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Backyard Birds

Backyard Bird Feeding: A Relatively New Pastime

Stan Tekiela, author of Backyard Birds: Welcomed Guests at Our Gardens and Feeders, understands the thrill of bird-watching. The award-winning author and naturalist has been studying and photographing backyard birds for more than 25 years. Backyard bird feeding is a relatively new pastime. It wasn’t until after World War II that people started to feed birds for recreation. Eventually, when people moved off farms into urban and suburban settings, we started losing our relationship with the natural world. To reconnect, we began feeding the birds in our yards. Most of our backyard birds are small. Take the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, for instance. At only 3–4 inches tall, it’s one of the tiniest birds in your yard. Many of our backyard birds are also fabulous songsters. Have you ever noticed that it’s the small birds that sing so much and so beautifully? This relates to their environment. When a tiny male bird is in a big forest with tall trees, thick underbrush, and lots of shade, it’s hard to be...

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Children reading books

Animal Books Get Kids into Nature

As I peruse my family bookshelf, I can’t help but notice that it’s filled with animal books. I suppose this isn’t surprising, considering how much kids love animals—especially cute ones. From stuffed teddy bears to household pets to beloved children’s books, animals are a part of most kids’ everyday lives. And that’s definitely a good thing. Connecting kids to the critters of the world also connects kids with nature. Yes, the great outdoors is a wonderful place, waiting to be explored. But if your kids are like mine, they’d often prefer to stay inside and play video games. That’s when we go to the bookshelf and grab a copy of Baby Bear Discovers the World, Esther the Eaglet, or, most recently, my new Super Animal Powers picture book. As much as my kids love their digital devices, they can’t resist good books about cute animals. But why does that help? How are these...

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Amazing Dinosaurs

James Kuether, author of The Amazing World of Dinosaurs: An Illustrated Journey Through the Mesozoic Era,  shares with us about the beginning of his love for dinosaurs. I was “that kid.” You know the one. Obsessed with dinosaurs at an early age, my parents would trot me out in front of visiting relatives to show off my ability to rattle off the incomprehensible multi-syllabic names of these long-dead animals. I remember my Aunt Dorinne oohing and aahing with mock bravado. I was embarrassed to death, proud of my taxonomic and etymological mastery, but ashamed by the dismissiveness of something she found childish and trite. As an adult, I still struggle with the perception that dinosaurs are child’s things. I can’t count how many friends have come up to me in the past year and said, “I hear you’re writing children’s books!” In many ways it’s understandable. Dinosaurs are introduced to us at an early age, and they...

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The Skunk — A Remarkable Critter

In this week’s column, Stan Tekiela explains a few things about the skunk. I recently had a lively conversation about skunks with some friends. While explaining a few things about the animal, it occurred to me that skunks are one of those critters that are commonly seen yet rarely given a second thought. So here are some of my favorite facts about this most remarkable critter. Most people don’t know that there are 12 different kinds of skunks in the world. Ten of the twelve species occur right here in North, Central, and South America. Two of these are found in Indonesia and the Philippines. This just exemplifies the fact that we have so many unique critters right here in America. Our skunks include the Striped Skunk, Eastern Spotted Skunk, Western Spotted Skunk, Hog-nosed Skunk, and Hooded Skunk. All skunks are crepuscular and nocturnal critters, which means that they are most active during the very...

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Discover the Amazing World of Hummingbirds with Stan Tekiela The hummingbird family, known as Trochilidae, includes more than 325 species. Compared with the other bird families, this one is huge! It is the second largest in size after the flycatcher family, which has around 400 species. Hummingbirds are New World birds found only in North, Central, and South America. These tiny flying jewels were unknown to the scientific community until the Old World explorers arrived. The wide variety of hummers must have mystified the early ornithologists. Even today, the reasons for the large number of species are still not known. None So Fair North American hummingbirds are some of the most easily recognized birds, characterized by many unique features. These petite treasures are well known for their specialized, brightly colored, sparkly feathers, which refract sunlight almost like a prism. Unlike most other birds, hummers enjoy a distinctive diet of nectar liberally seasoned with minute insects. For sipping their sweet drinks, they sport a long, narrow bill that slips easily into...

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Christmas lights

Bentleyville Tour of Lights

In their book Grandparents Minnesota Style, Mike Link and Kate Crowley provide opportunities for adults and children to spend more time discovering Minnesota together. The book is designed for today’s grandparent who wants to use the time together with their grandchildren to laugh, have fun, create memories, and grow. For the upcoming holiday season Mike and Kate suggest a visit to the Bentleyville Tour of Lights. The magic of the holiday season can be encapsulated by a festive display of Christmas lights. People get swept up by those simple, colorful lights; after all, that’s why we tour neighborhoods in search of the best sights, and some areas even give prizes to the fan favorites. If you love Christmas lights, head to Bentleyville in Duluth. There, you’ll see over 4 million lights and much more: campfires for staying warm, marshmallow roasting and making cocoa, festive music to sing along with, and above all, an atmosphere filled...

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Dark Meat or Light Meat

In this week’s column, just in time for Thanksgiving, Stan Tekiela muses about dark meat or light meat. I’m pretty sure that when you and your family gather around the Thanksgiving table this year that you won’t spend all your time talking about birds, migration, and how those relate to the dark and light meat of the Thanksgiving turkey—but we certainly do at my house! Ok, I will admit, it’s all my fault. I can’t help myself when someone makes an offhand comment about liking or disliking dark meat or light meat. Or someone might express an interest in having just the breast meat. When I hear this, I feel obligated to ask everyone gathered one simple question: “Do you ever wonder why turkeys have light meat and dark meat?” The answers I get are just blank stares. Of course, no one else is thinking about this. It’s probably just me who wonders about these ridiculous things. So here is...

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Children reading books

Books Make Great Gifts for Kids

When it comes to buying gifts for kids, it’s easy to overlook the obvious. We’re distracted by catalogs, commercials, fancy store displays, and the repeated cries of “I want that.” Who can blame us for filling the bottom of the tree with toys? But there’s one gift idea for kids that they will adore and their parents will applaud. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it’s sure to provide many hours of use. (And don’t tell the young ones, but it’s educational too.) Of course, I’m talking about books. When you’re shopping for gifts, don’t go to a toy store. The bookstore is where it’s at. Presents should say, “I know you, and I know what you like.” That’s why it’s a thrill to find a perfect book for the children in your life. Here are a few of my favorite gifts for kids: For Kids who Love Animals...

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Yellow-bellied Marmot

A Look at Yellow-Bellied Marmots

In this week’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela talks about yellow-bellied marmots. Yes, I admit it, I am a nut about nature. Not just the big amazing birds and animals, such as eagles and bears, but the small critters too. I realized this (again) on my recent trip to Colorado. I had stopped along a steep mountain road and just below me were several Yellow-bellied Marmots (Marmota flaviventris). You might be more familiar with their eastern cousin, the Woodchuck. Both are a type of ground squirrel that eats plants for a living and hibernates all winter. Well, anyway, there I was filming these chubby, rock-scampering squirrels; I was thrilled to spend many hours just watching and capturing their behaviors, despite the cold, biting wind roaring up from the valley below. The marmots didn’t seem to mind the wind at all. I was feeling lucky to find these guys because it’s estimated that they...

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The Start of the Elk Rut

In today’s NatureSmart column, Stan Tekiela shares with us his encounter with a large bull elk. Sounding determined and confident, a large bull elk, most likely weighing 1,200 pounds or more, bellowed and bugled right in front of me. His back was arched, his head was held upward, his mouth was pursed in a funnel shape, and his antlers flanked his strong shoulders. The sound of his bugling echoed off the mountain valley walls and came around for a second time, amplifying his clear message of strength and dominance. He was keeping a watchful eye over 20 or more cow elk in his harem. From over my shoulder I suddenly heard another bull elk respond with his own impressive bugle call, followed by some deep belly grunts. By the sound of it, he was very close. Neither I, nor the bull elk I was photographing, could see this other bull, so it came as a...

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