The owl and the squirrel

Lyle Hofstedt of Superior let his pictures do the talking from this backyard scene depicting an unruffled boreal owl and a hesitant squirrel.
Lyle’s four-word commentary: “The squirrel backed down …”
See for yourself:

Stay tuned for a flock of waxwings …

Your bird stories and photos warmly received at:

The Squirrel backed down…

Hummingbirds in slow motion

We have many months to wait before we get to see hummingbirds in the Northland again.

But maybe we can see them on TV.

PBS is promoting an episode of its Nature series entitled "Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air," which will premiere Jan. 10.

I looked at the promotional video, and it whetted my appetite. It offers snippets of hummingbirds in slow motion, so that you can actually see the movement of those tiny wings. You can watch it, too. Here’s the link, which also includes information on the program:

Southwest hummers

In the Northland, it’s rare — although not unheard of — to see any kind of hummingbird other than the ruby-throated.

Not so in the Southwest. Kurt Kuehn got some wonderful hummingbird pictures when he was in Arizona this spring. Here’s a trio of them:

An Anna’s hummingbird.

A black-chinned hummingbird.

A magnificent hummingbird.

Thanks, Kurt, for the pictures — and the identifications.

Bird pictures and stories from far and near welcome here:


A hummer and a mystery hawk

Bob King, aka Astro Bob, aka News Tribune photo chief, took a couple of wonderful bird pictures over the weekend. We start with a hummingbird sampling some honeysuckle; the purple flower is from hostas:

Amazing picture, isn’t it? And hummingbirds are amazing birds. The more I learn about them the more I’m — here’s that word again — amazed. According to an Aug. 4 article in the Web edition of Science News, hummingbirds have less DNA in their cells than any other previously studied birds, reptiles or mammals. They can’t carry any extra weight … even when it comes to DNA.

Here’s the other one:

Imperious-looking hawk, isn’t it? Neither of us is sure what kind of hawk this is, although we each have our ideas. Can you help us out?

Send your bird pictures and stories to me at Thanks!


During a hike on Wednesday — and it was a perfect day for it; I’m really sorry if you had to be inside — I spotted a gang of waxwings cavorting on either side of Keene Creek in the ravine around which Skyline Parkway twists.

I’m guessing there were at least a dozen of them, more waxwings than I recall seeing in one area before. They were being fairly cooperative. Three of them snacked for a minute or two on berries just below the cliff on which I was standing (not too close to the edge). They were close enough that I thought I might even be able to get a picture, and I dug my camera out of my bag.

The question: Cedar waxwings, or Bohemians?

I’ve seen many cedar waxwings, and I don’t seem to have any trouble spotting them. A couple of weeks ago, I saw one while I was having a picnic lunch at the Civic Center.

Bohemians are just about as common around here, I’ve been told. But as far as I know, I’ve never seen one.

So I also had to check the book to remind myself of the differences. Three stand out: Bohemians are slighlty bigger and stouter; cedar waxwings are brownish colored in the breasts, Bohemians are more of a gray; and Bohemians have white on their wings and tails, cedars don’t.

I really think I was seeing a group of Bohemians. One more good look would have clinched the deal. But by the time I got the camera out, the waxwings were gone — not just from the berries close to me, but from the area. I no longer could hear their high-pitched, buzzy chirping.

I returned to the spot about three hours later, and again there was no sign of them.

I saw lots of other birds along the way, most of which I couldn’t identify. I did see a common yellowthroated warbler for sure, and I probably saw a black-and-white warbler. I might have seen a mourning warbler and either a Cape May or a Blackburnian warbler. I saw my first white-throated sparrow of the year, although I’ve heard them several times. Some sort of sparrow all but attacked me at Ski Trail Knob, but I couldn’t figure out what kind of sparrow it was. (I think there were little sparrows around.)

And I saw a lot of these flowers, only in real life they weren’t overexposed:

Can anybody tell me what they are?

Your comments, observations and pictures always welcome. Send them to Thanks!

A touch of yellow

A male and female goldfinch came — separately — to my nyjer (aka thistle) feeder today. It was the first I’ve seen of goldfinches in months, and I’ve had very few takers for the nyjer. I was wondering if it was still any good, but each bird spent quite a bit of time at the feeder, so that’s a good sign.

It’s quite a contrast to the winter, when I couldn’t keep up with the redpolls with three nyjer feeders.

It also added some much-desired color to my feeder stations. The only color I’ve been seeing is the showy blue of a couple of blue jays that have been making daily visits for millet and water; the wine color on the house and/or purple finches; and the red epaulet on a red-winged blackbird that paid a surprise visit yesterday. (I usually only see red-winged blackbirds at my feeders in the early spring.)

A touch of yellow was welcome. I  hope they stay around, but goldfinches can be fickle.

What kinds of birds are you seeing? Do you have pictures, observations, questions? I might not know the answers, but someone probably will. Send them to me at

Bird droppings

Bits and pieces (or maybe a bit and a piece) from here and there:

  • The folks at the Cornell Lab or Ornithology are sponsoring a fun contest they’re calling the Funky Nests in Funky Places Challenge. Here’s an excerpt of their description: "For the Funky Nests in Funky Places challenge, we want you to take photos, do a painting, write a story or shoot a video showing a bird’s nest built in some out-of-the-way or out-of-this-world place." I’m sure there are some funky nests in funky places in the Northland. Contest details and more information are available at the Cornell Lab’s "Celebrate Urban Birds" Web site here: Contest deadline is July 31.
  • Here’s a reminder that Peregrine Watch is under way from Lake Place Park in Duluth, as peregrine falcons raise their young on the Greysolon Plaza Building. Hours are 10 a.m to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, weather permitting. More information is available here:

Name that Bird II

Thanks for your ideas about that bird Ken Conito of West Duluth took a picture of.

We didn’t reach a consensus, but we seem to be headed in the same general direction.

Via e-mail, Ron Koistinen of Watertown, S.D., said he thought it was a merlin. Joseph Schlecht and Eric Chandler also went with merlin. Tony M. thought it looked more like a sharp-shinned hawk. Jim and I thought it was a Cooper’s hawk. At least we seem to have it narrowed down to raptors.

I had identification problems, as well, during a midweek camping trip to Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and a hike at Kadunce River Canyon north of Grand Marais. I got really good looks at a couple of warbler-like birds and still couldn’t identify them.

The FOY (first-of-year) birds I could identify were male and female American redstarts at Split Rock and black-and-white warblers on the trail near Kadunce River. I always see redstarts at Split Rock, and it’s always a pleasure.

And I heard but didn’t see white-throated sparrows. These birds are party animals: I heard their distinctive songs as late as 10:30 at night and as early as 3:40 in the morning.

I like making up my own lyrics to their song. As I was breaking camp this morning, I imagined the white-throated sparrow was singing: Too-bad-you-have-to-go-away-so-soon.


My friend flicker

I think I used the same headline last year, but I can’t think of a better way to announce that I’ve seen my first flicker of the spring.

It was out back, looking hungrily but suspiciously at the suet log, eyeing it from all angles. It reminded me of my attitude when someone calls me on the phone offering a great deal for only $9.99 a month: What’s the catch?

Eventually, hunger overcame reserve, and the flicker went after the suet with abandon.

Yesterday, I saw my first grackle for quite a while. I’m not fond of grackles — for one thing, that name sounds like it should belong to a character in a Dickens novel.

But I was glad to see anything that wasn’t a redpoll.

It’s good to see, especially during a week when we’ve had 7 inches of snow, that the birds are on the move.