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 21, 2019

How to get those stubborn stains off the bird bath

In late summer the sun shifts and dirty rain falls. That's when my bird bath in front of the Wild Birds Unlimited store begins to grow green algae. I know I'm not the only one because people come in frequently in July and August looking for a solution to keep the bird bath clean. So I've assembled 5 tips to maintaining your bath.

1. Find a Better Birdbath When you’re choosing a birdbath, look for one with a basin that you can clean easily. Make sure it has a nice lip for birds to perch and a gentle slope to the middle, no deeper than 2 inches. A textured bottom also makes for easy gripping.

2. Replace Water Frequently  The best way to keep your bird bath clean is to change the water every other day. This prevents algae build-up, mosquito development, and keeps the water fresh.

3. Use a Birdbath Cleaning Brush Wild Birds Unlimited has an 8" brush that is well suited for scrubbing birdbaths without scratching. It has stiff, tough polypropylene bristles that will do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.

4. Remove Stubborn Stains Mix 9 parts water with 1 part of distilled white vinegar. The natural acidic ingredients of vinegar will break down any existing algae, while not harming any birds or animals that visit your birdbath. To remove any stubborn stains pour warm water with Mix 1/4 cup of borax in two cups of hot water, stirring with a spoon. Pour the mixture into the birdbath. Borax kills mold and mildew and helps remove stubborn stains. Rinse thoroughly after.

5. Prevent Stains from Returning If you add a cap-full of Bird Bath Protector, a bio-enzymatic product specially formulated for birdbaths, it prevents algae and hard water stains. Our Bath Protector is non-toxic, biodegradable and safe for wildlife, aquatic life and plants. Algae spores transfer to your birdbath from objects that fall out of nearby trees and will grow at a faster rate when exposed to direct sunlight. The best placement for your birdbath is an open, shaded area away from trees. Watch the video: https://youtu.be/TjbgujQCb_4?t=5s
 
Related Articles:
- Why Birds Preen http://bit.ly/wcoC9d
- What kind of bird bath is the best? http://goo.gl/tXz65
- Do Birds Sip or Slurp? http://bit.ly/yAHTTV
- Why is bird poop white? http://goo.gl/zQXiT
- The best heated bird baths http://bit.ly/xkyLlW

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Annual shake-up at the bird feeders

Now that it is Summer you should expect to see some bald birds. Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete.

Most birds’ feather loss and replacement is gradual and you may notice they look a little ruffled. But then there are also a select few that go bald.

A bald bird at the feeder is a somewhat common sight to see from the end of June to the end of August in mid-Michigan. After the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

However, some Cardinals, BlueJays, and Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds go bald and some don’t or why it’s just the head. Whatever the reason, we know feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation.

More Colorful Birds -The Northern Cardinal, one of the most colorful birds, needs to eat the right foods now to acquire bright plumage coloration next year. At the feeders they are looking for nuts, sunflower, or safflower seeds. Their new feathers don’t come in bright. The tips of the new body feathers are brown/gray and make the cardinals appear a bit dull or more camouflaged in the winter. These dull colored tips wear off in time to leave them more colorful for breeding season in the spring.

Territories are forming - Birds are also staking out their winter territories right now. Young birds like chickadees, woodpeckers, and titmice find new territories to hook up with other young birds at the end of summer and join local adults to form winter flocks. If you are feeding a good bird food you will attract lots of birds that will remain in the same general area for the rest of their adult lives.

Related Articles:
What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://goo.gl/SAA35
Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends http://goo.gl/lF0rr
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://goo.gl/MjUCA
When should I feed the birds? http://goo.gl/IvocS

Friday, July 19, 2019

Photo Share: Dog Day Cicadas

Summer's here! This was on the steps to my building this morning 😀 Amy G. - East Lansing, MI

These are the "dog day" cicadas of late summer and fall. Cicadas belonging to the genus Tibicen are large-bodied cicadas, usually with green and brown markings. In Michigan they tend to be found alone or in small numbers.

The hot, sultry days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere are called the Dog Days of Summer. According to John Brady’s Analysis of the Calendar in 1813, this is believed to be an evil time when "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies."

The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels.

