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, January 24, 2015

First bats to die from white-nose syndrome in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced recently that it has received the first reports this winter of bats dying from white-nose syndrome. Members of the public found dead bats outside the opening of an abandoned copper mine near Mohawk in Keweenaw County and reported it to DNR field staff.
Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) with white-nose syndrome, New York
White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first documented in bats in New York in winter 2006-2007. The syndrome was named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat, giving the appearance of a white nose. The syndrome was first discovered in Michigan in late winter 2014 in Alpena, Dickinson, Keweenaw, Mackinac and Ontonagon counties. Widespread die-offs of hibernating bats are expected in all of these counties, and potentially others, this winter.

“We understand the public will be concerned, and we share their concern for the plight of these bats,” said DNR wildlife veterinarian Dan O’Brien. “Unfortunately, there is nothing that the public can do to help the bats that are now dying."

WNS primarily affects bats during hibernation. Infected bats awaken prematurely from hibernation, deplete their fat reserves rapidly, and are unable to survive the winter. The public can help bat populations by staying out of mines and caves where bats hibernate.

The DNR asks that bat die-offs this winter be reported on the DNR website or by calling 517-336-5030. For more information on bats and white-nose syndrome, visit www.michigan.gov/wns and www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Photo Share: Dispute over species of bird

I say this is a Veery, my friend says it is a Hermit Thrush. Please advise. If you like this photo, feel free to share or use. Richard

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org, is a good website to compare different birds that look alike.

At first glance there are a few similar thrushes in the genus Catharus, but careful observation can help you tell them apart. For instance, Hermit Thrush is the only one of these species that lives in the U.S. in winter. 

Hermit Thrushes have a warm brown tail that contrasts with a duller brown back. They also habitually perform a frequent tail-lift, quickly raising the tail and slowly lowering it; no other Catharus thrush does this. The underparts are pale with distinct spots on the throat and smudged spots on the breast. With a close look you may see a thin pale eye ring (not a bold one).

The Veery  is similar to Hermit Thrush but more slender and longer-winged. Veeries have uniformly warm brown upperparts, indistinct spotting on the chest, and fairly plain faces with very little eye ring.  
Comparison of similar birds from: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Hermit_Thrush/id#similar

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to feed birds while on a vacation

Holly has sent us some wonderful photos of her birds on her seed cylinder feeder. Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Cylinder Feeders attract a variety of birds. They're low maintenance and easy to fill. Just slip on a medium (1.75 lbs) or large (4.5 lbs) seed cylinder and watch the birds feast for weeks.
The cylinder seed cakes are held together with gelatin and can withstand the winter weather really well. They also deter the house sparrows from scattering all the seed like they might from a loose seed style feeder. The birds have to stay at the feeder longer to work the seed free. This gives you more time to observe the birds up close.

There are several seed cylinder flavors. Holly is using the Cranberry. Our Large Cranberry Fare Seed Cylinder is packed with pecans, sunflower chips, peanuts, safflower, black oil sunflower and cranberries - everything you need to help your birds survive the winter. Larger seed cylinders are ideal for using when you’re away on vacation, can accommodate a large amount of bird activity and requires you to refill your feeders less often
Thank you Holly for sharing a snapshot from your yard. It looks like you need a refill. Hope to seed you soon!

Related Articles:
How to get the chickadees to stay at the feeder longer http://goo.gl/Bn5G2u
Birdfeeding doesn't have to be messy: 3 Solutions to a Tidy Yard http://goo.gl/5oBc8N
Best Large Capacity Bird Feeder http://goo.gl/fqmDby
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In honor of hard working Squirrels everywhere

Many animals prefer working for their food, rather than getting it for free, defying standard economic theory.

In honor of January 21st Squirrel Appreciation Day I would like to share a scientific theory on why those pesky squirrels work so hard to eat bird food.

The following is adapted from The Upside of Irrationaity: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely, HarperCollins (2010).

"Contrafreeloading," a term coined by the animal psychologist Glen Jensen, refers to the finding that many animals prefer to earn food rather than simply eating identical, but freely accessible, food found in a dish nearby.

To better understand the joy of working for food, Jensen first took adult male albino rats and tested their appetite for labor. Imagine that you are a rat participating in Jensen's study. After a few days of having a nice man in a white lab coat giving you lab crackers precisely at noon, you learn to expect food at noon every day, and your rat tummy begins rumbling right before the nice man shows up -- exactly the state Jensen wants you in.

