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 1, 2014

Finches feathers change colors as temperatures dip

Goldfinches in winter colors feeding with a female cardinal and chickadee
As the leaves change color in the fall so do the American Goldfinches’ feathers. Most of the bright yellow finches have put on their brown coats to prepare for winter. But don't stop feeding them! They stay year round in Michigan and sing and flutter fly. They are one of my favorite birds to watch and listen to in the winter.

Chickadees and cardinals are also forming flocks and scoping out the best winter territories. So keep the feeders full of fresh fatty foods like suet, peanuts, sunflower seed, White Proso Millet, Safflower, or Nyjer® Thistle.

Bird feeding has come a long way from offering some waste grains swept up from a hay-loft, bits of suet or animal fat nailed to a tree or maybe a few table crumbs placed on a tree stump.

Today, thanks to decades of observation and research, Wild Birds Unlimited is able to offer regionally formulated seed blends that meet birds' nutritional needs and help you attract a wider variety of birds.

Our unique No-Mess Blend is by far our most popular blend. It features sunflower, peanuts and millet 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. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

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:
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
Best food for birds in the winter http://goo.gl/imUo8O
Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/C3mFuD

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are the hummingbirds gone?

It appears the hummingbirds have left. True?
I usually leave my feeder up at least until mid-October or maybe even a little later. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks, it's probably safe to take it down.

Individual adult males get the urge to leave first, followed soon after by the females, and then finally the juveniles. Amazingly, once the young have gained enough weight, they find their own way to the same winter habitat as their parents - someplace where they have never been, using the GPS in their head.

Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles south every fall to reach their winter homes in Mexico and Central America under their own power. They fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese.

It's not necessary to take down feeders to force hummingbirds to leave. The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food. However, weather is a factor. Hummingbird will take advantage of the winds to push them in the right direction.

Many hummingbirds migrate around the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas and northern Mexico to winter in Central America. Others will fly from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.

The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us when the winds and weather are just right.

Related Articles:
Hummingbird Information on Habitat and Habits http://bit.ly/It2WwE
Where have my Hummingbirds gone? http://bit.ly/IHzxy3
How Do I Know If It's a Baby Hummingbird? http://bit.ly/IHzCSh
Gardening for birds http://bit.ly/It58nR
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/FQ9kxU

Monday, September 29, 2014

5 things you might have wondered about birds

1. How birds are related:
Appearances can be deceiving. Birds that look or act similar are not necessarily related. All animals with feathers are in the Class called Birds or Aves. Humans and all the other warm-blooded vertebrate animals with hair and females that produce milk are in the Class called Mammalia. There are about 10,000 species of birds. So the difference between the American Robin and the Downy Woodpecker is similar to that between sharks and goldfish (fish), or dogs and cats (mammals), or lizards and snakes (reptiles).

2. How birds migrate:
So how do birds that migrate know where to go? The upper beak of a bird has magnetite receptors that act like a GPS to determine which way they're flying. Along with this internal compass that uses the Earth’s geomagnetic field, birds use light, stars, and other external cues to guide them on remarkably long journeys.

3. How birds find food:
Most birds find food by sight. Some birds fly in flocks and may send out a scout bird to forage for new feeding sites. Or solitary birds may see a lot of birds at a feeder and go see what all the fuss is about.

4. How birds communicate:
Bird vocalizations are a complex collection of sounds that can be divided into at least three general categories: chip notes, call notes, and songs. These sounds impress and attract a mates, declare territorial boundaries, identify family members, announce the presence of a predator, and convey information about food. But it doesn't stop there. Pigeons and Mourning Doves use a wing whistle noise to warn their flock about approaching enemies and woodpeckers use drumming to communicate.
Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Cylinder feeder

5. How birds fly:
Flight is the main mode of locomotion used by most of the world's bird species. Birds have evolved many unique adaptations to survive. The most obvious adaptation to flight is the wing, but because flight is so energetically demanding birds have evolved several other adaptations to improve efficiency when flying. Birds' bodies are streamlined to help overcome air-resistance. Also, the bird skeleton is hollow to reduce weight, and many unnecessary bones have been lost, along with the toothed jaw of early birds, which has been replaced with a lightweight beak. The skeleton's breastbone has also adapted into a large keel, suitable for the attachment of large, powerful flight muscles.

