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 interactions

Bright spot on snowy day

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 12, 2013 - 9:51 AM

 Disregarding a heavy coating of slush on our backyard pond yesterday, 11 Wood Ducks and a pair of Hooded Mergansers spent most of the afternoon there. I was sitting just inside our back storm door, taking photos through the glass of the birds coming to our feeders when the ducks arrived. Sometimes what you want most actually is given. I wanted duck and merganser drakes in the same photo frame. They're our most beautiful waterfowl in my book. And so, they gave me this. The birds mostly ignored each other, but when a Wood Duck got into the merganser's personal space, brief threats were given. 

Ducks and mergansers together

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 12, 2013 - 8:56 AM

 Disregarding a heavy coating of slush on our backyard pond yesterday, 11 Wood Ducks and a pair of Hooded Mergansers spent most of the afternoon there. I was sitting just inside our back storm door, taking photos through the glass of the birds coming to our feeders when the ducks arrived. Sometimes what you want most actually is given. I wanted duck and merganser drakes in the same photo frame. They're our most beautiful waterfowl in my book. And so, they gave me this. The birds mostly ignored each other, but when a Wood Duck got into the merganser's personal space, brief threats were given. 

Crows at play

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: July 9, 2012 - 9:56 AM

 A new book available at the Hennepin County library is entitled "Gifts of the Crow." Author Dr. John Marzluff and artist Tony Angell present a fascinating study of crow intelligence, how and why. Marzluzz is professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington. Angell's ink drawings of crows have long been an excellent reason to pick up anything with his name on it. Play is one of the crow activities discussed by Marzluff. Play is a sign of intelligence, and can be important in its development, according to the author. 

On our Wyoming trip we had a picnic lunch in a park in Laramie, Wyoming. Also enjoying lunch in the park were six crows. I think it was a family group. Four of the birds made obvious begging overtures to the other two birds, even though they were full-size and looked old enough to fare for themselves. At one point three of the young birds began what I can only describe as play. Two of the birds would stand side by side as the third squeezed his way between them. They wrestled, a brief gentle combat before the participants would drop to the ground, prone, one on its stomach, the other on its back. They'd jump at each other like puppies sometimes do. It was fascinating to watch this two or three-minute break from begging.

I've watched ravens act in a way I can only describe as having fun: they were barrel-rolling in the air, for brief intervals appearing as though flying upsidedown. There was a pair of them flying past us that day. Perhaps the trick flyer was showing off.

Here are a couple of photos of the crows at play.

The book, by the way, is accessible science sprinkled with anticdotes illustrating the points made about brain development. You'll know a lot about crows -- and brains in general -- when you finish it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wood Duck numbers game

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 25, 2012 - 10:05 PM

 A Wood Duck hen with eight very small ducklings appeared on our backyard pond a few days ago. The following day that family plus a hen with six ducklings, same size, appeared. We saw both families on the pond at the same time. The next day we watched a hen with five ducklings. We assume one of the Family of Six went missing. The day after that, four ducklings. Yesterday, we were down to three, two days later only two left, attrition on the move. In the meantime, the Family of Eight grew to nine, the newcomer matching the size of the other ducklings. No idea where the extra bird came from. Perhaps it left the original Family of Six to join the smaller group. Whatever. Then, eight ducklings without a hen, the ninth duckling not present. This set of ducklings tried to join the Family of Three, but that hen aggressively hissed them away. Today, Friday, the Family of Two out of the pond to search for sunflower seeds beneath our feeders. No sign of the other ducklings. In the middle of this coming and going appeared yet another Wood Duck hen, this one with 16 ducklings about three-quarters her size. When they stood to stretch their wings we could see that they have yet to grow flight feathers. The photo shows the 16 ducklings all lined up for travel. The hen is near the middle.

 

 

 

Loyalty to dead mate

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 1, 2012 - 1:31 PM

 Two days ago, driving home, I passed a Mallard drake standing very near the road, beside what appeared to be a hen. I stopped to check. Indeed, the bird curled on the ground was a cold, stiff Mallard hen. I assumed she had been hit by a car, tossed or moving to the boulevard and dying there. The drake flew at my approach. One day later, a grandson and his mother drove past that spot. The body of the hen remained, the drake again standing nearby. Later that same day, I drove by. The hen was gone, but the drake Mallard continued to stand on the spot of the hen's death, well more than 24 hours after her death.

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