad Mini, and iPod Touch.

Android 4.0 and above. Compatible with most common Android phones and tablets.



Tens of thousands of finches

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 3, 2014 - 9:51 PM

Tens of thousands of finches were counted at Hawk Ridge in Duluth this fall, in addition to 59,000 raptors. Below is the seasonal summary as written by Karl Bardon, count director for the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory (www.hawkridge.org). He posted this Wednesday on the email network of the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. Bardon predicts that you will see some of those finches -- Common Redpolls -- at your feeders in coming weeks.


The official counting season at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory for the fall
2014 season ended on Nov. 30. Although the raptor migration was
fairly average with a total of over 59,000 raptors counted, the non-raptor
migration was the best ever, with a total of over 357,000 non-raptors
counted (this is over 38,000 birds above the previous high season, and over
70,000 birds above average). 

Much of this high count is due to the amazing 
count of 111,320 finches, including 15,276 Purple Finches, 38,440 Common
Redpolls, and 52,389 Pine Siskins. This is the highest season to date for
all three of these species, but where did they all go? Judging from mou-net
postings, no large numbers of these finches have been reported south of
Duluth. It would seem that a major invasion of these species is underway,
so it will be interesting to see when and how many of these birds show up
in the south. 

Duluth is certainly one of the best places in the country to
see finch migration, but this year the numbers were simply overwhelming!
For those who did not witness the daily barrage of flock after flock after
flock of finches moving down the shore, it may be difficult to conceive
just how many birds these totals represent. Even more amazingly, radar work
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggests this diurnal migration counted 
at Hawk Ridge may just be the tip of the iceberg, with unknown additional thousands 
of finches potentially moving over at night. 

Interestingly, this is not the first time a major invasion of redpolls passed 
through Duluth without being recorded in the south, since the same thing 
happened in 2011 when over 37,000 Common Redpolls were counted at 
Hawk Ridge (mostly in late October). Although Common Redpolls are 
generally thought to be on a biannual cycle, current data from Hawk Ridge 
shows high numbers of Common Redpolls every three years, 
including 20,139 in 2008, 37,759 in 2011, and 38,440 in 2014 
(most of which were in November). So will redpolls show up at your feeder 
this winter? I sure think so! 

Daily updates of migration throughout the season are provided at
www.hawkcount.org/hawkridge, and weekly blogs summarizing the 
count areprovided at http://hawkridgeblog.blogspot.com

Below, a Common Redpoll.

Just because she's beautiful

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 25, 2014 - 6:04 PM

This female Red-winged Blackbird was at our feeders today. Female birds often are drab counterparts to the males of their species. This bird, though, an adult in new fall plumage, is simply beautiful. 

New book on Minnesota amphibians and reptiles

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 9, 2014 - 11:51 AM

Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota, John J. Moriarity and Carol D. Hall, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, softcover, 372 pages, heavily illustrated with photos, range maps, index.


I am not exclusively a birdwatcher. When in the field I look at everything that moves, usually briefly, but often long enough to wonder about identification and names. I know some frogs by sound and sight, but for toads, skinks, racerunners, whiptails, snakes, and most turtles, I need help.


“Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota” has the answers to my questions.


This is not a field guide. It’s a book to be studied before venturing outdoors, or to be reviewed upon return. The text covers description, distribution, habitat, and life history. Text is clear and to the point. The photos are excellent. 


There are creatures out there, perhaps in your yard, that you haven’t seen and don’t know. They’re all described and illustrated in this well-done book.


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