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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to get more hummingbirds

Why do we only have one hummingbird at a time? I watch videos with a million birds at once and I want that at my house. What am I doing wrong? – DeWitt, MI

It’s all about location. Here in mid-Michigan we see hummingbirds from the end of April to the end of October. Until mid-summer hummingbirds are nesting and so territories are set and defended vigorously. Males will perch and attack any bird that he sees invading a food source in his territory. It would be rare to see more than one hummingbird at a time at a feeder during this time.

By July territories have been relaxed, momma hummers are bringing babies to the feeders and migration has begun. It’s possible during this time to see a couple hummers at once especially if you live near water.

Hummingbird feeders must be kept clean and free from mold and fungus, or the tiny hummers could get sick. The more often you clean them the easier they are to maintain. Bring your feeders inside and rinse them once a week when the temperatures are below 70 °F and at least twice a week when the temperatures are above 70 °F. To re-fill your hummingbird feeder you may purchase ready-made nectar at Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI or make your own with white sugar and water. It is a 4:1 ratio: four parts water to one part plain white sugar.

It is also good to have a hummingbird garden to provide them a natural diet, and to attract more birds to your nearby feeder. Using pesticides around hummingbird plants is a very bad idea. Killing garden pests will also eliminate the small insects hummingbirds rely upon for protein. In addition, hummers might directly ingest pesticides sprayed onto flowers, which could sicken or kill the birds.

Just a few of the flowers that hummingbirds like are:
  • Bleeding heart
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Columbine
  • Coral Bells
  • Daylily
  • Delphinium
  • Foxglove
  • Fuchsia
  • Hollyhocks
  • Hosta
  • Honeysuckle
  • Larkspur
  • Lilac
  • Mint
  • Milkweed, Butterfly
  • Monarda
  • Morning Glory
  • Obedient plant
  • Sage
  • Salvia
  • Snapdragon 
Related articles:
The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/II4RQ4
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/H2U4P4
Hummingbird Information on Habitat and Habits http://bit.ly/H2Ua9s
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/H7xvp3
Fun Facts About Hummingbirds http://bit.ly/II5sBl
Photo Share: Strange visitor at the high-perch hummingbird feeder http://bit.ly/II7dyy

Friday, August 1, 2014

Photo Share: Green Herons out of the nest


The kids are all over the canopy now As it turns out, there are four. These pics were taken a few days ago, at about 16 days old.

Thank you Lynn for sharing your adorable photographs! If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Those bald birds are OK

Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete.
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Most birds’ feather loss and replacement is gradual and you may notice they look a little ruffled. But then there are also a select few that go bald.
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A bald bird at the feeder is a somewhat common sight to see every July and August in mid-Michigan. After the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

However, some Cardinals, BlueJays, and Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers. Many appear to be juveniles undergoing their first pre-basic molt or growth of their first winter adult plumage. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds go bald and some don’t or why it’s just the head.

Whatever the reason, we know feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation.
For the next few months, it’s best to offer high-protein bird foods, such as Nyjer® (thistle), sunflower seed, peanuts, suet and mealworms, to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with during this stressful time.
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For the customers at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, we recommend feeding the No-Mess Blend. Our unique No-Mess Blend contains sunflower seeds, peanut pieces and white proso millet without the shells. No shells on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's nothing on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells and the best food for the birds because it's fresh and full of protein.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What yellow finches like to eat

Do goldfinches just eat thistle seed? -DeWitt, MI

American Goldfinch on Coneflower. Photo courtesy of Rodney Campbell
Though goldfinches carry the reputation of being finicky eaters, you'll have no problem finding a suitable offering that will please their palate. At the feeders Goldfinches do like to eat fresh, dry Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds.

They don’t nest until late summer so there is nothing holding them down to one territory and they are always scouting for new feeding sites. If you keep your feeders clean and full of fresh seed, when they do decide to nest your yard will have the best curb appeal. Flowers also attract finches. Goldfinches will flock to any flowers that form a seed head like cosmos or black-eyed-susans or Coneflowers.


American goldfinches are granivores, eating mainly seeds. In the wild they look for grass seeds, thistle, and other low-growing herbaceous seeds. In the summer you will see them perch on flower heads eating seeds. They can make weak stemmed flowers like cosmos dance as they ride it to the ground while eating and then let it bounce back up when their done. In the winter it is good to let your garden stand. Even though the garden may look brown and dead, it is still full of natural seeds that help the birds be less reliant on feeders in backyards.

