Ornithologist, David Allen Sibley

David Allen Sibley

A visit with Sibley

In June, we had the delightful experience of hearing ornithologist David Allen Sibley address members of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. Following his talk, he chatted with us about his career, birds, and how people can best attract and enjoy birds in their yard.

Mr. Sibley is an ornithologist, artist, and writer who created the acclaimed SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS, SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRD LIFE AND BEHAVIOR, and SIBLEY GUIDE TO TREES. All are beautifully illustrated with his detailed and amazingly accurate paintings.  Field guides have been around for decades and identification can become confusing because some species look slightly different in varied parts of the range. So, what makes his books so useful is the series of paintings of each species.  Also, young birds often look different than their parents. To help identify them the Sibley guide shows plumage variations within a species.

The SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRDS is designed to help identify species. It’s companion, THE SIBLEY GUIDE TO BIRD LIFE AND BEHAVIOR, provides detailed information about each species. The SIBLEY GUIDE TO TREES helps identify and learn about tree species. Additionally, Sibley has illustrated a number of other guide books and Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, by Billy Collins

In the interview, Sibley shared that birds “blur the boundary of wildness.” They come and go in our lives whereas trees are integral. “They are part of nature that is part of our lives.”

David Allen Sibley’s father was a noted ornithologist who, although he didn’t push his son to follow in his footsteps, often brought his young son on outings. “I always had a good time tagging along with my father and learned a lot by rambling about, turning over logs to see what was underneath them and just exploring,” he said. Then, he started drawing sketches of birds which he showed us.  The progression of skill from black and white drawings he did as a kid to the colorful paintings as a professional is remarkable.

Sibley’s interest has evolved over the decades. Initially the excitement was the challenge of finding a bird and drawing it.  The hunt, if you will.  The field guides shifted his attention to the academics – how birds are similar and different. Now, with these projects completed, his attention has turned to the wondering phrase: What do birds do? How do they survive all the amazing things they do?

When we asked him, what people can do to encourage kids’ awareness of nature and make their yards a better place for a diversity of species he thoughtfully reflected. “Just provide opportunities to get the kids outside to mess around, to get comfortable being outside,” he noted. “Leaving even a small area wild, maybe the edge of a yard, will help increase habitat diversity.  Encouraging brush or tall grass may attract a song sparrow that wouldn’t visit a totally mowed and clipped yard.  Seeing an unusual and interesting bird in the back yard might spark a child to pursue a nature-related career or hobby,” he added.

We broached the topic of outdoor pests like ticks and mosquitoes tat so freak out urbanites. “Our risk assessment is skewed,” he stated.  “It’s like shark attacks, those fears are over emphasized,” he added.  The uptake is, be aware, take precautions by wearing appropriate clothing, use repellent and do a check when you return and throw clothes in the laundry.

Meeting David Allen Sibley was a thrill.  We can’t imagine being without his books and were delighted to learn that as a child rambling about in nature led to his distinguished career.  Most children won’t grow up to be artists or ornithologists, but a wondrous diverse and healthy back yard will inspire them to enjoy the outdoors and appreciate the amazing wild creatures that live there.

David Allen Sibley’s books are widely available online and in most bookstores. He recently has been involved in developing a new way to identify both birds and bats by sound. Called Song Sleuth, the phone app identifies bird song. A somewhat similar Echo Meter Touch bat app uses an ultrasonic microphone that picks up the echolocation of flying bats and identifies them by species.

For information check out the following:

Books:   www.sibleyguides.com

Song Sleuth:   www.songsleuth.com

Echo Meter Touch bat app:   www.echometertouch.com
Winding Pathways has no formal affiliation with David Allen Sibley, his books, or the phone apps noted in this blog.   We posted this because Mr. Sibley and his books and apps have helped us learn about the wondrous birds and trees in and around our yard.    

The “Little Acreage” Bluebird Log

Adult Bluebird

A male bluebird flies from the nest to bring back a snack for its mate.

Here’s a fun guest blog by friends, Gordon and Nancy, about their husbandry of birds on their “Little Acreage.”

