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 16, 2014

White nose syndrome in Michigan bats

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced in the beginning of April 2014 that the fungus known to cause significant rates of illness and death in North American bats has been detected for the first time within the state's borders. White-nose syndrome (WNS) has been found in three Michigan counties: Alpena, Dickinson and Mackinac.

MI DNR has answered some Frequently Asked Questions 
on White-Nose Syndrome in Bats 
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
What is white-nose syndrome?
White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first documented in bats in New York in winter 2006-2007. The syndrome was named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat, giving the appearance of a white nose.  

What does WNS do to bats?
WNS primarily affects bats during hibernation. Many insect-eating bats survive winter by going into hibernation, during which their body temperatures are lowered and fat deposits collected during summer months are utilized. WNS is believed to disrupt this cycle, causing bats to prematurely and repeatedly awaken from hibernation, quickly depleting their fat reserves and losing body condition. Entire populations and endangered species of bats are at risk. Scientists across the country are working vigorously to understand more about this disease.  

How is WNS spread?
Transmission of the fungus associated with WNS is believed to occur in two ways: 1) through bat-to-bat contact and 2) by humans visiting caves and mines.  

How do we prevent and control WNS?
Many questions about WNS remain unanswered, and there are currently no effective or practical treatment options available. Some states have restricted access to caves and mines to prevent humans from spreading the fungus from cave to cave.  

Why is WNS a significant threat to bats?
Conserving bats is important. Bats make up one-fourth of the world's mammalian species. They consume large amounts of insects and are one of the primary nighttime predators of insects. As WNS continues to spread throughout the US, we are at risk of losing entire bat species.  

Can WNS affect humans?
There is no evidence that WNS is infectious to humans. The fungus does not grow at temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is much lower than human body temperature. The loss of large numbers of bats may have an indirect impact on human health. Bats are a primary predator of nighttime insects, and large-scale losses of bats may lead to an increase in insect populations.  

What symptoms should I look for, and where do I report my sightings?
Please use the online reporting form at www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases if you observe bats displaying any of the following:
-flying during the daytime in the winter;
-difficulty flying;
-large numbers (six or more) of dying or dead bats, especially at the opening of a cave or mine;
-hibernating bats with white fungus on the face or wings observed during winter (fungus on the body of bats has not been observed at any other time of year, although wing scarring from the fungus may be visible year-round).
Related Articles:
- What Bats Live in Michigan? http://bit.ly/sQFMtq
- Where do you hang a bat house? http://bit.ly/rRivKw
- Are there Nectar Feeding Bats in Michigan? http://bit.ly/vYPpZ1
- Do Birds have Thumbs like Bats? http://bit.ly/tjpL2T
- When do bats hibernate? http://goo.gl/egsZGk

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The origin of the Easter Bunny

Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Have you ever wondered about the Easter bunny? How is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus connected to a rabbit with a basket full of colorful eggs? We know many Christian holidays incorporated the rites of ancient holidays.

The Easter bunny evolves from a mythic German goddess named Ēostre or Ostara who was the Germanic Goddess of Springtime. According to the Encyclopedia Mythica, "In ancient Anglo-Saxon myth, Ostara is the personification of the rising sun. In that capacity she is associated with the spring and is considered to be a fertility goddess. She is the friend of all children and to amuse them she changed her pet bird into a rabbit. This rabbit brought forth brightly colored eggs, which the goddess gave to the children as gifts. From her name and rites the festival of Easter is derived."

However recent research suggests that the Ostara was potentially invented by the monk Venerable Bede in 750 A.D. According to Wikipedia, “Ēostre is only found in writing by Bede in De temporum ratione, where Bede states that during Ēosturmōnaþ (the equivalent to the month of April) feasts were held in Eostre's honor among the pagan Anglo-Saxons, but had died out by the time of his writing, replaced by the Christian "Paschal month" (a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus).”

Today Christianity uses Easter eggs to symbolize the empty tomb from which a bird hatches alive; a reminder that Jesus rose from the grave, and that those who believe will also experience eternal life.

Related articles:
- How birds color their eggs naturally http://bit.ly/IBMw69
- A look at the Easter Egg Tradition http://goo.gl/CpUvg
- Bird of the Week: The Peep http://goo.gl/Hw0icC
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/GGuobs
- How Do Birds Lay Eggs? http://bit.ly/H8omO0
- Do birds have belly buttons? http://bit.ly/GVqhpT

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sparrow with racing stripes on head

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Most birds that winter in southern locations wait for just the right conditions and then migrate at night to their nesting grounds in the north. I’ve found that after breezy spring days, I’ll often see new birds have ridden he winds to my yard. When they arrive in the early morning hours these birds are cold, tired, and hungry. The first thing they will do is look for food.

