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

How hard can it be to build a duck nesting box?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 25, 2014 - 10:12 AM

Is building a duck nesting box a test of possible cognitive degeneration and/or onset of significant memory deficiencies, or am I just a really crappy carpenter?

Yesterday I built three duck nesting boxes. The end result will be one box because the first two assemblies were unassembled and retrofitted to accommodate unexplained error in measurement. In one case I needed congruent sides, cutting one, then using it as pattern for the second. This involved carefully tracing its outline on a second board, then cutting on the lines, a skill acquired in kindergarten. Yet the second side turned out a quarter inch shorter than the first. 

I had to cut the first side down to size. This happened twice. I was building an ever-shrinking duck box. 

It didn’t help that one of the boards I bought was a quarter-inch narrower than the others. That speaks to the wisdom of cheap lumber. 

Today I will attach the front of the box, with an entry hole that looks exactly like it was made by a large woodpecker, which is a real-life touch not mentioned in the plans I was using. The plans, by the way, come from the Minnesota DNR publication “Woodworking for Wildlife.” Carroll Henderson wrote the book and supervised the detailed drawings. I’m certain he made things as simple as possible. I mean, he includes a plan for building a bluebird nesting box from a single board. How complicated can that be?

I’m counting on Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers, potential tenants, having a tiny sense of aesthetics, favoring practical considerations. I will mount the box on a steel pole in the far recesses of the marsh behind our house, where it will not be seen by humans.

I’m going build a second box, employing the lessons of the first. I’m hoping to confirm that the answer to my question is that I’m a crappy carpenter, but with potential for improvement.

Nearby nesters

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 22, 2014 - 9:51 AM

Here are the pair of Red-tailed Hawks that are nesting near our home. In the first photo the birds are in the upper righrt corner, one of them taking flight. The nest is at upper left. The second photo shows one of the birds eating, at right, while its mate watches, left. The pair of Wood Ducks are nesting in a box at the edge of the pond in our back yard. 

A day to puff up

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 6, 2014 - 12:53 PM

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.

Birds and cold temperatures

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 6, 2014 - 11:22 PM

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

Landscaping for backyard birding

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 5, 2013 - 11:48 PM

“Bird Homes and Habitats,” a new book about making your backyard bird-friendly, features a Duluth resident who has done so. Dudley Edmondson, an active Minnesota birder, and his wife Nancy describe their improvement project along with 14 other homeowners in this book, “Bird Home and Habitats.”

It’s one of the books in the Backyard Bird Guide series from the magazine “BirdWatcher’s Digest” and its editor, Bill Thompson III. It carries the Peterson Field Guide imprimatur.

Photos and text guide you from project beginning to end. There are lessons to learn about food, water, cover, and nesting opportunities, the latter focusing on bird boxes. Yards large and small are included.

One of the smallest, half of a California lot 60 by 120 feet (the house sits on the other half), is described by owner Alvaro Jaramillo as a “pretty lame backyard” when he and his wife purchased the home new.

Jaramillo and his wife changed the lot from lame to birdy with native and drought-resistant plants and shrubs placed to form a thicket for winter cover.

The Edmondsons needed to replace people-friendly landscaping with bird-friendly. They began with the soil, followed with native and bird-friendly trees and shrubs. The latter focused on fruit-bearing varieties. They used highbush cranberry, juneberry, chokecherry, and elderberry. The mountain ash trees that came with the house provide another bird-favorite fruit.

They have feeding stations and nest boxes. Edmondson wants to create additional shrubby and brushy areas for nesters.

The success stories fill the back of the book. The first half offers instructions on all the things you might want to do to make your yard a welcome habitat for birds. 

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