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, April 1, 2015

Squirrel Uprising!


nuts, nuts, nuts...
We have eyes everywhere, so no tricky stuff.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eagle Optics Wild Turkey Binocular introduces New BIRP Technology

The future of birding has arrived! Featuring revolutionary technology, the Wild Turkey takes a shot at what was previously thought impossible. We're sure you'll want to gobble it up!

The new BIRP Technology - Bird Image Recognition and Playback allows you to plug your headphones into your binocular to identify what you are focused on in the field. https://youtu.be/a53w35--K8k

Early birds also get the best mates

The morning air is alive with birdsong in the spring. Birds can sing at any time of day, but during the dawn chorus their songs are often louder, livelier, and more frequent. It’s made up mostly of male birds, attempting to attract mates and warn other males away from their territories. There are a few theories on why birds think dawn is the best time to sing a solo.

One idea is that in the early morning, light levels are too dim for birds to do much foraging but it’s a great opportunity to sing. Another idea is that early morning singing signals to other birds about the strength and vitality of the singer. Singing loud and proud first thing in the morning tells everyone within hearing distance that you were strong and healthy enough to survive the night. This is attractive to potential mates, and lets your competitors know you’re still around and in charge of your territory. Also dawn songs are clearer and more consistent, which allows individual males’ signature songs to be identified easily by their bird neighbors.

Later in the spring, when males sing while the female songbirds lay their eggs in early morning it may reinforce the bond with the female, and dissuade other males from jumping into the nest.

And if you think the birds seem to be singing even earlier in the morning than last year, you could be correct. Research by biologist Mark W. Miller found that in 1929 the first robin songs began about 45 minutes before sunrise, but 84 years later with our neighborhoods flooded in artificial light, robins tended to break their silence more than an hour earlier.
- Brown, T. J. and Handford, P. (2003). Why birds sing at dawn: the role of consistent song transmission. Ibis 145: 120-129. doi: 10.1046/j.1474-919X.2003.00130.x.
- Hutchinson, J. M. C. (2002). Two explanations of the dawn chorus compared: how monotonically changing light levels favour a short break from singing. Animal Behaviour 64: 527-539. doi: 10.1006/anbe.2002.3091.
- Outdoors: Predawn bird songs fading soon by Mark Blazis http://ning.it/LT6Xvk
- American robin song by Patterson Clark http://goo.gl/ERk2f

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why I have mud in the bird bath

I'll admit it. Sometimes my bird bath gets dirty but when I saw a BIG MUD clump in the bath yesterday it took me a couple seconds to put the pieces together. American Robin nesting season has begun!

The American Robins choose their Michigan nesting territories in March and they are excited to start nesting. That means they need a lot of grasses and mud to build the perfect nest.

Unfortunately my excited female couldn't find any unfrozen mud to begin construction. She brought a bunch of frozen grasses and dirt to the bath in hopes of getting a jump-start in creating nest building materials. I'm not sure how much mud she took away but she left a lot behind.

Females build the nest from the inside out, pressing dead grass and twigs into a cup shape using the wrist of one wing. Other materials include paper, feathers, rootlets, or moss in addition to grass and twigs. Once the cup is formed, she reinforces the nest using soft mud gathered from worm castings to make a heavy, sturdy nest. She then lines the nest with fine dry grass. The finished nest is 6-8 inches across and 3-6 inches high.
Related Articles:
- Why Robins are Attracted to Water http://bit.ly/qP9aTs
- Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
- Fun Facts About The American Robin http://bit.ly/n9CSni
- Why robins are called Robin Redbreast and not orange breast http://goo.gl/OB4iT
AllAboutBirds http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin/lifehistory 
Robin building a nest video https://youtu.be/fqgPmnW8yCU?t=2m11s

Sunday, March 29, 2015

When orioles migrate north to Michigan

When do the orioles arrive?

