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.
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.
Rufous Hummingbird update: While Wildlife Rehab Center personnel continue to look for a plane and pilot to fly the bird to Arizona, it is resting comfortably at the center. In the photo you see this handsome bird in its travel cage, a cage smaller than the flight cage it would occupy if not being prepped for travel. It enjoyed the large care after its capture on Tuesday. (See previous posts.) At the far right you see the business end of a syringe used to feed the bird. It is given a mixture of nectar mixed with the proteins and vitamins hummingbirds need for a balanced diet. Nectar alone will not sustain the bird for long. In the wild, the hummer would be eating insects. The search for a ride has turned to private or corporate planes, with pilot. Working with commercial airlines is complicated, according to Tami Vogel, communications director for the center.
We wrote in August about the problem of black flies attacking birds, particularly Common Loons this past summer. The attacks were fierce enough to cause the birds to abandon nests.
I received this note from Al Bradshaw of Hackensack.
“About ten years ago we encountered the same problem on Barnum, our small lake in Cass County. The flies drove the loons to abandon their nest. I contacted Pam Perry (the DNR Loon Specialist at that time), and she had never heard of it happening.
“I then contacted the folks at Ashland College who have banded and monitored my brother's birds at McNaughton Wi. for years. They said there was considerable research on the subject by folks in Canada, but that they had no solution to offer.
“The next year I decided to try affixing some insect repelling pest strips to the corners of the raft but that didn't help. Nor did I like the idea of exposing the birds/eggs to some chemical.
“The following year I dressed the nest with a generous supply of aromatic cedar wood chips.I have been doing this for the past six years, and we have not had a black fly problem since. Maybe we've just been lucky? Or maybe it is helpful.”
The Passenger Pigeon, Errol Fuller, 2014, Princeton University Press, hardcover, 178 pages, illustrated, index, $29.95.
If my Great-grandfather Charles Williams had lived a bit longer, and if I had had an earlier interest in birds, I could have asked him for a first-hand account of Passenger Pigeons.
He was born in Indiana in 1857, when if pigeon numbers were dropping there were yet so many that any loss went unnoticed.
His father had moved to Indiana from Kentucky, and he surely saw the flocks at their peak.
Both of them ate Passenger Pigeon, I imagine. Why not? They were tasty, and supply was no problem.
But Charlie didn’t live long enough to tell me those stories. Instead there is Errol Fuller’s wonderfully told so-sad story of the extinction of this species.
This is a handsome book, well-done in every regard. The sad story is made moreso by the photos and paintings in the book. They tell the story from the beginning of the slaughter to its end.
There are many photos of captive or dead birds in the book. The most graphic is a picture of Martha, the last pigeon alive, who died in the Cincinnati zoo 100 years ago. She lies under glass, on her back, feet to the air.
There are no authenticated photos, however, of live Passenger Pigeons in the wild, only photos of captives or preserved specimens. That is true in the book and in the results of a Google search.
Using Google I found a photo of a pigeon trapper, a live bird on his arm, like a pet, his traps at his side, and another of a railcar hung with strings of its cargo — pigeons being shipped east to be eaten. There is a photo supposedly of the pigeons, a huge pile of dead birds, with a man standing art the top. There is one photo on a Flickr page that shows a flock of birds large enough to darken the sky as it passed, as Passenger Pigeon flocks were said to do. There is no reference to verify its content, source, or authenticity, however.
At the end of the book is a short section of quotations from writings made by people who did see the birds: Cotton Mather, Pehr Kalm ( a Swedish botanist sent here to collect specimens), Alexander Wilson, John James Audubon, James Fenimore Cooper, Chief Simon Pokagon, and Mark Twain.
They offer the first-hand accounts that Great-grandfather Charlie could have given me. If only.
There are many books written about this bird and the loss. This is the best one.
natureisspeaking.org -- a series of brief videos that make this point: Nature doesn't need us. We need nature. Intent on our own destruction, the videos suggest we work hard to avoid what on most days seems inevitable. Very well done. Take a look, then forward to someone who thinks we own the earth.
The Birding Community eBullletin for October can be read at
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