This morning I saw my first White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis). They always pass through mid-Michigan right before the warm weather arrives. Zonotrichia means “hairlike,” in reference to the striped heads of birds in this genus; albicollis is Latin for “white neck” in reference to the bird’s white throat.

You will see them in the leaf litter looking for bugs or under the feeders looking for sunflower seed or millet. He was actually a little early. I don’t usually see White-throats until the end of April. 

Related Articles:
-White-throated Sparrow fun facts http://goo.gl/Ju27MJ
-Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/oy9XGz
- Average dates for birds return to Michigan the in Spring? http://bit.ly/IMYNQe
- When is bird migration over? http://bit.ly/IMZ7OQ
- What to know about feeding birds in the spring http://bit.ly/I5s6h9

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Whip-poor-will is a member of the goatsucker family

In Michigan from April to early November, the Whip-poor-will is heard throughout many of the open woodlands in Michigan, but is rarely seen. Their camouflaged plumage, nocturnal hunting, and secretive nesting behavior make them hard to find.

The Whip-poor-will is a member of the nightjar or “goatsucker” family. The name goatsuckers comes from the ancient folk tale that they sucked the milk from goats, causing the goats to go blind.
ARKive video - Eastern whip-poor-will - overview

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why a cardinal might chirp at night

Hello. Have been enjoying your blog and thought I'd share today's bird experiences. Visited WBU store in Mobile, AL (closest one to Pensacola, FL) to purchase birdseed. It's always a pleasure to go there! After arriving home, I spotted a male indigo bunting on the birdbath. Breathtaking vibrant blue and first one seen this year. Could also hear whistling cedar waxwings before they finally flew in; only counted three before they flew off. Usually both of these appear before this time of year. Perhaps they've been in the area, just not observed in my backyard until today. 

Anyway, late this evening, close to midnight, I hear soft chirping notes from a female cardinal who's nesting in a shrub not more than ten feet from my front porch. I suddenly begin to see her flying around my very small covered stoop.  She would circle around at different heights, clinging to the brick sides or perching on porch light fixture and even on the "steeple" of decorative wooden birdhouse. I slowly made my way to the sidelights to get a closer look at her.

She flew around a few more times and then darted out into the night. I went outside, hoping she had flown back to the nest, but soon heard fluttering wings and chirps several feet above my head as I caught a glimpse of her flying up to an oak tree branch. I have never witnessed this type of behavior from cardinals or any other bird for that matter doing this, especially at night.  All I can surmise is that she must have been getting insects attracted to the light, even though I didn't actually see her catching/eating any bugs.

This was just the strangest behavior to me.  Last time I checked, she had laid 3-4 eggs in the nest and had been sitting on them during the day. 
Wouldn't she normally be sitting on the nest since there are eggs, especially on a cool night? Can she see to fly back to her nest at night? I hope all will be safe and well in the morning light. I am just perplexed by this odd sight and wondered if you've had any similar experience. Thank you for your informative blog. Happy birding!

It sounds like she was defending her nest. If a cat, raccoon or some other threat comes within five to ten feet of the nest, the female cardinal will typically move away from the nest at a ninety-degree angle from the predator’s approach and give a series of chip calls.

Unlike other bird species like blackbirds or bluebirds, cardinals don’t attack or dive bomb predators. Instead their tactic is to distract or re-nest as quickly as possible if the nest is attacked. If she is back on her nest this morning her tactic or perhaps your check on her, made it a safe night.

Thank you for sharing your great observations, Sarah

Related Articles:
- Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/ACMDcf
- Why Birds Keep Attacking the Window? http://bit.ly/z0Z8Va
- When do Northern Cardinals Nest? http://bit.ly/xR7hxz
- How to Attract Cardinals http://bit.ly/zdXWDV
- Why Cardinals Flock http://bit.ly/zocRzC
- How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/zRvpJ1

Friday, April 11, 2014

The inconspicuous Henslow’s Sparrow

Henslow's Sparrow photo from Wikimedia Commons
John J. Audubon named the Henslow’s Sparrow after his friend John Stevens Henslow, a naturalist and one-time teacher of Darwin. Like most sparrows it is a little brown bird. The most distinctive feature is their large head with dark stripes on a tiny body. They have streaked chests, reddish-brown tinged wings and short tails.

