About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A closer look at the holiday wreath tradition

The word wreath comes from the word writhen that was an old English word meaning “to writhe” or “to twist.”

Wreaths, a common household decoration today, are a custom from before written history. Harvest wreathes in Ancient Greece consisted of wheat or other harvested plants woven together with red and white wool thread and hung it on the door to protect against crop failure and plagues.

Ancient Europeans often used evergreen wreathes to symbolize strength and fortitude, as it stays green even through the harshest of winters.

Christmas wreaths in the Catholic tradition were a circle of evergreens with four candles – Three purple, to symbolize penance, and expectation, and one pink to represent the coming joy. The circle shape of the wreath is made to represent Christ’s eternal love, his strength, and the creation of new life.

Related Articles:
Edible ornaments for the birds http://bit.ly/tXDnSB
Decorate a Tree for Your Birds http://bit.ly/t3QtGV
Let's all share Nature's bounty http://bit.ly/syPNzh
The Tradition of feeding the Birds at Christmas Time http://goo.gl/7ODaQ
When did Reindeer Learn to Fly? http://bit.ly/veTLpT
How the Christmas tree tradition started http://goo.gl/r92VN

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter blues are always welcome

Photo by Rodney Campbell
The hard landing of the Blue Jay at my window feeder is a welcome interruption from working at my desk. Blue jays are highly adaptable and intelligent birds. Their noisy presence around my bird feeders is always fun to watch on cold, dreary days.

Their migration is a bit of a mystery to scientists. We have Blue Jays year-round in Michigan but some individual birds may migrate south one year and not the next. It is unclear what factors determine whether a blue jay or family decides if they want to spend the winter in the north or south.

Blue jays have a bad reputation (unfounded in my book) as bully birds. In fact, they are largely vegetarian with a diet composed of a lot of nuts and seeds with the occasional bug or suet on the side. Their poor flight makes it hard for them to stick a landing at the feeders and sometime that might "accidentally" push off smaller birds. Unfortunately their slow flight, also makes them easy prey when flying in open areas.

This may be why they are fairly social and are found typically in pairs, family groups or small flocks. Jays have a lookout bird to watch for hawks, owls, or another predators while at a feeding area. If danger is close, you and all the surrounding wildlife will know it as they give the warning Jay! Jay! call. Other jays will then join in to help make noise to drive the predator away. Smaller birds go quickly into hiding, letting jays do the dangerous work.

Related Articles:
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/w4vRPP
- Blue Jays aren't blue http://bit.ly/roVPVX
- What Feeder Do You Recommend for Blue Jays? http://bit.ly/txd8ja
- Blue Jay Fun Facts http://goo.gl/wJgMmJ
- Do birds know winter is coming? http://goo.gl/EilIa6
- Why Blue Jays go bald in the fall http://goo.gl/gAX3x 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goldfinch Winter Plumage

Photo by Rodney Campbell
Goldfinches are found year-round at Michigan bird feeders, but sometimes people don't realize our bright yellow and black goldfinches grow duller feathers for the winter months.

Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall. Both male and female American goldfinches look similar in winter without the males’ bright breeding colors to help differentiate between the sexes.
Related Articles:
Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a
European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting http://bit.ly/PZuejj

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Red-headed Woodpeckers occasionally visit

Red-headed Woodpeckers will eat suet, seeds, corn, acorns, beechnuts, pecans, and many kinds of fruits (including apples, pears, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, mulberries, and poison ivy fruits). 

Look for Red-headed Woodpeckers in scattered, open woodlots in agricultural areas. They like to live in mature stands of forest, especially oak, oak-hickory, maple, ash, and beech. 

Red-headed Woodpeckers are fairly easy to identify thanks to their large blocks of solid color. Adults have bright-red heads, white underparts, and black backs with large white patches in the wings, making the lower back appear all white when perched. 

Red-headed Woodpeckers give all kinds of chirps, cackles, and other raucous calls. Their most common call is a shrill, hoarse tchur, like a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s but higher-pitched and less rolling. To read more and listen to a call go to: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-headed_woodpecker/sounds

Related Articles:
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
- Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S
- Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt
- How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Source of peanuts for the birds

Hello! I'm so grateful to have found your site that helps me understand what to give the outside birds we so love to have in the garden. Thank you! You mentioned peanuts as being desirable & I would like your input on a source for them for the birds. I have some in shells which the blue jays love but for the smaller birds? We are on the west coast and would like to attract the smaller birds. I did not know they also love the sunflower seeds! I've got some bird seed that has millet but a lot of cracked corn (okay for the birds? I thought it was mostly for chickens & ducks) and sunflower seeds. I'd be glad to buy bird food if it's not the cheap junk most local stores sell. Any advice is most wanted! Thank you.

