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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to select the best bird seed

I'm feeding No-mess bird seed. Is that the best blend for winter?

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.

No-Mess Blend is unique because it features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's no debris on the ground to clean up. The first ingredient in the No-Mess blend is sunflower seed with the hulls removed, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet, also with the hulls removed. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

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. All our Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends have been formulated regionally to provide the most nutritious food for your birds.

The first ingredient in our top 4 seed blends is sunflower seed. Oil Sunflower seed is the favorite of most of the backyard seed eating birds and I always like it to be the first ingredient in my bird seed blend. Choice, Supreme, and Deluxe all have oil sunflower, striped sunflower, safflower, and sunflower chips. Deluxe also has white proso millet to attract the ground feeding birds like the juncos, sparrows, and doves.

Choice is the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing’s second most popular blend. It has peanut pieces in the mix. Now when I tell that to most people they say, “oh, no that will attract squirrels”, but the peanuts in the mix are for the birds. Lots of bug eating birds like the woodpeckers, jays, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches love to pick out the peanuts. Peanuts have a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. Lots of interesting birds love peanuts.

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. 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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leave the goldfinch feeder up for winter finches

Am I supposed to leave the goldfinch feeder up during the winter? I thought they migrated south.
I love the American Goldfinches and mid-Michigan is lucky enough to have these birds year round. If you enjoyed watching them in the summer and fall, they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.

Winter also brings down some Canadian finches like the redpolls and siskins.

And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to smash it with a spoon on white paper and see if any oil spots are produced. 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).

Finally, remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the finches love.

Related Articles:
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/pEuMKo
- House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/opD7kb
- Bird of the week: Pine Siskin http://bit.ly/qNqIuK
- Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
- Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan http://goo.gl/C9WUqx
- Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where birds go when it rains

I'm wondering when it is raining really heavy, where do the birds go? I don't see or hear them in the trees. Where do they shelter themselves? - Ricky

Roosting pocket make a cozy shelter
You need to look a little lower for birds when it storms. Many birds take shelter in a dense group of bushes lower to the ground or even in leaf or brush piles. I had a little finch on my front porch taking shelter behind a pumpkin.

Bird houses and roosting pockets also give protection during a storm. Wrens, chickadees, sparrows, woodpeckers and bluebirds often pop in bird houses when shelter is required from heavy rains or snow.

The small birds fly as little as possible and try to wait out storms. This is when they appreciate bird feeders the most.
During storms birds may think of your feeder as a known source of food. While not dependent on feeders, birds don't feel like foraging for food in bad weather. Feeders make it easier for wild birds to brave a storm and refuel. 

Related Articles:

How can birds fly in the rain? http://goo.gl/JOeMVM
How to Help Keep Your Birds Warm http://goo.gl/GNaFLo
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy

Please Miss, can you spare a nibble?

After filling the feeders, I sometimes give a Blue Jay call to alert the birds that their dinner is served. However sometimes I give a little "chip, chip, chip" call to alert little ground beggers that I just might have spilled a little food for them to clean up.

Chipmunks get their name because they are often seen perched and chipping. They are solitary animals and their chipping perch is usually close to their burrow entrance to let other chipmunks know to stay away.

Eastern Chipmunks do not hibernate throughout the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their homes. In the fall they gather large amounts of food in their burrows and build nests on top of their treasure trove. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks head underground to their prepared area, where they enter torpor (short times of hibernation). They wake up occasionally eat their stored food and go back to sleep until the earth warms in the spring.
Related articles:
- How much food can a chipmunk hold in his mouth? http://bit.ly/yD6Bn8
- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/yIfqFT
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/A2wG1g
- Will Safflower seed deter chipmunks? http://bit.ly/wYGDBi
- How many different types of chipmunks are there? http://goo.gl/X4Sqff

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Climate change alters cast of winter birds

A mix of birds gather around a snow-covered bird feeder during a winter day. According to UW researchers, birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north. Photo: Martha Allen/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Over the past twenty years, the common birds at eastern North America’s backyard bird feeders in winter have changed subtly, most likely as a result of a warming climate. In this week's journal Global Change Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biologists Benjamin Zuckerberg and Karine PrincĂ© document that once rare wintering bird species are now commonplace.
Photo: Carolina wrens
Carolina wrens have greatly expanded their wintering range
Photo: Michele Black/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Using more than two decades of data on 38 species of birds gathered by thousands of “citizen scientists” through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, the researchers show that birds typically found in more southerly regions are moving north gradually, restructuring the communities of birds that spend their winters in northern latitudes.

“Fifty years ago, cardinals were rare in the northeastern United States. Carolina wrens even more so,” explains Zuckerberg.

The researchers measured the changes over time in the abundance of 38 bird species at feeders in eastern North America, over a 22-year period on the flocks of birds that gather at backyard feeding stations.

Zuckerberg says. “Birds have always been very good indicators of environmental change.” PrincĂ© notes that other environmental changes, such as the pervasive human impact on landscape, may also be exerting an influence on the observed changes in the composition of birds attending winter feeding stations in eastern North America. “Climate change should not be viewed as the sole driver of changes in winter bird communities, but this signal is a pretty strong,” she explains.

Journal reference: Global Change Biology
Provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Articles:
Cardinals move north: http://goo.gl/kiMcIW
Everyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/WM83on
House Wren didn't migrate this winter http://goo.gl/2JlaCz
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://goo.gl/kPTb9v

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Strange looking cardinal

My mom has strange looking cardinals in her backyard. They seem to have crossbred with another variety. Some have dark beaks some have mottled red-brown feathers. Have observed a red male northern Cardinal feeding a young with a dark beak. Any ideas?

Photo from WunderPhotos
These are late season juvenile cardinals. Babies always have dark beaks and look like they've been rolled in ashes. As the baby boys mature, more colorful red feathers will appear until they look like normal adults.

Right now they are looking for a lot of weed seeds, fruits, nuts and berries in the wild. At the feeders you can provide highly nutritious and protein packed foods like sunflower and safflower seeds as well as peanuts.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

Photo Share: Savannah Sparrow

Not all streaky brown birds are impossible to identify. The Savannah Sparrow, an understated but distinctive sparrow, has a short tail, small head, and telltale yellow spot before the eye. One of Michigan's most common open-country birds, they are often seen and heard in open fields or on the side of highways looking for food.

The Savannah Sparrow’s name sounds like a nod to its fondness for grassy areas, but this species was actually named for a specimen collected in Savannah, Georgia.

Few overwinter in mid-Michgan. Most will move further south by the end of October.

Related Articles:
Different sparrows in Michigan http://goo.gl/Y2B5HH
Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1
How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/rquunU
Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/0qggF
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Share the fall harvest with the birds

Now is the time for fall harvest. As you start preparing for the holidays, don’t forget about your birds! Here are a few ways to take advantage of seasonal items to attract birds to your yard:
1. Squash and pumpkin seeds Whether you are carving a pumpkin, or preparing a pumpkin pie, set aside the seeds. Nuthatches love them, and many other birds will eat them as well. You also may have noticed squirrels rearranging the face of your Jack O’Lantern as they have quick nibble.
2. Apples When you are making apple pies don’t throw away the apple cores. There are a number of birds which may be attracted to apples, including Cardinals. You can also roll birdseed in with extra pie dough and bake it in the shape of a bagel. When cool hang from trees. The pie crust usually has lots of fat which is substitute for the insects that birds eat but are not plentiful in cold weather.
5. Nuts Many insect eating birds greatly appreciate this high protein food. Too much salt isn’t good for the birds, but a few leftover party nuts mixed with other bird seed can be a treat. You can also collect nuts from the trees in your neighborhood, including acorns and walnuts.
6. Peanut Butter Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk. You’ll be surprised how many cute birds this will attract up and down your tree. Or spread Peanut butter on pine cones, old bread, or cookies. Then roll them in birdseed and hang them on your bushes with raffia string.
7. Ornamental Corn Autumn decorations for your home can also provide the birds with food. Blue Jays and Squirrels will enjoy ornamental corn.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How to identify baby chipmunks

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
How come we never see baby or very young chipmunks???? - Cheers, Peter
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Mommas raise babies alone. At birth the young are 2.5 in long, blind, naked, and weigh about 0.1 oz. She nurses them and feeds them in her underground burrow until their eyes open at 30 days. Young chipmunks then begin to emerge from the burrow at 40 days looking like brand clean, skinny adults.