They winter in the mid-Atlantic and Gulf coast states around Florida and Texas and should arrive in mid-Michigan at the end of April. Prior to European settlement, Henslow's sparrows are suspected to have lived and bred primarily in prairie habitats. Today the sparrows have adapted to live and breed in secondary grassland habitats such as hayfields and pastures, but the loss of native habitat is probably a factor in a severe decline in their population.

The inconspicuous Henslow’s Sparrow spends most of their time foraging alone along the ground. They would be almost impossible to observe without the male’s lyrical advertisements.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

How to get finches to switch feeders

@birdsunlimited hung up new nice finch feeder, how do I attract them to it? They figured out sack feeder, haven't touched this one yet.

It may be a matter of hours before birds learn how to use new feeders or a matter of weeks. Finches can be very particular. When I switched from a thistle sock to a mesh feeder the finches had no problem with the change. However when I added a finch tube, it was avoided until I took down all other finch feeders. Even then I still had to be patient and wait for them get over their upset over a feeder change.

To make them feel more comfortable I place the feeders in or near trees. I have several feeders hanging from a dogwood and pear tree in the front of the house. They like to check out the view from the top of the trees and then filter down to the lower branches until they feel safe enough to approach the feeders.

And their seed has to be fresh and the feeder clean. To make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh scatter some seed on white paper and crush it with your fingernails. If you see if any oil stains on the paper the seed is good. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. On these days where they need a lot of energy to change feather colors, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week.)

If they haven’t touched your feeder in a while make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. In Michigan where it can be wet in the spring the seed may not get a chance to air out and begin to mold. This can be dangerous to the finches and they will avoid your feeder again. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using a WBU Weather Guard.

But overall I think you just have to be patient. Goldfinches do things in their own way, for their own reasons. Just keep trying. Change the seed or move locations to see if they will come back.

Related articles:
- What is Nyger Thistle? http://t.co/Gg2AxQg
- Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
- Goldfinch colors: Why aren't all the goldfinches yellow? http://t.co/c57skHi
- Is There a Way to Attract More Goldfinches to My Yard? http://t.co/RB1cqWf

Indian Robin like our robin in some ways

Indian Robin male photo from Wikimedia Commons
I enjoy listening and watching the robins in the spring in mid-Michigan. Early British settlers named our American Robin after the tinier European Robin they left behind.

The name robin is also applied to a dozen other chats, as well as to a few other related species, notably the Indian Robin (Saxicoloides fulicata), a black and brown bird with a white shoulder patch and reddish buns instead of a red breast on the male. The female is a dusty brown all over but also has pale reddish feathers under the tale.

Indian Robin female photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Indian Robin like our robin is often found close to human habitation and will perch frequently on rooftops in the Indian Subcontinent, and ranges across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

They like open stony, grassy and scrub forest habitats and feed mostly on insects.

Related Articles:
- Spotted Wren-babbler http://goo.gl/AvNc98
- Superb Fairy-wren http://goo.gl/7iTmNc
- Eurasian Jay http://goo.gl/TR5HM3
- Why we call a brown bird with an orange belly Robin Redbreasts http://goo.gl/KJi3zm
- Violet-backed Starlings http://goo.gl/sJTPIo

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Robins are gardeners’ cheerleaders

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Spring is slowly creeping in to mid-Michigan. Hopefully we've seen the last of the snow and extreme cold for the season as warmer days and rain make the world turn green and flowers bloom.

Sunday when I worked in the garden, an American Robin cheered me on to turn over the soil. Until the soil warms to 36 degrees, earthworms (a favorite treat of robins) don't move around. I also saw other hidden insects for the robins to eat as I stirred the leaf litter.

The cold has delayed a lot of my early blooming native flowers and I was feeling desperate for color. I know it is too early, but I just had to pop in some bright yellow violas with smiling faces in the front garden at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store.

The Viola is a flowering plant in the violet family. The flowers are formed from five petals; four are fan-shaped petals with two per side, and there is one broad, lobed lower petal pointing downward. One quirk of some Viola is the elusive scent of their flowers desensitizes the receptors of the nose temporarily, and prevents any further scent being detected from the flower until the nerves recover.

