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 Red-throated Loon, most unusual bird for Minnesota in winter, is being cared for at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville. The grounded bird was brought to the center undernourished and with damaged primary feathers.
These birds often winter on the Great Lakes. This year's extensive ice cover has forced birds to seek open water elsewhere. The loon arrived here, disappointed no doubt with our lack of open water. It needed help because its legs are made for swimming, not walking. With legs set far back on its body, as you can see in a rehab center video, loons are almost helpless on land. They must run on water to attain speed needed for liftoff, a run impossible for them on land.
The bird has its own pool at the rehab center, and is eating minnows. If anyone is yet ice fishing, small sunfish would be accepted as food for the bird. Take a look at the wonderful video of this lively bird at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQV31p05UWE&feature=youtu.be
The Red-throated Loons, below, are the smallest of the five loon species. It nests in the Arctic. It is seen in Minnesota during migration, most often in the fall.
You can follow the loon's progress on the rehab center's Facebook page.
Monday, noon: busy morning at feeders and water pan. When not flying, most of the birds were puffed up, feathers fluffed to conserve body heat. Suet feeders popular today. Also some romancing by a pair of Gray Squirrels that have unfortunately taken up residence in a cavity they dug in the remains of an old willow tree in our yard. When we noticed the hole we thought perhaps it was Pileated Woodpeckers. How nice that would be. How not nice to have prospect of more squirrels. It's interesting, however, to watch their interplay. Lots of touching going on. Photo quality not the best as photos were taken through two panes of window glass. White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Gray Squirrels below.
This cardinal was coming to one of the feeders on our deck yesterday (Monday). Cardinals often prefer picking fallen seeds from the snow to taking seeds while perched. Sprinkle some seed beneath the feeders when you fill them. As always, black oil sunflower is your best seed buy. The mixes often available for more money are not necessarily more attractive to the birds. Food will be more important than ever during this cold spell. Drinking water also will be helpful. This bird pulled one foot into its feathers for a moment of warmth
Gone for Christmas week, I filled all of our feeders the day of depature, hoping that the birds would not eat them empty well before we returned home, which was Sunday. Nine days we were gone. The feeders on the deck, which I've filled on an every-other-day basis at times, are not empty. The six-feeder assembly in the yard is down maybe a third. So, what happened to the birds? House Finches and American Goldfinches are our stalwarts. I saw two House Finches today, one goldfinch. Yet, I received an email a few days ago from a man who counted over 120 goldfinches at his feeders, plus birds of other species also present in impressive numbers. Is it the cold weather? I'd think the birds would eat more as the temperature drops. We do have the usual assemblage of cardinals at dusk, at least five today.
Snowy Owls continue to be seen in counties west of Hennepin, from Wright outward, with some seen south of Bloomington as well. And at least one has made a suburban appearance, in Maple Grove. I suspect there are more to come. I'm waiting for warmer weather before making my search. I want photos. Taking a camera (think glass) from a warm car into single-digit temps does not work.
This blog has been untended during our travels. It should see new posts on a regular basis now.
An experiment to see if small birds prefer shelled or unshelled black oil sunflower seeds is tipping toward the sans-shell variety. I read recently that small birds, chickadees in particular, would favor shelled seeds because no shell means no energy expenditure in hacking shells open. Every little bit of energy counts, particularly in winter.
The feeders, two identical, hanging two feet apart above our deck, have been in place for about 10 days. That probably isn’t adequate for a conclusion. There is a difference for chickadees, though. They’re caching seeds for winter right now, shelled seeds their choice.
The feeders are new, both with a fine gravity-driven anti-squirrel mechanism. Put the weight of a squirrel on the feeder perches and a cage slides down to cover the feeder ports in the plastic seed-holding tube. These Squirrel Buster Classic feeders, manufactured by Brome Bird Care up in Ontario, have a cage of heavy wire strands set close enough together to prevent squirrel gnawing. The tops remove easily with a simple twist for convenient filling. This is a feeder intelligently designed.
A previous feeder of basically similar design was a total failure. In this case the square cage purportedly protected three tubes holding seed. The cage wires, however, were set so far apart that squirrels could easily gnaw free the feeder ports, allowing seed to pour out. Decorative flowers punched from flimsy sheet metal were placed to cover feeder ports when the feeder was protective mode. The squirrels could bend those out of position with their teeth. They were able to do so because they learned to hang from the feeder top with their toes, circumventing the gravity feature. It was very irritating to watch. (The new feeder does not accommodate that.) I duct-taped the first two gnawed wounds, then said to hell with it, and bought the new ones.
I paid about $20 for the bad feeder, pleasantly surprised at the price until I put it to use. The new ones cost $54 each, but should last the lifetime of the springs or until gravity quits. They could become heirlooms. Below, one of the new feeders.
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