Related articles:
What is Nyger Thistle? http://t.co/Gg2AxQg
Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
Goldfinch colors: Why aren't all the goldfinches yellow? http://t.co/c57skHi
Is There a Way to Attract More Goldfinches to My Yard? http://t.co/RB1cqWf

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to make the future brighter for birds

Habitat loss, disease, severe weather, window collisions and many other factors contribute to the decline in bird populations. Here are six steps you can take to make the future brighter for birds:
Land development is changing the habitat available for many birds. You can help by landscaping with native plants that provide natural food sources, shelter and protection predators. Man made feeders, nest boxes and bird baths also benefits birds.

2. Prepare a proper menu
Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements year-round. Wild Birds Unlimited has regionally formulated seed blends to provide the most nutritious food for your birds. The first ingredient in our top 4 seed blends is sunflower seed. Oil Sunflower seed is the favorite of most of the backyard seed eating birds and I always like it to be the first ingredient in my bird seed blend.
To help reduce the possibility of disease transmission in birds, clean feeders and feeding areas at least once a month. You can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to disinfect all of your feeders. Keep seed and foods dry by adding Feeder Fresh; discard food that is wet or looks moldy. Birdbaths also need to be scrubbed with a brush and water should be replaced every three to days to discourage mosquito reproduction. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every three to five days, or every other day in warm weather.

4. Birds and chemicals don’t mix 
Many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are toxic to birds; avoid using these near areas where birds feed, bathe or rest. Read the ingredients on the bird seed bag. The number one reason you will have weeds on the ground is because the birds are kicking the seeds that they don’t prefer on the ground and they grow.

5. Keep cats away from birds 
Outdoor cats are estimated to kill 500 million birds per year. Even the sweetest cats still have the instincts of their wild ancestors. When something flutters by, they must swat it down. Cats do what comes natural but you can help wildlife by restricting their access outside. A lot of our customers start bird feeding to entertain their indoor cats. It is a challenge to keep indoor-only animals stimulated and engaged mentally. A window feeder is one solution.

6. Reduce window collisions 
It is estimated that between 100 million and one billion birds are killed every year in the United States when they crash into glass windows. And even one billion deaths might be a conservative estimate. Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds.
Related Articles:
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/H42e6s
- What seeds wild birds eat http://goo.gl/Un35yR
- What to do if you have soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
- How to get rid of weeds under the bird feeder without using poisons http://goo.gl/fHlsE0
- Cats Indoors! http://goo.gl/YIOUpI
- How to Prevent Window Strikes during Migration http://goo.gl/KZRzKb

Monday, July 28, 2014

Time to Change: Young splotchy red House Finch

Young House Finch male growing his big boy red feathers to match his red Daddy House Finch
The House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus is a familiar sight in mid-Michigan today. These 6″, talkative little birds get their name from their habit of hanging around houses. They build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, or in trees, and their cheery warble or a variety of chirps is a constant around the bird feeders. The amount of red the finch has can vary depending on the amount of carotenoid pigments consumed in its food during molt.

Last week's younger finch with downy head feathers sticking up.
Last week I wrote about how the young House Finches were sporting baby feather plumes on their head. Now you are going to see a lot of young house finch males putting on their big boy colors. I wish I would have washed the window after the rain but I took a photo of one young guy enjoying fresh Wild Birds No-mess blend with his dad on the right.

Related Articles:
Compare House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf 
What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/vn2HK3
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/rT5Hfj
Why male and females are a different color http://bit.ly/ueILUf
Baby cardinal with two distinctive head feathers http://goo.gl/J0isco
Funny looking birds showing up at the feeder http://goo.gl/9CB7Fk

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Big black bird: American Crow

According to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black, American Crows are wary and intelligent birds that adapt to a variety of habitats. Their populations are just now recovering in mid Michigan from the first appearance of West Nile virus in the Western hemisphere in 1999. Their susceptibility to the virus made them a useful indicator of the West Nile activity.

However the American Crow is still often reviled for being a large, loud, messy, scavenger of garbage even though crows are one of the most intelligent birds around. Crows are impressive mimics, able to whine like a dog, cry like a child, squawk like a hen and laugh like a human.

They are abundant year-round residents in mid-Michigan. Crows group together in large flocks and interaction with other crows is very important to them. The average crow lives for twenty to thirty years. They have close family groups and usually mate for life. Juvenile crows typically leave their family at 3 to 4 years but will still return to visit.

Related Articles:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Birdfeeding doesn't have to be messy: 3 Solutions to a Tidy Yard

Like feeding the birds but don't want a mess on the ground? At Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) I recommend the following combinations of food, feeders and accessories so you can enjoy feeding your birds and have a tidy backyard, too.
Ranchette Retreat bird feeder is a fully functioning bird buffet that holds over 10 pounds of WBU No-Mess birdseed and two WBU suet cakes. Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No shells left on the ground and nothing will grow under the feeder. You will attract all the seed and suet eating bird species such as cardinals, finches, jays, chickadees, woodpeckers and more.