Once your body is conditioned to eating crackers at noon, things suddenly change. Instead of feeding you at the time of your maximal hunger, you have to wait another hour, and at one o'clock, the man picks you up and puts you in a box with bar that you accidentally press, and immediately a pellet of food is released. Wonderful! You press the bar again. Oh joy! -- another pellet comes out. You press again and again, eating happily, but then the light goes off, and at the same time, the bar stops releasing food pellets. You soon learn that when the light is off, no matter how much you press the bar, you don't get any food.

Just then the man in the lab coat opens the top of the cage and places a tin cup in a corner of the cage. You don't pay attention to the cup; you just want the bar to start producing food again. You press and press, but nothing happens. As long as the light is off, pressing the bar does you no good. You wander around the cage, cursing under your rat breath, and go over to the tin cup. "Oh my! It's full of pellets! Free food!" You begin chomping away, and then suddenly the light comes on again. Now you realize that you have two possible food sources. You can keep on eating the free food from the tin cup, or you can go back to the bar and press it for food pellets. If you were this rat, what would you do?

Assuming you were like all but one of the two hundred rats in Jensen's study, you would decide not to feast entirely from the tin cup. Sooner or later you would return to the bar and press it for food.

Jensen discovered that many animals- including fish, birds, gerbils, rats, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees-tend to prefer a longer, more indirect route to food than a shorter, more direct one. That is, as long as the animal doesn't have to work too hard, he'll frequently prefer to earn his food. In fact, among all the animals tested so far the only species that prefers the "lazy" route is the commendably rational cat which prefers to be served.

The general idea of contrafreeloading contradicts the simple economic view that organisms will always choose to maximize their reward while minimizing their effort.
Watch the video: http://youtu.be/Y0NxxZWMOMQ
For more information:
3. NPR interview of behavioral economist Dan Ariely about his new book, The Upside of Irrationality.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flying Squirrels in Michigan

Although they can be found throughout the state, few people have had the opportunity to view Michigan's most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel. Two species of flying squirrels are found in the state. The northern flying squirrel (G. sabrinus) inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while its close relative, the southernflying squirrel (G. volans), inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.

Flying squirrels are entirely nocturnal, inhabiting mature forests and parks, as well as other woodlands. They utilize the many cavities that are found in mature trees for nesting and winter denning. Unlike bats, flying squirrels do not really fly. They have a loose membrane of furred skin attached between their front and back legs. The membrane helps these squirrels glide from tree to tree.

Flying squirrels readily visit bird feeders. One way to view these creatures after dark is to use a red light to illuminate the feeder. The red light does not bother the feeding squirrels but allows you to see their activity after dark.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons
While relatively abundant, researchers have been noticing a change. Northern flying squirrels are no longer being found in their historic range. Yet researchers are finding not only higher numbers of flying squirrels but in areas they had not been found previously.

The question for researchers is why it seems that the northern flying squirrel population is retreating while the southern flying squirrel is increasing. Some evidence suggests that the continued existence of the northern flying squirrel in the Lower Peninsula is at risk.

Researchers from Michigan State University will be establishing survey plots to document the range of the two species and compare this to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Source: Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus & G. volans)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Start collecting pet hair now for the birds

The Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor is an attractive bird with big black eyes. Its feathers are gray above, white below, with red/brown side flanks. This makes perfect camouflage. The adults also have a black area above the bill that the juveniles lack.

Breeding pairs like to remain close together year round, even when they join small multi species flocks for winter survival. They do not migrate.

In the spring when nesting season begins, place bunches of pet hair or your own hair from brushes inside a suet cage. If you’re fortunate enough to have titmice in the area, they would love to incorporate your offerings into the lining of their nest. They've even been known to help themselves to horse hair and dog hair while it’s still attached to the animal.

Related Articles:
Is it “Titmice” or “Titmouses”? http://bit.ly/yImBcF
Camouflaged Titmouse Fits Right In http://bit.ly/w0f2us
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short? http://bit.ly/yds9Mm
Tufted Titmouse fun facts http://bit.ly/AfIA7H

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What a mild winter means for bird watchers

My friend and I wonder where are the birds that used to feed at our feeders. Mine in St. Joseph and hers in Holland. This is the first year that this has happened. I have sighted very few birds this winter in St. Joseph and only in one place do I hear song. My friend shares the same experience. Is there a reason? Thank you for your help in answering our question.

There are several reasons you may not have as many birds this year. With the warmer-than-usual conditions more birds are finding it easier to forage for food naturally. It's estimated that only about 20% of a backyard bird's daily energy intake comes from feeders and because we haven’t had a lot of snowfall in Michigan, there still might be a lot of natural food sources available.

Also this year we've had no major bird irruptions. According to the Finch Forecast the seed crops in the boreal forest for 2015 are average. That means more birds will stay up north this winter with little chance of irruptive migration of birds to Michigan.

