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

There's a new birding movie

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: March 13, 2014 - 4:50 PM

A new birding movie, a coming-of-age story that centers on possible discovery of a bird extinct for over a hundred years, opens March 21 in "selected cities." The title is "A Birder's Guide to Everything." Four teen birders chase the rarest-of-rare possibility, the hero meets a girl, and it all ends well, except the bird is ... well, I don't want to spoil the ending. You can see a preview at www.tribecafilm.com. It looks good, and is said bv a reviewer not to contain the cliched satire that dominated the last birding movie made (The Big Year). Whether or not it will play here is the question.

Free help with warbler identification

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 30, 2014 - 12:08 PM

Free quick-find warbler identification pages are available from Princeton University Press. There are seven pieces in the set, all downloadable as pdf or jpg files. Each opens as a full-color image 10 by 7 inches. The guides are taken from the book “The Warbler Guide,” a Princeton publication by Tom Stephenson and Scott White. There guides are: warbler faces, birds at a 45-degree view, eastern warblers spring, eastern warblers fall, undertail view, complete under view, and western spring warblers. I downloaded faces and 45-degree-look as pdf files. ID is possible from the images. I think these would be very useful for photographers in particular, when a photo image poses ID questions. Compare your photo with the illustration on your pdf file, both there on your computer screen. If you have the book (and a fine ID guide it is), you have these quick-find pages. Having them on the computer, side by side with your photos, should make the ID effort easier. Go to blog.press.princeton.edu, choose the page for birds and natural history, choose free download quick finders, and download (very fast). Here is the faces guide. This is a reduction from the actual 10x7 size.

More and more Snowy Owls

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 17, 2014 - 1:11 PM

The number of Snowy Owls reported in Minnesota is close to 200.  Undoubtedly, there are many more owls, uncounted. For instance,a birder has reported talking with a coyote hunter who told her he has seen several Snowy Owls in north central Minnesota recently. He most likely did not report these to the birding email networks. Owl numbers continue to grow. The map can be found at 


Owls are routinely being reported near the Twin Cities in Dakota, Wright, Becker, and Anoka counties. 

If you go looking, and now you can do that without worry of freezing to death, drive county and township roads slowly. Look at the tops of any objects above ground level. Some of these birds are almost totally white; look closely.

Do not disturb the birds. Do not approach closely. Observation quietly from your car is recommended.

The photo below was taken several years ago at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Its flatness resembles  tundra, at least for these owls,. Tundra is home habitat for Snowies. Hazardous for planes, Snowies found at the airport are live-trapped and relocated.


Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 16, 2013 - 1:30 PM

Winter finch species, as predicted, are not to be seen so far this winter. Well, a few perhaps, but not many. Certainly not in the Duluth area. The Duluth Christmas Bird Count (CBC) this past weekend found no Pine Grosbeaks, no redpolls, no Pine Siskins, and no crossbills of either species (Red or White-winged). That might be a first. Even if finches don't make it as far south as the metro area, at least a few would be expected in Duluth.

Several weeks ago a Canadian birder offered his annual prediction of finch movement south from northern Canada. He said, in essence, there would be little if any; food would be plentiful in the north. It looks like he was right. The source gathers his information from various sources throughout eastern Canada and Ontario.

Christmas Bird Counts, in case they are new to you, involve a day-long census of bird species seen within a circle 13 miles in diameter. The starting point is the same each year. The date of the event must fall between dates chosen by the National Audubon Society, event sponsor and source of summaries of counts throughout the country. CBCs have been annual events for decades. Comparison of count totals for this species or that, year to year, offer information on the population status of those species.

More than two dozen CBCs are conducted in Minnesota each year by volunteers.

Below, a Pine Grosbeak, one of the reasonably expected winter finches not seen in Duluth during its 20134 CBC.

Bird fingerprints

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 9, 2013 - 3:00 PM

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.


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