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

Cooper's Hawk

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 30, 2013 - 11:06 AM

A pair of Cooper's Hawks nested in a yard adjoining ours this summer. They were quiet and secretive neighbors. We assume they raised chicks. We never saw one, though, a disappointment since they were so close at hand. We could watch the nest until the trees filled out with leaves. One of the adults, the female I believe, visited our yard late Tuesday afternoon. The bird took a shaded position in a tree while it unsuccessfully looked for prey. Four species of hawks nest nearby -- Cooper's, Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged. For me, Cooper's is the most handsome.

Birds keeping cool

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: August 28, 2013 - 2:07 PM

 If you haven't created a watering place for birds to drink and bathe, today is the day to do it. Birds have developed strategies for keeping cool. Water, though, will be much apprecioated. It can be as simple and temporary as a large sheet of plastic spread in the shade with your lawn sprinkler directed at it. Create some dips and valleys where the water can collect. 

The photos show birds in various heat-related reactions. The Red-tail Hawk at Westwood Nature Center in St. Louis Park is doing what many birds do on hot days: opening up and letting the air in. The bird is exposing as much body area as it can. The hawk, unable to care for itself in the wild, was photographed in a large shaded outdoor aviary at the center. It's a beautiful bird. The Lark Bunting was trying to keep cool the same way. This bird was photographed on a South Dakota grassland on a day when the temp was over 100 degrees. It was close to midday, shade at a minimum. Fence posts did offer about three inches of shade on the north side. Buntings and meadowlarks were using that shade, perching tight against posts.

The Wild Turkey, also found at Westwood, was panting through its open bill. Heat exchange via air is another way to cool.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird took a brief rest yesterday in the hand of Excelsior photographer Rebecca Hahn. The bird was feeding on hosta blooms, in the sun, when Rebecca extended her hand. She was surprised to see her offer accepted. Rebecca said the bird appeared exhausred. It rested for a few moments, then flew off to a nearby tree. Rebecca used one hand for the bird, the other for her camera.










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.


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