Related Articles:
- How to garden for birds http://goo.gl/ypyRV
- Hummingbird Flowers http://goo.gl/XSy5V
- Monarda: Fireworks Flowers http://goo.gl/vFxDc
- Michigan Lily http://goo.gl/bSlff
- Wild plants that combine unique shape, fascinating folklore and practical uses. http://goo.gl/XEyWf

Monday, April 7, 2014

How to get ready for hummingbird season

Where do hummingbirds spend the winter? When do I put up the feeder? Are they migrating to Michigan soon? What is the best hummingbird food recipe? Should I make it stronger in the spring? How many kinds of hummingbirds nest in Michigan? Where is the best place to put my feeder?~ Lansing

Thank you for your questions! There is a lot of excitement about hummingbirds and I’m always happy for the opportunity help people learn more about spring feeding.
Where do Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winters?
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. A few remain along the Gulf coast and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
When do I put up the hummingbird feeder?
The days are getting longer and people are anxious for spring and the arrival of certain birds and flowers. If you check out the migration maps at www.hummingbirds.net you’ll see that Ruby-thoated hummingbirds begin to travel north as early as the end of February.
Hummingbirds migrate alone, each to their own internal clock and map. As the weather warms individuals will begin to reach Michigan in mid-April and the final ones will arrive in June. I always say in mid-Michigan you have to pay your taxes and put out your hummingbird feeders by April 15th. The first hummingbirds probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.
Do I make the nectar recipe stronger to give them more energy?
It's not necessary to make your sugar solution stronger. The 4:1 ratio is the closest to the favorite flowers that hummingbirds visit. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. Click HERE for the nectar recipe.
How many species of hummingbirds are in Michigan?
Actually five species of hummingbirds have been sighted in Michigan, however most people only see the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The male and female hummingbirds look different. Ruby-throated male's have ruby-red feathers on the throat, a green back and white belly. The females have an emerald green back and white bellies.
Other hummingbirds seen very, very rarely, in Michigan according to Hummingbirds.net are the Rufous Hummingbird, the Broad-billedHummingbird, the GreenVioletear Hummingbird and the White-eared Hummingbird.

Where is the best place to hang your hummingbird feeder?
  • The number one rule in hanging any feeder is to place it where you can watch the birds comfortably. The whole point in bird feeding is to watch these winged wonders up close. 
  • Since hummingbirds feed by sight, the second rule is to hang the feeder where they will be able to see it as they fly over your yard. A new feeder may be found sooner if hung near a flower garden or hanging flower basket.
  • Place your hummingbird feeders near bushes to provide perching spots and protection from predators.
  • The height of the feeder is less important. Hummingbirds feed from the flowers on the ground and from the tops of flowering trees or climbing vines.
  • Part sun or shade is the best place for nectar feeders. The nectar lasts longer in the shade. Also the nectar in bottle feeders can expand in the sun and start to drip and this will call in bees and ants.
  • Make sure your nectar is fresh and the correct one part white sugar to four parts water solution.
  • In hot weather you should clean your feeder at least twice a week. Just like a restaurant, if a hummingbird comes by to check out your new feeder and finds it filled with spoiled food, they won’t return anytime soon.
In Michigan you can hang hummingbird feeders out from mid-April to the end of October. Migrating birds follow their own schedule usually, based on the weather.
Related Articles:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blue black bird with white belly

If you live next a golf course, an open pastures or field in mid-Michigan you may be lucky enough to see Tree Swallows from the end of March to mid-October. Tree swallows have iridescent greenish-blue on their head, shoulders and back, and a white underside. They have a short black beak and dark brown feet. Young tree swallows look similar to adults, but they are brownish above instead of greenish blue.

They nest in natural tree cavities, or man-made nest boxes, including those built for bluebirds. The bluebirds and swallows are both native species and both desirable birds to have in your yard. One proven technique that allows both songbirds to nest together successfully is to set up pairs of boxes, no more than 10-20 feet apart. Since Tree Swallows will not allow another pair of swallows to nest within 20', the second box is free for bluebirds use and the two species can co-exist, after some initial squabbling to sort out who gets which box.

Tree Swallows are our most common summer swallows and are often seen perched on fence posts near their nest boxes. They also spend much of their time in flight. To bathe, swallows swoop down over a body of water and lightly brush the water. To eat, swallows catch mostly winged insects while in flight, but can forage on the ground for insects, spiders, seeds, and berries.

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