Related Articles
How do so many tiny birds migrate so far? http://goo.gl/k4gn9u
Can birds crossbreed? http://goo.gl/sWz0JW
Best place to put bird feeders http://goo.gl/HvWf2N
How birds communicate besides singing http://goo.gl/Uno75B

What Weighs More, Bird's Feathers or Bird's Bones? http://goo.gl/qEIYcb

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler transforms

Chestnut-sided Warbler in breeding colors from Wikimedia Commons
Chestnut-sided in winter colors from Wikimedia Commons
During the breeding season (spring-summer), the chestnut-sided warbler has a yellow cap, black mask, plain white belly, yellowish wing bars and chestnut streaks along his sides. The breeding female is a little duller. After nesting they undergo a complete transformation. They have a gray and olive green coat with a white eye ring.

The chestnut-sided warbler is insectivorous predominately. Look for them as they hop from branch to branch with their tail cocked in search for insects on the underside of leaves. They may also be seen at suet feeders.

They are nocturnal migrants that may join other warbler flocks and occasionally forage with them from mid-August to October as they fly south to spend their winter in Central America.

Related Articles:
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
Michigan's Kirtland's Warbler Continues to Exceed Recovery Goal http://goo.gl/Q3xQ0
Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan http://goo.gl/VOl3s
When is bird migration over? http://goo.gl/1Fiq6
Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/uMSTs6

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chickadee song sounds like he has a mouth full of marbles

Chickadees on Seed Cylinder Character
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 in the fall.

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.

No marbles!
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 noises similar to what I can only describe as a bird singing with a mouthful of marbles.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Photo Share: Tail Wagging Palm Warbler

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
While the Palm Warbler winters in the subtropics it nests in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, according to Ted Black in the Birds of Michigan Field Guide, it could have just as easily been called a "Bog Warbler" because of its preference for nesting on the ground in northern bogs.

Look for them migrating south through mid-Michigan yards from the middle of August to the end of October. The rusty-capped Palm Warbler can be most easily recognized by the tail-wagging habit that shows off its yellow undertail.
If anyone 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:
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
Michigan's Kirtland's Warbler Continues to Exceed Recovery Goal http://goo.gl/Q3xQ0
Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan http://goo.gl/VOl3s
When is bird migration over? http://goo.gl/1Fiq6
Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/uMSTs6 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Instinct tells chipmunks to gather more, more, more...

How do chipmunks and other animals know that they should hoard food for the impending winter months?

Studies have found that some animals never stop hoarding. This could mean the animals don't understand why they hoard, what it means for their future or even what future is. They simply do it out of instinct.

Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers. They have two breeding seasons. The first begins in February and the second in June. They can have up to nine babies but average four.

Many people are frustrated by the amount of food they take away from bird feeding stations but chipmunks do have a purpose. They eat a lot of bugs and small rodents which humans can appreciate. And Mother Nature uses the chipmunks to spread plant seeds and fungi all around.

Eastern chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

The chipmunks’ cheek pouches also transfer food to their tunnels. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. Eastern chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate but wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

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 keep squirrels and chipmunks off my bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wYGDBi
How many different types of chipmunks are there? http://goo.gl/UmwZH5

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

All signs point to a good bird watching winter!

Pine Siskin
There is some good news for backyard bird watchers, and not so good news for the birds. Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a colder than normal winter with a lot of snow beginning mid-December until early February. And the annual Finch Forecast reports the seed crops in the boreal forest are thin to average.

Common Redpoll
Snow means a lot of natural foods will be covered and that our regular winter feeder birds will be visiting more often. Weak seed crops mean more birds will be traveling south to Michigan to look for food. You should expect to see more visiting redpolls and siskins at the finch and sunflower feeders. And I’m looking forward to the little, laughing Red-breasted Nuthatches beginning in October at the suet and nut feeders.

But while I’m excited about all the bird activity we’ll have this winter, this is just the first week in Fall and we are experiencing a variety of birds passing through right now! Each migratory species has its own characteristic route between its nesting and winter ranges. Weather conditions often affect the migratory dates, direction as well as altitude as birds may fly higher or lower to avoid or take advantage of prevailing winds.
BirdCast is a new website that has real-time predictions of when birds migrate, where they migrate, and how far they will be flying. According to this week’s forecast, species on the move right now include the Northern Flicker, Eastern and Say’s Phoebes, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Marsh and Winter Wrens, Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warbler, Savannah, Golden-crowned, White-crowned, White-throated, Swamp, Lincoln’s, and FoxSparrows, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

So keep your feeders and baths full and clean and your eyes and ears open for new visitors.

