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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Photo Share: Think Spring!

A group of butterflies that appears early in the spring is the Punctuation Butterflies. They belong to the family Nymphalinae. Two common species of punctuation butterflies in Michigan are the Question Marks and Commas. Both get their names from the tiny mark that resembles a Question or Comma on the lower edge of hind wing.

Close relatives to each other, both species hibernate and appear on warm sunny days near the end of March. They seldom visit flowers because they actually feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung and carrion.
Once mated the female lays eggs under leaves of plants until the end of May. The young caterpillars hatch and munch on American elms, red elms, hackberry plants, Japanese hops, nettles, and more until its time to shed their skin and form into a chrysalis. After a couple weeks, a butterfly emerges, usually in the morning and afternoon hours.

When the summer adults emerge, they live, mate, and lay more eggs from May-September. Their eggs will develop the winter form of the butterflies that can overwinter to mate once again in the spring.
 
Thank you Holly for sharing your photos. If anyone else 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:
Do Monarch Butterflies just wake up in the spring? http://bit.ly/AkdPYz
How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly? http://bit.ly/ywhpZr
Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings? http://bit.ly/x04qEi
Red Admiral Butterfly Finds a Girlfriend http://bit.ly/AcDCwl
What are those small, creamy white butterflies with a spot on the wing? http://bit.ly/yRuhBX

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Black birds flocking to feeders

What are these blackbirds flocking to my feeders? Did they just migrate here? ~ Lansing

They are European Starlings. They are here in mid-Michigan year round but tend to flock and eat fruit and nuts in the winter just like American Robins and Cedar Waxwings instead of coming to feeders regularly.

The European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) molts its feathers in the fall and the new black feathers have tips that are whitish, giving the bird the appearance of “stars” covering their body. Over the winter, sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

Both sexes also have reddish brown legs, and seasonal changes in bill color (yellow in the spring, black in the fall). Males sport a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. Juvenile birds are large dull gray or black.

At the end of February the birds begin to look for nesting territories. You may notice that the infrequent visits in the winter increase to overwhelming hoards in the spring. The European Starling is insectivorous when breeding and typically consumes insects including caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders.

Right now they’re all excited! Nesting season is near! Like at a start of a race, there is energy in the air and it feels like it’s going to burst! Unfortunately most of the bugs (their favorite summer food) haven’t appeared yet and in March there are still slim pickings for a lot of birds. So they turn to feasting at your feeders.

While I love all the activity, I know most normal people don’t. So what can you do to deter the starlings and blackbirds, but still attract cardinals, chickadees, finches, and all the other less boisterous backyard birds?

Feeder Choices
  • Squirrel Buster Plus- This feeder is guaranteed Squirrel and large bird proof. You can exclude large nuisance birds with this feeder by rolling in the perches to make them short. You can also adjust the tension on the spring mechanism to have the feeder ports shut when large birds land. Blackbirds weigh twice as much as cardinals.
  • Upside Down Suet Feeder- a feeder that dispenses suet from the bottom doesn’t phase a woodpecker but will deter most blackbirds.
  • Finch Feeders- I’ve never had a problem with the blackbirds on any finch feeders that are filled with straight nyjer thistle seed.
Food Choices
  • Use pure beef suet with no seeds
  • Switch to straight safflower seed: Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.
Related Articles:
· What are those birds that sit on the wires? http://bit.ly/y608rz
· Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
· How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
· What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/w3ZBGa
· What do grackles eat? http://bit.ly/xBhX3j

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chilling facts about snow!

Okay, show of hands...Who's tired of snow?

5 Things You May Not Know About Snow
1.  The average snowflake falls at a speed of 3.1 miles per hour.
2. Because snow is so fluffy, what would be an inch of rain can turn out to be about 10 inches of snow.
3.  Around 12% of the Earth’s land surface is covered in permanent snow and ice.
4.  Marquette, Michigan has set the snow record this winter according to the National Weather Service. Just shy of 150 inches of snow has fallen in Marquette so far this winter - the most in the nation.
5.  Chionophobia is a fear of snow.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Providing food for bluebirds

I saw a bluebird at my seed cylinder feeder. Should I put out anything else for the them?

