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 identification

Name that song? Princeton has an app for it

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 22, 2014 - 5:50 PM

Have you ever listened to a bird song first sung by the bird in front of you, and then sung by the presumed bird on a recording? Ever done that and wished that the two songs sounded more alike? Wished for help?

Help is on the way, coming via — what else? — a phone app. 

Princeton University Press soon will release two apps, one for eastern birds, the other for western. There will be approximately 60 species on each. (Yes, yes, you want them all; maybe next year.) For now, Princeton says BirdGenie™ will be at least 90 percent accurate in naming thel singer from the chosen five dozen. These will be, for the most part, species we commonly know as backyard birds. 

Most birds are heard before they are seen, and some are only heard. This app should add much pleasure for what we commonly know as backyard birders.

The apps will be available for Apple® or Android® smartphones or tablets. You will record bird songs with the device’s built-in microphone, the app working its Shazam®-like magic to provide you with the closest match or a list of possible matches. 

You can store the recordings in the app. Your can be share them directly from BirdGenie. The app is self-contained, so once downloaded, internet connectivity is not needed for field use.
You can read more about these apps (Backyard Birds East, Backyard Birds West) at the following links:
East: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10411.html
West: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/10412.html

Nearby nesters

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 22, 2014 - 9:51 AM

Here are the pair of Red-tailed Hawks that are nesting near our home. In the first photo the birds are in the upper righrt corner, one of them taking flight. The nest is at upper left. The second photo shows one of the birds eating, at right, while its mate watches, left. The pair of Wood Ducks are nesting in a box at the edge of the pond in our back yard. 

White-winged Scoter being seen near downtown

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 10, 2014 - 4:42 PM

A White-winged Scoter is being seen near the east end of Boom Island, which is at the west end of Nicollet Island near downtown Minneapolis. This species is regular in Minnesota during migration, but most often along the North Shore. It is unusual to have one mid-city, particularly one so loyal to a single location. It has been seen in or near this location for several days. Best viewing is from Boom Island. Enter the park from Sibley Avenue and drive to the far end (Washington Avenue east from downtown, left turn on Plymouth, right turn onto Sibley Street NE). A short walk will take you to the river bank. Check water near the channel between the islands. White-winged Scoters breed from central Canada northwest into the interior of Alaska. They winter along both coasts. The bird has been identified by staff at Audubon Minnesota as a female hatched in the spring of 2013.


Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 30, 2014 - 1:43 PM

If you read the interview with David Sibley in last Wednesday's StarTribune you know that in his new book falcons no longer appear after eagles and hawks. In the first edition, as in all other guide books, falcons are grouped with other raptors. Sibley has moved falcons back with the parrot family. He did this because, he explained, recent DNA studies show falcons to be more closely related to parrots than other raptors. In that regard, Rick Fournier of Minneapolis sent me this comment.

Great Horned Owl and chicks

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 23, 2014 - 10:13 PM

A Great Horned Owl nest holding the hen and two chicks can easily be seen at Silverwood Park in St. Anthony. (Park personnel have established a limit to approach to prevent disturbing the birds.) The hen and her chicks are nesting in the hollow of a broken branch in a large tree very close to a paved walking path, about 30 feet up. Visitors should have no problem locating the birds. Just look for the photographers, ever-present at this unusual viewing opportunity. The young owls appear to be about six weeks old. The male owl often can be seen perched, sound asleep, high in a nearby tree. That bird, as you can see from the photo below (not a very cooperative bird) is much lighter than its mate. Coloration of this species is highly variable. This female has typical adult coloration. The male tends more toward the lighter birds found most often far north. Great Horned Owls can be so light as to resemble Snowy Owls. This one is far from that, but interesting nonetheless. The owls should be visible for several more weeks. Once the young birds leave the nest they often remain in its vicinity. To find them, drive to the park’s most distant parking lot. There is a paved walkway leading between two park buildings. Follow that pathway approximately 200 yards. You might also find interesting the courtship behavior of at least seven Eastern Chipmunks in a tangle of brush and fallen logs immediately to the right of the walkway from the best owl-viewing spot. Friday, they were chasing each other incessantly. The chipmunks are very obvious right under the eye of the female owl. The male owl, the family’s provider, sleeps during the day, hunting at night. Perhaps that explains the mammals’ apparent daytime nonchalance.


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