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.

A squirrel you might want to invite over

Posted by: Jim Williams under Birds in the backyard 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.


This app identifies birds by song

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird identification 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.



List No. 7 -- states best for birding

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird travels Updated: December 10, 2014 - 5:47 PM

7 States Best for Birding
North Dakota

Snowy Owl sightings

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird sightings Updated: December 4, 2014 - 4:43 PM

This isn't like last winter when Snowy Owls were here in large numbers, but a few have been reported in Minnesota to date. Weather aside, it is early in the season. This information comes from the hotline report issued weekly by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union.

This week, one has been seen near Long Prairie, four and a half miles north of town along Todd County Road 6. A Snowy Owl has been seen near Rush City in Chisago County. The bird was reported as along County Road 3 about a quarter mile east of County Road 30. Two have been seen in Sherburne County, north of Big Lake and south of U.S. Highway 10 along County Road 17.

And in downtown Minneapolis, an owl was reported as being on the corner of Washington Avenue and Third Avenue.

Tens of thousands of finches

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird identification, Bird migration 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.


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