Related Articles:
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://bit.ly/oL3iCF
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/nImz5g
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men
- What is the best bird feeder? http://bit.ly/qVr7i8

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The difference between suet cakes

Why is it that the birds like Wild Birds Unlimited suet the best? ~ Eaton Rapids, Michigan

When you come into Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI you can choose from a variety of high quality seed and suet cakes that will attract a wide number of different bug eating birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and wrens.

What is suet?
Our Suet is made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds.

Is there really a difference in suet cakes?
Not all suets are created equal. When you are choosing your breakfast cereal, you might choose a less healthy, colorful, sugar loop and pay the price later with less energy and a blah afternoon. But birds must always be on alert and in top form, especially during times of stress like nesting season feather molting or long winters. You should always read the nutritional labels and strive to provide wild birds with food that is healthy and has the proper nutrition.

How do I read suet labels?
The first ingredient should always be rendered beef suet. Some people feed straight suet only. If you want to offer more protein the next ingredient should usually be peanuts or tree nuts. Never, never buy suet where milo, oats, wheat, processed grain by-products or artificial flavorings are in the ingredients. These filler ingredients are used to make a cheaper cake but the birds have to pick around and pick out all this filler to reach a little suet.

The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store’s best seller is the peanut butter suet cake, which has only three ingredients: rendered beef fat, chopped peanuts and peanut butter. Again, no milo, no wheat, no corn, and no millet - no filler ingredients!

What is the Guaranteed Analysis?

Looking at the Guaranteed Analysis, you will see several lines of information: Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, and Moisture. What does all that mean to a consumer? A good suet cake will have a minimum crude protein of around 6% and crude fat of 35% (the more the better). And it’s acceptable for suet to have a maximum crude fiber of 12% and moisture of 10%.

I know this can get confusing. You just want to feed the birds. That’s OK. At Wild Birds Unlimited we are dedicated to the promotion of responsible feeding. Anything we sell in the East Lansing, Michigan store is good for the birds; no fillers, no by products, just top-quality food. If you have any questions feel free to ask and we can suggest what will work in your yard to attract the best birds.

Related Articles:
What birds eat suet? http://bit.ly/q2Sfje 

Can I make my own suet? http://bit.ly/rsc1JT
How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI
Filling Up on Fatty Foods: http://bit.ly/ob0NIq
How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S 

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Different groups of migrant birds in Michigan

I'm new to the area. Do a lot of birds winter in Michigan? ~ Lansing, MI 

That’s a very good question. In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nesting in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird.
.In Michigan, birds can belong to several groups:
Male & Female Cardinal along with Black-capped Chickadee
Other bird species seen at the feeder year round may also be migratory. While we see American Goldfinch throughout the year, some of the ones we see in the winter may have nested in Canada. And Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident.

They are obligate partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. And sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by poor winter crops can lead to irruptions of bird species not normally seen in our area like the Pine Siskins or Redpoles.

It’s not easy getting every bird’s travel plans straight. For example one of my favorite birds, the Northern Cardinal, has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. During the early days of the expansion, the birds would migrate back south during the winter, but in time they became a year round resident in Michigan.

Migration isn’t an exact journey. Using published literature, bird observer reports, and observations of bird watchers it has been found that many factors like the temperature changes and land development are very likely influencing birds’ migratory patterns and will continue to alter patterns in the future.

Related Articles:
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/H42e6s
- What seeds wild birds eat http://goo.gl/Un35yR
- What to do if you have soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
- How to Prevent Window Strikes during Migration http://goo.gl/KZRzKb

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Several species of warblers spotted

American Redstart female photo from Wikipedia Commons
September is a great time to see a wide variety of birds as they swing through our area. Several species of warblers have been spotted in mid-Michigan the last few days. Several customers have spotted American Redstarts. They are identified easily by the two white or yellow spots on the tail.
Pine Warbler
And I saw a Pine Warbler last night in the bird bath. Many warblers that we see are similar in size and coloring to a female goldfinch. They are seen mainly in the bushes trying to flush out bugs, at the bird bath and occasionally at the suet or seed feeder that offers nuts.

Related Articles:
- The Journey North: Bird Migration Maps http://bit.ly/pbk4Eb  
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ow20ZD
- Birds only in mid-Michigan during the winter http://bit.ly/ojcyP7
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU