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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

6 steps to make the future brighter for birds

Habitat loss, disease, severe weather, window collisions and many other factors contribute to the decline in bird populations. Here are six steps you can take to make the future brighter for birds:

Land development is changing the habitat available for many birds. You can help by landscaping with native plants that provide natural food sources, shelter and protection predators. Man made feeders, nest boxes and bird baths also benefits birds.

2. Prepare a proper menu
Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements year-round. Wild Birds Unlimited has regionally formulated seed blends to provide the most nutritious food for your birds. The first ingredient in our top 4 seed blends is sunflower seed, the favorite of most of the backyard seed eating birds.
To help reduce the possibility of disease transmission in birds, clean feeders and feeding areas at least once a month. You can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to disinfect all of your feeders. Keep seed and foods dry by adding Feeder Fresh; discard food that is wet or looks moldy. Birdbaths also need to be scrubbed with a brush and water should be replaced every three to days to discourage mosquito reproduction. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every three to five days, or every other day in warm weather.

4. Birds and chemicals don’t mix 
Many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are toxic to birds; avoid using these near areas where birds feed, bathe or rest. Read the ingredients on the bird seed bag. The number one reason you will have weeds on the ground is because the birds are kicking the seeds that they don’t prefer on the ground and they grow.

5. Keep cats away from birds 
Outdoor cats are estimated to kill 500 million birds per year. Even the sweetest cats still have the instincts of their wild ancestors. When something flutters by, they must swat it down. Cats do what comes natural but you can help wildlife by restricting their access outside. A lot of our customers start bird feeding to entertain their indoor cats. It is a challenge to keep indoor-only animals stimulated and engaged mentally. A window feeder is one solution.

6. Reduce window collisions 
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. And even one billion deaths might be a conservative estimate. 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.

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 get rid of weeds under the bird feeder without using poisons http://goo.gl/fHlsE0
- Cats Indoors! http://goo.gl/YIOUpI
- How to Prevent Window Strikes during Migration http://goo.gl/KZRzKb

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Baby Cowbird vs. Cardinal

Baby cowbird with momma cardinal
The baby cowbird is all gray with speckled feathers
Brown-headed cowbirds are a brood parasite. They do not raise their own young, instead laying their eggs in the nests of other bird species. The young cowbird is fed by the host parents. If the foster family is successful in raising the cowbird, the baby will start out with the basic baby call of “feed me, feed me” call, but later develop their innate unstructured song.

Several published studies on the subject have found that adult cowbirds check in with young cowbirds while the youngsters are still living with other species. The adult cowbirds help teach fledglings cowbird-specific behaviors before they leave their foster homes.
Juvenile cardinal: gray feathers tinged with red and a dark bill
This baby cardinal is coming out of the awkward baby stage, into beauty!
Juvenile cowbirds, which fledge during the summer months, leave their foster parents about two weeks after hatching to flock together with other cowbirds. Chatter calls, as well as other visual cues help with recognition of their own species. The theory is that cowbirds and other parasitic birds possess a simple behavioral trait or cue that is species specific and helps them recognize themselves as cowbirds.
  
Photos Shared by Holly. Thank you Holly for sharing snapshots of what's going on outside your window! 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.  
 
Related Articles:
- How Do Cowbirds Learn to Sing? http://goo.gl/n6kYS 

- Brown-headed Cowbirds http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2009/05/cowbirds.html 
- How young cowbirds know they're cowbirds http://goo.gl/hYSyUV 
- Basic Instinct: Cardinal Feeds Goldfish http://bit.ly/Kgv2Mi
- Starling and sparrow nesting together http://goo.gl/5aQftb

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

5 Awesome Facts about Birds

If you are interested in birds, then you may want to forward these fun facts.

1. Every bird has feathers and every animal that has feathers is a bird. A Whistling Swan, in winter has the most with about 20,000 individual feathers. And the bird that has the fewest feathers is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird with about 940.

2. Of the world's more than 10,000 species of birds, over 200 are known to breed in Michigan and more than 400 species spend at least some time in the state. The list includes many songbirds ranging from the common American robin to the endangered Kirtland's warbler.

3. The biggest bird is the Ostrich who can grow up to 9 feet tall. They can’t fly but they are number one when it comes to running speed. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest living bird in the world, with a length of just 2 inches. They can’t walk but can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways or hover.

