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

A squirrel you might want to invite over

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 11, 2014 - 10:33 PM

A reader wrote to ask about his recent sighting of a flying squirrel eating at one of his bird feeders. He didn't expect to see that mammal here. 


Flying squirrels are resident in the Twin Cities area. There are two species, Northern Flying Squirrel and Southern, both occupying the northern two-thirds of the state, excepting western portions.


A couple of years ago we had a female raise her family here (Orono) in one of our nest boxes, built for bluebirds, but used in the yard by chickadees. We had them at our home east of Grantsburg, Wis., also, when we lived there in the 1990s. 


Flying squirrels don’t actually fly, but glide from one perch to another. They have a fold of skin, a membrane which extends from the front to the hind feet. Legs stretched form an airfoil that allows glides as long as 150 feet. Shorter glides are the rule.


The squirrels are about the size of chipmunks, with dense, glossy olive-brown fur above, white below, with large brown eyes. They eat  — besides birdseed and suet  — fruits, nuts, insects, small birds, and meat scraps. 


Nocturnal, the squirrels are infrequently seen, feeders like those of my correspondent offering the best opportunities. The squirrels are beautiful animals, absolutely wonderful mind-their-own-business neighbors. Anyone who sees one is fortunate. Keep an eye on your feeder. (A neighborhood with mature trees helps). And if you have a cat, please keep it indoors at night. 


Below, a flying squirrel at a feeder. If you look closely you can see the fold of skin used for gliding.


Consider holiday gifts

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 26, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Bird watching can be a life-changing experience for people of all ages. I will go out on a limb to say that discovering the new-to-them pastime of birding can be the single best investment of recently freed up time for those entering their valuable retirement years. — Dave Magpiong, Bird Conservation through Education, October issue

Hummingbird gets free ride to Texas

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 24, 2014 - 12:56 PM

That Rufous Hummingbird that found itself trapped by weather at a St. Paul feeder earlier this month is flying free in Texas.

It was released near Austin yesterday (Sunday) after a free ride on a corporate jet. The donor asked to be anonymous. 

The bird was captured Nov. 11, and taken to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota. It was discovered by Terri Walls as it fed at a nectar feeder she keeps in her front yard. Capture was all that was going to save the bird’s life.

It was stuck here because once it left that St. Paul feeder the chance of it finding other food sources was nil.

The bird wandered from its breeding range in the Northwest. At the time of its capture it should have been in Mexico.

Many birders came the Walls’ yard see it, Rufous Hummingbirds highly uncommon here. This was the 16th time that species has been reported in Minnesota.

While at the rehab center the hummingbird was fed a special diet, and gained significant weight, from three grams to four. It was undernourished because the sugar water it was eating in St. Paul, a common formula for feeder nectar, lacks protein and other diet essentials. 

Feeder nectar is good when the birds can feed naturally, using feeders as supplemental. It won’t put pre-migration fat on the bird.

Staff at the rehab center, guided by executive director Phil Jenni, worked hard to ensure that the bird received proper care here, and would have a safe trip to wherever. Discussions were held with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas wildlife officials, and other rehabbers. 

Eventually, the offer of a free trip was received. The jet was going to Austin anyway, and had room for the bird.

A wildlife rehabber in Austin received delivery of the bird, then released it.

If you had been inclined to pay for the bird’s trip to Austin, via a small hired jet — not that anyone was likely to do that — your bill would have been between $18,000 and $22,000. 

The free ride was a good deal.

Bright cold Sunday morning

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 16, 2014 - 8:55 AM

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.


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