“A few years ago my wife and I decided we wanted to attract wildlife to our little acreage. We already had deer and wild turkeys so we decided to try to attract some Bluebirds. We went on line to see where the best spot would be to place some houses to attract them.

“We then went to the Indian Creek Nature Center and bought a couple of houses. We felt that we needed the houses for bluebirds and the Center could use the donation. We placed four houses on the edge of the hay field.

“As time went on, all we saw were sparrows using the nest so we thought nothing would become of our houses. Then, a couple of years ago, a pair of Bluebirds started checking out the nest. But, we never found any eggs.

Bluebird eggs

Four eggs! Photo: G&N Bena

“Earlier this year we looked in the house and nothing. A few days later we found these four eggs! What a great surprise for us. We now monitor the nest to watch the progress of our new friends.




Checking the other houses we found that a pair of wrens decided the house was satisfactory for their

Wren At Nest

Feeding Young. Photo: G&N Bena

new home and I think they have at least seven eggs. We will be monitoring this nest, also. The other two houses have nests but I think they are sparrow nest. We decided to leave them because they need a home, also.”
Gordon and Nancy

Editor’s Note:  Sialis.org has a fascinating set of pictures showing the progression of raising and fledging Bluebird young.

Helping an “Orphaned” Baby Animal

“Oh my gosh!    I just found an ‘orphaned’ baby bird sitting on the front porch.  What do I do?”

“There’s an ‘abandoned’ fawn in my hostas!  What do I do?”

“Oh, the poor baby bunnies, they have no mom. What do I do?”

We get these type comments all the time at Winding Pathways. The short answer is: Do Nothing!

Nest of Robins

The babies are ready to “branch out!”

This summer millions of Americans will discover baby birds, fawns, bunnies, and a host of other seemingly helpless newborn animals in their yards and face the dilemma of “What do I do?”. Usually the baby is all alone with no mother in sight. It’s easy to assume the poor baby’s mother suffered a tragic fate and that the baby is doomed to an early death unless people “help” it.

We’ve often found baby bunnies and birds at Winding Pathways and we know the best way to help it is to leave them alone. A cottontail nest we found last spring is a good example.

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May in Northeast Iowa

May is about the most exciting month to travel and camp out in Iowa.  We took in the Driftless area of Iowa and Wisconsin where we learned more about mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument, ate at funky Café McGregor, took in Starks and Cabelas in Prairie du Chien, and entered our favorite forest over the “Forest Road” into Yellow River State Forest.

  • Note our reviews and thoughts are independent, unpaid and unsolicited.

Enjoy this photo journal of our stay.


Call for Photo and Write-ups

Mayapple blossom

Beautiful blossoms hide under the umbrella-like leaves.

First submission in! Hey all, on Facebook Winding Pathways invited folks to submit a favorite spring photo – tree, scene, flower, animal – with a short write-up of why you like that picture. And, Kansas readers Emily and Zach Hemmerling have already replied! Way to Go!

Now, I’d love to have about a dozen more so send them in to our email and I’ll continue processing and then post.  These samples of spring pictures.  Join in the fun and share your descriptions!





Best Birding in the Yard

At Winding Pathways, we venture into our yard nearly every day, even if it’s raining, windy,

House Finch

Some birds homestead at Winding Pathways.

or frigid out. Of all the times, early May is our favorite to linger outdoors. Why? It’s the best birding.

Very late April and the first couple of weeks of May boast normally glorious weather, blooming flowers and birds. Lots of birds, including those we can only enjoy for a fleeting week or two.

Here’s how we group the birds that we enjoy in our yard. Odds are the same or similar species follow this pattern in backyards with good habitat across much of the continent.


Some birds don’t migrate. They brave the cold and grace winter feeders. In summer, they often raise broods of babies on the edge of the yard. These include titmice, chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, house sparrows, and many woodpeckers.


Juncos are almost always under our feeders all winter gleaning seeds. To a Junco Iowa is the balmy south with a “warm” winter. Around mid-April they head north to nest in the boreal forests of Canada and Minnesota.  We won’t see them again until around Halloween.

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