Image from Reddit Pics
4. Most birds have reptile-like scales on their legs and feet. The evolution of birds is thought to have begun in the Jurassic Period, with the earliest birds derived from a clade of theropoda dinosaurs named Paraves

5. Ornithologists use two basic terms to describe a bird at hatching: altricial or precocial. Songbirds are altricial. They hatch from an egg with their eyes are closed, little or no down and are still incubated and fed by the parents for weeks before they can leave the nest. Precocial birds like some ducks and chickens are well developed straight from the egg covered in down, and eyes wide open. Within two days, they are out of the nest and foraging on their own, staying near mom only for protection.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hummingbird moth life cycle

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Moths in genus Hemaris are known collectively as clearwing moths or hummingbird moths in the US and bee hawk-moths in Britain. Its long proboscis and its hovering behavior, accompanied by an audible humming noise, make it look remarkably like a hummingbird while feeding on flowers.

The females entice the males with an aroma or pheromone that they produce from glands at the tip of the abdomen. After mating, they lay their tiny, round, green eggs on their larval food plants, usually on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars have a horn at the rear end and are commonly green, well camouflaged among the leaves.

When they are fully-grown they drop to the ground, spin a loose cocoon and pupate, partially protected by leaf litter to shelter this beautiful pollinator. In the north, where the season is short there is only one generation per year; the pupa spends the whole winter well-hidden and the adult does not emerge until the next spring. In the south, there is usually more than one generation each summer.

Related Articles:
-Tiger moths: What is that white moth with black spots?: http://bit.ly/rtneuz
-A Very Tiny Hummingbird (Moth)?: http://bit.ly/qtrAaV
-Moth With Twelve Inch Tongue: http://bit.ly/pcs0TV
-Why did I take a picture of bird poop?: http://bit.ly/o9APHb
-Where does the Woolly Bear go in the winter?: http://bit.ly/pB5L4V

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How to get hummingbirds to a new feeder

How do I get hummingbirds to a try a new feeder ~ East Lansing, MI

Hummingbirds find feeders by sight so hang the feeder where they will be able to see it as they fly over your yard. Also a new feeder may be found sooner if hung near a flower garden or hanging flower basket.

Hummingbirds feed from the flowers low on the ground and from high up in the tops of flowering trees or climbing vines. But if there are two feeders close together they will usually go to the feeder that is hanging higher and gives a better view.

Also 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 even if there are no hummingbirds feeding. 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. And these end of the summer months are the best viewing times as birds start their pre-migratory wandering.

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
When to take hummingbird feeders down & other FAQ http://goo.gl/CspGnT
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cardinals work hard to get red feathers

A regular resident of mid-Michigan backyards, the Northern Cardinals form one of the bird world's most faithful pair bonds. The male and female remain in close contact year-round, singing to one another through the seasons with soft, bubbly whistles. The female is known to sing while on the nest, and it is believed that she is informing her partner whether or not she or the young need food.

The red color of the Cardinal’s feathers is the result of pigments called carotenoids. The amount of the pigment ingested, and then deposited in the feathers as they molt in the fall, influences the quality and depth of their red coloration. A study done by the Ohio State University found that juveniles, less efficient foragers than adults, often have a duller red feather coloration.

At the feeding stations the birds tend to prefer seeds that provide the most nutrients. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a landmark study of bird food preferences in 1980 for several bird species and found cardinals exhibited the greatest preference for fresh sunflower, peanuts, safflower, and millet. They avoid buckwheat, cracked corn, milo, oats, wheat, nyjer, canary, flax, rapeseed, and rice.
 
Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Blend is our best selling blend. It has everything the birds want and leaves no messy shells behind. The first ingredient is sunflower seeds with the black shells removed. You only pay for seed not the shells. Birds don't eat the shell. Those are just discarded below the feeder as waste. Because there is no shell, there is about twice as much seed in the bag. Pound for pound it is the better deal and it also should go down twice as slow in the feeder.

Whatever seed, seed cake, or suet you choose at Wild Birds Unlimited, we guarantee it will be fresh and a healthy choice for our local birds.
Related Articles:
What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://goo.gl/SAA35
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://goo.gl/MjUCA
When should I feed the birds? http://goo.gl/IvocS
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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Photo Share: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks at seed cylinder feeder
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org says, "Bursting with black, white, and rose-red, male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are like an exclamation mark at your bird feeder or in your binoculars. Females and immatures are streaked brown and white with a bold face pattern and enormous bill. Look for these birds in forest edges and woodlands. Listen, too, for their distinctive voices. They sound like American Robins, but listen for an extra sweetness, as if the bird had operatic training; they also make a sharp chink like the squeak of a sneaker."  

Photos Shared by Holly. Thank you Holly for sharing snapshots from your beautiful yard. 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, July 23, 2015

More birds in Michigan than ever

I told you so…
Dolly knows birds
That is all Dolly has been telling me. She said we needed more seed at the Wild Birds Unlimited store and of course Dolly knows her birds. There are more birds in Michigan right now than any time of year. In the summer, even though there is a lot of food available for birds, their energy requirements are high because they must feed their young, grow a new set of feathers, and prepare to fly south or weather a harsh winter.

Blackbirds, Robins, starlings and many other bird families are finishing nesting and gathering in flocks. Behavior varies with different species of birds. Baby chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers and cardinals are dispersing from their natal territories and scouting out new, good winter homes. The young hook up with other young birds new to the area and join local adults to form winter flocks. Once settled in their new territory, most will remain in the same general area for the rest of their adult lives.
How an expert birdwatcher builds feeding stations!
So Dolly and I have discussed this and ordered more seed, suet, seed cylinders and mealworms. We are fully stocked at the Wild Birds Unlimited store with the best bird food and ready to make your yard a haven for the birds.

And thank you very much Holly, for sharing a photo of your Father's well thought out bird feeding stations! I am very impressed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bee-free, no-drip hummingbird feeders

The only sure defense against bees and wasps is to deny them any access to the nectar. I have replaced all my hummingbird feeders gradually with the problem free Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders. The bees don’t like the saucer style because the nectar is down low, there is no leaking or dripping, they have a built in ant moat and they are easy to clean and fill. There are also optional bee guards you can attach to allow only hummers and no bugs access.
There are different styles and sizes of the saucer style hummingbird feeders, even a window feeder! They all have perches (I love it when they stop to drink) and bright colored tops to attract the birds naturally. Both the cover and the clear bowl are constructed with UV stable poly carbonate, the most durable plastic available, are dishwasher safe, come with a lifetime guarantee, and are made in the USA.
If you choose not to try a new feeder right now, I have three tips to stop bees:
1.    Deter Bees: I discovered bees don't like the smell of cherries. If you swab the ports with real almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid the feeder. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day.
2.    Distract Bees: Use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). Put the plate on a ladder or stool near the hummingbird feeder and they will probably move over to the plate. Once the plate is empty the bees should disperse.
3.    Disinterest Bees: Reduce the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water instead of the usual nectar recipe of 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. This will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.

Related Articles:

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wandering Catbirds

I had an unusual visitor today. I had to search my field guide and discovered it was a Gray Catbird!- Lansing, MI
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Thank you for the update from your yard. From July until late August most birds have completed nesting (with a couple exceptions like the American Goldfinches) and birds begin to roam. Territories are relaxed and birds begin to wander widely to look for food to help go through their molt. 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.

In summer, Gray Catbirds eat mainly ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, and moths. They also eat native fruits from trees and shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry. You may see catbirds at the jelly and fruit feeders you put out for the orioles and also at the suet, nut and mealworm feeders.

Gray Catbirds are only with us in mid-Michigan during the spring and summer to nest. They begin their nocturnal migration in flocks of about 10 to 15 birds to wintering grounds in August. During the winter they live in the extreme southeastern United States, along the east coast of Mexico, and in the Caribbean Islands. Their migration, especially those individuals that cross the Gulf of Mexico, requires so much energy that they will have to increase their mass to the upper limit of what flight allows to complete the journey.

The Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) get its name from the catty mew calls it produces. Their genus name Dumetella is based upon the Latin term dūmus (small thornbush-dweller) which refers to the species' habit of singing when hidden in undergrowth. Listen for the distinctive mew call of the Gray Catbird, or for its imitation of several species during a long, seemingly improvised series of notes at the top of a dense, tangled thickets.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Nyjer® (thistle) is finches' favorite food.

Nyjer's high oil content makes it an excellent energy source for active birds, and it's best used in our specially designed finch feeders.

It is important to keep the food fresh because finches can be picky eaters. Nyjer has a thin shell and is vulnerable to spoilage while in the tube. Once seed starts to get moldy or becomes stale, finches will look for fresher forage.

Replace Nyjer in feeders every three to four weeks if it is not being eaten actively. Store your Nyjer cool dry spot for a longer shelf life, and buy in quantities that will be used up in a few weeks.

Related Articles:
Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting http://bit.ly/PZuejj
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a