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.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

ID birds for #GBBC

We hope the Great Backyard Bird Count whets your appetite for more knowledge about birds. For more information we have Birds of Michigan Field Guides or you can visit our online Bird Guide to identify birds at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/.

More help with specific ID challenges:
Which Red Finch is It?
Is it a Black-capped or Carolina Chickadee?
Identifying Some Common Sparrows
Woodpeckers With Red Heads
Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers
Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks

And I’ve listed some of the most common birds you’ll see in mid-Michigan and the food they like at feeders.
1. Northern Cardinal - Sunflower seed, Safflower, Peanuts, White Proso Millet
2. American Goldfinch - Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Seeds
3. House Finch - Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
4. House Sparrow - White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips
5. Dark-eyed Junco - White Proso Millet, Sunflower seed, Nyjer Thistle
6. Mourning Dove - Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Safflower, White Proso Millet, Nyjer
7. Tufted Titmouse - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
8. Black-capped Chickadee - Nuts, Sunflower, Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Suet, Mealworms
9. Carolina Wren - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
10. Red-breasted Nuthatch - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
11. White-breasted Nuthatch - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
12. Downy Woodpecker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
13. Blue Jay - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet
14. Red-bellied Woodpecker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
15. Northern Flicker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
16. European Starling - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet, Mealworms
17. Cedar Waxwing - Mealworms, Suet Nuggets, Berries and Wild Fruit
18. American Robin - Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
19. Eastern Bluebird - Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
20. American Crow - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet
21. Cooper’s Hawk - Songbirds, Squirrels, Suet

Of course there are a lot more birds in Michigan during the winter and they don't just eat from feeders, but this gives you a start. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Books to help you with the #GBBC

Though you may be drawn to watching birds because of their wonderful colors or fascinating behavior, when it comes to making identifications, size and shape are the first pieces of information you should examine. 

With just a little practice and observation, you'll find that differences will jump out at you. Study the sillouettes in the picture and see how well you can identify a bird just by the combination of size and shape.

So now that you know the shape of enough birds to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) the third weekend in February, let me recommend a couple books:
Birds of Michigan by Ted Black and Greg Kennedy is a wonderful book for beginning or advanced bird watchers in Michigan. It has detailed illustrations of 302 bird species with specifications of their size and any unique markings. It includes descriptions of the birds’ habitat, nesting, feeding, and voice. The birds are also grouped and color coded for quick identification by species.
One of my favorite features is a very handy quick find reference of all of the birds at the beginning of the book. It also lists Michigan birding groups and which local nature center or park will have a particular species of bird.
This is a very handy book to have around even if you don't plan on doing more than watching the birds at your feeder.
If you like photographs, I recommend Stan Tekiela Birds of Michigan book. There is also CD available if you want to hear their songs.
Both books will help when you need to name a bird for the GBBC.

Wild Birds Unlimited is a proud sponsor of the Great Backyard Bird Count. We encourage you to be part of this citizen scientist project that helps us learn more about the birds.
Related Articles:
Why is it Important to Count Birds? http://goo.gl/rC1qS
1-2-3, How Many Birds Do You See? http://bit.ly/z3EOrM
Book Recommendations for Michigan Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/x5t2gv
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ywWdfL

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Blue Jays: Learn more before #GBBC

Get to know Blue Jays before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC) 

The Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata is a large common songbird at most mid-Michigan bird feeders. With their perky crest, blue, white, and black plumage and noisy calls, jays seem to polarize people into either hating or loving them. Their name “Jay” has its origins from the Latin “gaius” meaning “gay or merry.” The species name cristata originates from the Latin word crista, meaning “crested.”

I am a lover of the jays. After I fill the feeders I whistle to the jays. They give a return call and by the time I’m settled back on the couch with my tea and cat, a family of Blue Jays has appeared at the feeders for me to watch. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems, and have tight family bonds. They often mate for life, remaining with their social mate throughout the year.

Blue Jays make a large variety of calls. The most often heard is a loud jay jay. They also make clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds. The whistle I give in the morning is probably heard by a scout bird looking for breakfast possibilities. He reports back to the family with his whistle of what is available in my yard. I fill my many different feeders regularly with the best Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Blends along with nuts, sunflower seeds, and suet.

The jay family isn’t the only one listening either. Their discovery of good feeding sight is announced loudly enough that a whole community of birds eventually shows up to take their turn at the feeders. Jays also are very good at giving early warnings of hawk, cats, or other predators in the area. 
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, February 8, 2016

Black-capped Chickadees: Learn more before #GBBC

Get to know Black-capped Chickadees before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC) 

One bird that I can’t help calling to when I’m filling feeders (probably because he’s calling to me) is the Black-capped Chickadee. They are identified easily by their namesake “chick-a-dee” call.

In winter, when a lot of birds fly south to escape the Michigan’s cold, snowy weather, chickadees can be seen and heard flitting from tree to tree. They have a small, sharp black beak, a black crown and bib, whitish cheeks, gray back, and off-white belly with a variable amount of color on their flanks.

From sunrise to sunset, the chickadee spends most of its time feeding. The natural diet of the Black-capped Chickadee consists of 50% insects, insect eggs, larvae and pupae, as well as spiders, and 50% seeds and berries in the winter. During the summer it is 70% bugs and 30% plants.

Chickadees will come to almost any feeder. The foods that attract them are sunflower and safflower seeds, nuts, suet, seed cylinders and mealworms.

Related Articles:
- Chickadees don’t leave home without their caps http://goo.gl/Vi8GtC
- Quiz on Chickadees http://goo.gl/0cI03
- Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/jAtN5
- Fun Facts about the different Chickadees in North America http://bit.ly/zIDkCi
- Not a Shy Bird: How the Black-capped Chickadee Communicates http://goo.gl/1rlnh

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Tufted Titmice: Learn more before #GBBC

Get to know the Tufted Titmouse before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Tufted titmice are about 6 inches long and have wingspans of about 10 inches. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes. They do not migrate extensively and are common year-round in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Tufted titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and searching beneath twigs for insects or bug larvae. They travel and roost during the winter in small mixed flocks of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and woodpeckers.

At the feeders they are attracted to striped and oil sunflower seeds, nuts, suet, seed cylinders and mealworms. Tufted Titmice typically select one seed from a feeder at a time. They shell it and hide the kernel within 130 feet of the feeder from which they obtained it under bark or under objects on the ground.

Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. The titmouse family bond is so strong that the young from one breeding season will often stay with their parents long enough to help them with nesting and feeding duties the following year.

Related Articles:
- Is it “Titmice” or “Titmouses”? http://bit.ly/yImBcF
- Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short? http://bit.ly/yds9Mm
- Tufted Titmouse fun facts http://bit.ly/AfIA7H
- Bird guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/d0VzDD
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/Bc2uGD

Saturday, February 6, 2016

#GBBC: Fun things to do with the kids at home

Looking for some fun things to do with the kids?..

Join Us for the Next Great Backyard Bird Count, February 12-15, 2016

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!
1. Register for the count or use your existing login name and password. If you have never participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, you’ll need to create a new account.

2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds at home or at a park—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.

3. Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page. Or download the free eBird Mobile app to enter data on a mobile device.

Now get ready to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count because when it comes to watching birds, kids count!

Participant Toolkit

Check out the bird lists, frequently asked questions, info on great birding apps, and other resources to help identify tricky bird species.  Do your friends and family already know about the count? Send a GBBC eCard encouraging them to count and help fledge a new birder!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Northern Cardinals: Learn more before #GBBC

Get to know Northern Cardinals before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

A red bird that is common on Christmas cards, the male Northern Cardinal is recognized easily by most people. Except for a black mask and throat, the male cardinals are red all over including their bill. The females are less recognizable. They are shaped like the male but are a duller grey brown color and have only warm red accents on the tips of their crest, wings and bill.

The Cardinals stay in Michigan year-round and don’t migrate but can expand their range while foraging for food. Older previously mated pairs will join flocks of about four to twenty birds depending on the area, time of year, weather, and available resources.  Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and can join different flocks away from their natal territory in search of food and possible mates for spring.

Cardinals prefer to feed on the ground so if you can "raise the ground" by feeding cardinals on tray feeders, hopper feeders or any feeder that gives them a comfortable feeding position they'll be happy. Their favorite food is oil sunflower, nuts, safflower and fruit. Wild Birds Unlimited has a wide variety of cardinal friendly feeders.

Related Articles:
- Northern Cardinal Fun Facts http://bit.ly/twE6NV 
- How the Northern Cardinal bird was named http://bit.ly/tSKZYs 
- Cardinal Bird Feeders Made in the USA: http://bit.ly/qXJPFM 
- How to Attract Cardinals: http://bit.ly/pjh7mO 
- What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/rAArXw 
- What are the different types of cardinal birds? http://goo.gl/CUI43

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#GBBC: Why count birds?

Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
Red-tailed Hawk by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC
Red-tailed Hawk by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC

With your help, scientists can gather the  information from the Great Backyard Bird Count to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:

• How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
• Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?
• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

Click here for more info on how to get started.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Bird Studies Canada and many international partners. The Great Backyard Bird Count is powered by eBird. The count is made possible in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dark-eyed Juncos: Learn more before #GBBC

Get to know the Dark-eyed Juncos before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Dark-eyed Junco male by Simon Pierre Barrette
Dark-eyed Juncos have a slate colored head, back, tail and throat and a white belly. Right before they perch or when they face another bird, they raise and fan their tails, flashing white outer tail feathers.

It is common to see juncos hopping under Michigan feeders in the winter first thing in the morning and right before sunset. They are a very social birds after nesting is complete during the autumn and winter months. Winter flocks tend to be small, typically 15 to 25 individuals.

You’ll see Dark-eyed juncos wintering in the same area year after year. The flock stays in an area roughly 10 to 12 acres in size, but not all members of the flock are together all of the time.

There is a social hierarchy within the winter flocks. Males tend to be dominant over females and adults are dominant over the younger birds. Because males are dominant over females in winter flocks, females have less access to food. Therefore, they do not fair well in flocks composed of many males. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males.
Dark-eyed Junco female by Simon Pierre Barrette

Males need to risk harsh winters in Michigan in order to be closer to their breeding grounds. Females do not need to compete for territories in the spring and can take their time returning from southern states. The younger males winter the farthest north and must work hard to claim a breeding spot in early spring.

Juncos, like many other members of the sparrow family, eat a variety of insects and seeds mainly on the ground. What seeds they prefer can differ across the country.

Black oil sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract juncos to tray or ground bird feeders. You’ll also see the juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.
Related Articles:
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://gbbc-is-coming
- Fun Facts About Juncos http://bit.ly/pgewJn
- What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/puRjIr
- Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/nURO99
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/pwEqIz

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

American Goldfinches: Learn more before #GBBC

The 19th annual GBBC is taking place worldwide February 12 through 15, 2016. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced unusual weather patterns.

Winter Plumage
Get to know the American Goldfinches before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year. They have bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall. The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt too. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a buffy yellow orange color.

American Goldfinches are partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually and if it is a rough winter they can become nomadic. Their winter range includes southern Canada and stretches south through the United States to parts of Mexico. During heavy snowstorms they may move further south to find food only to move back when the weather clears.
Summer Plumage

American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds. I have dozens of goldfinches right now attacking my window feeder full of No-Mess Blend, a seed blend full of sunflower seeds without the shell.

They also appreciate the heated bird bath. The goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water because of their almost exclusive diet of seeds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

Related Articles:
- Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
- European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
- Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
- Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a

Monday, February 1, 2016

House Finches: Learn more before #GBBC

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit www.birdcount.org.

Get to know the House Finches before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Female and Male House Finch photo via Wikimedia Commons
House Finches are native to the western part of the United States. In the 1940's a shipment of house finches was illegally introduced into Long Island, New York. Eventually the population became established and spread throughout the eastern portion of the United States and now are seen in almost every state.

House Finches are small songbirds about the same size as House Sparrows. Males are buff colored birds with light brown stripes all over that are touched with rosy-pink on the head, throat and rump. Females are buff colored birds with light brown stripes all over and normally have no red.

House finches are socially monogamous. Where you see the male you usually see the female nearby. They are not territorial. In fact, they often nest in close association, and commonly occur in small groups or flocks. In groups, males and females usually establish dominance hierarchies, in which females are typically dominant over males. Throughout most of their range, house finches do not migrate. They are year-round residents in Michigan.

As the House in their name implies, they like to nest near humans. They are common nesters in wreaths, hanging plants or bushy landscape plants from March to August.

At the feeders I’ve found their favorite seed is safflower. They will also eat Nyjer (thistle), Sunflower Chips, and Oil Sunflower Seed.
Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers like you helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with Wild Birds Unlimited, as a sponsor!
Related Articles:
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://bit.ly/oL3iCF 
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://gbbc-is-coming
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh  
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men 
- What is the best bird feeder? http://bit.ly/qVr7i8