About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply 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.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

My Favorite #SquirrelAppeciation video!

Over 50% of the time, after people purchase one of the squirrel-proof feeders here at the East Lansing bird store they come back within the month asking for a feeder to feed the squirrels. People start to feel sorry for the poor, fluffy-tailed, pudgy-wudgy, squirrels. Sometimes they are embarrassed after years of complaining about the wily critters. However, once they purchase the best squirrel-proof feeder from us, they find themselves missing the drama of trying to outwit the squirrels.

Well on January 21, let’s not be embarrassed anymore. That is National Squirrel Appreciation Day and you can celebrate by giving them some Critter food the squirrels love.

I like the squirrels. I have so many in my yard, they pack a pathway in the snow between all the bird feeding stations. More than any kind of wild mammal, they seem comfortable around humans, like outdoor pets. They can be very entertaining too.

And even though I work at a "bird store" I appreciate people that have kind words to share with me about squirrels. That's why one of my favorite videos is one where kind people took the time to not only notice, but help.  A story about a big squirrel and a baby squirrel: https://youtu.be/1jByfWOLmjo 




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Uncommonly colored Fox Squirrels https:/uncommonly-colored-fox-squirrels-brown.html
#SquirrelAppreciationDay: Why you should celebrate https://why-celebrate.html
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Monday, January 20, 2020

The Bald Eagle population continues to grow

The Bald Eagle continues to overcome adversity and fascinate nature lovers.

Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. The Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.

When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. The first major decline of the species probably began in the mid to late 1800’s, coinciding with the decline of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other prey.

Although they primarily eat fish and carrion, bald eagles used to be considered marauders that preyed on chickens and domestic livestock. Consequently, the large raptors were shot in an effort to eliminate a perceived threat. Coupled with the loss of nesting habitat, bald eagle populations declined.

In 1940, noting that the species was “threatened with extinction,” Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling, or possessing the species. A 1962 amendment added the golden eagle, and the law became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Shortly after World War II, DDT was hailed as a new pesticide to control mosquitoes and other insects. However, DDT and its residues washed into nearby waterways, where aquatic plants and fish absorbed it. Bald eagles, in turn, were poisoned with DDT when they ate the contaminated fish. The chemical interfered with the ability of the birds to produce strong eggshells. As a result, their eggs had shells so thin that they often broke during incubation or otherwise failed to hatch. DDT also affected other species such as peregrine falcons and brown pelicans.

By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction. In addition to the adverse effects of DDT, some bald eagles have died from lead poisoning after feeding on waterfowl containing lead shot, either as a result of hunting or from inadvertent ingestion.
 
Today, there are almost 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. Bald eagles have staged a remarkable population rebound and have recovered to the point that they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

For more information about Bald Eagles, visit All About Birds- the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online bird guide.

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Amazing moment bald eagle chases down and catches a starling in mid-air http://t.co/U3CT5Sh
Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles http://t.co/A9R33zI

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Mutant Chicken with Bird Teeth

Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak, and no teeth, although ancient birds did seem to have the pearly whites. Around 300 million years ago, the ancestor of all modern vertebrates gave rise to two lineages, the mammals and the reptiles/birds. The oldest reptiles, such as crocodiles and alligators, had cone-shaped teeth. So did the earliest birds, called archosaurs.

Then, around 80 million years ago, modern birds emerged without teeth. It turns out that while developing a beak, birds lost their teeth.

Normal chick (left), mutant jaw (right) shows teeth
CREDIT: John F. Fallon and Matthew P. Harris
John Fallon of the University of Wisconsin was able to conduct an experiment in 2005 that induced tooth growth in normal developing chickens by tweaking the genes. The chicks were not allowed to fully develop, but their teeth looked like reptilian teeth and shared many of the same genetic traits.

A direct application of this research could be re-growing teeth in people who have lost them through accident or disease.

Source:
The Development of Archosaurian First-Generation Teeth in a Chicken Mutant - http://www.cell.com/current-biology/

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Yawning is contagious even between birds

WARNING: You are going to yawn by the end of this article! 

Yawning is contagious in humans and some non-human primates. A study investigated the possibility that yawning and stretching was also contagious in birds. The social, flock-living birds were videotaped and the times of all yawns and stretches for each bird were recorded.

Analyses suggest that the clustering of these behaviors is due to social influence. If the birds saw their neighbor stretching and yawning, it cued them to do the same. This study provides the first support for contagious yawning and stretching in a non-primate species in a natural context.

YAWN! 

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Introduction of squirrels to the neighborhood

You can blame urban planners for the introduction of squirrels into the neighborhood. It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1800’s squirrels were shy little woodland creatures that supplied meat for early settlers. Overhunting and clearcutting the land for development nearly decimated nesting populations.

Then as cities developed and people moved away from caring for farm animals, public green areas were developed. Numerous naturalists, zoo directors, educators, park designers, and poets persuaded the public of the squirrels' value as members of the urban community. Because squirrels appeared to be responsive to human charity, they held a special place in the community. And by the early twentieth century, Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) had become the most visible non-domesticated mammals in American cities. The arboreal rodents were protected, sheltered, and fed by the humans who treated them as public pets.

The urbanization of the squirrels in the United States between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was an ecological and cultural process that changed the squirrels' ways of life, altered the urban landscape, and adjusted human understandings of nature, the city, and the boundaries of community. Even the East Lansing black squirrels were introduced in the 1960s at the request of MSU President John A. Hannah to add character to the campus. They have now spread widely past the campus borders to bring their natural charm to your neighborhood (which I hear about daily).

Sources: 
The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the U.S: http://jah.oxfordjournals.org
Black Squirrel History at MSU: http://goo.gl/k1H1p5

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- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb  
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

How to celebrate Squirrel Appreciation Day!

This winter has been a roller coaster ride for backyard bird watching. 2020 started with unseasonably high temperatures, heavy rains, sleet, and snow storms, all in the same day. These weather conditions definitely impact bird feeder activity. One week I'm looking at a full feeder and no birds and the next day the feeder is empty within an hour!

The good news is I've begun to see birds getting excited as the days lengthen. Increased birdsongs and aggressive behaviors are a couple ways birds respond physiologically to environmental cues. January and February is also the time we begin to see squirrel chases and dance competitions to determine dominance.

Squirrels also have another reason to dance. January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day! To treat the squirrels on their special day you can give them your apple cores, maybe with a little peanut butter. Or you can also pick up some Wildlife blend, or peanuts at Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store
today.

I'm sure the squirrels are pretty pleased with themselves that their cuteness warranted them an appreciation day. Just don't tell them that all of February is National Birdfeeding Month.

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Uncommonly colored Fox Squirrels https:/uncommonly-colored-fox-squirrels.html
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Michigan Squirrel Species

There are eight members of the squirrel family living in mid-Michigan. They are all omnivores (eating seeds, insects, fruit, and nuts) except the woodchuck which is an herbivore (eating grasses and dandelions).

1. Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Usually observed in yards or traveling electric lines. They range from 18-27 inches from head to tail, and are the largest tree squirrel to be found in our Michigan neighborhoods. Their color can vary, but they are generally cinnamon colored with a tan underside.

2. Gray Squirrel (Scierus carolinensis)
This large tree squirrel measuring 16-20 inches is slightly smaller than the Fox Squirrel. Color varies from white to gray to red to black and to sometimes patchy. They are generally black in the East Lansing area. It spends most of its life in the trees of suburban yards and parks.

3. Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Known to many Michigan tree-stand hunters as the "Tattle-tail of the Forest", this small tree squirrel is easily identified by to its small size of 12-15 inches from nose to tail, making them slightly larger than a chipmunk. Their size might make you think that they are a juvenile fox squirrel, but this is not the case. Their color is a solid reddish brown with a whitish underbelly.
.
4. Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and
5. Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)
The flying squirrel is rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits. Northern (7-9”) and Southern (5-7”) Flying Squirrels appear nearly identical but for their size and range. This species can be identified by its flattened tail and the excess web of skin that is between its front and rear legs. These squirrels don’t actually fly but glide from the top on one tree to the trunk of the next.

6. Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Found throughout Michigan, this small (6-8in) ground squirrel is reddish brown with a white racing stripe bordered by two black stripes down its side. Its loud “chip, chip, chip” can be heard as it forages for seeds, insects, fruit and nuts. During the winter it is a light hibernator that wakes every 2-3 weeks and eats from its stash stored in its elaborate tunnels system underground.

7. Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)
Similar in size (6-8”) and look to an Eastern Chipmunk but has smaller ears and 13 alternating tan and dark brown stripes from nape to base of the tail. It’s also called a Federation Squirrel because the dark stripes have tan spots that resemble stars and stripes of a flag. It is a true hibernator from September to October. They like to live in pastures, meadows, prairies, and fields.

8. Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
The name Woodchuck is said to come from the Cree Indian word wuchak which means little brown animal. Common in fields, pastures, and woodlands, the woodchuck (18-28”) is the largest member of the squirrel family. The woodchuck does not like wood but eats leafy green vegetation and especially likes dandelions. It also burrows like the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel and is a true hibernator.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Squirrel teeth

I teach grade I and have a lesson on squirrels and there is a question How does squirrels eat? I would like to know the answer to this with its sharp teeth. or nibble or gnaw . Please reply. Thanks

Baby squirrels do not have teeth or hair. They are blind for the first six to eight weeks of life. Until the babies are about two months old, they drink only mother’s milk. After that, they learn to forage with their mother.

Squirrels need approximately two pounds of food per week. Most squirrels are considered omnivores. They are opportunistic and will eat almost anything.

Their diet mainly includes a variety of seeds, fruit, nuts, berries, pinecones, mushrooms, tree sap, leaves, flowers, insects, mice and eggs. To eat their food, squirrels use a combination of gnawing and grinding.

Squirrels’ teeth are typical of rodents in their ability for gnawing. They have two incisors on the top and two on the bottom jaw that will grow continuously, but stay short due to the constant wear they receive. The incisors are sharp-edged teeth located in the front of the mouth adapted for cutting or gnawing. Squirrels’ teeth have orange-colored enamel on the outside and exposed dentine on the inside, so they self-sharpen during gnawing.

Squirrels do not have canines, or fang teeth. Behind the incisors they have a large gap called diastema. Squirrels can suck their lips into this space and gnaw and not worry about swallowing inedible debris. Squirrels also have premolars and molars similar to humans. These cheek teeth have roots, and stop growing when they become adults. The premolars and molars in the upper and lower jaw grind up food before its swallowed.

The Red Squirrel, Eastern Gray Squirrel, and Eastern Fox Squirrel are all active year-round, but may stay in their nest several days during extreme hot or cold weather. They like to bury large amounts of nuts to feed on in the winter. And some studies show that 85% of these nuts are eventually recovered.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

Squirrel house plans


Experienced squirrels know how to build leaf dreys and locate tree hollows of mature trees to survive Michigan’s harsh winters. However in our manicured world, suitable trees may be few and far between. That is when sheds and attics begin to look like a good shelter to a squirrel.

To help provide appropriate habitat for squirrels, place a nestbox 18 to 20 feet from the ground on the east or south side of the tree. You can make a squirrel house (Squirrel House Dimensions) or purchase a Screech Owl Box for Fox and Gray Squirrels or a Woodpecker box for Red and Flying Squirrels.

Squirrels are always a little squirrely but right now they are even happier for a couple of reasons. First it has been a mild winter and spring is just around the corner. Fox squirrels can mate any time but generally begin to get frisky in January and February and again in May and June.

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

Blackbirds make appearance during the winter

I have 2 red wing blackbirds at my feeder every day since fall. I thought they were migrating birds. Do you have these at your feeders also? I've noticed they are not chasing the finch birds away either.


Snow speckled Red-Winged Blackbird singing in a light squall.

While not common, Red-winged Blackbirds have been known to make appearances during the wintertime. Blackbirds usually leave Michigan soon after nesting season is over but they don't have to. Most fly to the southern and central states in huge male or female flocks, where they are abundant especially on farms.

But I also had some redwings at my feeder this winter. Warmer temperatures and a greater supply of food and water could be some reasons a few Red-winged Blackbirds are still around. The cold doesn't bother them as long as they can find enough food. Perhaps it is another result of climate change.

They are probably young males trying to stick it out so they will be the first ones back to claim a nesting territory in late Feb or early March.

You can view the normal Range Map at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/id

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