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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Eastern kingbird facts

The Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus) is a large tyrant flycatcher native to North America. Adults are grey-black on the upperparts with light underparts; they have a long black tail with a white end and long pointed wings. They have a red patch on their crown, seldom seen.

The scientific name Tyrannus means “tyrant, despot, or king,” referring to the aggression kingbirds exhibit with each other and with other species. When defending their nests they will attack much larger predators like hawks, crows, and squirrels. They have been known to knock unsuspecting Blue Jays out of trees.

Eastern Kingbirds are Common and widespread in Michigan from May until early September. They are most likely seen on the golf courses or in the country perched where they can wait for insect prey to fly by.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How to keep yellow jackets away from hummingbird feeder

The only sure defense against bees and yellow jacket wasps is to deny them any access to the nectar. I have replaced all my hummingbird feeders gradually with the problem free Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders. The bees don’t like the flat style hummingbird feeders because the nectar is down low, there is no leaking or dripping, they have a built in ant moat and they are easy to clean and fill. There are also optional bee guards you can attach to allow only hummers and no bugs access.

There are different styles and sizes of the saucer style hummingbird feeders, even a window feeder! They all have perches (I love it when they stop to drink) and bright colored tops to attract the birds naturally. Both the cover and the clear bowl are constructed with UV stable poly carbonate, the most durable plastic available, are dishwasher safe, come with a lifetime guarantee, and are made in the USA.

If you choose not to try a new feeder right now, I have three tips to stop bees:

1. Deter Bees and wasps: I discovered bees don't like the smell of cherries. If you swab the ports with real almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid the feeder. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day.
2. Distract Bees and wasps: Use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). Put the plate on a ladder or stool near the hummingbird feeder and they will probably move over to the plate. Once the plate is empty the bees should disperse.
3. Disinterest Bees and wasps: Reduce the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water instead of the usual nectar recipe of 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. This will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.

Related Articles:
Do Honey Bees Migrate in the Winter? http://bit.ly/KIuKKv
When did people start to feed hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/KIuSK6
What’s the best bee-proof hummingbird feeder? http://goo.gl/PcLeyD
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/H2U4P4
Examining The Hummingbird Tongue http://bit.ly/HoaxsI
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/H7xvp3

Friday, July 22, 2016

Photo Share: Ruby-throated hummingbird fluffed

Nesting season is over for the hummingbirds in Michigan by the end of June. Once breeding territories no longer have to be guarded, hummingbirds wander widely. This is a really good time to put out a hummingbird feeder.

Just before they answer the call to travel south, hummingbirds eat in excess to build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the belly, back, and throat. A hummingbird actually gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice them getting fatter and fatter and then one day they fly to their wintering grounds.

Photo by Ken Thomas. If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Decorative yet functional hummingbird feeder by Droll Yankees

Droll Yankees new Ruby Sipper® Hanging Hummingbird Feeder, is a perfect pairing of whimsical fun and practical performance, all in one stylish saucer feeder. The 5 ounce capacity of the Ruby Sipper makes it an ideal feeder for establishing multiple feeding zones for territorial hummingbirds. Every hummer can have its own feeder!
  • Leak-proof design!
  • Floats on a graceful stainless steel wire
  • Eye-catching ruby red attracts hummingbirds instantly
  • Lavender dish keeps the nectar level visible
  • Three feeding ports are easy for hummers to use
  • Holds 5 ounces of nectar
  • Nectar recipe is engraved on the feeder cover
  • UV stabilized polycarbonate construction- strong and reliably long lasting
  • Easy to fill and clean
  • Our Perfect Little Brush is included to keep feeder ports clean – replacement brushes may be purchased
  • Lifetime Warranty covers defective parts
  • Made in the U.S.A.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

What bird sings cheeseburger?

“What bird says Cheeseburger?” My mom asked me that question a couple weeks ago. Chickadee is the answer. We were joking that Mrs. Chickadee was literally calling her mate a meathead. In the spring it is all, Sweetie, hey, sweetie as they choose mates and defend territories and now it has turned into name calling. I think the bloom is off the rose.

When I’m filling the feeders the chickadees sometimes give what seems like a friendly chick-a-dee-dee-dee which I always interpreted as a “hurry up, food is here”. Then when a Chickadee stops by my feeder they make a tseet, tseet “hello”, picks out a seed and zips away. And the soulful sweeeties chickadee parents call to gather their fledglings is one of the sweetest sounds of summer.

Black-capped Chickadees have a lot of vocalizations, adults can produce at least 16 different calls. Young chickadees usually produce 3 types of calls to beg for food, to talk to their parents, or alert them they are in distress.

Chickadees are well known for their distinctive calls which sound like chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Scientist are just beginning to decode some of the meanings. They increase the number of dee notes when they are alarmed, give a gargling call, often aggressively, when a lower-ranking bird gets too close. And a high pitched see is a serious alarm call, often when a fast-approaching predator is detected. When chickadees hear this call, they freeze in position until they hear a chickadee-dee call signifying “all clear.”

Further studies in communication in birds may provide insights into the evolution of structural complexity of human language.

Related Articles:
What the 'dee' in Chick-a-dee means http://goo.gl/8rde3a
A closer look at the fee-bee song of the chickadee http://goo.gl/X4qLRV
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
Birds have evolved alarm signals to warn of danger http://birds-have-evolved-alarm-signals-to.html

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

There are no birdhouses for yellow finches

What feeders or flowers do goldfinches like? Can I put up a bird house for them? ~ East Lansing, MI

American Goldfinches are one of the loveliest songbirds to have gracing our yards. They are bright yellow and black birds, with a cheery song, and a wavy roller-coaster flight pattern that the great state of Michigan is lucky enough to have year round!  They roam from garden to garden making the flowers dance as they eat seed heads until late summer when they choose a territory where they will nest.
Feeders are the easiest way to attract the American Goldfinch. We sell a variety of finch feeders. My favorites are the Mesh Finch Feeders. They not only let the finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but they also allow air circulation to keep your Nyjer® (thistle) as dry and fresh as possible; something that's very important to these picky eaters. (Nyjer® (thistle) is the common name used to identify a tiny black birdseed but it does not sprout and is not related to the purple, prickly, Canada Thistle weed.)

Goldfinches eat a variety of seeds. Sunflower and Nyjer® (thistle) are two of their favorites, but it has to be fresh. One way to check your seed is to crush it with a spoon on white paper to see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week). Sunflower seed can offered in the shell or out of the shell like it is in the WBU No-mess Blend.

Gardening Trick for Goldfinches 
Habitat can be a key to attracting Goldfinches. In this case you do less work, not more. Don't worry about dandelions and don't cut off the tops of your Marigolds, Zinnias, Cosmos, Brown eyed Susans or Coneflowers...Goldfinches love them. The birds make the flowers dance as they flit from flower to flower looking for seed heads.

The American Goldfinch begins its breeding season in late July. They don’t use bird houses but you can provide nesting material like cotton or pet hair. The female alone builds a bark, weeds, vines, and grass nest held together with spiderwebs 30 feet up in a deciduous tree. Finally she lines the nest with soft cottons, hair, milkweed, thistle, or cattail fluff.

Then it's my favorite time of year. By mid-August, after a couple weeks of incubating and a couple weeks in the nest, the first wave of baby goldfinches visit the feeder with their fathers. Their high squeaky baby calls are so adorable, but also a little sad because it marks the end of nesting season.
Related Articles:
Prevent soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a
How to Attract Goldfinches http://bit.ly/A6CwjB
How often do you clean a bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wTk0c7 
Where do you place finch feeders? http://goo.gl/avIs2

Monday, July 18, 2016

Photo Share: Orange-crowned Warbler

Photo by George Gentry
From allaboutbirds.com:
Orange-crowned Warblers aren’t the most dazzling birds in their family, but they’re a useful one to learn. These grayish to olive-green birds vary in color geographically and have few bold markings. There’s rarely any sign of an orange crown. They might have you scratching your head until you recognize their slim shape, sharply pointed bill, and warmer yellow under the tail. These busy birds forage low in shrubs, and are one of the few warblers that's more common in the West than the East.

These warblers are seen in mid-Michigan in the late spring and late summer as they migrate through.

If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Osprey bird

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), also called fish eagle, sea hawk, river hawk, and fish hawk, is a fish-eating bird of prey. The name "Osprey" made its first appearance around 1460, via the Medieval Latin phrase for "bird of prey" (avis prede). Some wordsmiths trace the name even further back, to the Latin for "bone-breaker"—ossifragus.

They are common sights soaring over shorelines and patrolling waterways for their exclusive diet of fish. Their white belly makes them hard for the fish to see them overhead and their dark eye-line of feathers blocks the glare from the water, enabling them to spot their prey.

Folding its wings, the Osprey dives toward the fish only to right itself and thrusts its feed forward to grab a fish just before striking the water. The Osprey's feet are specialized to prevent its catch from escape. They have two toes that face forward and two that face backward and the toes have sharp spines to help them clamp tight on even the slipperiest of fish. Over several studies, Ospreys success rates are sometimes as high as 70 percent.
Related Articles:
The Bald Eagle as the National Symbol http://bit.ly/ythN8H
Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://bit.ly/A7TrNc
Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
Who Bird Watches http://goo.gl/vX9j5
Sports Illustrated Birdwatching edition http://goo.gl/RuJQQX

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Effects of backyard bird feeding

I was worried when I began feeding the birds that the birds may become addicted to my feeders. Now I’m worried that I am addicted to bird feeding. Is there any harm in feeding birds all the time? Wild Birds Unlimited is my favorite shop! Thank you Sarah for answering all my questions!

I’ve been feeding birds year-round for decades and have been rewarded by babies in the summer, interesting migrating birds in the spring and fall, and cheery birds in the dreary winter. Based on personal experience, if you maintain your feeders, feed the appropriate food for the birds in your area, and clean the feeders frequently, there is no harm in feeding all the time.

Among the most popular reasons that people feed wild birds is that they want to help birds. The extent to which supplemental food helps birds was not well established until a study was done by the Millikin University, from spring 2011 to spring 2014. They examined how feeding wild birds influences the health of individual birds at forested sites in central Illinois.

Generally, the individual health of birds improved with supplemental feeding, reduced stress and more rapid feather growth. The difference among sites was not present 10 months after feeders were removed, suggesting that the impact on health was indeed related to supplemental feeding. One negative effect was the spread of disease from dirty feeders. They found in general, birds that had access to supplemental food were in better physiological condition. Moreover, the negative effects could be mitigated by hobbyists cleaning feeders.

In 2011, 52.8 million Americans over the age of 16 years fed birds and other wildlife around their homes and spent over $5 billion on bird food, feeders, houses, baths and other accessories according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Habitat alteration and destruction undoubtedly impose the greatest human impacts on bird populations, and many species of birds are in decline worldwide. A little supplemental food can help birds establish nests earlier, have better rates of nestling survival and fledgling success.

Feeders also allow breeding females to spend less time searching for food and more time selecting better nesting sites and constructing higher quality nests. The adults will also have more time available for protecting their nest, eggs and young from predators.

When abundant food is accessible to parent birds it means that more food is provided to their chicks. Studies have shown that this extra nutrition reduces aggression among nest siblings and increases their rate of growth. So go ahead and feed the birds and enjoy a hobby that also helps Mother Nature.

Related Articles:
Meeting Your Birds' Nesting Needs http://meeting-your-birds-nesting-needs.html
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://what-seeds-do-wild-birds-eat.html
When should I feed the birds? http://feeding-year-round.html
How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Photo Share: Beautiful perched Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vultures are scavengers that feed almost exclusively on carrion. Their outstanding sense of smell allows them to detect gases generated by decay processes in dead animals. Turkey vultures limit the spread of carrion-borne disease since many pathogens such as anthrax and hog cholera cannot survive passage through their digestive tracts. In parts of the world where vultures are declining in number, rats and feral dogs are increasing.

The plumage of males and females are nearly identical. Body feathers are dark brown to black. In flight, white to grey feathers on the underside of their wings become apparent. Their heads are red and nearly free of feathers. They have a short curved, ivory colored beak.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

What wrens do after they leave the nest

I wanted to know where my wren family went. The babies fledged and I heard and saw them with parents for 4 days and now they are nowhere to be seen or heard. Have they moved on to a different area and is it normal for them to do that? Could they by chance come back to my yard later? Thanks . I must say I miss them!

Your wrens are probably gone, but others still may find food in your yard.

When they hatch from their egg, wrens are just blobs of small pink skin and bones about the size of your thumbnail. The young are completely helpless and depend on their parents.

By day 15, they are almost fully feathered and capable of flight. They stretch and buzz their wings in the nest to build up muscles. All leave the nest within a few hours of each other.

Once baby wrens are out of the nest they fly-hop around bushes and trees, in the general area they hatched, to build up their strength. Their parents lead them to water and continue to feed them.

Gradually, the parents will take the young farther and farther from the nest site as they show them how to forage for food, water and shelter. Soon they are able to take care of themselves. Then the tight cohesive unit will disperse. Scientists aren’t sure what triggers the break, but the young take off suddenly in different directions.

When autumn arrives, these tiny birds will build up their fat reserves and begin heading south to spend the winter in the southern states and into Mexico. They don’t form migrating flocks like blackbirds and robins.
Related Articles:
Nest of sticks in bluebird box http://bit.ly/vUB9v2
Question about House Wren Migration http://bit.ly/MMTgSh
Quick Fun Facts on Wrens http://bit.ly/v5XVoU
Hanging & Placement of Wren Bird Houses http://bit.ly/rBLsGQ
How long before baby wren birds can fly http://how-long-before-baby-wren-birds-can-fly.html