To protect the seed, the Ranchette Retreat has an extra large green roof that overhangs the extra large tray area. It also has a mesh screen bottom with a built in seed diverter to keep seed moving through the feeder smoothly and to prevent moldy seed.
This feeder is good for a compact, yet versatile tidy feeding station. Fill with the WBU No-Mess birdseed blend so there are no shells left on the ground.

As a bonus the Wild Birds Unlimited's Quick-Clean feeders have removable bases that make cleaning a breeze. They’re also easy to fill and hang. Simply add our Weather Guard dome to your feeder to help protect the seed and birds from inclement weather. The Seed Tray prevents seed from falling to the ground and serves as an additional feeding area.

3. The WBU Seed Cylinder feeder 
Cylinder feeders are versatile feeders that can provide a tidy dining experience. The Seed Cylinder feeders are popular with people who have been bird feeding a long time and for beginners. It is one of the easiest feeders to maintain and attracts a wide variety of birds.
Our popular No-Mess Solid Seed Cylinders are sunflower chips, peanuts and cherries - everything you need to get lots of birds to visit your backyard with no mess.

If you are worried about squirrels and don't have a baffled Wild Birds Unlimited Advanced Pole System, our Safflower cylinder will keep squirrels and blackbirds away.
 
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Friday, July 25, 2014

Painted Lady: Grey, pink and white butterfly

Adult painted ladies' main defenses are flight and camouflage. The caterpillars hide in small silk nests on top of leaves, and may have chemical defenses, but this is uncertain.

This is one of the most common butterfly species in the world. The only places it doesn't live are on Antarctica and some remote islands. It even migrates to Hawaii and Iceland!

The caterpillars of this species prefer the leaves of plants in the daisy family (Compositaceae) especially thistles, but can eat many different kinds of plants. Adult painted ladies sip nectar from flowers, and sometimes take "honeydew" from aphids.

Related Articles:  
Cabbage Butterflies http://bit.ly/yRuhBX
Lifecycle of Monarch Butterflies http://goo.gl/8dTiBz
Plant some milkweed http://goo.gl/8s6F1d
Monarch migration route http://goo.gl/L66ty
Punctuation Butterflies: The First Butterfly of Spring! http://bit.ly/JHUpG1

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Keep cardinals coming year-round

A regular resident of mid-Michigan backyards, the Northern Cardinals form one of the bird world's most faithful pair bonds. The male and female remain in close contact year-round, singing to one another through the seasons with soft, bubbly whistles. The female is known to sing while on the nest, and it is believed that she is informing her partner whether or not she or the young need food.

The red color of the Cardinal’s feathers is the result of pigments called carotenoids. The amount of the pigment ingested, and then deposited in the feathers as they molt in the fall, influences the quality and depth of their red coloration. A study done by the Ohio State University found that juveniles, less efficient foragers than adults, often have a duller red feather coloration.

At the feeding stations the birds tend to prefer seeds that provide the most nutrients. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a landmark study of bird food preferences in 1980 for several bird species and found cardinals exhibited the greatest preference for fresh sunflower, peanuts, safflower, and millet. They avoid buckwheat, cracked corn, milo, oats, wheat, nyjer, canary, flax, rapeseed, and rice.
 
Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Blend is our best selling blend. It has everything the birds want and leaves no messy shells behind. The first ingredient is sunflower seeds with the black shells removed. You only pay for seed not the shells. Birds don't eat the shell. Those are just discarded below the feeder as waste. Because there is no shell, there is about twice as much seed in the bag. Pound for pound it is the better deal and it also should go down twice as slow in the feeder.

Whatever seed, seed cake, or suet you choose at Wild Birds Unlimited, we guarantee it will be fresh and a healthy choice for our local birds.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First winged insects: Dragonflies

Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, over 300 million years ago. Fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet. Today dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches, but their two pairs of transparent wings allow them to propel themselves upward, downward, forward, backward, and side to side.

Dragonflies’ eyes are so large they take up most of the head. This gives them incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them. Which is good because, unfortunately for them, they are preyed upon by a number of birds, fish, reptiles, toads, frogs and more.

Fortunately for us dragonflies are big predators themselves and feed on variety of bugs including pesky mosquitoes and flies. They catch their insect prey by grabbing it with their feet. They’re so efficient in their hunting that, in one Harvard University study, the dragonflies caught 90 to 95 percent of the prey released into their enclosure. 

Thank you Lynn for sharing your wonderful photos! If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.

Related Articles:
- Mosquito hawks http://goo.gl/f8ojiF
- Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?: http://bit.ly/nMo9uV
- A Very Tiny Hummingbird (Moth)?: http://bit.ly/qtrAaV
- Why did I take a picture of bird poop?: http://bit.ly/o9APHb
- Where does the Woolly Bear go in the winter?: http://bit.ly/pB5L4V