Yard Bird Wish List

Tufted titmouse (photographed in Wisconsin) Here’s a list of birds that I’d like to see in the yard, which I think are possibilities based on the habitat I have, ranges of species, and what others in the area have reports. Some of them are a long shot but it’s just a matter of being outside at the right time and watching.

  • Hermit thrush – we’re in the right habitat for them, so it’s probably the most realistic bird on this list. UPDATE: seen on 4/19/2013, woohoo!
  • Orchard oriole – they’re in the area, I’ve got Baltimore orioles so no reason I shouldn’t be able to get one of these.
  • Carolina wren – not common here, but there are occasional reports in the area.
  • Tufted titmouse – we are just north of their normal range, so it’s not likely but you never know. They probably don’t read the bird books so maybe one will decide to show up in my yard. The photo on this page is one I saw in Wisconsin.
  • Eastern towee – they are not listed as common for this area but it’s very possible that we could see one here.
  • Screech owl – I’ve never seen or heard one around the area, but I don’t see why not. And I have an Owl Shack ready just in case!
  • Saw-whet owl – a few years ago there was one just a couple miles away, and I think we have good habitat. They are just hard to find. I think the chickadees will let me know.
  • Merlin – they are seen at the MN Valley refuge which is just down the hill. I know they like to nest in tall pine trees which we have plenty of. Although, if they nested here, all my other birds might leave. And my neighbors would hate me because these birds are loud and aggressive. So I should be careful what I wish for.
  • Yellow warbler – I’ve seen many other warblers in the yard during migration, just not this particular one. UPDATE: seen on 5/19/2013
  • Pine grosbeak – theoretically possible, according to Cornell I’m within their range.
  • Red-shouldered hawk – they are around the Twin Cities, I’ve seen them in Mendota Heights and we also sometimes have them at the Raptor Center.

Spring is slowly arriving

Cardinal visiting Overlook Falls

Garden season is upon us! I hooked up the water feature at the end of March, and didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started hearing the sound again. It’s hard to believe we’ve had the water feature for a year already! I’ve been very happy with it and it’s a great addition to our wildlife habitat.

Newly painted garden shed

Also I finally got around to painting the shed, which is something I should have probably done a few years ago. The paint was really flaking off and it had become an eyesore. I wanted to get that done before the garden started growing in, so that was my first yard project of the year. Hopefully that should give it a few more years of life before we have to eventually replace it.

White throated sparrow in the garden

It seemed like it would be an early spring with warm temperatures in March, and then April was up and down with some warm days, and then cold rainy days. We got almost 4″ of rain during the month of April, but temps during this last week have been in the 30s and 40s, and we even had a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain.

This pine warbler is another early spring migrant passing through

The rain is good for the garden, since we had a pretty dry winter. For migrating birds, this has caused a little bit of a backup, mainly with white throated sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers. Actually we are hosting the most white throated sparrows I’ve ever seen, and they’ve been with us about a week. We also have many yellow-rumped warblers which are all over the yard and visiting our suet feeders. During this time I’ve scattered seed, suet pellets and dried mealworms all over the garden each day.

Chickadee eggs in the backyard nest box

Bluebirds have been investigating our boxes, but so far no takers. The backyard box in the pine trees once again has 8 chickadee eggs in it. The Peterson box I put up in the front last year for bluebirds also has a chickadee nest! I was surprised by that, but I found 4 egss and the chickadees have aggressively defended their nest from curious bluebirds. Once I realized there were eggs, I quickly put up a hole reducer. Maybe bluebirds will get a chance after the chickadees are done.

Marsh marigold growing in the water feature

In the garden, some of our early spring flowers have already started blooming. Prairie smoke, pussytoes, wood poppy, marsh marigold, Virginia bluebells, and of course our serviceberries. We haven’t seen much in the way of pollinator action yet due to these cold temps. I’ve been out doing some work, putting down wood chips, already pulled some garlic mustard and am still battling creeping Charlie in the back. I probably won’t do a ton of planting this year, but I’m very interested in adding Pennsylvania sedge to replace some areas of the back lawn, and also plant a small rain garden in the back where the slopes naturally converge into a low area.

