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 migration

Snowy Owl videos

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: February 13, 2014 - 10:01 AM

If  you haven't yet gone to YouTube for Snowy Owl videos, here's a place to begin:


There are several (probably hundreds if you search), including one from Minnesota where the sound accompanyment is a brisk, freezing wind. That owl is interesting for its very heavy dark barring.

Shade-grown coffee, ubiquitous, and still important

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: April 22, 2014 - 9:25 AM

Remember shade coffee? There was a time a few years ago when this was a hot topic for birders. Shade coffee today is ubiquitous. And a good thing that is.

To review: Much of the coffee we drink is grown in Central and South America, where many of our nesting birds go for the winter. A successful winter helps them return strong in the spring, more likely to have a productive breeding season. The habitat in which these birds spend the winter is important. Coffee plantations can provide good habitat but only if the coffee plants are grown beneath shade trees.

Ordinary coffee is grown in fields cleared of natural vegetation because the plants then are easier to tend, and the beans quicker to ripen. Ordinary sun-coffee is easy to find. Big red cans are hard to miss.

Shade-grown coffee protects needed songbird habitat. Plus, shade-grown coffee is said to be more flavorful. This coffee too is easy to find, a development in recent years driven by conservationists and by people who prefer more flavorful coffee. Which shade-grown coffee is.

The label on the small (12 oz.) bag of shade coffee should tell you that it is indeed shade grown. The label might also mention fair trade status, which means that the farmers who grew the coffee received a fair price for their efforts. Supporting them helps support shade coffee.

The for the birds, shade is the important element here. If you haven’t made the switch, give shade a try.

Whether we realize it or not, we humans do much to make life difficult for birds. Our everyday demands for food, fuel and shelter slowly but surely shrink the grasslands, wetlands and woodlands birds inhabit. We
kill birds, not with malicious intent but with nonchalant neglect. Roads, towers, chemicals, cars all contribute. 

And while many of us work hard to mitigate those problems here in Minnesota, where migrant
visitors spend their breeding season, that is only part of the battle. Buying shade coffee extends a helping hand into the tropical countries, where these birds winter. What happens there is equally important to the
survival of dozens of bird species.

Below, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, one of the species wintering where Central American coffee is grown. These birds, early spring migrants, are being seen in Minnesota now. 

Snowy Owl count

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: January 3, 2014 - 12:18 PM

Snowy Owls continue to be found in new locations throughout the state. An estimated 10 owls are in Dakota County as of Monday morning. These are owls seen and mapped for location. Owls also are concentrating in the Litchfield/Grove City area. There is no way to know just how many owls are here because they have to be seen to be counted. Known owls now number near 100. It's likely hundreds more are here but unseen or unreported. Reports, by the way, are tallied from email messages sent via the state's birding email networks. A map created by Duluth birding guide Michael Hendrickson can be found at


The Snowy Owl shown here is most likely a juvenile bird. The heavy dark marking is typical of young birds. Female adults are barred to a lesser degree. Adult males can be pure white. They are the grail of owl searches. This bird is atop a power-line pole. Many of the current Minnesota birds are being seen on poles. 

Our feeder birds disappeared

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 30, 2013 - 5:18 PM

Gone for Christmas week, I filled all of our feeders the day of depature, hoping that the birds would not eat them empty well before we returned home, which was Sunday. Nine days we were gone. The feeders on the deck, which I've filled on an every-other-day basis at times, are not empty. The six-feeder assembly in the yard is down maybe a third. So, what happened to the birds? House Finches and American Goldfinches are our stalwarts. I saw two House Finches today, one goldfinch. Yet, I received an email a few days ago from a man who counted over 120 goldfinches at his feeders, plus birds of other species also present in impressive numbers. Is it the cold weather? I'd think the birds would eat more as the temperature drops. We do have the usual assemblage of cardinals at dusk, at least five today.

Snowy Owls continue to be seen in counties west of Hennepin, from Wright outward, with some seen south of Bloomington as well. And at least one has made a suburban appearance, in Maple Grove. I suspect there are more to come. I'm waiting for warmer weather before making my search. I want photos. Taking a camera (think glass) from a warm car into single-digit temps does not work.

This blog has been untended during our travels. It should see new posts on a regular basis now.

Snowy Owls east of us, and some here

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: December 19, 2013 - 7:50 PM

The movement of Snowy Owls south from Canada into New England and states south to Virginia is being called the largest in two decades. Many owls are being seen. More information can be found at http://nyti.ms/1fqeek7

That blog site also has two fascinating videos of Snowy Owls being harassed by Peregrine Falcons defending territory. Pretty cool.

Minnesota is seeing more Snowies that usual, also, although our numbers do not approach those to the east of us. For some reason, reported sightings are clustered in and around Benton County. Either there are more owls there or more people seeing and reporting them.


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