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.
A friend wrote to tell me that she had covered the perches of her bird feeders with material to keep birds’ feet from contact with cold metal. She has a kind heart. Actually, birds have adaptations to foot muscles, nerves, and blood supply that make damage from cold weather unlikely. While looking for information on this in Cornell Lab’s “Handbook of Bird Biology,” I learned that some birds have fingerprints. The feet of birds like raptors and parrots have papillae, small, nipple-like projections that cover the bottom of the foot. They form patterns that vary from individual to individual, allowing birds of similar appearance to be identified one from another. This is said to be handy in particular for identifying birds of significant value, birds stolen for instance. I wonder if you can scan bird eyes for the same pupil differences used to identify humans. Probably. Generally speaking, at this point in human development we can do way more than we need to do.
A Ross's Goose, least common of the goose species to be seen in Minnesota, has spent the past several days in Hopkins. Tuesday it was present from early afternoon until dusk at Central Park in Hopkins. The park is adjacent to Excelsior Blvd., just west of 17th Ave. S. The Ross's Goose has been keeping company with several dozen Canada Geese. Ross's is a small goose, no larger than a Mallard, with plumage very similar to Snow Goose. It would be expected to be seen in small numbers the far western portion of the state. It is a beautiful bird.
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.
Two of northern Minnesota's finest artists have collaborated on a book about hawks. The book is "Hawk Ridge: Minnesota's Birds of Prey." The author is Laura Erickson, the artist Betsy Bowen. Hawk Weekend is this Saturday and Sunday. The book is a perfect companion for a hawk-watching trip to Hawk Ridge in Duluth.
Hawk Ridge is an observation point above the city of Duluth. It's famous as one of the nation's best places to see raptors (and other birds) as they migrate. Birds can be seen in both spring and fall, but the fall movement is the one to watch. Some days are spectacular, with tens of thousands of birds flowing over and along the ridge.
Erickson has been a fixture at the main Hawk Ridge observation point for years. She writes with clarity and passion the life histories of 20 species of eagles, hawks, falcons, kites, and vultures. She tells why birds make Hawk Ridge the exciting place it is from August through November, the fall migration window. She writes with grace, knowledgeable sentences flowing as smoothly as the ridge wind.
Bowen, who works up the Lake Superior shore in Grand Marais, is perhaps best known for her woodcut art. Here, she has painted some raptors, drawn others with pen and ink. Her distinctive style is evident regardless of medium.
Timely is the short chapter on visiting Hawk Ridge because this weekend, Sept. 20 and 21, is Hawk Weekend. Erickson details all you need to know, wear, and bring when you visit.
Special events are planned for both days. Help with identification will be available. Live birds will be shown. With appropriate weather, good visibility and a wind from the north or northwest, these could be spectacular migration days. Broad-winged Hawks are the species that usually has the highest count number, often approaching 100,000 for a season, with one or two days when the majority of those birds could pass.
The Broad-winged total for this season stood at 9,504 for the season to date. That means the big flights are yet to happen. To date, 14 raptor species have been seen. (Both species of eagle and Rough-legged Hawk tend to appear later in the fall.)
Find a copy of the book, then head for Duluth. If you plan an overnight, make reservations immediately. The birds and the fall color in the forests make Duluth a high-demand destination right now. For more information go to www.hawkridge.org
The Wednesday birding column in the StarTribune's Home and Garden section discussed the origin of bird names. Here are some that didn't make the column cut.
Black-capped Chickadee -- Chickadee is onomatopoeic.
Sandhill Crane -- often uses small hills for its courtship dance.
Frigatebird -- named by seaman for its habit of pursuing and robbing other birds.
Harrier -- from the bird's harrying of poultry, dates to 16th century.
Jaeger -- German for hunter. Three species, all hunters.
Loon -- not for maniacal call, but from old Danish or Swedish word loam or lim, meaning lame, in reference to the bird's awkward movement on land.
Oldsquaw -- no longer in use for its insensitive reference to noisy chatter. The bird is now known as Long-tailed Duck.
Phoebe and pewee -- they sing their names.
Robin -- English settlers often gave this name to any bird with red on its breast. They were familiar with a robin in England.
Vesper Sparrow -- for its singing at dusk.
Magnolia Warbler -- first specimen was shot out of a magnolia tree by Alexander Wilson, America's first true ornithologist. For obvious reasons he also applied the warbler names Connecticut, Cape May, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Mourning Warbler -- its black breast suggested mourning clothes to its namer, Mr. Wilson.
Prairie Warbler -- misnamed. Not found on prairies.
Clark's Nutcracker -- named for the famed explorer.
LeConte's Sparrow -- Dr. John LeConte was a college professor who during the Civil War ran a gunpowder factory for the Confederate Army. Unknown who chose to honor him or exactly why.
Lincoln's Sparrow -- 21-year-old Thomas Lincoln was with Audubon when this bird was first identified.
Spague's Pipit -- Isaac Sprague was an artist who accompanied Audubon on a trip up the Missouri River.
Townsend's Warbler -- its namesake, John K. Townsend, intended to name the bird (but not for himself) when he learned that another ornithologist was about to give Townsend's name to his discovery of the same species. Townsend graciously let the other's action take precedence.
Sora -- named by American Indians, one of the few such names that have survived.
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