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.
Sunday last five Bald Eagles circled above me as I visited a nearby orchard. The eagles cut over-lapping circles, often coming close to each other, but seeming to pay no attention to each other. The birds were just moving through, perhaps headed for Lake Minnetonka shoreline where eagles are often seen in the fall, waiting for opportunity to snag a coot or duck. One place to check for eagles on the lakeshore is along County Road 15 as it heads west from Wayzata. The road will sweep to the left soon after leaving town. Two marinas are there, and that stretch of shoreline often holds eagles in the tall trees that line the shore.
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.
Yes, hawks are threatening, and crows probably are nesting near the field where I watched this encounter Saturday, but I think crows need more to do. They harassed this Red-tailed Hawk for several minutes, three of them, following it for maybe a quarter mile before giving up. Later, nearby in a woods, I watched crows, 10 or a dozen of them, drive a Great Horned Owl from the woods, and five minutes later come back to find another, driving it away as well. A pair of owls had been tending a nest in those woods. I was there to check on that. The nest lacked an adult bird. I assume the pair that drew the crows' attention had given up on the nesting effort. I hope they remain loyal to the woods.
From the ground it can look like hawks ignores their harassers, usually continuing to circle in its quiet glide instead of fleeing as owls will do. You can see from these photos that the hawk was very aware. In the third photo the hawk is watching another of its attackers.
The Sandhill Crane pair being seen west of our home in Orono was dancing yesterday. I watched them for a couple of hours, and got to see two brief dancing bouts. A neighbor told me they nested at this location last year, producing one colt. It disappeared after a week, probable coyote victim. I've heard of nesting in other years, but never have seen the birds after early spring. I intend to be more observant.
Black-capped Chickadees and their Carolina cousins interbreed where their ranges meet in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s not news. What is noteworthy is the finding that the range of hybridization has moved seven miles north. The Carolina Chickadees are moving north into Black-capped territory. This information comes from an email posted by Scott Taylor of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Lab at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He adds that there is evidence of northward shifts in the northern range limits of other species as well. The implication for me is that warmer temperatures are the driving force behind the range changes.
Recognizing a hybrid is not simple. There is little visible difference. Carolina Chickadees are smaller than Black-capped, have shorter tails, and are less brightly colored. They can be distinguised by voice. Below is a Caroline Chickadee photographed in Louisiana.
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