The Eastern Bluebirds gather in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries, exactly what is in the Wild Birds Unlimited seed cylinders. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may also host the bluebirds year-round
 
Providing food for bluebirds during the winter and early spring helps increase their chances of survival in bad weather. Most people that feed bluebirds give them mealworms. Besides mealworms, they will also eat seed cylinders, suet nuggets, or nuts.

With the day getting longer, the birds are becoming more active. Nesting season is just around the corner. Make sure your houses are ready and feeders and baths are full. If your yard looks welcoming they may just stay around to raise a family.

Related Articles:  
What do American Robins eat in the winter? http://bit.ly/wQh59Q
Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
Bird of the Week: Eastern Bluebird http://bit.ly/xgm1V4
Ultimate Bluebird House http://bit.ly/A4kliS
The Migration of Eastern Bluebirds http://bit.ly/yCLcQH

Monday, February 23, 2015

Annual avian cycles

The major activities of birds, like reproduction, raising young, molting, and surviving the winter, are guided by internal clocks that coincide with the appropriate season.

There is still a lot of snow on the ground but you may have noticed that as the days get longer, the birds are beginning to sing more. This morning I heard an excited Tufted Titmouse singing its LOUD fast-repeated song, “Peter—Peter—Peter,” right above my bird feeding station. What triggers this behavior?

A key part of a bird’s brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to longer days, the cells start to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone, previously associated only with growth and metabolism. It indirectly stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete further hormones called gonadotrophins, causing male birds' testicles to grow and, results in increased singing during breeding season.

So now is the time to be thinking about providing nesting material and nesting boxes to attract wild birds in your yard because there is nothing like birds’ songs to herald the approach of spring.

Related Articles:
- How Birds Sing http://bit.ly/xxf2vn
- How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/wYSqwb
- How Birds Court http://bit.ly/A2qGqS
- Dryer Lint is a NO NO for Nesting Material http://goo.gl/31x9i
- 5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Song Sparrow overwinters in Michigan

Hi, Sarah! I thought you might enjoy these pics of my year 'round resident Song Sparrow. He/it was here last year as well. This year there is a misarranged feather, so I know it's the same bird every time. I've never seen him actually on the feeder; he hangs out with the Juncos underneath. What I've observed is that, rather than hopping around and grabbing seed as they do, he seems to prefer to settle into a depression, and scratch and eat his way out of it backwards. - Lynn
The Song Sparrow lives up to its name, being one of the most persistent singers throughout the spring and summer. The scientific name Melodia means "melody" in Greek. Click here to hear the song.

In recent decades, mild winters and an abundance of backyard bird feeders have enticed an increasing number of Song Sparrows to overwinter in Michigan. Black oil sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract Song Sparrows to tray or ground bird feeders. You’ll also see them along with juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.  

Thank you Lynn for sharing your photos and observations!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Listen for the chickadee to announce spring

The Black-capped chickadee is a bird named after its own call or song. Like the Jay, Crow and other name-sayer birds, the chickadee’s common call, Chicka dee-dee-dee is easy to identify. It alerts other chickadees when good food available, helps reunite separated flock-mates, or signals “all clear” when danger has passed. But, at the beginning of the year I always wait for the loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee chickadees use to announce the beginning of nesting season.

At the end of January chickadees begin to explore potential nest sites (bird houses) so that as soon as the flocks break up for breeding, each pair can claim a territory within their home range.

Their melodious sweet-ie song is heard beginning on sunny February days and continues into March when chickadees dispute territory rights. The loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee songs become a familiar sound as male chickadees engage in prolonged fee-bee battles with their male neighbors. That’s when you know spring is here!  