October through February most orioles hang out in American tropics and Southern Mexico southward. March and April some orioles begin moving north. On average, they probably travel about 150 miles each night in flocks, flying at about 20 miles per hour. If the weather is favorable, it will take an oriole about 2-3 weeks to complete his migration north to reach my mid-Michigan window again by May.

I always say orioles are the last to arrive in the spring and first to leave in the summer. I'll have my feeder on the window at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store up by the end of April waiting for him arrive.

Orioles eat a variety of fruits, nectar, bugs, and nuts. The best way to attract orioles to your yard is with feeders that offer suet, nuts, mealworms, nectar, grape jelly, or fruit (oranges, grapes, apples).

In July orioles become more secretive. As Baltimore Oriole babies become independent, parents begin their fall molt and are more susceptible to predators as they grow a new set of feathers. Peak migration is August and September but some begin as early as July if they are done nesting.

Related Articles:
Can birds predict the weather? http://bit.ly/w3bhs8
Facts on the Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GzSTbi
Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5
Close-up of Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GAf6T7
Favorite Oriole feeders http://t.co/OjG4Lz4

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Summer birds arrive: Importance of feeding birds in spring

While I love my winter birds, I can’t wait for some of the spring and summer birds to arrive; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, wrens, hummingbirds, orioles, Song and Chipping Sparrows to name just a few. Soon the American Goldfinches will all be sunny yellow.

Spring is the hardest time for birds to find food as many prime food sources are depleted. Bird feeders provide an easy source for birds after a long winter or arduous migration. Many birds migrating to their nesting grounds may see yards with lots of bird activity as a safe stop-over point. The numbers and variety of birds appearing in your yard can actually change every morning as species such as warblers, vireos, tanagers, gnatcatchers, kinglets and sparrows all migrate north.

In the spring, birds have a long “to-do” list and a short time to accomplish it. They claim territory, seek out mates, build nests and begin to raise their young. With so many birds arriving there’s a lot of competition. Offering foods makes everything a little easier to accomplish.
Birds that have survived winter in good health are best suited for getting reproduction going as soon as possible. A wide variety of studies have shown that providing supplemental foods permits birds to begin reproduction earlier with better success. The additional food helps them have more eggs per nest, bigger eggs, better hatchability, faster nestling growth, and lower nestling mortality. Feeding is especially helpful in years when storms and other natural disasters happen.

Backyard bird watchers can enjoy a variety of birds up close and wait eagerly for the new babies to arrive at the feeders and baths. In the summer, even if there is a lot of food available for birds, believe me, energy requirements are high when you have many mouths to feed and sometimes they just appreciate a night out at the feeders. 

Related Articles:
What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://goo.gl/SAA35
What are the differences between the 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, March 27, 2015

Photo Share: Monarchs are migrating north

Monarchs on Verbena Bonariensis, Great Butterfly plant! - Holly
At last! The news we've all been waiting for came from Estela on March 24th:
"Hundreds of monarchs are flying over Angangueo —right now—with a clear direction northward! I am quite sure this is the mass leaving. It's a wonderful sunny day, and a gentle north wind is assisting the monarchs as they begin their long journey." -the Journey North
Monarch Butterfly Migration MapThe first Monarch you see in the spring may be the grandchild of the last Monarch you saw in the fall. Spring is a critical time for monarchs. Their numbers are at their lowest point at this time of year. The old generation is dying. A new generation must grow and survive. You can track their migration on the Monarch Butterfly Migration Map.

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
Thank you Holly for sharing your photos of monarchs! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stop bird crashes into windows

Window alert decals prevent migrating birds from trying to fly through your windows.
Right now bird migration is underway throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and the unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Window strikes are hard to totally eliminate, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity:
  • Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds.
  •  Locate feeders and birdbaths within 1-2 feet of them so they can't gather enough speed to cause significant injury or about 20-30 feet from windows so birds have time to change direction.
  • Window screens will reduce injury even if a bird flies into it. Use them where practical.
  • Mylar reflective strips hanging loose in front of the window will move in the breeze and alert birds flying too close to a window.
It is estimated that between 100 million and one billion birds are killed every year in the United States when they crash into glass windows. 

If you do have a window strike and the bird is injured CALL FOR ADVICE! 
The best course may be no interference. For a list of licensed rehabilitators in our area click HERE.
For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/
Or to search for a local wildlife rehabilitation group by zip code at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Plants to attract butterflies

Young black swallowtail http://www.pbase.com/rcm1840/lifecycleofblsw
caterpillar on parsley (host plant)
Make sure you have plants to feed butterfly caterpillars to bring more butterflies in to your yard. In many cases, caterpillars of a species feed on only a very limited variety of plants and cause little leaf damage. 

The Plants Common Butterflies Caterpillars' Eat:
  • Monarch - milkweeds
  • Viceroy - willows, cottonwood, aspen
  • Black Swallowtail - parsley, dill, fennel, common rue
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - wild black cherry, ash, tulip tree, willow
  • Giant Swallowtail - prickly ash, citrus, common rue, hoptree, gas plant, torchwood
  • Zebra Swallowtail - pawpaw
  • Painted Lady- thistles, mallows, nievitas, yellow fiddleneck
  • Red Admiral - wild cherries, black oaks, aspens, yellow and black birch
  • Coral Hairstreak - wild black cherry, American and chickasaw plum, black chokeberry
  • Dun Skipper - sedges, grasses including purpletop
  • Gray Comma - gooseberry, azalea, elm
  • Henry's Elfin - redbud, dahoon and yaupon hollies, maple-leaved viburnum, blueberries
  • Pygmy Blue - saltbush, lamb's quarters, pigweed
  • Silver-Spotted Skipper - locusts, wisteria, other legumes
  • Sulphurs - clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
  • Variegated Fritillary - passion flower, maypop, violets, stonecrop, purslane
  • Woodland Skipper - grasses
Download the Attracting Butterflies tip sheet (pdf) 
Source:  National Wildlife Federation
Photos Shared by Holly. Thank you Holly for sharing snapshots from your beautiful yard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cardinal mating call

In February Northern Cardinals formalize their choice of mate for the nesting season. The female chooses a male and they sing to each other. Both sexes sing clear, whistled songs, which are repeated several times, then varied.

Some common phrases are described as purdy, purdy, purdy…whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit and what-cheer, what-cheer…wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet.

By March territories have been decided and you will often see mated pairs at the feeders together. They like to eat next to each other and the male cardinal often shares his meal with the female in a mate-feeding behavior.

By April, if all goes as planned, they usually have started to raise their first of two broods.

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

Monday, March 23, 2015

Head banging birds

There are varied signs of spring: migrating birds passing through, new songs in the air, and the earth slowly waking up from its long winter nap. And there is another sign that is just as predictable which you’ve noticed, the bird battles.

The testosterone levels in male birds is up in the spring, territories are being determined, and battles break out. Two house sparrows in a seemingly endless wrestling match is not uncommon. It’s usually a bloodless battle that ends when they are distracted or one bird taps out.

Cardinals and Robins are also choosing their nesting territory. Their winged battles are usually short lived with a clear winner decided. The exception is when they spot a competitor that is about the same size and coloring. I’m already getting calls about cardinals and robins attacking their reflection in the window. This is also a territorial behavior.

They are usually unattached males without a female to direct them in a productive direction. Most birds do stop after a couple weeks of window pounding in the spring, but it's better to try and deter the birds just in case it turns out to be an action that is performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response.

Some tips to deter bird window attacks:

• Cover the window with screens
• Shut the blinds on your windows when you are not at home and at night.
• Rub the window with a bar of soap or squirt with liquid soap to decrease the reflection.
• Hang balloons or Flutter Scare tape.* Anything that moves and repels the bird from that area will be effective.
• Post a hawk silhouette outside a window.* Hawks prey on birds, so their images will keep birds from flying towards your window.
• Install a window feeder.* This breaks the reflection and other birds interrupt the birds battles with himself.

*Available at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI