Bird conservation

Mute Swans

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Feral Mute Swans are collectors’ items for Minnesota birders, but birds of a different feather in Michigan. My wife and I rode the ferry today that travels across Lake Michigan between Muskegon, Michigan, and Milwaukee. We saw about four dozen Mute Swans in the Muskegon harbor. There are several thousaned of these birds in Michigan. This is an introduced species, native to Europe and Asia but not North America. Mute Swans are aggressive birds, driving native waterfowl from lakes they choose for their use. Loon populations have been impacted by the swans. Lake-shore property owners in Michigan often petition to have the swans killed because of their aggressive habits toward both man and beast, and because the swans soil docks and swimming rafts. The Michigan DNR authorizes such kills, sometimes to the dismay of people who don’t understand the problem non-native species can cause. The population of these birds in the Great Lakes area is reported to be increasing from 10 to 20 percent per year. In Minnesota, the birds are classified as a regulated invasive species. Introduction into the wild is prohibited, and possession of captive birds requires a game-farm license and containment.

Regulatory classification (agency): Mute swans are a regulated invasive species, which means introduction into the wild is prohibited (DNR). Possession of captive birds requires a state game farm license and fencing to contain them.

Musings on the end of the story

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

John Tierney wrote in a recent edition of “The New York Times” (science section) about climate change, and the fat chance we have of a sincere political solution. He is not optimistic. Me neither. There is no political will to bite hard on the issue. We beat around the edges of things, pasting impressive titles on weak efforts. Mr. Tierney suggests we consider moving ahead with engineered solutions — improving the reflectivity of clouds to bounce some of the sun’s rays away from us, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere not by preventing its creation in the first place but by simply removing it. We’re not close to any of this, but then we’re not close to anything else meaningful either. If legislation was proposed that cramped our style in serious ways, well, look at the health-care “discussion.” If you don’t understand it or don’t like it, lie, and if that isn’t enough, lie loudly. Political philosophy is not necessarily pertinent to all issues. Neither is noise. Yes, I believe the world’s climate is changing. Even if I didn’t believe in change, the possibility is there. You can bet against that possibility, but if you lose the loss is enormous. If you bet on change, and support your wager with climate solutions, well, sure you could lose, all of that effort and money for naught. But the two possible losses are hugely different. We buy insurance for everything, protecting ourselves against unacceptable outcomes. Even the slightest possibility of climate change is acceptable? I won’t live long enough to turn the page on the end of this story, or even get to its last chapter. I do like to know how things end. In this case, though, maybe not. (Right — I should go birding and cheer up.)

Jack Pine Symposium and festival at Reinaissance Fest

Friday, August 21st, 2009

Kirtland’s Warblers had a wonderful 2009 breeding season in Wisconsin, a continuing successful expansion of their historically restricted breeding territory in Michigan. April 25-26 in Odanad, Wisconsin, near the Michigan border, to talk about the season, the birds, and how to continue this incredible effort. The program is aimed at foresters, ecologists, land managers, biologists and others working or interested in the jack pine ecosystems of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada. For complete information go to

Durng the recently concluded breeding seasons researchers in Wisconsin documented 12 each male and females Kirtland’s Warblers, 11 recorded nesting attempts, with seven or eight or those successful, and from 23 to 30 young fledged. It’s an amazing expansion of a bird population that has since its discovery in Michigan has numbered only a few thousand.

THE BEGINNING OF WHAT IS HOPED TO BE AN ANNUAL Twin Cities birding fair opens Saturday at the Reinaissance Festival in Shakopee. It will be located adjacent to the festival, one admission good for both events. Vendor booths and entertaining presentations will be featured. Stop by and take a look. Birds from The Raptor Center will be on display, along with artists who use birds as their motif. The Reinaissance event is located near Valley Fair.

Chimney Swift nestlings

Monday, August 10th, 2009

A friend has a fireplace chimney that’s housing a Chimney Swift nest. Two of us hauled a ladder to the site one morning last week to take a look. Peering down the chimney for a first look, I saw five birds. I turned to report to my friend. Once again placing my face over the chimney opening I was met by a very loud hissing. I almost fell off the ladder, immediately forgetting birds and thinking bats. I expected bats in my face. What I heard is the alarm call of nestling swifts, described in “The Birds of North America” swift monograph as a “loud rasping raah, raah, raah, a noisy chorus.” You bet. There were five young in the chimney, about 11 feet below the opening. The first 10 feet of this chimney is tiled. The smooth tile sits on a metal collar that in turn rests on the brick portion that opens into the fire pit. The nest is attached to the brick below the collar, so I couldn’t see it. Volunteer observers are going to count swifts throughout Minnesota on Sept. 1. You can participate. Watch swifts in your neighborhood just before dusk and try to discover where they are roosting. Count them as they enter or exit the roost. Report your sighting to Audubon Minnesota by email: For more information on this cool bird go to Swifts, by the way, don’t perch. Adults and near-fledging young hang, as these birds are doing, or fly. If roosting in a chimney they will be clinging to the roughness of the brick. The light colored material below the birds is swift droppings. .  chim-swift-nestlings-5654.jpg 

‘Woodworking for Wildlife’ — new, improved edition

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

The best book to have at hand when you’re building a nest box for a bird always has been Carrol Henderson’s “Woodworking for Wildlife”. Now there is a new and expanded edition. First published 24 years ago and revised in 1992, it is the bible of backyard bird construction. Published by and available from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Henderson’s book gives you easy-to-follow instructions for construction of everything from nest boxes for owls to a toad cottage for your garden. Included is the famous one-board nest box that even I can build. This edition includes information on eliminating predation of birds using these nesting structures. The photos and text about bird nesting, eggs, incubation, and chicks make the book entertaining and valuable even if you never lift a hammer. There are 30 sets of plans here for structures accommodating 46 species of wildlife. This is the best-selling book the DNR ever has published, for obvious and good reasons. To buy one, to to or visit the DNR gift shop at 500 Lafayette Road in St. Paul. The price is $16.95. Royalties from sale of the book go fund to DNR non-game wildlife programs  woodworking-for-wildlife.jpg  

Counting Chimney Swifts

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Are there Chimney Swifts in your neighborhood? Swifts are those fast-flying little birds that alternate rapidly fluttering wings with long, swooping glides. They have bodies that resemble stubby cigars; there seems to be no tail of mention. You’ll see them hawking insects in the sky over your neighborhood or perhaps over a lake or pond. Work is underway to help swifts prosper in Minnesota. Nesting and roosting structures are being built. And in August and September you can participate in the state’s first annual Chimney Swift Sit. This is a census to help determine just how well these birds are doing, and where they’re doing it. You can count the birds as they enter a roosting site for the night, or you can alert Audubon Minnesota about site location so volunteers can be assigned. If you’re counting, this is a sit-down job. Important are swift roosting locations. These most likely will be chimneys (duh!). You’ll see the birds sort of pouring into the structure. It might be a large industrial chimney; it might be an uncapped chimney for your neighbor’s fireplace. I know of one roosting site in our neighborhood (fireplace), and there is another here yet to be discovered. We see the birds daily. We just haven’t yet figured out where they nested and now roost. I’m working on it. You can contact Audubon Minnesota to volunteer or offer information by emailing Ron Windingstad at rwindingstad@audubon. org. Or, go to Swifts are fun to watch, aerial acrobats at their best. chimney-swift-best.jpg chimney-swift-flies-4154.jpg

Rare warbler doing well in Wisconsin

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Kirtland’s Warbler is a rare species of bird that had been known to breed only in 13 contiguous counties in northern lower Michigan. It’s nesting habitat needs are very specific: jack pine stands of a certain age. Fire once ensured that such habitat existed. We no longer tolerate natural fire. The 2008 census of this species at its Michigan sites found fewer than 2,000 singing males (singing males because you have to locate them to count them). Now, however, the bird has expanded its range into at least two parts of Wisconsin, the major site less than a two-hour drive from Minnesota — Adams County, which is about 100 miles east of LaCrosse. This nesting season there has been called extremely successful. To put that in perspective, we’re talking about five nests in Adams County that fledged a total of 19 birds. Male Kirtland’s Warblers have been found at two sites in Marinette County, on the Michigan border. One nest containing three eggs was found there. One singing male has been reported from Douglas County (far northwestern Wisconsin) this summer, but the bird has not been relocated. In 2008, Kirtland’s also were reported from Vilas and Jackson counties, but confirmation was not made. Habitat is one problem for the Kirtland’s Warbler, cowbirds another. In Michigan and at the Adams County locations cowbirds are being trapped to reduce the degree of parasitism that can make warbler nesting seasons fruitless. The photo is of a recently fledged Kirtland’s. It was taken by Joel Trick of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is used with permission.kiwa_fledge_adamsctyjuly2009byjoeltrick.jpg 

Osprey banding

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Young Ospreys being raised in the metro area were banded recently. The work was done by personnel from Three Rivers Park District and others involved in the Twin Cities Osprey Project. Fifty nests were visited, the young birds removed briefly for banding, then returned to their nests. There are 61 known Osprey nests in the greater metropolitan area, those 50 active and occupied. All but one of the nests are on platforms erected for the birds. One pair chose to nest the old-fashioned way this year: they used a tree. Judy Voigt Englund, project coordinator, told me that it’s hoped that as our Osprey population grows more and more pairs will chose trees as nest sites. She said that the chicks raised this year in the tree nest hopefully would be more likely to choose a tree site when they mate and nest. The photos were taken at two nesting sites in western Hennepin County. Doing the climbing is Jim Mussel of the Tree Guys. The young birds are put into that box you see in the photo for the ride to the ground and back. They’re out of the nest for perhaps five minutes. While their chicks were out of the nest, the parent Ospreys flew over the work, calling loudly. They then returned to the job of seeing that each nestling gets the pound of fish it needs each day. Of the two nests we visited, one had three chicks, the other two. Both nests held one unhatched egg (see photo).bird-in-hand-5882.jpg  banding-tight-5806.jpg osprey-egg-5851.jpg 

Photos of threatened species

Monday, July 6th, 2009


A program known as ARKive is working to compile audio-visual records for the 16,300 animal, plant, and fungi species whose survival currently is considered threatened. Target species come from the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The photos and recordings gathered so far can be seen and heard on a really cool Web site at It’s an incredible resource, available to all. The program has been active for five years. Eventually, ARKive, based in the United Kingdom, wants to provide Web records of all known world animal, plant, and fungi species. Check it out. Do it when you’re not in a hurry. Several species of birds regularly seen in Minnesota are on the list, including this Parasitic Jaeger.

Our priorities in the toilet?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

“Toilet paper containing 100% recycled fiber makes up less than 2% of the U.S. market, while sales of three-ply luxury brands like Cottonelle Ultra and Charmin Ultra Soft shot up 40% in 2008. [...] (From recent issue of “Time” magazine.) What if we had to use the trees in our own yards for our paper needs?