Related Articles:
Flashdance: The Fireflies Mating Ritual http://bit.ly/ysuA9q
Bug that buzzes in the summer https://cicads-buzzes-in-summer.html
Sounds of Summer: Michigan Cicada http://bit.ly/xnUpVW
Cicada mania not coming to Michigan until 2021 http://cicada-mania michigan.html
Interesting and Noteworthy http://interesting-and-noteworthy.html

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Is West Nile going away?

I saw 3 large separate groups of crows walking in the road as I drove in to work. A few years ago there were reports of large families being wiped out by west nile virus but their numbers seem to be back in East Lansing. Is west nile no longer around or have the birds developed an immunity?

A lot of larger birds are very vulnerable from July-September when they guide their fledglings from the nest to teach them how to survive. Their immunity becomes stressed if food is hard to find and it is too hot and dry. This can make them susceptible to disease.

West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne virus that can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and/or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord). Corvids (crows, blue jays, and ravens) are the most susceptible to the disease. The virus is spread between birds mostly through the bite of an infected mosquito. WNV was first detected in Michigan in 2001.

If you find a dead bird report it to the DNR Wildlife Disease Lab at 517-336-5030 or report sick acting or dead wildlife to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to determine whether testing is necessary for the disease. Their website: https://www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases

The total number of cases differ from year to year and state to state, since WNV was first detected. There were 614 West Nile virus disease cases in Michigan reported to CDC in 2002 but then an average of 20 cases per year until another spike in 2012 and then back down. So, although the West Nile virus may be worse in some years than others, it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

It seems to be correlated with climate. The hotter, dryer summers will see the most cases. The life of the West Nile virus is tied to the life cycle of two kinds of mosquitoes: Culex pipiens, the northern house mosquito, and Culex restuans, the white-spotted mosquito. If the daily high temperature in the spring and early summer is warmer than 81 degrees more often than normal, C. pipiens peaks earlier, so West Nile cases should go up. If the temperature goes above 81 degrees less frequently than normal, C. pipiens will peak later, and the incidence of West Nile should be lower.

Sources:
West Nile Weather http://sciencenetlinks.com/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/westnile/
MI-DNR  https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/

Related Articles:
The most common mosquitoes in Michigan. https:/common-mosquitoes-in-michigan.html
Why Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others: http://bit.ly/nMo9uV
Help prevent bug bites https://striped shirts stop bugs.html
Birds that Eat Mosquitoes https://birds-that-eat-mosquitoes.html
Mosquito hawks http://goo.gl/f8ojiF

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The chickadee song that isn't heard very often by humans

One of the birds that always sticks around when I’m filling the feeders is the Black-capped Chickadee. Whether they are encouraging me to fill the feeders faster or ignoring me completely, they always seem a constant.

Of course when I see them I’m compelled to try and imitate their common call, Chicka dee-dee-dee. Male and female chickadees use this call to announce good food available, help reunite separated flock-mates, or signal “all clear” when danger has passed. And 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.

When I was filling the feeder last night I heard one softly talking to himself. He seemed to be almost practicing words like a toddler. All chickadee species give chick-a-dee calls and whistled fee-bees but an often-overlooked chickadee vocalization called the gargle may actually be more accurately called the traditional song.

Individual chickadees seem to have fifteen or more different gargles. Like traditional songs, gargles are learned. The gargles are given primarily by males and associated with dominance establishment and territorial defense. They are extremely complex and are made up of many different note types, often with trills and repeated motifs. The little guy I was watching seemed to be concentrating very hard, obliviously to me, making soft, complicated tweets and twitters.
So if you happen to be outside take a minute to listen for the chickadee gargle song.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

When birds visit feeders

I noticed some birds feed at different times than others. Cardinals first and finches later in the day. Shouldn't they all be early birds to get the most food?

Very good observations! When birds first wake up they need to build up energy reserves lost the previous night. A lot of birds like the cardinals are nesting and raising young in the spring and early summer. This takes a lot of energy so you might see them first thing in the morning. But goldfinches can appreciate these lazy days because they don't begin to nest until the end of summer.

Weather also plays a roll in the activity patterns at the feeders. Bad weather makes it harder to forage for natural foods. You may see more birds popping in for a treat during rainy, windy weathers or when temperatures rise to extremes. Whereas on a good day you may just see them breakfast and dinner because they are out foraging the rest of the time.

Birds seem to take turns at the feeders. While a flock of blackbirds descends to feast, cardinals may perch in the trees to wait for an opening or chickadees may slip in the mix and quickly slip out. Doves can hang out anytime, harassing the chipmunks or just sunning themselves or digesting food they've cleaned up off the ground.

To provide the most beneficial foods to meet birds' nutritional needs, the birds in Michigan should be fed Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Safflower, Peanuts, Nyjer® Thistle, nectar, mealworms, and suet.

Like you, I love to bird watch. The delight of seeing so many active and energetic birds at your feeders makes feeding the birds a real joy. By providing just a few simple things, such as a variety of fresh foods, clean water and shelter, you can create the perfect refuge in your yard that is attractive to more and more birds.

Related articles:
- Can birds become dependent on bird feeders? http://goo.gl/GZYpke
- Do we stop feeding suet in the summer? http://bit.ly/GKWSRt
- Feeding Baby Birds http://bit.ly/GSHKwY
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://bit.ly/GKYw5q

Monday, July 15, 2019

Monarchs Mating

Mating Monarch butterflies - Vlog
Walking home from work I saw two Monarch Butterflies flying...together, mating? Yep, I looked it up. Mating monarchs often remain paired for 16 hours or longer.

Males and females are similar in appearance, but the the black veins are thicker on the female's wings and the male has small pouches on their hind wings where they store pheromones.

For an in-depth explanation and pictures go to: https://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/breeding-life-cycle/reproduction/

I've spotted a lot of monarchs this year. Luckily all the rain in the early spring seems to have helped the Milkweed along. I have several butterflies circling the plants at home. Common Milkweed is a perennial native to Michigan and much of the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada.
Monarch caterpillars like Milkweed because it contains a variety of chemical compounds that make them poisonous to potential predators. The adult monarch and monarch larvae are both brightly colored serving as a warning to potential predators that they are poisonous. Unsuspecting predators only need to taste a monarch butterfly or larva once to learn not to eat them again. Most animals quickly spit them out.
Female monarchs may lay only one egg per plant, which hatches into a caterpillar in about five days. Tiny little larva or caterpillars emerge and begin eating milkweed. Once fully grown the caterpillar forms a chrysalis and emerges as butterfly two weeks later.

Resources:
And watch the video:
https://youtu.be/4jeCNVjUGEg
Related Articles:

- Do Monarch Butterflies just wake up in the spring? http://goo.gl/5tkUk

- Monarch migration route http://goo.gl/L66ty

- Punctuation Butterflies: The First Butterfly of Spring! http://bit.ly/JHUpG1  

- How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly? http://bit.ly/ywhpZr

- Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings? http://bit.ly/x04qEi
 

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Crow chasing squirrel

We have a great number of crows in our area (the Keweenaw Peninsula in the UP) and recently I saw a crow trap a squirrel in a tree, and when the squirrel finally came down and ran across the street, the crow chased it (the squirrel appeared terrified).

Are squirrels food sources for crows, or was the crow establishing its territory? We RARELY see squirrels in our yard, although we have an abundance of chipmunks, and I started wondering if it's because the crows have dominated the territory. Thanks for any insight!


I live in the city (where there is a lot of road kill and human garbage) and find that American Crows are scavengers far more often than they are predators of larger mammals. Crows are omnivores and will eat almost anything. During the breeding season, they consume insects and their larvae, worms, fruits, grains, and nuts. They’ll also actively hunt small animals such as frogs, mice, and young rabbits and birds, though they more likely to scavenge carrion.

If they were chasing an adult squirrel, it may have been a hunt to kill, but in more probability it was the crows protecting their territory. American crows store food items such as meat and nuts in short-term caches or hiding places that are scattered around. Food may be hidden in tree crevices or on the ground, where they are often covered with leaves or other material. A squirrel nosing around would not be welcome. This also goes the other way too. I’ve seen crows following squirrels around to uncover and steal food they are storing for later. 

Related Articles:
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How Do I Deter Crows at the Feeder? http://bit.ly/LWbhMB
Why are “black” birds considered bad by most people? http://bit.ly/LWbxeD