Related Articles:
Best Bird Houses http://bit.ly/AuLTJt
A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats http://bit.ly/xQVMaa
Why don't chickadees stay to eat at the feeder? http://bit.ly/AkKThH
After chickadee babies have fledged http://bit.ly/yAYbP4
Fun Facts About Chickadees http://bit.ly/zIDkCi
What Do Black-Capped Chickadees Eat? http://bit.ly/zxi04X
Bird of the Week: Black-capped Chickadee http://bit.ly/A1YFQ4

Friday, February 20, 2015

Photo Share: Paper wasp nest in woods


Wasps and bees are beneficial insects, although they are generally considered to be pests because of their ability to sting. Wasps are beneficial because they pollinate flowers but they also prey on many insects, including flies, crickets, caterpillars and other insects.

During late summer and fall, as queens stop laying eggs and their nests decline, wasps change their food gathering priorities and are more interested in collecting sweets and other carbohydrates. Some wasps may become aggressive scavengers around human food and hummingbird feeders.

The colony dies in the fall with only the newly produced queens surviving the winter. The new queens leave their nests during late summer and mate with males. The queens then seek out overwintering sites, such as under loose bark, in rotted logs and in other small crevices. These queens become active the following spring when temperatures warm and sap begins to run. Then they search for favorable nesting sites to construct new nests. They do not reuse old nests.

Thank you Holly for sharing your photo. If anyone else 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, February 19, 2015

The Best Bird Food reduces waste

February is designated National Bird Feeding Month because it's one of the most difficult months in the U.S. for birds to survive in the wild. In mid-Michigan the plants are still dormant and haven’t begun to produce new food for the birds and the bugs are still scarce.

Also, low temperatures force birds to burn up to 10% of their body weight in stored fat each night to stay warm and this fat must be replaced every day. Be sure to keep your feeders filled with the high-energy, high-fat foods that provide your birds with the crucial nutrition they need to survive.

No-mess is the only blend I use personally and Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess bird seed is our most popular blend with our customers by far. I have to order so much that it is sometimes hard to find a place to stack the extra tonnage on the floor.

The first ingredient in No-Mess Blend is sunflower seed with the shells removed. This is the favorite of most of the seed eating birds like finches and cardinals. Then there are peanut pieces without the shell to attract the bug eating birds like the chickadees, nuthatches, wrens and more. Finally there is a little millet without the hull for the ground feeding birds like the juncos and doves.

There is about twice as much seed in a bag of no-mess because you are not paying for the shell. That means it should go down twice as slow and leave no debris 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. The birds eat everything. 

Each of our blends is mixed to attract the widest variety of 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 left on the ground to attract rodents. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

Related Articles:
What birds like peanuts? http://bit.ly/zispJK
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP
Why pay more for seed at Wild Birds Unlimited? http://bit.ly/xJZMFe
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Squirrels reveal first signs of spring

Black squirrel near Michigan State University in Lansing, MI
Do you think spring will ever come?- Holt, MI

The first sure sign I've seen that spring is near is squirrels "dancing" with each other. If you feed the squirrels and think they are looking especially fat right now, it may be that the females are eating for three or four. You can spot the experienced momma black squirrels because they look like they are running around with only their fluffy pants on. They pluck out the top half of their body hair to line their nest.

Another sign I've noticed is the increased activity at the finch feeders. American Goldfinches are the only finches in North America to go through a complete molt two times a year. In the spring the duller olive green wardrobe of the male is switched over to the bright yellow feathers with a stylish black cap and black and white wings. The spring molt requires a large amount of nutrients and energy which probably explains their ravenous behavior at the feeders right now.

Related Articles:
Average dates for birds return to Michigan the in Spring? http://bit.ly/IMYNQe
When is bird migration over? http://bit.ly/IMZ7OQ
What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/IMZsB3
What to know about feeding birds in the spring http://bit.ly/I5s6h9