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 books

National Geo guide, new edition

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 4, 2014 - 10:57 AM

A revised and updated National Geographic Complete Birds of North America will be published in October. This will be the second edition of this popular field guide. It will contain information on more than 1,000 bird species, all the regulars for North America plus a variety of exotic species established or regularly seen. The book has been edited by Jonathan Alderfer. Price will be $40.

A book on the history of feeding birds

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 28, 2014 - 9:33 AM

Carrol Henderson has a new book close to publication. Henderson is superintendent of non-game wildlife for the Minnesota Department of Conservation. He also is one of Minnesota's most prolific authors of books about birds, often supporting his text with excellent photographs.


The new book is entitled “Feeding Wild Birds in America.” It's a history of the pastime that involves so many of us. The book will be published next spring by Texas A & M University Press.


Henderson’s co-authors are Paul J. Baicich, Maryland writer and avitourism consultant, and Margaret A. Barker, former coordinator of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, and author of a book on bird feeding.


The book was originally conceived and commissioned by the Wild Bird Centers of America to be a short narrative describing this curiously widespread pastime. 


The authors discovered that bird feeding is much more a part of our culture than anyone guessed. Thus, a book.


The story begins in the late 19th century. It moves decade-by-decade through historical context, discussing into traditions, innovations, and business concerns. The authors write that this simple practice has been a social cause, a trendy curiosity, an agricultural obligation, a serious hobby, a billion-dollar industry, a basis for scientific study, and, as most of us know it, pure entertainment. 


Wild Quail in Minnesota?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 31, 2014 - 8:59 AM

I took a trip in July to spend a day with members of Minnesota’s Quail Forever organization. QF is a conservation-based group devoted to perpetuation of its favorite bird, the Bobwhite quail.


QF guys firmly believe they are working in the interests of a wild bird. 


Bob Janssen, a Chanhassen resident who is godfather of Minnesota birding records and author of a book on the same, disagrees. He told me a day before my trip to Houston County that there hasn’t been a wild Bobwhite in the state for decades.


This is what wild means to the American Birding Association:


1) A population large enough to survive a routine amount of mortality or nesting failure. 2) Sufficient offspring produced to maintain or increase the population. 3) A population meeting those conditions for at least 15 years.


Members of Quail Forever in Houston County insist quail there have always been wild. For Janssen and others, the issue is quail raised and released.


Quail devotee Paul Schutte, who is crafting quail paradise on 190 acres of farmland there, said he knows of no one in that corner of the state who raises and releases quail. 


We met on Schutte’s land. Since 1999 he has tuned it to the needs of quail. He has mowed and cut. He has planted trees and wildflowers. He has planted what most of us would consider weeds, including ragweed, a quail favorite. How can you doubt a guy who plants ragweed?

Modern agricultural practices — pesticides and herbicides and crops replacing cattle — have reworked quail-friendly landscape. The needs of the birds barely match reality.


Quail populations here once were undisputed, dropping into suspicion in the 1980s. This was about the time neonicotinoid chemicals began to be agriculture staples. Neonicotinoids are one of the suspects in loss of honeybees.


That makes the conservation efforts of groups like Quail Forever and cousin Pheasants Forever important. They raise money and provide hands-on labor that offer habitat and hope.


Belief has put quail on the landscape, their whistled calls bouncing over the green hills of Houston County in the early morning. Wild or not, the pleasure of the song is the same.


The Three-minute Outdoorsman: Wild Science ...

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 12, 2014 - 2:26 PM

OK, now I've read "The Three-minute Outdoorsman," the book I liked so much before reading it that I posted the same preview twice.

And, it's as good as I anticipated.

Dr. Robert Zink, holder of the Breckenridge Chair of Ornithology at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota, author of this book, deserves a shorter title: guy who has a lot of fun outdoors.

This is not a book you would expect a university ornithologist to write. lt is, well, fun as well as informative. Zink takes personal experiences as a hunter -- yes, he hunts -- and weaves them into science-based adventure stories. The unusual and enjoyable thing is his continual reference to scientific work to explain what he sees or does, explanations that come as easily as stories over beer.

On days when a personal experience does not rise to meet his deadline (many of the book's brief chapters once were columns in "Outdoor News" or "The American Waterfowler"), Zink finds other interesting pegs from which to hang his stories. Sample chapter titles:

"It's Taken Centuries, But Now We Know Why Deer Don't Ask to Use Your Compass"

"Sounding the Alarm, Mourning Dove Style"

"Recreational Fishing Alters Fish Evolution"

"Long-term Sexual Tensions between Male and Female Ducks" (this does sound thesis-like, but it isn't)

"Never Be a Baby Bird"

"Loon Hunting: A Bygone Tradition"

"Out-foxed Again: Foxes Use Built-in Range Finder"

"Neck-deep in Guano: A Recent History of Chimney Swifts"

and so on.

He explains in the book's preface that he saw an opportunity to connect the pleasures he found as a hunter and fisherman and the science behind all of the creatures and places involved. It is a unique look at the outdoors, from a guy who obviously has a lot of fun there.

Buy the book. (Soft cover, University of Minnesota Press, 246 pages, $17.95.)

"The Three-Minute Outdoorsman"

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 25, 2014 - 2:32 PM

This should be a good read. University of Minnesota ornithologist Dr. Robert Zink has a book out entitled “The Three-minute Outdoorsman : Wild Science from Magnetic Deer to Mumbling Carp.” It’s published by the University of Minnesota Press. Book stores should have it; the Hennepin County library does. I’ve read one piece from the collection, and it was informative and entertaining. I can tell you more once the library delivers the copy I’ve requested.


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