The garden will be on the Wild Ones Prairie Edge fundraiser tour this summer, on August 13. First time on the “big” tour. So it will be another busy season of preparation, but it’s good motivation and something to look forward to. I’ve already gotten requests about what’s become my popular garden social (just a casual open house to celebrate the garden) so I’m thinking we’ll do that again near the end of July. I always enjoy having people over and hopefully it gives them some knowledge and inspiration to create their own wildlife garden.

Garden Tour/Social 2016!

We’ve scheduled it for the last weekend in July. It’s very informal, just hang out, see what’s going on in the garden and check out what’s new. I have a lot of information to share about all the things we’ve done such as landscaping services, native plant nurseries, things that have gone well (and not so well), future plans and projects, before and after photos, etc. Details are below in the flyer (yes those photos are all from the garden.) Click the image to download a PDF. I planned a break each day between 12:00-3:00 for lunch and to avoid the heat (but I’ll be around if anyone needs to come then.)

Garden tour details

Garden tour details

First day of summer

Male bluebird caught on the trail cam

Male bluebird caught on the trail cam

It’s been a busy spring on Overlook Circle. Spring migration was pretty lackluster. We didn’t get much in the way of warblers or migrant sparrows. For several days early on we did have some yellow-rumped warblers, and small flocks of white-throated sparrows which are always nice. The most unusual thing I saw were sandhill cranes flying over (new yard bird!)

New bench by the water feature

New bench by the water feature

The new water feature has been a big hit with our local residents. Robins are constantly taking baths, as well as chickadees, chipping sparrows, and goldfinches. Recently we’ve seen them joined by cedar waxwings and bluebirds. We had a fairly rainy spring, so perhaps the migrants didn’t feel the need to stop. I experimented with the placement of my trail camera and have gotten some good captures as a result. Recently I ordered an engraved stone that says “Welcome to Overlook Falls’a nd should receive that in a few weeks, I think it will be a nice decorative addition. I’ve planted some things around the edge of the water, and added a nice decorative bench by Painted Sky Designs.

Red baneberry doing well in the back of the yard

Red baneberry doing well in the back of the yard

Other things going on in the yard. I learned my lesson from last year and put up fencing around areas I don’t want the rabbits eating. A lot of things I planted last year are coming up nicely (wild lupine, lead plant, American spikenard, red baneberry. I planted a bunch of poke milkweed but am having mixed results. Hopefully it will do well in at least some places where I’ve planted it. I’ve really been working on the very back “problem area” of the yard, pulling endless amounts of creeping Charlie, putting down some paths and transplanting some things from the front yard to the back. Earlier in the spring, before things got too big, I pulled a bunch of garlic mustard. I also planted some golden ragwort which is aggressive, but I’m throwing everything I can at that area to keep the invasives at bay.

Brown belted bumblebee on wild indigo

Brown belted bumblebee on wild indigo

It seems like there has been a bumper crop of dragonflies this year. More than I’ve ever seen before. We also have many bees and various other pollinators. One thing I haven’t noticed a lot of is butterflies. There have been a few swallowtails, and I did see two monarchs, but only briefly. I’m hoping things pick up as the summer flowers start blooming. Everything is very tall now. The Joe Pye weed, coneflower and monarda are all right on the verge of blooming, so we should start seeing some more color soon and with that, some more visitors!

Female bluebird in the new front yard nest box

Female bluebird in the new front yard nest box


The front yard has really changed over the last few years. Our red oak had to be cut down due to a sudden case of oak wilt. It’s much more open there now, and we had Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping install a new garden bed while they were working on the water feature. Recently I realized that it might be good habitat for bluebirds, so I put up a box last weekend. Less than 24 hours later, we had a bluebird pair building a nest in the front yard. There was a pair which had built a nest in one of the back yard boxes but they never laid eggs. Right now we have a just-completed nest in the front box, waiting on eggs, and it will be interesting to see if/how that location works for them.