There are almost 300 Wild Birds Unlimited stores in the US and Canada. To locate your nearest store go to: https://maps.wbu.com/

Each store is individually owned. They have a lot of the same feeders and pole systems but we vary in certain local items and seed blends that we offer.

The franchise also runs an online website which can deliver seed at: http://shop.wbu.com/

There are several types of peanuts. Each of the peanut types is distinctive in size, flavor, and nutritional composition. The birds will appreciate any raw unsalted peanut in or out of the shell as long as it’s still fresh and full of oil.

Birds look for the very best food. Fresh and heavy seeds full of oil are chosen over the dried up older seeds. Blue Jays and other birds will shuffle through the seeds until they find what they are looking for. They'll pick a seed up in their bill to test the weight. If it's not heavy enough they'll pick up another to compare the weight of of the seeds. It's not worth their while to eat or cache seeds that are dried out or bad.

Also, certain seeds are preferred over others. Nuts and sunflower seeds are chosen most often by backyard birds for their high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. The National Wildlife Federation did a 2005–2008 study on which foods attract the most birds and keep them the healthiest. Fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, white proso millet, safflower, Nyjer thistle seed and high quality suets are some of the best choices.

Cracked corn doesn't have as high an oil content as sunflower seed or peanuts. This makes it a less preferred food during stressful times like nesting or bad weather. Generally it is kick to the ground where it attracts different types of backyard wildlife, including deer, squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons. I hope this helps.
Thank you so much for this information! Most helpful and lots to look in to. I do appreciate it, and you explained the blue jay behavior when I have a scatter of peanuts out for them, taking one, then another, deciding after a while on a certain one. Thank you, your information is very helpful.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Quick Reminder: Party at East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited

Sat- Dec. 13, 2014 from 3-5pm, the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store is going to have a Holiday Open House!

Where: Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, Michigan

Free: There will be goodie bags for the first 50 families as well as discounts, coupons and yummy food for all to enjoy!

The party is at the Coolidge Rd store only:

Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd.
East Lansing, MI 48823

I hope to see you there! This Holiday Open House is our small way of saying thank you for a great year! 

Related Articles:

Photo Share: Cedar waxwing with holly

Holly has long been associated with winter holidays. Early Europeans used holly as ornamentation during their winter solstice celebrations. The winter solstice, which occurs in late December in the northern hemisphere, was the longest night of the year and signified the gradual lengthening of days and coming spring — a cause for celebration. Holly's symbolism of the new season made it an appropriate and colorful ornament for winter festivities.

For birds Holly is one of the most versatile and useful plants with more than 400 species that range in size from creeping shrubs to trees 100 feet or more tall. Waxwings, woodpeckers, catbirds, thrashers, mockingbirds, bluebirds, robins and other thrushes all appreciate snacking on berries during the short days of winter.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Gifts perfect for nature lovers: Bird feeders made in America

Our family is taking the 'Made in America' Challenge this year for Christmas. I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to find things made in the USA. I thought maybe your small business might know. Can you help?

Almost everything Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, Michigan purchases is Made in America. We are a little business and we support other little businesses. Most of our products are from small companies that don’t sell to big box stores:
Julian is Aspect's office cat (He is indoors only!!)
1)      Tube Feeders, Hummingbird Feeders, WindowFeeders - Aspects, Inc. out of Rhode Island is our main supplier of tube, window and hummingbird feeders. Their philosophy is to make the best feeders possible in their USA facility and stand confidently behind it with a Lifetime Guarantee. I consider both their products and customer service to be excellent! I have several of their feeders and have sold thousands more to satisfied customers.
Recycled Hoppers attract a wide variety of birds
2)      Hoppers, Houses, Suet Feeders – Birds Choice out of Chilton, Wisconsin have reused and saved over 6 million plastic jugs from going into the landfills by manufacturing products from recycled materials. Quality materials, excellent workmanship, patented unique designs, and customer service are the core of all Birds Choice products made in Chilton, Wisconsin, U.S.A. by a team of conscientious employees. So if you buy a recycled hopper feeder with a lifetime guarantee, you are not only supporting an American worker but you’re also supporting the environment!
3)      Squirrel Proof Feeders – Droll Yankees was started in 1960 by Peter Kilham and his boyhood friend Alan Bemis. Peter cared about using quality materials, in innovative designs that birds loved and people found easy to use. Droll Yankees out of Plainfield, CT, strives continually to maintain those high standards of design and functionality, and are proud to be recognized as makers of “The World's Best Bird Feeders.” They make the popular Squirrel Proof Flippers, Whippers, and Dippers. They all work fabulously and come with a lifetime guarantee. The only complaint I receive from customers is that they buy them to watch the squirrel “flip” from them but the squirrels just leave them alone instead!
Stovall also makes suet feeders
4)      Houses – We have some really nice functional bird, bat, duck, owl, and squirrel houses made by Stovall Products. They are not only made in America but are actually made in Michigan. Stovall products promote environmentally green practices by using hand sorted discarded cedar pieces. The shop is heated with scrap wood, cooled with natural shade, nestled in a glen of 25+ acres of beech/maple/oak forest in Michigan. Rumored staffing of woodland gnomes with a payroll of nuts and berries is still not verified.
5)      Bird Baths - Allied Precision Industries, out of Elburn, IL are specialists in manufacturing quality heated bird baths and water wigglers. Their durable, plastic heated bird baths are made in the USA and provide a reliable source of water when natural sources are frozen, even to temperatures below -20° F. It mounts easily to deck railings or can be placed on our stands. It features a built-in 150 watt, fully grounded heater that is thermostatically controlled to conserve energy. When the temperature is cold enough to freeze water, the bath will turn on.