Other things to check if you don’t have birds at your feeders:
1. Choose quality food. Birds are remarkably proficient at assessing potential food items for nutritional content and quality. Fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, white proso millet, safflower, Nyjer thistle seed and high quality suets are some of the best choices. Feeders with low-quality foods may have the seed discarded on the ground or just avoided. Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess bird seed is the only blend I use personally. The first ingredient is sunflower seed with the hulls removed, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet, also with the hulls removed.

2. Make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this is to smash the seed on a piece of white paper and see if any oil comes out. On cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

3. Clean feeders keep birds healthy. Dirty or moldy feeders can be dangerous to the birds. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh™ (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using something like WBU Weather Guard.

4. Look for predators. Hawks or cats can deter birds from feeding in your area.

You'll probably notice that the bird activity will increase at the feeders before a storm.

Related Articles:

- Common winter birds in Michigan and their food preference: http://bit.ly/yp9YQA
- How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to winterize your bird feeding station http://bit.ly/xucuF8  
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/vZ6gzM
- Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/5FpPr7

Saturday, January 17, 2015

More Bald Eagles fly over Michigan

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.

Related Articles:
Bald Eagle Information http://t.co/o4ugzs2
Nesting Eagles http://t.co/vpj99ZV
Terrified Geese Have Eyes on the Sky http://t.co/pqsWQqE
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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Photo Share: Tribute to Squirrels

Squirrels are well known for their theft of “bird” seed to hoard for winter feeding. While frustrating to bird watchers, these cute little characters serve a higher purpose of spreading seeds. In fact squirrels are considered extremely important to the initial growth of forests in much of America.

But they don’t just depend on their hoard of buried acorns. If they’re running low on food, or have a need for a little sweet, quick energy, they can harvest maple syrup directly from trees. A simple scoring on the maple’s tree trunk with their teeth, lets the sap leak. A traditional tale of the Iroquois people suggests maple syrup was first discovered when a young boy saw a squirrel lick a tree.
Photo via Wikipedia Commons
A squirrel’s value was so important to the people in Longview, Washington that in 1963, the city council authorized the construction of a 4” wide squirrel bridge twenty feet over a busy road to help squirrels get from an office courtyard to the park safely. Nutty Narrows turned out to be just the first of 4 squirrel sky-bridges built in the town that is now the squirrel-lovers’ capital of America. It even has its own live webcam feed.

Related Articles:
National Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://goo.gl/vkC1hv
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food http://goo.gl/OWV1Qg
Invasion of American Killer Squirrels http://goo.gl/xos3aH

Squirrel fun facts http://goo.gl/OdN7Cz
How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb

Thursday, January 15, 2015

5 New Year resolutions for my birds

New Year resolutions are for the birds! That’s why I’ve compiled 5 resolutions to keep your birds fat and happy all winter.

1. Clean Feeders - Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.
2. Fill Feeders – Throw out seed that is over 3 months old! It is dried out and will do your birds no good. Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements. An ample supply of fresh high-calorie foods is crucial to a bird's survival. Wild Birds Unlimited has regionally formulated seed blends to provide the most nutritious food for your birds.
3. Feeder/Hardware Maintenance - Check you feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill.
4. Provide Roosting Spots - Nest boxes turn into roosting boxes in the winter for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might stay all winter in mid-Michigan. You can put up roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses available at Wild Birds Unlimited to offer essential protection in the winter.
5. Prepare Bird Baths - Birds also need a source for water in the winter. In our area, weather can turn cold fast and freeze the water in bird baths. It’s best to place a plastic or metal bath out with an added heater or a buy a heated birdbath. If you’re not sure what you need, Wild Birds Unlimited will give you accurate information on how to support our local birds. 

Related articles:
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Suet is good for birds in the winter

The woodpeckers haven't been around this week. Can the suet get too frozen hard for them to eat? Williamston, MI
Pileated Woodpecker on Double Tail-prop feeder

I think your answer lies in the birds name. Woodpeckers, as their name suggests, peck on the wood of trees to look for or hide tasty treats, and to build nests. In addition to drilling holes, woodpeckers will knock their heads to send sound signals.

Their bill is composed of a number of separate horny plates called rhamphotheca which are made of a tough protein called keratin (the same protein that makes our fingernails).

It does wear down, but special cells on the end of the bill are constantly replacing the lost material. This keeps the chisel-pointed bill strong and resilient, while actually allowing it to be sharpened with every blow.

So you don't have to worry about frozen suet. Woodpeckers' many adaptations allow them to forage for bugs hidden under tree bark or suet or nuts offered from a feeder.
Related Articles:
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S 

Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt