Saturday, February 27, 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owl 2

J.H. and I returned to the saw-whet owl location near Faribault this afternoon and found it perched on exactly the same tree, same branch as last week.  This time the owl opened its eyes and glared at us, before going back to sleep.  By the looks of the owl, it appears last night was good hunting.

Scott Weidensaul, in his book "Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding," suggests that recent efforts at banding saw-whet owls across the continent indicate that this hard-to-locate species may be the most common of the North American raptors.  His book, by the way, is enjoyable and educational.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Erika and I went to the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum near Victoria yesterday and enjoyed their current orchid show.  More orchid photos can be seen at . These photos are inspired by the goldfinch photos I showed you on a recent post.  This time I used a white sheet of typing paper as background.  Here in Minneapolis/St. Paul region, the Landscape Arboretum is one of our favorite places to bird and botonize.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Recently I asked my friend Dave Bartkey if he could show me a Northern Saw-whet Owl in Rice Co.  Dave has a remarkable ability to find owls, especially on Christmas Bird Counts. He replied that we could give it a try, but there were no guarantees.  To make a long story short, we walked right by this saw-whet owl at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.  On our way out, Dave spied our bird, apparently sound asleep in a isolated cedar.

Northern Saw-whet Owls have always been a favorite bird for me.  When I began banding in Aberdeen, South Dakota, this owl was considered to be quite rare in the area.  But every October I banded about a dozen of them in a residential backyard.  I did not lure them in; they must have been abundant.  I caught most of my birds just before dawn.  Interestingly, I have tired unsuccessfully to band saw-whet owls since I moved to Northfield.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bird Lists

I keep lists of the birds I have seen in the world, North America, Minnesota, and in the various Minnesota counties.  Generally I do not chase after birds.  For one thing, they have usually flown away by the time I get to their previous locations.  But, nevertheless, yesterday I drove over to Prescott WI in hopes of seeing a Long-tailed Duck that has been reported off and on this winter.  Here are my photos of it!  I was standing in Wisconsin, but the bird was variously in Dakota and Washington counties of Minnesota.  I trust that counts for my Minnesota list!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

House Finches

I wrote the following for The Natural Source, a now somewhat dated on-line resource for environmental educators ( "The spread of the house finch across eastern North America has been a startling ornithological event. This bird is native to the western United States, including the Black Hills, but its spread to eastern South Dakota has come from the east. In 1940, house finches were introduced to Long Island, New York and they have spread back westward ever since. The species was first observed in Aberdeen in 1985. Sightings of the species in eastern South Dakota were frequent by the early 1990's, as can be seen by the Aberdeen banding data in Table 1. The species is now abundant across the state." (1996-2004 data are in addition to the original publication.)

Year# of Birds Banded

Curiously, since 2006, I have  banded only four House Finches in Minnesota.  I reported to you my most recent catch, the bird above, banded yesterday (another photo taken of a bird in front of snow).  I wonder what is happening here.  Are we just "behind" the invasion wave here in Minnesota?  Has the species become less common?  Has the finch eye disease knocked them back? Are House Finches just less common here than in South Dakota?  (I do see House Finches often enough in Minnesota.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

American Goldfinches

This morning for the first time in 2010 I was able to band birds.  About 200 American Goldfinches swarmed at the banding station.  I banded a dozen.  I also caught a single House Finch and Pine Siskin. Many non-banders are unaware that, in the field, you call tell the sex and often the relative age of most basic-plumaged (winter) goldfinches.  I thought I would share these photos with you.  (The photos were taken against a snow drift, hence the white backgrounds.)

Male and female American Goldfinches can be told apart by their wing color: jet black in males, charcoal in females.
Female American Goldfinch with charcoal-colored wings.  Because it is now February, this bird is aged as AHY, or After Hatching Year.
Compare this male goldfinch's jet-black wing with the female's charcoal wing.  We can take the aging of this male bird further than we could the female.  Note the dull shoulder color of this male: this color indicates it was born just last year, hence a SY or Second Year bird.

Compare that color to the bird below.
Since it takes two years of Goldfinches to molt into these bright yellow shoulders, it is aged as ASY, or After Second Year.  Often this color can be noticed in a male with a folded wing.
Because goldfinches of all ages suffer equal mortality, by this time of year anyway, one would predict dull-shouldered SY birds will outnumber older, brighter-winged birds.