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, January 18, 2017

A squirrel’s tail is much more than a fashion accessory

Would so many people love the squirrels if they came with a rat tail instead of those fluffy poof tails? The bushy tail of a squirrel might make all the difference. But a squirrel’s tail is also very functional. It is used to protect, balance, and communicate.

The very name "squirrel" comes from two Greek words, skia, meaning "shadow," and oura, meaning "tail."  This is because a squirrel can wrap its tail over its body to protect itself from the sun, rain or snow. It can also wrap it around itself when sleeping to keep itself warm.

The other main function for the tail is as a counterbalance when leaping through the trees. If you watch squirrels walk along a wire, you will notice they swing their tails from side to side to maintain balance.

Squirrels also use their tails to communicate. By flicking their tail a squirrel can warn other nearby squirrels of danger. Or when they can’t figure out a squirrel proof feeder, the tails flick out of frustration. And a squirrel ‘shivers’ the tail when they see a potential mate.

Related Articles:

How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr
How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb
Black Squirrel History & Facts http://bit.ly/AxiqPz
"Frisky" Fox Squirrels http://bit.ly/AndeTw
Why squirrels chew http://bit.ly/AjVzFW

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What squirrels eat in the winter

To survive the winter months, squirrels stash pinecones, tree nuts, fruits, and berries that they can eat later. These clever creatures also eat mushrooms. They'll hang the fungi out to dry between tree branches so that it keeps better over the winter. Squirrels have an interesting adaptation that allows them to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita-toxins with no ill effects.

And if you like watching the squirrels up close, you can treat them with the Wild Birds Unlimited specially formulated Wildlife Blend full of yummy nuts, sunflower and corn.

Related Articles:  
Groundhog or Woodchuck? http://bit.ly/z5FPoV
Hibernation: A nightmare or pleasant dream? http://bit.ly/y2OGr6
Origin of Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg 

Wildlife Blend http://wildlife-blend.html
Thoughts on the angry squirrel http://squirrel-funny.html

Monday, January 16, 2017

How to tell the difference between male and female flicker

I see two flickers going around and around the tree. How do you tell the males from the females?

Northern Flicker males in Michigan can be identified by a black mustache stripe at the base of the beak. These medium sized woodpeckers have a gray head with a red V on the back of the neck, a black-barred brown back, black polka dots on the belly, a black bib under their long bill and bright yellow feathers on the undersides of their wing and tail.

Flickers dancing around a tree together could be a male and female getting to know each other or two males performing a territorial display. Now that you know how to tell the difference between the males and females you can distinguish between the two.

Before breeding season, rival flickers may face off in a display where the boys face each other, bills pointed upward, and bob their heads or chase each other around or through branches of a tree while a prospective female watches. Females may chase other female rivals around the trees too.
Two Northern Flicker males in a territorial display from Wikimedia Commons
Related Articles:
- Northern Flicker Roosts Alone in the winter http://bit.ly/zouUF6
- Northern Flicker Stops by for a Surprise Visit http://bit.ly/Aouqjf
- Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/yGoOUc
- Why Flickers Flick Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/Ar0Rin
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/x5PGT1

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Baltimore Orioles birds in Florida

This tray feeder, shown in the Wild Birds Unlimited of Gainesville, FL video, also came on a 2nd pallet of seed feeders.
We had a pallet delivered this week that was loaded 6 feet high with only oriole feeders. It sounds early, but pretty soon people will start to get excited about the orioles' return to Michigan. And it takes me awhile to unbox too.

In this shipment there is the standard orange Recycled Plastic feeder with two removable cups to hold grape jelly and two pegs for orange halves. The cups may also be used to feed mealworms, peanuts, chopped fruit, suet nuggets, and a variety of other foods. 

Then there is one of our most popular beginner or gift feeders, the Oriole Flower Feeder, which is a dainty feeder with a orange bowl and stakes for orange halves.

And my favorite unique Saucer Oriole feeder that offers three ways to attract orioles with nectar, oranges, and jelly. I'm so excited because this year they added bee guards. YEAH! If you have this feeder already, I ordered just the extra Bee Guards too.

Most Baltimore Orioles spend the winter in Florida as well as Central and South America. Their journey north begins at the end of April. By early May, male orioles should reach their breeding grounds in the northern United States. You can watch their migration at the Journey North website.

In the meantime Wild Birds Unlimited of Gainesville, FL has recorded a really fun five minute Baltimore Oriole blitz with bonus footage of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Watch the video at: https://youtu.be/zR89C8Sp_3c
Related Articles:
What's the Best Way to Attract Orioles http://bit.ly/IGsyWp
Fun Facts about Orioles http://bit.ly/IGsJB4
Where are the orioles? http://bit.ly/IGuqOJ
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, January 14, 2017

Photo Share: Bohemian Waxwing

The Bohemian Waxwing is an irregular winter visitor from the far North. They eat a lot of fruit. When the fruit crop is plentiful in the winter they stay up North. During poor fruit crop seasons the venture further south in search of food.

The name "Bohemian" refers to the nomadic movements of winter flocks. It comes from the inhabitants of Bohemia, meaning those that live an unconventional lifestyle or like that of gypsies.

Related Articles:
Bird of the Week: Cedar Waxwing http://goo.gl/gwQma2
Red Maple flower make a tasty treat for Cedar Waxwings http://goo.gl/Lo72NS
Cedar Waxwing Nesting Season Begins in the Summer http://goo.gl/F3erQl
Keep your eyes open for Bohemian Waxwings! http://goo.gl/Bu67BV

Friday, January 13, 2017

What happens when a cardinal loses a mate

What happens when a bird, such as a cardinal, loses it's mate? Do they seek another mate?

About 60% of adult cardinals survive from one year to the next, which means 40% of adult cardinals die each year. Some of this mortality occurs during the breeding season, but most deaths occur during the winter.

A female cardinal may separate herself from a flock if her mate from the previous season is killed. All cardinals join flocks during non-breeding season. These flocks are temporary groups with a composition that changes continuously. The surviving cardinal takes this opportunity to evaluate other individuals as potential mates.

Then in February, pairs begin to form, territories are established and flocks begin to disband. A well stocked feeding station and a bath along with the proper shrubs for food and shelter will ensure you an up close look into the life of a cardinal year round.

Source: Wild Bird Guides-Northern Cardinal by Gary Ritchison

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sugar snow days

I always called it Sugar Snow, tiny snow balls that lightly fall from the sky occasionally during the winter. But I guess that's just what our family calls it. Wikipedia calls it graupel, soft snow pellets. It is precipitation that forms when supercooled droplets of water are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 0.08–0.20 inches balls of rime (white ice). The term graupel comes from the German language.

It is different from Hail which are smaller and translucent, hailstones that consist mostly of water ice and measure between 0.2 - 6 inches in diameter.

Related Articles:
What is the Largest Recorded Snowflake? http://bit.ly/tvi9yv
Snow Cams in Michigan http://bit.ly/uUjI3l
Why is snow white and water blue? http://goo.gl/UWE2e
Photographing Snow http://goo.gl/LVLDN
Ever wonder about the first snowman? http://goo.gl/fs7CS

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

How birds survive cold, windy winter nights

During these windy, cold nights you might wonder where the birds that don’t migrate south for the winter sleep. Birds that nest in cavities like chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, and nuthatches tend to sleep in tree hollows, man-made nest boxes or roosting pockets far away from many predators. Other birds like cardinals, jays, doves, juncos and finches roost in dense brush or foliage. I have a lot of backyard birds that like to sleep in the pine trees near the feeding stations. If the wind is blowing, they go to the other side of the tree and avoid it.

Most birds will fluff up their feathers to cover their feet and create air pockets that will help them keep warm like a down jacket. Birds that perch also scrunch down to sleep because that automatically makes the toes grip their perch and stay locked. In the legs of most tree-dwelling birds, tendons extend down the leg behind the ankle to attach to the tips of the toes and when their knees bend, the tendons are pulled taut, making the toes on their feet clench. Even on windy nights, this grasp cannot be released until they wake up and their limbs are straightened again.

Another way birds combat the cold is by shivering. This converts muscular energy into heat for the short term, but the energy must be replenished shortly thereafter. By keeping your feeders filled with high energy, high fat foods you can provide your birds with the vital nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of best choices to meet this nutritional need is suet or seed blocks and certain seeds like peanuts, sunflower  and nyjer seed.

Related Articles:
What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/tfT7Ca
Cavity nester birds http://cavity-nester-birds.html
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/uKZs6v
Build a nest box in winter, and watch baby birds in spring http://nest-box-in-winter.html 

Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Attracting Birds with Roost Houses http://roost-houses.html

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Build a nest box in winter, and watch baby birds in spring

Putting together a simple nest box now could result in young birds hatching outside your window next spring. Swallows, bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, creepers, thrushes, warblers, sparrows and wrens are a few of songbirds that appreciate man made housing.

Wild Birds Unlimited has birdhouse kits that would make a fun, family weekend woodworking project. Build a cozy songbird nest box, that they'll roost in all winter and then create a family in come spring.

The kits are made from long-lasting cedar and boxed in Michigan. It comes with all the hardware and easy to follow instructions. Only a screwdriver is needed along with a little muscle to screw the pre-drilled pieces together. 

Completed House Features:
• All cedar construction
• Easy clean-out side 
• Extended wood predator guard around entrance
• Grooved, inside front panel for fledglings
• Extra large overhanging roof
• Ventilation and drainage
• Appropriate for bluebird, wren, black-capped chickadee, 
tufted titmouse, white breasted nuthatch, & tree swallows
• Outside coated with wood protector
• Cedar bird house kit made in Yes! Michigan

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/outdoors/article124330089.html#-/web/topics/268490204-1483993714552-trackingCode-fWgG5gzlNl2wvJvUCVXkbUGaHpCvMdId/CptJvJVO6I=-articleId-385335673-vv-00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/outdoors/article124330089.html#-/web/topics/268490204-1483993714552-trackingCode-fWgG5gzlNl2wvJvUCVXkbUGaHpCvMdId/CptJvJVO6I=-articleId-385335673-vv-00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000#storylink=cpy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Eurasian Collared-Doves continue to expand their range

maps from ebird
The Eurasian Collared-Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) original range at the end of the 19th century was warm temperate and subtropical Asia from Turkey east to southern China and south through India to Sri Lanka.

In 1974, less than 50 Eurasian Collared-Doves  escaped during a burglary from a pet shop in the Bahamas. Since then, they have been fruitful and multiplied across the North American continent. A pair can produce up to six broods a year in warmer climates. As you can see in the data collected by ebird, they will probably be a common bird sighted in Michigan in another 10 years.

The genus Streptopelia is from the Greek streptos, a collar of twisted chain mail, and peleia, a dove. And interestingly their species name decaocto is the name of a servant girl from a Greek folktale that was transformed into a dove by the gods to escape; the dove’s mournful cry recalls her former life. The song is a koo-KOO-kook.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
They are a pale buff-gray dove with a black collar and noticeably larger than a Mourning Dove. They also have red eyes (adults have brighter red eyes than juveniles). Studies on interactions between collared-doves and other species have not yet shown a negative impact on populations of native birds, including Mourning Doves. Some thoughts are that they fill the niche of the Passenger Pigeon, once the most common bird in North America that went into a catastrophic decline in numbers and then extinct by 1914 due to over-hunting.

Related Articles: 

The Passenger Pigeon became extinct http://passenger-pigeon-extinct.html 
How Do You Keep Doves From Dominating a Feeder? http://bit.ly/zDAwR2
Mourning Dove nesting facts and figures http://goo.gl/WeLWy
Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
Who Bird Watches http://goo.gl/vX9j5
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://t.co/Br4EnlB

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Unrendered suet for birds

Where in the Lansing-area can I find unrendered suet? I found Meijer sells beef suet chunks. Is this the same thing as unrendered suet?

Suet is the raw, hard fat of a cow or lamb found around the loins and kidneys. Beef suet chunks is definitely unrendered.

If it’s cold enough for snow you don’t need to render the suet. You can just put the suet in a feeder or onion bag and let the birds peck at it. In the wild, birds will munch on the fat from dead animals like deer or road kill to get the high calories they require to survive cold weather. But they won’t eat it if it goes rancid.

That’s why most people buy the prepared suet cakes. Wild Birds Unlimited suet cakes are made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. Special processes remove impurities that cause low melting points and spoilage problems. I like the peanutbutter suet cake but we also have the straight render suet cake too. Or you can render suet yourself to prevent spoilage.

image via Wikipedia
How to Render Suet:
1. Chop the fat.
2. Melt the fat on the stove over a low heat
3. Strain melted suet through a fine cheesecloth.
4. Let cool and harden.
5. Repeat steps 2-3. If the fat is not rendered twice, the suet will not harden properly.
6. Pour into a bread pan
7. Slice and serve after suet is hard
You can add peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts or seeds to make a variety of suets.

Other Suet Recipes: http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm

Related Articles:
What birds eat suet? http://bit.ly/q2Sfje
How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI
Filling Up on Fatty Foods: http://bit.ly/ob0NIq 
Can I feed suet year-round? http://bit.ly/I4Ow8l
The best suet to attract the most birds http://best-suet-for-birds.html