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 Birds in the backyard

Waiting for kingfishers

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 19, 2013 - 2:51 PM

Kingfishers nest on or near property my oldest daughter and her family own in Elk River. A small pond feeds a small creek that runs through their land. Kingfishers have been a fixture there for years. Jill says she sees them in season "all the time, every day." Saturday, one of the adult birds was feeding a youngster. We watched from about 200 yards away, not exactly photography distance. I've tried there before to get pictures of those birds. I've tried many places to do that, to get what I consider decent shots. So far, so-so. So, I set up my photo blind beside the creek Monday morning, in place by 6 o'clock. The first kingfisher rattle -- that's how their call is described -- was heard at 6:26, the second at 7:15. If there was a third call before my departure at 10:30, I missed it. Sighting? Haha.

There was much bird activity, finches, wrens, sparrows dropping from trees to the water to bathe or drink. I saw or heard wood-pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, blackbirds, crows, a robin, a nuthatch, an oriole, and a beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk. I had finches and the wren sitting atop the blind. Eventually, the non-kingfisher activity was sort of annoying, like rubbing it in. I know better. I've done this. Birds are there or they aren't. No need to be annoyed. Still: "all the time, every day."

I had my i Pad with me to play kingfisher calls. Luring birds close with their recorded voices is an iffy  proposition. You don't want to fool around with a bird's territorial defense. This being post-breeding, however, I thought I'd try it. I played the call three times. No response. Not enough play? Too much play? The iPad not being a boom-box, could the bird hear the recording? How good are kingfisher ears? Or maybe the bird just didn't give a darn. The questions were annoying. 

With the iPad in my lap I could play solitaire to kill some of that birdless time. Four-square is my game. I was dealt terrible hands. It was annoying. Then, the sun came out and the small, airless canvas blind became warm, then humid and hot. My binoculars steamed up. Very annoying. 

I packed up and came home. Jill, my daughter, who had not been home during my visit, called about noon to ask how I had done. She sees the birds all the time. In the years I've been visiting there I've never gotten a good look at a perched bird, much less one feeding young. She sounded almost apologetic, offering that she and two of my grandsons had seen the birds Sunday morning at 9:30, "so they must be there." That annoyed me, too.

I'm going back, though, but I wish it was cooler. The blind is like a sauna. It will be a test for me: How badly do I want the photos? 

Here's the hawk. Nice bird. Looks like it's molting. 




Six goslings and one missing egg

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 4, 2013 - 5:37 PM

 The pair of Canada Geese nesting on a platform in our pond brought six goslings ashore Monday morning. The goose gave up on incubation of a seventh egg. She kept at it for 36 hours beyond the appearance of the six that hatched. Strangely, while the egg was clearly visible in the nest during the birds’ initial visit to our yard, it disappeared later in the day. I’m going to have to visit the nest to see if the goose buried it, pushed it into the water, or what else might have happened to it. The goslings were on land half a dozen times today to eat, meals of corn and sunflower seeds beneath our feeders alternating with next of greens and bugs along the pond shore. We have yet to see return of the Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser and their ducklings. I hope the geese stay here. They’re fun to watch.



Watch continues on last goose egg(s)

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: June 3, 2013 - 7:34 AM

Update: Monday 7:30 a.m. -- no visible progress from what is reported below. Now into Day Two, the goose continues to incubate at least one egg, the gander continues his watch at her side, and the four or five goslings hatched about 24 hours ago appear restless to get out from under mom and hit the water.

The Canada Goose nesting on our pond hatched eggs Sunday, with at least one gosling yet to make the break. We count five hatched goslings, probably, maybe six. And one unhatched egg for certain, maybe two. A usual brood is five to six goslings. The goose is sitting most of the time, so progress is a secret. The gander has stood on the nest platform, at her side, on alert the entire day. I first saw them at 7:30 a.m., and at 9:30 p.m., with barely enough light to tell, he remained on guard. I did not see him off the nest platform ever. He did lie down for perhaps 15 minutes in late afternoon. At that point, both geese shut their eyes briefly now and then (second photo). I could not find information on hatching sequence, whether or not  eggs unhatched for more than 12 hours after initial hatchings is normal or not. An egg can be seen directly under the goose in the photo below.






Canada Goose pair with eyes shut.

Do wrens plan nest design?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: May 27, 2013 - 11:23 PM

 House Wrens have nested in our yard for the past 10 years, using our nest boxes. Some years we’ve had two pair. I sat with a camera the other day watching what I presume was a male wren work on his nest. Male wrens will begin more than one nest, allowing the female of the pair to choose the site to be completed. I think this nest was nearing completion; the bird was carrying bits of grass and rootlets (see photo) to the nest, materials used to form the cup at nest bottom. This is a PVC box four inches in diameter. Last year the nest built by a wren slid complete from the box when I did fall housecleaning. Tension of interwoven sticks held the nest together. After photographing it I took it apart to count the sticks: 206 of lengths from about one inch to six inches. How to build a nest is instinctive for the bird. Unlike say a robin nest, most of which resemble one another, wren nests vary in style. I’ve seen nests open at the top. I’ve seen one where the entry tunnel spiraled down to the cup, like a spiral stairway. That nest was an engineering marvel. Nests must vary depending on the cavity used (wrens are always cavity nesters). But, does an individual wren build generally the same style nest each time? How does the bird select the sticks used? Search out a stick of a particular dimension for a particular use? Pick a stick at random, then see how to make it work once in the nest? I’ve never seen a wren reject a stick brought to the nest. Perhaps that’s why some nests are so jammed into the box that room for the hen and babies is surprising. The nest in the photo, the one I disassembled, was a work of art, another engineering marvel. I doubt if any human could have taken those sticks and made that nest.

Wounded Sparrow?

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: May 14, 2013 - 9:06 PM

 Feeding in our yard today was a White-throated Sparrow with a tuft of seriously misplaced feathers. They protrude from the bird's rigth flank, like a feather duster attached to the bird's hip. Behavior of the sparrow appeared ordinary. It moved on the ground and flew without apparent problem. Did the bird have a narrow escape from a predator, a claw tearing the feathers as the bird flew? Looks like a lot of feather for that part of the body doesn't it? And the dark color seems wrong. Doesn't make much sense. The sparrow's bill appears odd because the bird was manipulating a piece of cracked corn.





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