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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

The other flyers in the neighborhood


You can see more species of birds than dragonflies in Minnesota, but that doesn’t make the latter any less interesting. 


A friend recently told me of someone he knew who had little or no interest in anything but fish. Fish are great, but how can you pass all of the other fascinating creatures you certainly see when, for instance, you are on a birding walk?


I watch for and try to photograph dragonflies when birding with camera in hand. The trouble for me is identification, but that does not lessen the pleasure. 


Often subtle differences in color and body parts are among the distinguishing characteristics for dragonflies. It’s the same for birds, I know, but far less subtle.


A new book from Princeton University Press , “Dragonflies and Damsselflies” by Dennis Paulson, uses examples from throughout the world to tell the stories of these insects. Many species are illustrated to help describe dragonfly behavior and biology.


Paulson is considered one of the world’s leading experts on these winged creatures. (His pair of identification books, “Dragonflies of the West, and “Dragonflies of the East,” also from Princeton, would aid identification efforts.)


Birds and dragonflies share more than wings. Both were contemporaries of dinosaurs back in the day. Dragonflies were extant 300 million years ago, one of them with a 30-inch wingspan that would out-compete most bird species today.


Dragonflies also have diets similar to those of some of our bird species. The handsome insects eat midges, mosquitos, butterflies, and moths, plus smaller dragonflies. Some larger species eat fish.


Dragonflies don’t eat birds. It’s the other way around. Several Minnesota bird species eat dragonflies. The photo here shows an Eastern Wood-pewee stuffing a dragonfly into the mouth of one of its babies. That must have been a scratchy swallow.


This book is comprehensive and accessible. The photos are stunning.

The book will make your next birding walk near a wetland or pond on a sunny day much more interesting. 


Minnesota, by the way, has about 140 species of dragonflies.


(Princeton University Press, hardcover, 224 pages, 150 color illustrations, $29.95, in bookstores now.)


Cornell's "Wall of Birds"

When the Cornell Lab of Ornithology opened its new visitor center in 20032 it left one entire lobby wall blank, three stories tall, 2,500 square feet. Needed was something to go on the drab green wall.


John Fitzpatrick, director of the lab, had always wanted a mural for the wall, but could not find an artist with the skill and courage to accept the challenge.


Fitzpatrick grew up in Minnesota, neighbor to Francis Lee Jaques when the latter retired to a home on Mallard Lake north of the Twin Cities.


Fitzpatrick in the book “The Wall of Birds,”published last fall, describes Jaques as the greatest of all museum artists. If you have visited the Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, you have seen some of that great work.


Jacques, who died in 1939, painted the background for the dioramas that became and remain the centerpiece for the musuem’s displays. His work gave life to the animals and settings mounted and set into natural landscapes prepared by Walter Breckenridge and John Jarosz.


“Jane Kim brought Jaques back to life for me,” Fitzpatrick writes in the foreword of this book. She brought him back to life “not just for me but for thousands of visitors and web viewers who watched her at work high on the scaffold” that positioned her on that huge wall.


She was up there for three years, painting one bird species from each of 243 bird families covering 375 million years.


The book illustrates the birds as they “live” on the wall, and the many-faceted process of creation. The wall is here to be viewed up close, bird by bird. The choices of species is explained. The extensive and subtle palette of colors shown. The paintings overlay maps showing where each species can be found (except for those extinct, of course).


The explanatory text is well-written by Thayer Walker.


This is a book about art via some of nature’s most artful creatures, birds. You will recognize our Common Loon, the Blue Jay, the Northern Cardinal, the Golden Plover, the American White Pelican, and the 13 other species on the wall as well as in our state. 


It’s a bird book like no other, a museum tour of the bird world.


“The Wall of Birds” was published by Harpen Design, imprint of HarperCollins, hardcover, 224 pages, $45. Find it in bookstores. See it on-line at


Below, examples of birds on The Wall