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.

Great Horned Owl and chicks

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird identification, Bird sightings, Nesting Updated: March 23, 2014 - 10:13 PM

A Great Horned Owl nest holding the hen and two chicks can easily be seen at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony. (Park personnel have established a limit to approach to prevent disturbing the birds.) The hen and her chicks are nesting in the hollow of a broken branch in a large tree very close to a paved walking path, about 30 feet up. Visitors should have no problem locating the birds. Just look for the photographers, ever-present at this unusual viewing opportunity. The young owls appear to be about six weeks old. The male owl often can be seen perched, sound asleep, high in a nearby tree. That bird, as you can see from the photo below (not a very cooperative bird) is much lighter than its mate. Coloration of this species is highly variable. This female has typical adult coloration. The male tends more toward the lighter birds found most often far north. Great Horned Owls can be so light as to resemble Snowy Owls. This one is far from that, but interesting nonetheless. The owls should be visible for several more weeks. Once the young birds leave the nest they often remain in its vicinity. To find them, drive to the park’s most distant parking lot. There is a paved walkway leading between two park buildings. Follow that pathway approximately 200 yards. You might also find interesting the courtship behavior of at least seven Eastern Chipmunks in a tangle of brush and fallen logs immediately to the right of the walkway from the best owl-viewing spot. Friday, they were chasing each other incessantly. The chipmunks are very obvious right under the eye of the female owl. The male owl, the family’s provider, sleeps during the day, hunting at night. Perhaps that explains the mammals’ apparent daytime nonchalance.

Ramsey the Snowy Owl has moved south

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird migration, Bird sightings Updated: March 22, 2014 - 10:01 PM

The Snowy Owl named Ramsey has moved from its location in the city of Ramsey to a farm field south of Hutchinson. At least that is where is was on the March 18, the most recent date for which information is available. Ramsey to Hutchinson is a 76-mile trip if you follow the route recommended by MapQuest. Ramsey did not follow that route.

The owl left the city of Ramsey at about sunup on March 13, heading southwest. The map tracing his route is fascinating. You can see exactly where it went, and, by the collected blobs of markers, where and when it stopped to hunt. The map is just plain fun to look at, and gives you information never before available in any way. Go to www.projectSNOWstorm, click on maps, click on the Minnesota location.

Ramsey crossed I-94 at about 7:45 that morning, hunting that evening near Corcoran. It flew over Lake Independence in morning darkness on March 14. It was over Watertown an hour later, flying about 200 feet off the ground at 31 miles per hour. Its speed on departure from Ramsey, incidentally, was a leisurely 11 miles per hour. During the entire trip its top recorded speed was 34 miles per hour.

The morning of the 15th the owl hunted west of Watertown. It began moving west/southwest that night, its transmitter placing the bird five miles east of Hutchinson at 4:27 a.m. on March 16. That day it moved very close to its location it had on the 18th. The map shows Ramsey hunting and roosting in an area along State Highway 15 about three miles south of Hutchinson. At night he seemed to prefer hunting fields east of the highway. During the day it was closer to the road or to its west.

Posting of these maps is delayed 72 hours because precise and timely location information is feared to attract photographers. There have been problems with photographers harassing owls at almost every location where Project SNOWstorm has a tagged owl. (There are 21 of them.)

I’ll update Ramsey’s movements when the next report is available, or you can track the owl yourself. Soon, it and the other owls are going to turn north and return to their Arctic nesting locations.

Below is Ramsey, photographed about two weeks ago at its city Ramsey location, which is west of Anoka and east of Elk River along Highways 169/10. The transmitter that allows the bird’s location to be charted can be seen on its back just below its neck. The very light piece of equipment stores the information it collects, transferring it to the Pennsylvania headquarters of the project when the bird is within range of a cell-phone tower.

Sandhill Cranes return

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 22, 2014 - 10:01 PM

A pair of Sandhills Cranes that has nested for the past few years in Medina was seen today in an Orono marsh not far from the nesting location. First day of spring for sure.

Chickadee hybrids

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird interactions Updated: March 19, 2014 - 2:42 PM

Black-capped Chickadees and their Carolina cousins interbreed where their ranges meet in southeastern Pennsylvania. That’s not news. What is noteworthy is the finding that the range of hybridization has moved seven miles north. The Carolina Chickadees are moving north into Black-capped territory. This information comes from an email posted by Scott Taylor of the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Lab at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He adds that there is evidence of northward shifts in the northern range limits of other species as well. The implication for me is that warmer temperatures are the driving force behind the range changes.

Recognizing a hybrid is not simple. There is little visible difference. Carolina Chickadees are smaller than Black-capped, have shorter tails, and are less brightly colored. They can be distinguised by voice. Below is a Caroline Chickadee photographed in Louisiana.

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