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.

Consider holiday gifts

Posted by: Jim Williams under Birds in the backyard Updated: November 26, 2014 - 11:53 AM

Bird watching can be a life-changing experience for people of all ages. I will go out on a limb to say that discovering the new-to-them pastime of birding can be the single best investment of recently freed up time for those entering their valuable retirement years. — Dave Magpiong, Bird Conservation through Education, October issue

Hummingbird gets free ride to Texas

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation, Bird sightings, Birds in the backyard Updated: November 24, 2014 - 12:56 PM

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.

Another really low seed price

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird feeding Updated: November 21, 2014 - 10:01 AM

Fifty pounds of black oil sunflower seed for $16.95. That's the current price at Krause Feeds in Hope, Minnesota, an hour's dash down I-35 if you are a southern suburber. That's just a twitch above cost. 

Winter visitors possible -- List No. 6

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird sightings Updated: November 19, 2014 - 5:46 PM

Pine Siskin

Common Redpoll

Pine Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Tree Sparrow


Purple Finch

Red Crossbill

White-winged Crossbill

Gyrfalcon (we should be so lucky)    

Long-tailed Duck

Gray Jay

Common Eider


Varied Thrush

Snowy Owl


Common Eider, female: two plus a juvenile seen in Duluth and Two Harbors recently.

Improved design for a field guide

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird books Updated: November 17, 2014 - 5:24 PM

There’s not been much innovation in the design of birding field guides from Peterson forward. With the exception of Crossley’s book with its Cineramic and odd presentation of birds in every posture and pose, guide books have been pretty much cut from the same template forever.


There is an exception, a new guide from Princeton University Press that takes a fresh look at combination of illustrations and text, a change that makes very good sense. The subject of the book is a little off the useful track in Minnesota, being the well-done second edition of “Birds of New Guinea,” but that’s beside the point. 


The authors — or the designer if there was that specific person — have paired bird illustrations  with facing pages containing abbreviated text with range map, enough information to answer the pressing question — what am I seeing.


The second half of the book contains the expanded versions of this information — the details on size, status, plumages, habits, voice, and range. This is where you go for the more discussion of what you might have seen on today’s trip into the field.


This design offers the reader a more convenient book. It's a good idea.



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