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.

Another loon-with-flies photo

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Nesting Updated: July 9, 2014 - 1:35 PM

Reader Dan Laakso who owns a cabin on Lake Washburn near Outing, Minnesota, sent this photo of a Common Loon being attack by Black Flies. (See Wednesday birding column, Variety section, Home and Garden pages for story.) Dan says the loon was driven from its nest, presumably by the flies. The nest was abandoned on May 18. And this was last year, the problem even worse this year.

Black flies and Osprey

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Nesting Updated: July 9, 2014 - 12:34 PM

This morning's (Wednesday) birding column in the StarTribune (Variety section, Home and Garden pages) talks about the impact this summer of black flies on Common Loons and other birds. I do not mention Osprey in the column, my oversight. Once I thought to ask the question, this is the reply I received from Judy England, who keeps track of nesting Osprey in the metro area:

"Yes, black flies are terrible on Ospreys this year.  Both the male and female from the nest on webcam at the Arboretum left the single chick alone Saturday night for over one-half hour, just before dusk. The chick was so agitated by the flies that it edged itself over the side of the nest and died. I am watching the black flies crawl all over the adults through my scope when checking osprey nests, and their head-shaking does not cease.  Chicks are also crawling under the wings of their parents to escape the insects.  (Shaded chicks would simply sit in the shade of the adults.) Historically, they would have gotten a little reprieve in the evenings, but the mosquitoes are so horrible they are not getting a break this year."


REPORT NESTS: This note comes from the Twin Cities Osprey Watch

We have had many osprey nests fail this year and adults have left their nests. They often build "frustration nests" after a failure. I am requesting that anyone who sees new nests popping up, or adult ospreys carrying sticks in the eight-county metro area, to please report this activity to Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch so we can identify these birds and locate new nest sites as part of our ongoing research. Please contact us at  osprey.mn@att.net 
We also have a Facebook page for more Info about metro ospreys:
And a blog at ospreywatch.blogspot.com
Sent by Vanessa Greene, Twin Cities Metro Osprey Watch


Below, an Osprey at its nest, sans flies.

Two nests, both works of art

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Nesting Updated: July 6, 2014 - 11:16 AM

The first three photos below show the nest of an American Goldfinch. I found it on the ground in an apple orchard after one of our mid-June windy nights. My identification is based on information from the book “Nest, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds” by Paul J. Baicich and Colin J. O. Harrison (part of the Princeton University Press Field Guide series). 


What gives me pause as I hold the nest is the intricate construction, the careful weaving of grass and hair, the plant down that pads the nest bottom. Edges are bound with spider silk in some cases. We’re looking at the bottom, top, and one side of the nest. The bottom is wound with grasses in the same fashion as a knitter winds her ball of yarn or you a ball of string. The edges are wrapped with grass threads much as a basket weaver secures her work. The nest is described in the book at a “neat and firm compact cup.” It is springy to the touch. The female finch builds this nest by herself in four to six days.


I recovered a House Wren nest a couple of years ago, removing it from a PVC nest box when the birds were finished with nesting. It was constructed of a few more than 200 sticks and pieces of grass, the twigs from an inch to six inches long. It slid out of the PVC tube intact, no moving parts. Each stick and twig was placed to create a tension that held it all together. It could be handled without damage. I photographed it, then dismantled it to count its pieces.


Some birds build rudimentary nests, a scrape in sand, a loose bundle of sticks. Wren and goldfinch nests are far more. They are works of art.


Here is the new duck stamp

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: July 1, 2014 - 6:18 PM

Here is the 2014-15 federal duck stamp showing a pair of Canvasbacks. Every birder should have one. It’s one of the best, if not THE best, conservation investment we can make. (The black spot marks this as a copy.)


Poetry -- Bright Wings

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird books Updated: July 1, 2014 - 6:06 PM

Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds, edited by Billy Collins with paintings by David Allen Sibley, Columbia University Press, paperback edition, 268 pages, $16.95. When I read the hardcover release I wrote, “An intelligent assembly of poems that take us places where prose cannot go.This little book is a reminder that everything important about birds can’t be found in guide books or scientific papers.”


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters