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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

5 Awesome Facts About Bird Migration

Of the world's more than 9,000 species of birds, more than 400 species spend at least some time in Michigan. The list includes many songbirds ranging from the common American robin to the endangered Kirtland's warbler. September- October is the perfect time to spot new birds as they prepare for winter or travel to their winter homes:

1. What birds migrate - Between 1500 and 4000 species of birds around the world migrate, the exact answer is not really known yet. 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.
2. Superbird transformation - To prepare for migration, birds begin a feeding frenzy called hyperphagia, to build up fat reserves they can burn through on their long journeys. Birds may gain as much as 1-10% per day. In human terms, this would mean about 12 pounds per day.
3. Migrants learn from locals – Migrants face different kinds of predators and food sources in different locations. Birds new to the area learn from the locals, listening to year-round residents for safe areas to feed and warning alarm calls about local dangers. Bird activity at baths and feeders will encourage migrating birds to stop at your yard.
3. Highest Flyer - While most migrating birds fly at heights lower than 2,000 feet, the migrating Bar-headed Goose, a species of small Asian waterfowl, has been seen at roughly 28,000 feet, over the Himalayan Mountains in Nepal.
4. Nighttime flights - Hawks, swifts, swallows and waterfowl migrate primarily during the day, while many songbirds migrate at night. On any given night in the fall, hundreds of thousands—and at times millions—of birds migrate across North America. From large herons and cranes to tiny warblers, and other smaller songbirds, flow across the continent. The timing of migration seems to be controlled primarily by changes in day length. Migrating birds navigate using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth's magnetic field, and some have genetically inherited mental maps.
5. Smallest intercontinental migrant - During migration hummingbirds fly about 23 miles a day until they reach the Gulf of Mexico. Then they make a non-stop 900-mile flight over the gulf that lasts about 20 hours.

When you think about migration facts, it is astonishing to learn of the amazing feat that many birds accomplish twice each year as they move between their summer and winter range and back again. Think about that when some of our favorite birds, including hummingbirds, orioles, grosbeaks, buntings, warblers and wrens migrate through mid-Michigan this fall. Keep your feeders clean and well stocked to help provide them with the fuel they will need to complete the journey.

Related Articles:
- How bird migration evolved http://goo.gl/rAXV5N
- When is bird migration over? http://goo.gl/Jbuouk
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://goo.gl/kIMee3
- Shortest and Longest Bird Migrations http://goo.gl/XYAEtd

Monday, August 31, 2015

FAQ about feeding hummingbirds in the fall

Am I supposed to take down my feeder on Labor Day? DO NOT take your feeders down on Labor Day. In mid-Michigan, you can leave your hummingbird feeder up until mid-October. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. 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 whether there is a feeder up or not.

Why are there more hummingbirds in the fall? Nesting season is over for the hummingbirds in Michigan by the end of June. Once breeding territories no longer have to be guarded, hummingbirds wander widely. Just before they answer the call to travel south, hummingbirds eat in excess to build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the belly, back, and throat. A hummingbird actually gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice them getting fatter and fatter and then one day they fly to their wintering grounds.

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.

Should I make the sugar solution weaker to encourage them to leave? I would continue to feed the hummingbirds the same nectar solution until they are fat enough to move further south. Don't rush them. Let them leave when they have enough energy and the weather is favorable.

Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese? Some think that the rumor of hummingbirds hitching a ride with geese was started by Mr. Audubon himself. During migration hummingbirds fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese. 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.

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. 

Related Articles:
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://goo.gl/MK3AU
Fun Facts about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds http://goo.gl/jcjcr
The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/L4yY3i
Why the color on a hummingbirds’ throat flashes http://bit.ly/JZ31qX
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What to call a group of hummingbirds

According to Whatbird.com: A group of hummingbirds has many collective nouns, including a "bouquet", "glittering", "hover", "shimmer", and a "tune" of hummingbirds. The following Mental Floss video has 17 other fantastic collective nouns for animals like a Scurry of Squirrels: https://video


An array of hedgehogs! A parliament of owls! Here are 17 fantastic collective nouns for animals.
Posted by mental_floss on Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hummingbird Intelligence

Why do some hummingbirds sit and some hover?