The female weans and abandons her litter once they come above ground, by either moving them to a nearby burrow, or by leaving her young in the natal burrow while she moves to a new one. In either case, the young disperse about two weeks later.
Potential life span for an adult chipmunk is 8 years, but few adults live longer than 2-3 years. Most of the chipmunks you see in June are probably very young.

Thank you so much Sarah.  We moved to the country several years ago and have Chippies as neighbours. However, never been able to figure out the large ups and downs in their number from year to year and how come we never see babies like we do with the raccoons. We did see one get picked off by a hawk right in front of our car which was not a pretty sight! - Cheers, Peter

Related articles:
- How much food can a chipmunk hold in his mouth? http://bit.ly/yD6Bn8
- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/yIfqFT
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/A2wG1g
- Will Safflower seed deter chipmunks? http://bit.ly/wYGDBi
- How many different types of chipmunks are there? http://goo.gl/X4Sqf

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New bird in the neighborhood warns cold weather coming

It was so warm yesterday all the windows were open and I heard the call of a bird I only hear 2 times a year in mid-Michigan. In the spring I hear the song and know frost free days are ahead. In the fall when I hear them I know freezing days are just around the corner.

I'm now waking up to this song that sounds like a chickadee trying to sing under water. I haven't looked under the feeders yet but I'm sure I'll see the fist wave of White-throated sparrows.
They nest in upper Michigan and Canada. Fall migration begins in September, and we usually start to see them by mid-October (before the first permanent snowfall). They migrate in loose flocks, flying at night and foraging during the day. As with most species, fall migration is slower than spring migration, with longer stopovers. We can probably expect them to stay in our area for a few weeks
Some fun facts:
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

• Individual White-throated Sparrows have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own. They all have distinct white throat feathers.
•White-throated Sparrows are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.
•A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.
•The White-throated and White-crowned sparrows only pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate north or south in the spring and fall.
•You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody"

Related Articles: 
What Bird is Singing Outside My Window: How to identify birds' songs http://bit.ly/qIoqqR 
Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/oy9XGz 
Which one of these birds is not like the others? http://bit.ly/qM1LQt 
What birds winter in Michigan? http://bit.ly/rqQgU2

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big, round gray papery ball not an oriole nest

Good morning, I was all over the web this morning trying to identify a bird nest we saw in our backyard today. As the leaves were falling off the tree, we noticed this giant nest. Based on your description, we think it is oriole nest. May I ask what you think? - Diana in Aurora, CO

In Michigan we have Northern Paper Wasps that make these nests. Out west it might be a Bald-faced Hornet nest or some other yellow jacket wasps nest. The insects chew up fibers from dead wood and plant stems, and mix it with saliva to construct water-resistant nests that look like gray or brown papery material.

Wasps feed their young liquefied bugs, with caterpillars, flies and spiders comprising the largest food groups in the insects diet during most of the summer. The food demands of growing colonies are so great that it has been estimated that more than 2 pounds of insects may be removed from a 2,000-square-foot garden a day.

However in late summer, wasps start looking for flower nectar and other sources of sugar, which are necessary nutrients for the next season’s queens. Fewer young are being raised in the nests, which leaves many individuals with little to do. At this point they may wear out their welcome as they swarm hummingbird feeders.

Predators of adult wasps include birds (at least 24 species are known to eat wasps, including blackbirds, magpies, starlings), spiders and frogs. Raccoons, fox and skunks will also rip nests open in the fall, when they aren't as active to eat adults, pupae, and larvae.

A Baltimore Oriole nest looks different. The female weaves the nest, usually 3 to 4 inches deep, with a small opening, 2 to 3 inches wide, on top and a bulging bottom chamber, 3 to 4 inches across, where her eggs will rest. Construction materials can include grass, strips of grapevine bark, wool, and horsehair, as well as artificial fibers such as cellophane, twine, or fishing line.

We had received a call back from our pest control company that informed us that it was a paper wasp nest. They are coming next week to remove it. I was actually glad it was not a bird nest as it looked so ominous.

In response to the photo posted, I saw this empty nest last Saturday, it shows what the nest looks like on the inside.  Interesting!  Kerry

Related articles:
Bird Nest Basics http://bit.ly/sqNq0u
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/uWN7fE
Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/GRg910
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/GGuobs