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.
Minneapolis has a chance to become seriously bird friendly, but a motion that goes to a council vote Friday is a big step in the opposite direction. A council committee has given approval to an ordinance allowing people to maintain feral cat communities. The ordinance would allow people to provide food and shelter for feral cats. Included in the ordinance would be the trap-neuter-release scam that some cat people insist is actually beneficial to wildlife. That is seriously wrong. There is strong scientific evidence to the contrary. Feral cats no matter how well fed, well sheltered, neutered, vaccinated or whatever kill billions of birds each year in the U.S. They kill not because they are bad kitties, but because it is their nature. Pet cats belong indoors. Feral cats have no place in the North American wildlife hierarchy. Cats are an introduced species, not native to this country, the very same status as European Starlings and House Sparrows. Read some of the published research at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v4/n1/full/ncomms2380.html and http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v4/n1/full/ncomms2380.html]
Contact city council members with telephone and email information found at
People supporting the feral cat community proposal are vocal, determined, and persistent. People who favor birds over free-roaming feral cats need to make themselves heard. Right now. If this ordinance is approved it will be very difficult to change. One city council member said while not a solution to the cat problem the ordinance would be a step in the right direction. The right direction is to license cats and make it illegal for them to wander freely. Why are cats treated differently than dogs?
Presently, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, a city department, kills feral cats it catches or cats trapped by city residents and brought to it. Trapping is legal. More than 2,500 cats have been removed from the feral cat population in this way since 2010. That number of cats, however, is a small fraction of the feral cat population in the city.
I have a fat file of photos of feral cats. Feral cats are not hard to find. Here's a sleek, fat, handsome example of a cat on the hunt.
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the last documented sighting of the Eskimo Curlew. Everything considered, the species is extinct. And if any remain, they would be so difficult to find/see that extinction is the same.
The bird migrated through southwestern Minnesota on its way to the Arctic tundra for nesting and to the far end of South America when nesting ended. The curlew, one of eight species in its family, as numerous as any shorebird, made one of the longest roundtrip migrations of any bird species.
It disappeared for the usual reasons. When we had wiped out the Passenger Pigeon, that source of meat for market gone, hunters next chose Eskimo Curlews, one hunting party able to take thousands of curlews in a few days. As many as two million birds a year were killed annually, according to estimates.
At the same time, the portion of the birds’ migration path through the United States was being plowed for crops. The prairies that provided the insects that fueled the final legs of migration disappeared.
The curlew could not survive that double whammy. The birds were gone about 20 years after the onslaught began. It doesn’t take long if you ignore what you’re doing.
A few Minnesota birders, not many, have in recent springs invested a day or two to drive the state’s southwestern pastures and prairie remnants in search of migrating flocks of plovers. The curlew resembles a plover, if you take a casual look. These birders held thin hope that the curlew was not extinct, its small remaining numbers simply overlooked. They hoped to find the slimmer, slightly taller bird foraging with the plovers, evident to a sharpened eye.
The last confirmed sighting of Eskimo Curlew was in Texas in 1962. A year later – 50 years ago – a specimen was taken on Barbados. That was the end of the official story. Sighting of 23 Eskimo Curlews in Texas in 1981 was termed “reliable,” no evidence presented. Ditto unconfirmed reports from Texas and Canada in 1987, Argentina in 1990, and in Nova Scotia as recently as 2006. Unconfirmed is the key word.
A wonderful book about this bird titled “Last of the Curlews” was published in 1954. Canadian author Fred Bosworth offered a fictional account of a year in the life of the bird. Over 3 million copies have been sold. I’ve read it. It’s a good book, a sad story.
That makes three species of birds once seen in Minnesota and now extinct: the curlew, the Passenger Pigeon, and the Carolina Parakeet. The latter’s range just nicked the southwestern edge of the state.
The drawing is from the late 1800s, artist unknown.
Zebra Mussels, because of the way they change the biology of lakes they invade, should be of concern to birders.
Fishermen, boaters, lakeshore owners, conservation officials, and elected officials are not the only people who should give thought to this problem. The lakes that birds use today are used because those lakes meet particular bird needs. It’s unlikely that those needs will change as quickly as the mussels spread.
And spread they will.
Tom Nelson is president of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. He writes on today’s (Friday) StarTribune editorial page about invasive species, focusing on Zebra Mussels. He calls “generally dismal” the response of Minnesota boaters to a request for compliance with laws intended to halt or at least limit spread of the invader from lake to lake.
he DNR recently announced that three more Minnesota lake chains now have Zebra Mussels. That brings the total number of infected lakes to something over 160.
In 2011 I interviewed a biologist very familiar with the incredible, massive invasion of Lake Michigan by Zebra Mussels. Thomas Nalepa works at the Great Lake Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In our conversation I asked him to estimate the number of Zebra Mussels that cover the bottom of Lake Michigan shore to shore.
He had done some quick math on this, multiplying known per-square-yard concentrations of the mussel by the area of the lake. He came up with 900 trillion mussels. And that number was three years old when we visited three years ago. “Now?” he said. “What’s the number that comes after trillion?”
Then I asked him about the potential spread of the mussels in Minnesota. “It would not be surprising to me,” he said, “if they colonize all the lakes in the state.”
Mussels can’t fly or walk, so they need the assistance of humans to move from lake to lake. Obviously, Nalepa wasn’t optimistic about our chances of getting into a successful prevention program.
Mr. Nelson, of the lake associations, said personal responsibility, i.e. asking boaters to comply with regulations, isn’t enough. He’s right. Laws with punch and authorities willing to enforce those laws are needed.
Nalepa had one piece of sort-of good news. To get into all of our lakes could take the mussels hundreds of years. Long time, but let’s hope that this isn’t another environmental problem discussed to the point of paralysis by politicians. Climate change, Asian carp – the problems get worse while possible solutions remain under consideration. Or ignored.
We really ought to be raising hell about this.
The appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) being proposed by House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies would gut wildlife conservation in the country for years to come.
If enacted, the proposed funding and riders would:
· Cut the overall funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 27 percent (and if the 27 percent cut was evenly distributed to all Service programs, the Refuge System will fall from $502.8 million in FY10 to $331.2 million in FY14, a 34 percent cut in four years!)
· Eliminates all funding for conservation easements and land acquisition under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program established in 1995 that uses a small portion of royalties from off shore drilling to support conservation of other resources.
· Eliminates all funding for the State Wildlife Grants Program, which helps states keep species from becoming endangered.
· Eliminates all funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which funds wetland restoration on refuges.
· Eliminates all funding for Landscape Conservation Cooperatives that are forums for federal, state, tribes, organizations, and groups to work together to support conservation.
· Eliminate funds for establishment of refuges and boundary expansion.
The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee will vote on the bill, Tuesday, July 23, and the House Appropriations Committee will vote Thursday, July 25. You might want to contact your Congressional Representative about this. The number for the Capitol switchboard is 202-224 -3121.
Coyotes can be a bird's best friend. Sounds strange, I know. I learned why in an article in a recent issue of the Delta Waterfowl magazine. As you might remember from previous blogs, most of my conservation money goes to game-bird organizations that practice habitat conservation. Delta Waterfowl is one of those. Save a duck or a pheasant and you save many grassland and wetland non-game bird species. Now about coyotes: they're mammal hunters. Surely they are opportunistic and take eggs or birds when found. But, according to the article, they focus on the mammals that actively hunt for birds and eggs. Red Fox, for example, is listed as the number-one predator of ducks nesting in the grassland surrounding prairie potholes. Coyotes will kill or drive fox from coyote territories. Save a duck and you save a blackbird or meadowlark. Our Orono neighborhood has coyotes. They walk through our yard. We hear them howl at night. We've had fox, too, but rarely, and not for some time. Ditto opossum. They made an appearance, then disappeared. Perhaps we can credit the coyotes for that. They own this territory, and that's OK with me. I just wish they paid more attention to squirrels and raccoons. This coyote was found in a wooded area in eastern Orono.
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