Hummingbirds, like people, have different personalities. Some like to eat standing up and some like to sit down. Sitting may be more of a learned technique for feeding. So some of the older more experienced hummers will catch on and appreciate a sit down meal.

Hummingbirds are extremely smart and have a terrific memory. A hummingbird's brain is very large in comparison to their body size. They know every flower in their territory and how long it will take each flower to refill.

Hummingbirds remember year to year, where each and every hummingbird feeder is, both at home and along a migration path. Female hummingbirds have been observed watching older female hummingbirds building a nest to learn some tricks and tips (and possibly steal some material). They also learn which people are the ones responsible for filling hummingbird feeders, and which ones don't. They are just bright little birds!

Related Articles:
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://goo.gl/MK3AU
Fun Facts about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds http://goo.gl/jcjcr
The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/L4yY3i
Why the color on a hummingbirds’ throat flashes http://bit.ly/JZ31qX
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Friday, August 28, 2015

Photo Share: Gray Catbird at the oriole feeders



Catbirds give the impression of being entirely slate gray. With a closer look you’ll see a small black cap, blackish tail, and a rich rufous-brown patch under the tail.

Thank you Holly for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Help meet your moulting birds' requirements

At the end of summer many birds are beginning a transformation, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. Molting is when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete. Molting is so physically demanding for most ducks and geese that they can’t fly and will molt in seclusion to avoid predators.

Eastern Bluebird male splashing in bath - Photo by Holly
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. For the next few months, offer high-protein bird foods, such as sunflower seeds, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, suet and mealworms, to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with molting.

Bathing also helps a molting bird remove itchy feather sheathes from new feathers and promotes feather grooming (preening), leading to tighter, shinier, more waterproof feathers. 

Related articles:
- Types of Bird feathers http://goo.gl/W9rzP
- Why Birds don't Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter: http://bit.ly/mPa0Y8
- How small birds stay warm in the winter: http://bit.ly/q3dDqj  
- Why birds molt: http://bit.ly/ox5Hwi
- Blue Jays aren't blue: http://bit.ly/pMN37k
- Fossils of colored feathers: http://bit.ly/nc2UeA

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

About half of all fawns are actually twins

An article from Journal of Mammalogy details a study that singleton fawns had a seemingly better survival rate than twins, but about half of all fawns are actually twins. The mortality rate for the offspring is so high, that there is a very strong chance a female’s fawn will die regardless of litter size. Therefore having a back-up baby ends up being advantageous in the end, and has sustained the population over time.

For many animals, especially prey species such as deer, the choice is sometimes not win or lose, but lose or lose less. It may sound grim, but it is an effective strategy.
Top that! Bucks have antlers, not horns. Horns are permanent keratin structures found on cattle, sheep, etc. Antlers, one of the fastest growing animal tissues in the world, are bones that drop off and regrow every year!

Thank you Holly for sharing your photos!

Article Source: Johnstone-Yellin, T., L. Shipley, w. Myers, and H. Robinson. 2009. To twin or not to twin? Trade-offs in litter size and fawn survival in mule deer. Journal of Mammalogy 90: 453-460.

Related Articles:
Remember to leave wildlife in the wild http://goo.gl/s5S0l4
Deterring Deer at the Bird Feeders http://goo.gl/nUzM3e
When did Reindeer Learn to Fly? http://bit.ly/veTLpT
Mammals have amazing strategies to cope with winter's cold http://goo.gl/KlJY1V

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Setting up your birdbath

Can I put a bird bath right next to the bird feeders?
It’s best to put a bath in a spot that is easy to view but is also close to a faucet so you can change the water frequently. I can foresee only a couple problems with a bath near a feeding station. If it is right next to a feeder there could be seed spray dirtying the bath. And then there are doves. Mourning Doves like to shove as much food as they can into their crop and then find some where to perch to digest. Sometimes when a bath is close by you can have doves wading in a bath for 30 minutes or more after they’ve visited a feeder. This doesn’t bother me but if you feel the doves wearing out their welcome move it to another area.

Related Articles:

- Why Birds Preen http://goo.gl/8hqh0W
- What kind of bird bath is the best? http://goo.gl/tXz65
- Birds Don't Sweat: The Importance of Birdbaths http://bit.ly/OjpFPn
- Why crows dip their food in bird baths http://bit.ly/zgpw2i
- Do Birds Sip or Slurp? http://bit.ly/yAHTTV
- Why do birds poop in the bird bath? http://bit.ly/whKqHg

Monday, August 24, 2015

Help the local wildlife rehabber win $5,000

Nottingham Nature Nook is a non-profit wildlife rehabilitation service operating in East Lansing, MI. The owner, Cheryl Connell-Marsh, is a certified wildlife rehabilitation specialist and has been helping to save the lives of injured and orphaned wild animals for over 25 years.

The Nature Nook cares for wildlife and prepares them for release into the wild. They also work to educate the public on the wildlife of the area. Nottingham Nature Nook provides an invaluable service to the community by filling the gap left by services that concentrate on domestic animals.

While caring for these animals is a labor of love, it is also expensive. Food, medicine, housing and labor time are all factors which contribute to costs which far exceed the donated funds which the Nook receives.

Now you can help with just a finger tap. Independent Bank is giving away $5,000 each to four local non-profits. $5000 would go a tremendously long way toward helping animals and ensuring that Nottingham Nature Nook can continue its vital work. Just follow the link and click the vote button. You can vote once a day until September 7, 2015: http://bit.ly/1JPz0a6

Related article:
How you can help injured birds http://goo.gl/XmQ9Di
Black-phase red fox http://goo.gl/cf5uwY
Do you think my injured hummingbird has a chance? http://goo.gl/K8V6nW

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A charm of finches chatting at the feeders is a welcome sight!

Our bright yellow and black goldfinches are attacking the feeders and flowers now with little babies in tow. Soon they will be sporting their duller olive green winter wardrobe. Goldfinches are found year-round at Michigan bird feeders, but sometimes people don't realize these little brown birds were once our yellow goldfinches.
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I love the happy, warm, song of the goldfinches especially in the cold months. I love the huge flocks of finches that flutter down from the tops of trees as they take their turn at the feeder. I love that I can hang the feeder anywhere because squirrels and other animals don't bother with Nyjer Thistle. And once you understand the goldfinches' needs, they are easy to please and very pleasing to watch.
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Fun Facts on Goldfinches:
- Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall.
- The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt too. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a yellow-orange color.
- To stay warm on a cold winter’s night, American Goldfinches have been known to burrow under the snow to form a cozy sleeping cavity. They will also roost together in coniferous trees or roosting pockets.
- Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries, but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
- American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds.
- Due to their almost exclusive diet of seeds, the goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water.
- The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.”
- Residential flocks of American Goldfinches roam widely during the winter and have been recorded moving over 4 miles between multiple feeding stations in a single day.
- Female American Goldfinches are dominant over males in the summer and appear to be subservient to them in the winter. See if you call tell a difference at your feeders.
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Related Articles:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Keeping finches healthy

Late summer is a stressful time for finches. Parents are caring for young, all the birds are growing new feathers, and there is a lot of competition at the feeders. This is the most important time to keep your feeders clean! Whenever birds are concentrated in a small area, the risk of a disease spreading within that population increases.

Bird-Feeding Guidelines:
1. Space your feeders widely to discourage crowding.
2. Rake the beneath feeders to remove droppings and old, moldy seed.
3. Change your bird bath water every other day and scrub and rinse at least every 2 weeks.
4. Soak your feeders at least once a month if not more with a 10% vinegar or bleach solution (1 part vinegar and 9 parts water) and be sure to scrub well around the feeder ports. Or Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing can wash your feeders year round. Just bring a feeder in and pay $5.00. We will disassemble, soak, scrub, and reassemble your feeder and have it ready for you the next day we are open. Or prepay $20.00 and you will receive a Bird Feeder Wash Card that is good for 5 washes. This will give you a savings of $5.00! 

Related articles:
Do I need to clean my bird feeder? http://bit.ly/HNX410
What to know about feeding birds in the spring http://bit.ly/HOjECH
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/umlwXg
Can birds predict the weather? http://bit.ly/HNZTPx