Chickadee nest in the back yard

Chickadee nest in the back yard

In the back yard we currently have house wrens nesting in one of the bluebird boxes. They are very disapproving of my presence anywhere in the yard, and are constantly scolding me everywhere I go. Earlier in the spring chickadees successfully nested in the Gilbertson PVC box I put under the pine trees a few years ago. Last year the nest failed due to house wrens throwing out the eggs, so this year I made sure to get a wren guard up right away. There were 8 eggs, one didn’t hatch and I removed it. In the photo I see 6 chicks so I’m not sure if the 7th didn’t hatch or if the chick just isn’t visible. They fledged last monnth and the family still comes in for mealworms when I put them out.

Next update… our 2016 garden tour is scheduled for the last weekend in July!

Behold mighty OVERLOOK FALLS!!

Newly installed pondless water feature

Newly installed pondless water feature

The water feature installation was completed a couple of weeks ago by Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping. It’s a Savio 13′ Pond Free Waterfall kit. Then we had an electrician come out and run electrical service from the house out to that area of the yard (which was no small feat.) The water feature itself is shallow and so doesn’t present a safety problem, but we did have to have the city come out and inspect the electrical work.

Trench for electrical service out to the water feature

Trench for electrical service out to the water feature

Someone on Facebook said I needed a better name than “water feature” so I decided to call it Overlook Falls.So far we haven’t had any unusual visitors. Just the regular residents of the yard. I’ve seen several birds taking baths and drinks, and lots of squirrels.

Chickadee visits Overlook Falls

Chickadee visits Overlook Falls

Peak warbler migration is in early May, so hopefully they will flock to Overlook Falls as they come through. The falls make a nice sound and so birds should be attracted to that, as well as the sight of moving water.

Raccoon caught on the trail camera

Raccoon caught on the trail camera

I set up a trail camera because I was curious what might be visiting when I’m not around, especially at night. It’s not really sensitive to pick up birds, but it does get squirrels and I’ve seen raccoons are visiting. Maybe we’ll see a fox or coyote sometime.

Right now the area looks a little bare, as it’s a little too early to start planting. So I look forward to adding some plants and playing around with design over the coming months.

Upcoming garden projects!

I’m very excited that we’ll be adding a water feature to our garden this year, in time for spring migration! I’ve had a bird bath out for several years, but have always wanted something more substantial than that.

Area by fence and shed where the grass used to be.

Area by fence and shed where the grass used to be.

Not having any experience with water features, I wasn’t really sure what would work for us and where a good location in the yard would be.

Last year we cut out 650 sq ft of lawn with the thought of planting a new garden bed there. Later on, after admiring the waterfall garden at Wood Lake Nature Center, it ocurred to me that this might be a good spot for a pondless stream/waterfall. It’s on a slope and is a pretty good sized area. Rather than just having another big wall of plants, this will give it more visual interest as well as really complete our wildlife habitat. Moving water is a real bird magnet, and should attract species that wouldn’t come to feeders, especially during migration.

mulched After the lawn was cut out, I quickly filled it in with compost and then mulched it. Along the fence I planted some shrubs (snowberry and dogwood). I put up a wood duck box, since my neighbor has one and gets wood ducks, but his box isn’t well protected from predators. Then I added a small walking path, and later put out some ground level bird baths to see if any birds would be interested.

Bluebirds were attracted to the ground level bird baths I put out here

Bluebirds were attracted to the ground level bird baths I put out here

Even without moving water, we still got some birds, including bluebirds, cedar waxwings, robins, etc. So I think it showed that it’s a good location, and with the addition of moving water, the birds will really come in!

In the front, we’re going to add a new garden bed where the red oak used to be (cut down due to oak wilt.) And we decided we’ll plant a new tree, a bur oak this time. It will be more toward the middle of the yard because the city requires a new tree to be planted 15′ back from the curb. Bur oaks grow slowly, but have a lot of wildlife value and are more resistent to oak wilt.

Other projects I have planned include painting our shed, and adding a new path so parts of the garden are more accessible. And of course I plan to spend a lot of time enjoying our new water feature! We will have another garden tour/social in July so stay tuned….

Garden Tour

I haven’t posted much lately, basically I’ve spent every moment of free time working in the garden! We’ve accomplished a lot and I’m excited to host a garden tour next month to share it with others. I’ll have plenty of information materials and photos to help explain how this garden has evolved, and hopefully inspire others to garden with native plants. UPDATE: The garden tour was a huge success, and we’ll be doing it again next year!

Garden Tour - yes these are all photos from the garden!

Garden Tour – yes these are all photos from the garden!

Summer wrap up

Late season monarch on Aster

Late season monarch on Aster, seen Sept 25

Ok, it’s October 1 and finally time to concede that summer is over. As usual I’ve been slacking in the blog post department, so I have a lot to catch up on here. It’s officially autumn, but it didn’t feel like it this past weekend with highs in the mid 80’s. I went out bird watching at Hyland Park Preserve, but there were so many trail runners that I didn’t see much in the way of birds. I did see/hear a few migrants like flickers, catbirds, bluebirds, white-throated sparrow, etc. Also saw a nice looking coyote! Now it is cool and rainy, leaves are coming down and it’s really starting to feel like fall.

Back at home, we had a pretty good summer. I attended a Wild Ones garden tour and got to see some other native plant gardens in the area, which was really cool. It’s interesting to see all the different things that people are doing in their yard. Some people are very experienced gardeners and you can really tell by how well planned things are. Others are like me, someone who doesn’t come from any gardening background, and just goes outside and starts digging. A few people from Wild Ones came over and visited our yard, and I got some really good compliments and feedback. They are always looking for new gardens to showcase so it sounds like we will be on the tour next summer!

SW corner

Garden bed at the SW corner of the yard by the street.

It’s really motivated me to work on some things that I’ve been meaning to. For example in the front yard, on the SW corner by the street, I finally got some planting done there. Several years ago in that spot, I got rid of an old neglected (hideous) brick garden bed that was full of buckthorn. Last year we had Ecoscapes create a new garden bed as part of the front yard work they did, and add some rocks, but otherwise we left it empty. This area gets partial sun during the day. Now I’ve got some gray dogwood, wild geranium, fragrant hyssop, bottle brush grass, prairie pussytoes, aster, goldenrod, etc. I also put up a Monarch Watch sign because I want to highlight our efforts to anyone passing by. It’s worked because I’ve gotten several comments and compliments from neighbors who have seen it. I plan to include the neighborhood in our garden tour next year.

Pileated woodpeckers

Female pileated woodpecker (left) and her begging male fledgling

In the back I’ve cleared out all of the buckthorn around the pine tree area, and started a path through there as well as planted a few things that will grow under those trees like common ninebark, American bladdernut, and bear berry. There are some additional things I’d like to plant but that will be an ongoing process. I wanted to plant some gooseberry but the folks at Out Back Nursery told me that it can carry pine rust which would be bad for our white pines.

We didn’t have anything too unusual in the yard as far as birds, but we did have a lot of fun watching a family of four pileated woodpeckers coming to the feeders. It was an adult pair and a juvenile male and female. There were times when all of them would be out there in the bur oak tree, and the parents would go to the suet feeder and then take it back to their fledglings. I sat outside sometimes and watched them. It was interesting to hear the begging noises that the juveniles would make and watch their behavior.

Wandering glider, seen Sept 27

Wandering glider, seen Sept 27

With all the rain through the spring and early summer, we of course had a lot of mosquitos and consequently, many damselflies and dragonflies. Recently with the weather becoming cooler, there have been fewer of them but I caught this one snoozing on the false indigo in the garden the other day. I was able to put my phone right next ot it and get a photo. A knowledgable person told me that this is a wandering glider. They are our most plentiful species of dragonfly, are found on every continent except Antarctica, and have the longest migration of any insect (twice as long as the monarch butterfly.) One reason I enjoy having a native wildlife garden is that it gives me such great opportunities to learn things I wouldn’t have otherwise known about!

Tiger swallowtail

Tiger swallowtail on Joe Pye weed


Also we had a lot of butterflies in the garden over the summer. Many tiger swallowtails and monarchs. I found 3 monarch caterpillars on our butterfly weed, and I found some at work that I brought home. I raised them and successfully released 5 in the garden! That was a first for me, a fun process and I learned a lot. I kept them in a cage outside so they would have natural light and temp/humidity. When they emerged I’d leave the door open and let them leave on their own. We have plenty of Joe Pye weed, cup plant and aster for them to nectar on. Also many monarchs moving through, I counted 16 in the garden at one time!
Monarch

Monarch butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, and ready to enjoy the garden

A few other cool things that have happened more recently as we transition to fall. I’ve seen a ton of baby toads in the yard over the last month or so. Also this past weekend we were cleaning out the gutters (full of leaves from the ash tree) and I found a tree frog in the gutter. I took it down and put it in the garden and then turned on the sprinkler since it’s been dry lately. While the sprinkler was running I watched a mourning dove, a goldfinch and a chipping sparrow take baths, which was really cute. Also the same day I was out grilling on the patio and a white-line sphynx moth made an appearance. It was only the second time I’ve seen one, and they are noticably larger than the clear wing hummingbird moth. It was about the same size as an actual hummingbird, and very difficult to follow it with the camera. But I did manage to get one photo of it, on flowers between the patio and deck.

White lined sphynx moth

White lined sphynx moth seen on Sept 28

Lastly, at work there have been crazy numbers of woolly bear caterpillars. I’ve seen them over the years in the past but never really thought too much about them. We have walking trails at work, and they are crossing the trails, curbs, and parking lots. I always try to move them so they aren’t stepped on or run over. Since there are so many and they have really caught my attention, I started reading up on them and learned that they will overwinter in caterpillar form, and are looking for a place to burrow under leaf litter.

Woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bear caterpillar, one of many I took home from work

We leave our garden up all winter and let the leaves remain in the garden where they fall, so I decided to start taking some of them home and release them. Next spring they will emerge as a yellow moth called the Isabella tiger moth. I’ve become quite attached to them, they are cute and I’ve probably taken a couple dozen of them home (my coworkers think I have a problem…)

Fence is complete, garden is popping with color

Privacy fence along the north side of our property

Privacy fence along the north side of our property

Here is the finished privacy fence. It’s board over board for complete privacy, installed by Town & Country Fence. They were great to work with. Very timely, good communication and reasonable price (much more so than another quote we got.) A crew came out 3 weeks from when we put down our deposit (as expected) to set the posts, and then another crew finished off the fence the following week. We’re very happy with the result. It’s a sturdy fence that looks really nice (several neighbors have commented) and we expect it to last a long time!

California chain link

California chain link, looking in from the back of the property

We wanted privacy along the north side of the property, but didn’t need it along the back part, since the lot is deep and we have the garden providing its own natural privacy. Also we didn’t want to cast additional shade on the garden back there. So we went with 6 foot California chain link (same height as the wood privacy), which is chain link attached to wooden posts instead of metal. It was something that the fencing company suggested when I explained what we were trying to accomplish. It turned out to be the perfect solution.

There is a utility easment along the back edge of the property. It is our property that we are responsible for, but we had to keep fence off of it so that it doesn’t prevent access for utility workers. We made sure to measure everything and also had a gate installed so that we can get back there and maintain the area.

Double wide gate

Double wide gate, from the outside of the fence

The property line ends at the telephone pole, so the next photo (looking south along the east property line) shows how the fence is set back from that. I insisted on a 6 foot wide double gate, just to make sure that we had plenty of room to maneuver in that area if needed.

The nice thing about the California chain link is that it really doesn’t detract from the look of the garden. It actually blends in quite well, but gives a better sense of definition around that part of the yard. Also I think it looks better for the neighbors adjacent to the back of the property.

Looking east from the garden

Looking east from the garden

Even though we have a native garden, that is left somewhat on its own the further we get away from the house, I still want it to look like it’s well-managed. It wouldn’t be a good example for others to appreciate native plants, if it were just an ugly bunch of weeds and grass left to go wild. I try to be mindful of that and give the neighbors a good impression of our native garden, that we are doing all this with a purpose and are keeping up with it. Here’s a view from inside the fence, at the back part of the garden looking toward the gate.

Things got off to a slow start in the garden with the long winter we had, but now most of the wildflowers are in full bloom. We have plenty of bees, dragonflies and are seeing monarch butterflies.

Back of the yard, looking west toward the house

Back of the yard, looking west toward the house


Right now we have Joe Pye weed (a great nectar source for butterflies), wild bergamot (visited by bumblebees and hummingbird moths), various types of milkweed, Culvers root, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, cup plant and royal catchfly all providing a lot of color.

As for birds, we have many juvenile woodpeckers, including a mother-son pileated woodpecker pair that comes to the feeder often. It’s fun to watch her go to the suet feeder, grab a beak full and take it over to him. A neighbor told me about a hawk that took a chipmunk, so I assume that was a broad winged hawk since I hear them often when I’m out in the yard. I haven’t seen many hummingbirds, but it won’t be long before we start seeing males moving through on their migration back south. Lately we’ve had a lot of baby toads hopping around, so hopefully they are enjoying the garden too.

View from the patio toward the back of the yard

View from the patio toward the back of the yard

In this next photo we are looking east from the patio. The neighbor on our south side has had a privacy fence for a long time, seen on the right side of the photo. We didn’t completely enclose our yard with the fence like theirs (we left it unfenced on the east side, by the front of the house.)

Between the deck and patio, with the weather station and feeder cam

Between the deck and patio, with the weather station and feeder cam


Lastly, below we have a wider view from the patio, showing the small garden between the patio and deck. We have a bird bath (heated in winter) that gets regular use. Far off in the back is the California chain link, with the wooden frame visible in this view. We also have a mulch path around the edge of the garden, and we plan to continue reducing the amount of grass by replacing with more flowers toward the back,behind the bluebird box. We’ve accomplished a lot in the yard this summer!

Progress in the yard

Fence in progress

Posts have been set for the privacy section on the north side of our back yard.

After living here for 9 years, we have finally decided to put up a fence. It’s an odd shaped yard, narrow at the front but widens out toward the back, and there are 5 edges. Our neighbor to the south already has a privacy fence up, and we knew we wanted privacy on the north side, but we didn’t want the back part of the garden (on the east side) to be shaded by a fence. Also we don’t need a lot of privacy back there because the length of the lot, and the plants out there already give us quite a bit of privacy. We had Town & Country Fence come out for consultation and they suggested a California chain link would serve our purpose. It’s a chain link with a wood frame.
Utility easement required us to divert the fence a bit into the trees.

Utility easement required us to divert the fence a bit into the trees.

This next photo shows where the fence has to come over off of the property line in order to accommodate the utility easement. Imagine this spot completely obscured by buckthorn. The California chain link will start here and then continue along the back side of the property. It uses the same cedar posts as the wood privacy, but will be filled in with black vinyl coated chain link.

Pine/spruce tree section in the north east corner of the yard

Pine/spruce tree section in the north east corner of the yard


We also have a utility easment on the south side, so we had to make sure the fence was set back far enough. Another easement at the north east corner required us to have the fence go through an area of pine trees. There is a large area of white pine and spruce trees that was completely filled in with buckthorn, which I have gradually been tackling for several years. This fence project gave me the motivation to finally finish clearing all that out. It was quite a bit of work but I’m officially declaring our yard buckthorn free after 9 years of effort!
Under the pine trees, this used to be 100% buckthorn.

Under the pine trees, this used to be 100% buckthorn.


This area of pine and spruce used to be an impenetrable wall of invasive understory plants, including buckthorn, exotic honeysuckle shrubs, and white mulberry. While it provided somewhat of a living privacy fence, it certainly wasn’t my desired way of having privacy. I first tackled all of the buckthorn that had berries, and disposed of that. Then I gradually cut down and pulled much of it over the next few years. But after measuring the easment, I realized I would have to get rid of the remainder so the fence could go through there. Good motivation for finally taking care of that! I made extensive use of my weed wrench to pull out most of it, and then used the chainsaw to cut down larger shrubs and small rogue maple trees. We wil replace that with native understory plants, such as the highbush cranberry that I have already planted.
Compost bin on the southeast side of the yard

Compost bin on the southeast side of the yard


The compost bin is at the southeast side of the pine tree area. This used to be surrounded by invasive honeysuckle which I have been meaning to cut down for quite a while. I did leave up a small dead snag that shoudl make a good perch for birds. I’d like to plant some native shrubs like common ninebark and gray dogwood here.
Fence posts set back from the easement along the back edge of the garden.

Fence posts set back from the easement along the back edge of the garden.


Continuing east along the back edge of the lot, we will have a gate between where the compost bin sits and the back section of the garden. This will allow us access to the easement, which is still on our property and we have to maintain. I think the neighbors behind us will be happy that all the buckthorn is finally gone, and the fence should look pretty nice back there. The posts were just installed two days ago, and the cement needs to cure and then they will be back out to finish it out. We’ve been very happy so far with the work that Town & Country Fence has done. Really looking forward to seeing the end result and enjoying our new private back yard!

First new yard bird of 2014

The American kestrel at Richardson Nature Center. This is a colorful male.

The American kestrel at Richardson Nature Center. This is a colorful male.

And our first new bird this year is … an American kestrel! I never would have guessed it, that wasn’t even on my wish list. It’s North America’s smallest falcon, they only weigh about 100g and typically hunt small rodents, grasshoppers, dragonflies, or the occasional bird, but in much more open habitat than we have here in the yard. They have long pointed wings and the notched beak which are characteristic of falcons.

It was late afternoon and I noticed our resident songbirds were completely frozen in place on the feeders. Normally what that means is there must be a hawk around (Cooper’s or sharp-shinned.) I kept an eye out, looking for it out of the back patio door. Suddenly I saw something land in our maple tree and immediately thought kestrel, and quickly dismissed it because we don’t have those around here.

Our kestrel (education bird in permanent captivity) at Richardson Nature Center.

Our kestrel (education bird in permanent captivity) at Richardson Nature Center.

Looked again and confirmed that’s what it was, and got some good looks with the binoculars. It flew to a couple of different perches in the yard before leaving. Since there are no insects around, it was either hunting birds or maybe looking for a mouse. The only prey I noticed was a downy woodpecker and several mourning doves.

We are just on the northern edge of the kestrel’s winter range. I have seen them during the winter closer to the Rochester area and as far north as Cannon Falls. Now that spring is around the corner, they must be moving through. Hopefully he’s finding enough to eat in spite of the continued snow cover. Keep an eye out for kestrels in the warmer months, around open areas like cornfields. They can be seen perched on wires, or sometimes hovering stationary in the air, looking for prey below.

A few years ago there was a kestrel hanging out at Target field that would capture and eat moths flying around the stadium lights. He was on TV and there was some pretty cool video of him, shown during a Twins game.