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

Rufous Hummingbird update

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 12, 2014 - 10:02 PM

Rufous Hummingbird update: While Wildlife Rehab Center personnel continue to look for a plane and pilot to fly the bird to Arizona, it is resting comfortably at the center. In the photo you see this handsome bird in its travel cage, a cage smaller than the flight cage it would occupy if not being prepped for travel. It enjoyed the large care after its capture on Tuesday. (See previous posts.) At the far right you see the business end of a syringe used to feed the bird. It is given a mixture of nectar mixed with the proteins and vitamins hummingbirds need for a balanced diet. Nectar alone will not sustain the bird for long. In the wild, the hummer would be eating insects. The search for a ride has turned to private or corporate planes, with pilot. Working with commercial airlines is complicated, according to Tami Vogel, communications director for the center.

Just because she's beautiful

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 25, 2014 - 6:04 PM

This female Red-winged Blackbird was at our feeders today. Female birds often are drab counterparts to the males of their species. This bird, though, an adult in new fall plumage, is simply beautiful. 

Warbler at sapsucker well

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 13, 2014 - 10:51 AM

As migrating warblers moved through Duluth last week, Will Stenberg took this photo of a Palm Warbler drinking sap from a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker’s well. Sapsuckers drill wells, often in large numbers of rows, to draw sap. The birds eat the plant tissue, and drink the sap. They also eat the insects attracted to the leaking liquid.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are one of four North American members of that family. The warbler might have been thirsty, might have liked the flavor. Very nIce photo. Thanks for sharing, Will.

Winter finch forecast

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 29, 2014 - 10:52 PM


Each fall Ron Pittaway of Ontario gathers information on the tree-seed crops that will or won’t keep some of our hoped-for winter bird visitors north of us. From a variety of sources he collects data on three species of trees key to winter bird food — spruces, birches, and mountain ash trees.

Here is his forecast, with my disclaimer that things might not go exactly this way. Our thanks to him for this annual peak into the future at this winter’s feeders. 

One good piece of news is that cone crops are called poor west of Ontario, which might help birds in that region to move south.

Do not expect to see Pine Grosbeaks. Mountain ash crops are good in key Canadian areas. That is likely to keep these birds north.

We should see Purple Finches. They feed on seeds of coniferous and deciduous trees. Those seed crops are low. (Purple Finches favor black oil sunflower seeds at feeders.)

Red Crossbills are unlikely. Red and white pine cone crops in Ontario are good.

White-winged Crossbills are possible in areas where cone crops are strong.

Common Redpolls should return after an almost complete absence last winter. Birch seed crops are poor to average in Canada’s boreal forest. (Redpolls prefer niger thistle seed at feeders.)

Hoary Redpolls: watch for them in northern redpoll flocks.

Pittaway’s report says Blue Jays have been migrating south out of Canada.

Red-breasted Nuthatchs will be moving south because spruce cone crops, important to that bird, are low to average in number.

Bohemian Waxwings are predicted to stay north this winter because the mountain-ash berry crop throughout the boreal forest is very good to excellent.

House Wren nest with feathers and flowers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 20, 2014 - 10:16 AM

One of the nest boxes in our yard held an unusual House Wren nest this summer. The nest proper is quite visible from above. Wren nests far more often contain a narrow passageway leading from entry to nest proper, preventing a direct look at eggs or chicks. More unusual are the feathers woven into the stick structure (Cedar Waxwing feather at the far right with yellow tip), and the bits of flower petal added to the floor. I’ve seen many wren nests in a dozen years of tending nest boxes. The feathers and flowers are a first. The nest was built in section of four-inch PVC pipe, one of the box designs created by Steve Gilbertson of Aitkin. 


Steve, by the way, has retired from building his popular and successful boxes, both the PVC model and his wooden Gilwood box. His box designs were used throughout Eastern Bluebird range by hundreds of bluebird fans. Located in proper habitat, House Wrens obviously found the boxes attractive, too, as did Tree Swallows.


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