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 Bird biology

Wild Quail in Minnesota?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 31, 2014 - 8:59 AM

I took a trip in July to spend a day with members of Minnesota’s Quail Forever organization. QF is a conservation-based group devoted to perpetuation of its favorite bird, the Bobwhite quail.

 

QF guys firmly believe they are working in the interests of a wild bird. 

 

Bob Janssen, a Chanhassen resident who is godfather of Minnesota birding records and author of a book on the same, disagrees. He told me a day before my trip to Houston County that there hasn’t been a wild Bobwhite in the state for decades.

 

This is what wild means to the American Birding Association:

 

1) A population large enough to survive a routine amount of mortality or nesting failure. 2) Sufficient offspring produced to maintain or increase the population. 3) A population meeting those conditions for at least 15 years.

 

Members of Quail Forever in Houston County insist quail there have always been wild. For Janssen and others, the issue is quail raised and released.

 

Quail devotee Paul Schutte, who is crafting quail paradise on 190 acres of farmland there, said he knows of no one in that corner of the state who raises and releases quail. 

 

We met on Schutte’s land. Since 1999 he has tuned it to the needs of quail. He has mowed and cut. He has planted trees and wildflowers. He has planted what most of us would consider weeds, including ragweed, a quail favorite. How can you doubt a guy who plants ragweed?

Modern agricultural practices — pesticides and herbicides and crops replacing cattle — have reworked quail-friendly landscape. The needs of the birds barely match reality.

 

Quail populations here once were undisputed, dropping into suspicion in the 1980s. This was about the time neonicotinoid chemicals began to be agriculture staples. Neonicotinoids are one of the suspects in loss of honeybees.

 

That makes the conservation efforts of groups like Quail Forever and cousin Pheasants Forever important. They raise money and provide hands-on labor that offer habitat and hope.

 

Belief has put quail on the landscape, their whistled calls bouncing over the green hills of Houston County in the early morning. Wild or not, the pleasure of the song is the same.

 

Birds moving north to nest

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 11, 2014 - 4:23 PM

As our climate continues to warm, many species of birds we consider "ours" will move north in search of cooler temperatures. Minnesota will lose some of its favorite nesters.

Dr. Jeff Price, a climate scientist who presently is a visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, a few years ago made bird-population projections for Minnnesota. He based this on a supposed doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a projection for the end of this century.

In his scenario, Minnesota would lose 36 nesting species of birds. We might see those birds in migration but not as nesting residents. That list includes Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, and 17 species of warblers.

An additional 27 species would find their range restricted to far northern Minnesota, perhaps just the Arrowhead region. Gone from our yards would be American Goldfinches, Tree Swallow, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Wren, Gray Catbird, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrow, and Song Sparrow, to mention a few. 

We would drive to Duluth or beyond to see a goldfinch, if Duluth’s climate was suitable for goldfinches.

We should note that the projections do not mention particular habitat needs moving north at the same pace. That will not happen, of course, plant movement to be centuries behind that of birds.

Black flies and Osprey chicks

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 23, 2014 - 4:07 PM

According to the blog of the Twin Cities Osprey Watch, Osprey chicks are believed to be dying of bites from Black Flies, the insects raising havoc throughout the state. Deaths and abandoned nests are reported for species ranging from Common Loons to barnyard chickens. To follow this blog go to http://ospreywatch.blogspot.com

Birding Community E-bulletin

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 21, 2014 - 1:06 PM

Birding Community E-bulletin for July 2014. Always interesting, the bulletin contains short takes on news of birds and bird conservation, including a summary of rare birds seen in North America during the previous month. The archive contains issues from 2004 to the present.

http://refugeassociation.org/news/birding-bulletin/

Black flies in silent attacks

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 14, 2014 - 9:13 AM

I have Black Fly bites, four of them large enough to be seen from across the room. This doesn't make me exceptional. It does make me itch. I was in Caledonia Saturday for a meeting of a Quail Forever group, devoted conservationists focused on Northern Bobwhite. Minnesota has a few of those birds in Houston County. We were sitting in a farmyard at picnic tables beneath large shade treess, all very pleasant. I noticed a small flying insect on the table in front of me, and smacked it. Dead but intact, it offered close examination. I thought I could recognize the humped shape of a Black Fly, the shape that gave them one of their several folk names -- Buffalo gnat. Speaking to the group briefly about birds I mentioned the Black Fly problem in central and northern parts of out state. While I was talking a cell phone rang, a member of the small audience having a short conversation. He happened to be a veteranarian. The call, he told us, came from a local DNR biologist who had just arranged transportion to The Raptor Center in St. Paul for a Bald Eagle chick so bothered by the flies that it crawled out of its nest and was injured in a fall to the ground. There was some surprise that the flies were attacking birds way down there in Houston County. A few hours later Thurman Tucker, active QF member and advocate for the species disappeared from lunch. Unannounced, he was hurrying home to Minneapolis, so many fly bites on his face that one of his eyes was almost swelling shut. My bites weren't apparent until I got home, and my wife took a look at me. The one on my left temple is the size of a half dollar coin, the one inside my left elbow quarter-size, the bites on the back of my neck no more than a nickel. No itching last night, but they itch like blazes. I felt no bite nor any insect on my skin while being bitten, an absolute stealth attack. There were no swarms around our heads, thankfully, like the swarms seen on and around heads of Common Loons, one of the bird species under particular attack. The fly I killed on the table was about 1/8th of an inch long. I wonder if bites received by birds swell, and do they itch? Is it the attack itself which drives birds to distraction and death or is it the aftermath, the swelling and itch? 

Monday morning -- I also wondered about the impact of the files on domestic and wild mammals. I await information from the University of Minnesota Extension Service. I did visit with a vet in Duluth, assuming that the flies have been or are as much as a problem there as anywhere. The doctor with whom I visited said she had seen no cases of noteworthy response to fly bites on pet animals. I found remarks concerning livestock on a web site in Europe (these flies are everywhere). Swarms of flies are said to send cattle and horses into panic-driven runs. Hundreds of bites on one animal can produce enough stress and/or allergic reactions to cause death. Flies can gather in nostrils and throats in numbers sufficient to suffocate the victim. I can find no such local reports. The good news is that the flies have a life span of about a month, hatching basically an event occurring broadly at the same time. We are soon to find respite. 

Here, from the Internet, is a photo of a black fly, hardly looking like the terror it can be.

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