Teenage starlings

An extended family of starlings blew in with Monday’s gale.

The clan includes a number of juveniles — one can tell from their grayish-brown color, slightly smaller and plumper stature and behavior.

These young starlings behave like some teenagers you may know. They constantly demand to be fed. When not demanding to be fed, they are eating. They cluster in groups, awkwardly bumping into each other and stumbling over each other. They are very noisy. They ride around the deck on skateboards.

I made up that last sentence.

The main target for the adults is the suet cake. Now that the woodpeckers have gotten it started, the older starlings are finding it a little easier to get at the suet, and its size is decreasing rapidly. The younger starlings aren’t quite getting the hang of it, so they just keep begging.

Starlings aren’t my favorite birds, but they are smart and fascinating to watch, particularly in smaller numbers.

On a warmer day recently, I was sitting on the deck reading. An adult starling perched on the apple tree and gave me its repertoire of songs, squawks and various other sounds. It was really quite a concert. It never seemed to repeat itself.

It reminded me of Mozart’s pet starling, which was able to sing a theme from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G — albeit the starling sang it in G sharp.

Starlings singing Mozart? Hummingbirds that hum because they don’t know the words? Send your bird observations and pictures to me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.


Hey Mr. Wilson!

I took a stroll on the Western Waterfront Trail today, knowing it would be thick with warblers and knowing I’d have the usual problem identifying any of them.

This is how it usually goes: I spot a warbler. It plays peek-a-boo with me, flitting from branch to branch, mostly hidden behind leaves. I keep my binoculars focused on it, gradually getting a pretty good idea of what it looks like. I reach into the bird book, narrow it down to two or three possibilities and decide what I need to look for — white on the rump, say, or a black line across the eye — to make a certain identification.

And the bird has flown.

I was getting frustrated with that pattern today, and I was running out of time. Finally, I tried pishing. This is when you make a sound — pish, pish, pish, pish — softly and repeatedly, that is said to draw warblers.

This has never worked for me, at least not very well.

To my astonishment, it did work today. Two warblers came to me as if they were on leashes, landed on the nearest tree — which wasn’t very leafed out — and gave me several good looks.

It was the narrow black cap that helped me determine the bird was a Wilson’s warbler … a bird I’ve never seen before. Finally, my first "lifer" of 2009.

They came so close that I thought I might even be able to get a picture. I "pished" again, but they were more circumspect this time. I took a picture anyway, and if you look VERY closely, you can see one of the Wilson’s in about the middle of the frame:

First hummer … and more pictures

Here are some more pictures from the amazing Tony M., still going back to his Sunday afternoon yardwork. These birds probably don’t need any introduction, but the pictures are marvelous. From top, we have a pileated woodpecker followed by two views of ring-billed gulls in flight.

My feeders have been attracting starlings, chipping sparrows, house finches, purple finches and chickadees … and today, my first hummingbird of the year. It paid a brief visit to the hummingbird feeder, then went elsewhere.

I understand there was some snow at the airport this morning. How about that? Snow and a hummingbird on the same day.


If you have to do yardwork ….

Everyone who has to do yardwork ought to be distracted in the way Tony M. was distracted on Sunday afternoon when he was working in his yard.

Tony reports that he saw mallards, ravens, ring-billed gulls, chickadees, pine siskins, starlings, downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers, song and white-throated sparrows, robins and a northern cardinal. That’s quite a reward for outdoor toil.

Tony sent along several of the wonderful pictures he took. Here are two: a mallard in flight and a cardinal surveying its realm. I’m tempted to post them all, but I’ll save the others for now.

I’m still wondering if I’ve ever seen a raven. I saw a bird near my garage on Sunday that I really think might have been a raven, not a crow. But I’m just not sure enough to count it. Can anyone suggest the best way to tell, beyond size?

I’m so thankful for the people who share their observations and/or pictures. Bird-related pictures, comments and stories are always wlecome at jlundy@duluthnews.com.


The birdhouse question

A colleague wants to know if it will be too late if she waits a few weeks longer before putting out her birdhouses.

My experience with birdhouses is limited to a cute wren house my nephew gave me. I put it out several summers in a row until Northland weather conditions caused its demise. Once or twice, some wren-like birds did a flyby, but I don’t believe any bird ever nested in the house.

So I leave it to you, dear readers. Is it too early to put out birdhouses? Too late? Just right? When is it too late? What have your experiences been with birdhouses?


AND NOW for another in our continuing series on in-trouser bird smugglers:

The Los Angeles Times reports that a man who flew from Vietnam to Los Angeles, allegedly with 14 live birds hidden in his pants, was indicted on smuggling-related charges today (Tuesday) by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

The newspaper says Duc Le, 34, and Sony Dong, 46, were charged with conspiring to smuggle dozens of birds into the United States, including red-whiskered bulbuls, magpie robins and shama thrushes. They were arrested after investigators determined that Dong had 14 birds fastened to pieces of cloth around his calves, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Williams said.

A subsequent search revealed dozens more of what the newspaper called illicit birds.

Fourteen birds. Hurts just to think about it.

 Your bird pictures, stories, questions and answers are welcome: jlundy@duluthnews.com

Mallards out back

Tony M sent in this picture on Tuesday of a pair of mallards hanging out in his backyard. Tony reports a mallard couple hung around last spring in his yard for about a month and a half; he’s not sure if this is the same pair.

I’ve been on a road trip for the past couple of days, and it seemed as if there was some kind of waterfowl on every bit of water I saw along the way. But I never get them in my backyard.

As of Tuesday, Tony still had a few straggling redpolls at his feeders. As the redpolls are decreasing, Tony is seeing more pine siskins and a variety of sparrows on the increase, as well as turkey vultures overhead. He’s also seeing more robins, and although he has had woodpeckers all winter, he’s starting to see them in groups of two and three.

"Of course the chickadees, starlings, crows and nuthatches are still around," Tony adds.

Footnote: The consensus on the vegetation shown in the previous post, "O cedars," is that it’s buckthorn. Good bird, bad plant, or so I’m told.

O cedars

Bob King took this wonderful picture of a pair of cedar waxwings feeding today in woods in Lakewood Township. Does anyone know what kind of tree that is that they’re feeding in?

Also, Andrew Lundgren reports he saw six tundra swans flying over his yard in western Duluth on Tuesday. He also has seen robins and red-winged blackbirds, and might have heard an American kestrel.

Me, I saw my first housefly of the year today. It landed on my knee and said, "Hey, Bud, got any sugar?"

It may not have really said that, but that’s what it was thinking.


Spring firsts

Today, I saw a cluster of turkey vultures soaring over Haines Road. And just outside of Wild Birds Unlimited across from Miller Hill Mall, red-winged blackbirds were feeding.

I understand people have been seeing red-winged blackbirds for a while, and perhaps turkey vultures have been here, too. But for me, it was the first sighting of each species this year.

What about you? What are you seeing for the first time this spring? I know the birds are moving north quickly. Your observations and pictures always are welcome at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Is it over?

During the past two days, I’ve seen no redpolls at my feeders.

Have they finally gone north? Are you still seeing redpolls? Tony M reports that the numbers at his feeders are dwindling, and a nice variety of other birds has come to replace them.

At my feeders, in the absence of the redpolls, I’ve seen a few chickadees, a red-breasted nuthatch, a pair of purple finches, and a bluejay. It’s a nice change.