That is just a sampling of the products we carry. Come in any time and I can tell you where all our products are made and help you find appropriate gifts for anyone that appreciates nature.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Owl Breeding Season Begins in Winter

One of  the best things about December is hearing the first calls of the Great Horned Owls as they begin their courtship.  The hooting of the owls becomes noticeable mid-December in Michigan. On a clear night, even in the suburbs where I live, you'll hear the birds calling back and forth usually from midnight until dawn. Their distinctive territorial call, "hoo-hoo hoooo hoo-hoo," can be heard from miles away.

The courtship calls begin in December but the actual mating is late January or early February. The males hoot vigorously for over a month, while the answering calls of the females are heard for only a week or two, toward the end of the courtship period.

In the beginning males are excited and hooting seems to be an expression of physical vitality. Then males start competitive hooting from favorite perches to defend their territories. Finally the owls hoot to attract the attention of females.  

Great horned owls are monogamous, forming a mating pair to raise the young. They achieve sexual maturity at 1 to 3 years of age. Like all owls, Great Horned Owls do not build their own nest. They often take over a nest used by some other large bird, sometimes adding feathers to line the nest but usually not much more. Old crow, raven, Red-tailed Hawk or large squirrel nests are often favored in North America. They also use cavities in trees, deserted buildings, and artificial platforms. Males select nesting sites and bring the females attention to them by flying to them and then stomping on them.

After a mate is chosen they bow to each other, with drooped wings, rub noses and preen each other. If all goes according to plan the female will lay 2 to 4 eggs and incubate them for 26-36 days. Six weeks after hatching, the owlets become "branchers" when they start to walk in the trees around the nest.

They cannot fly well until 9 to 10 weeks old. Then the parents show them around and teach them how to survive. In autumn the juveniles disperse widely, while the adults return to the area near their breeding grounds. The pair will then each maintain solitary existences until the next nesting season.

The average life expectancy of great horned owls is 13 years. They do not migrate but stay in the same general area.

Related Articles:
- Snowy Owls http://bit.ly/ylJmQq
- Eastern Screech Owl http://bit.ly/wMQBZj
- Great Horned Owl http://bit.ly/zmlFqY
- Barred Owl http://bit.ly/yAoDx8
- Great Gray Owl http://bit.ly/tAewYm
- Fun Facts on Owls http://bit.ly/z9q3Dg

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Birds have gone beyond thumbs except in the advertising world

In general, it is easier to lose a trait through evolution than to gain one. Human and other primate hands have five fingers. Birds have three digits in their wings.

Precursor cells that can make a thumb are still there in the bird’s genetic make-up but die off in the egg during development and never produce a thumb in adult birds. Instead the innermost digit of a bird's three-digit wing acts like both a thumb and an index finger.

But what if birds did regress back to having 5 digits? Wonder no more. In a bizarre new advertiser’s world, birds have forsaken their wings for human hands with fingers. Why? So they can text with opposable thumbs instead of pecking out page after page. See video: http://youtu.be/NUGBQkHnWtY

Monday, December 8, 2014

The first ingredient is sunflower seed

Should I supplement my no mess blend with a bag of sunflower seed?

Very good question! There is no need to supplement the Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) blends. The first ingredient in all our top blends is sunflower seed because, as you know, it is the most popular seed among the backyard bird feeding crowd. WBU No-mess blend is by far our most popular blend and sunflower seed is the 1st ingredient.
Sunflower seeds can come hulled, which means the shell has been removed. Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their black shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds means no hulls on the ground and the seed won’t sprout either. Hulled sunflower seeds will attract the same birds, but there is no mess left below the feeder.

Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

Each of our blends is regionally formulated to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix but aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Therefore, there is no wasted seed. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.
Related Articles:
Sunflowers Up-close: The Strange Journey of an American Plant http://bit.ly/uFlz65
Which seeds are preferred by wild birds? http://bit.ly/zchLgB
How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/rTLSqJ
Seed Storage Cans and WBU Seed Scoops http://bit.ly/uBaSwO