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.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Feathers as nesting material

Along with grasses, animal hair, fluffy cottons and other soft plants, some birds like to line their nests with feathers to insulate and protect the chicks. One study found that female sparrows will invest more energy into laying eggs according to the male's ability to line the nest with feathers.

According to their results, female House Sparrows prefer males that are able to provide more feathers in a nest. The researchers took away and added feathers to the nests of the fifty pairs of sparrows during these birds' different mating seasons.

They observed that when the females noticed there were feathers missing they animatedly called the males and the male sparrows responded by bringing more feathers and dancing around the female on his return to the nest.

Ninety per cent of sparrows mate for life and keep the same partner from one year to the next; however, numerous factors influence the choice of mating partner. For example, the size of the black patch on the males' chest, commonly known as the bib, indicates their biological quality.

Source: de Hierro, L., Moleon, M. and Ryan, P. Is Carrying Feathers a Sexually Seleted Trait in House Sparrows? International Journal of Behavioural Biology, 119: 199-211, 2013.

Related Articles:
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
Common Bird House Problems http://bit.ly/wrWzyN
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://bit.ly/AD43TW
Don’t use treated lumber to build a birdhouse http://bit.ly/x2pIG0
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE
DO NOT Collect Dryer Lint for the birds to use as nesting material! http://bit.ly/wC5HcO

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Photo Share: Groundhog announces spring

Look who just woke up! - Lansing, MI
Most woodchucks emerge from their burrows in mid to late March in mid-Michigan. Many home owners dislike woodchucks because their borrow systems can cause damage. However, they are also extremely important members of the ecosystem. They serve as food for many predator species, their burrows serve as shelter for a variety of other animals, and their digging and foraging activities help shape the composition of soil. So we are Lucky that woodchucks live here in North America and announce when spring has arrived!

Related Articles:
What's the Difference Between a Groundhog & Woodchuck? http://bit.ly/z5FPoV
Singing Birds Herald The Arrival of Spring. http://bit.ly/uJbzCe
Love and the Birds: The Origin of St. Valentine's Day http://bit.ly/w5ra8B
Is hibernation more of a nightmare than a pleasant dream? http://bit.ly/y2OGr6
Origin of National Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg

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.

Creating stopover sites for migrating birds

Indigo Buntings arrive late April to early June
As you might imagine, migration takes a toll on the birds. It is not uncommon for birds to lose one-fourth to one-half of their body weight as they migrate thousands of miles. Before the journey north to their breeding grounds most birds accumulate fat to help maintain their energy reserves. Sometimes, however, reserves are not enough. That’s where you can help by creating “stopover sites” in your yard with plenty of food, water and shelter.

At this time of year the numbers and variety of birds appearing in your yard can actually change every morning as many small songbirds migrate through the night. Species such as warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, buntings and sparrows all migrate overnight.

Some reasons are to avoid the heat of the day, windy conditions, and predators. Many species use the stars in the night sky to guide them, and there is some evidence that, perhaps, magnetic fields at the poles help guide them.

Other large-winged birds such as hawks, eagles, vultures and even pelicans migrate during the day, as they rely on thermals and updrafts to fuel their flight. They are efficient flyers and use very little energy during migration, allowing the wind to fuel their flight.

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.

Animated migration map of Indigo Bunting from https://ebird.org/

Related Articles:
- The Journey North: Bird Migration Maps http://bit.ly/pbk4Eb
- Great Horned Owl Singing at Night http://bit.ly/qKeKDM
- Are Horned Larks Common in Mid-Michigan? http://bit.ly/qmAbt7
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU

Friday, March 16, 2018

Photo share: The Song Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco

It was so windy last night the birds were struggling to fly. Most took cover but I did see a little Song Sparrow foraging in the grass under the feeder, and hopping to the edge of the pond. He wasn't very shy. With a cat in my arms, we watched through the window as he took his time drinking around some left over snow. Then a little Dark-eyed Junco came around the tree and joined the sparrow. Both species like to forage mostly on the ground, sometimes scratching the soil.

We have Song Sparrows year-round in Michigan but we will also start to see some Canadian ones that spent the winter further south passing through from mid-March to mid-April on there way back to their breeding grounds.
Juncos have a similar migration schedule. The boys leave Michigan first in March and the girls are sure to follow later in April.

I was glad I got to see them loading up before dark. If they were rested and fed enough, they may have left soon after to fly further north. The Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows migrate at night at very low altitudes, which unfortunately makes them vulnerable to collisions with communication towers or other structures. My little stopover site may have been very important for these little birds to meet energy requirements.

Related Articles:
Song Sparrow http://song-sparrow.html 
Savannah Sparrow http://savannah-sparrow.html
Hearty little Field Sparrow http://field-sparrow.html
Be on the lookout for White-throated Sparrows http://white-throated.html
Sparrow bird with white head and black stripes http://white-head-and-black.html
Dark-eyed Juncos leave mid-Michigan http:/dark-eyed-juncos.html 
Do I need to change my bird seed when the seasons change? http://my-bird-seed-when.html

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl live cam

Who's (Back) On Cam For You?

Nestled into a wooded backyard in central Indiana, a pair of owls have returned to breed for a fifth consecutive season on the Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl cam. Beneath the down feathers of the female owl are three white eggs laid on March 5, 7, and 9.  For the last four years, the owls have had great success raising their young, fledging a total of 11 owlets from 11 eggs. Watch cam.

What to watch for: For the next 4 weeks or so you can listen to the sounds of spring arrive in the forests as the female incubates her eggs. At night, watch as the male owl delivers a steady stream of interesting prey items (like this crayfish) to the nest box and listen for the Barred Owls' classic "whoo-cooks-for-you?" hooting duets. After hatching, it takes only 4 to 5 weeks for the downy, closed-eyed hatchlings to transform into fierce, sometimes clumsy owlets ready to explore the world (check out these highlights from previous years for a sense of what is yet to come.)

New this year: A second camera has been installed to give views of the nest box opening from the outside so viewers can observe the owls' comings and goings, as well as the nestlings once they begin peering ouside. (Check out the crayfish delivery via the outside camera: https://youtu.be/USHDl715X7I). To toggle between the two camera views, click the "switch camera" icon in the lower right of the livestream player, next to the settings wheel. 

Barred Owl Fun Facts
· The Barred Owl is slightly smaller than the Great Horned Owl in size.
· Male and female plumage is identical throughout the year, but females can be about 30% heavier than males.
· Barred Owls maintain their territory throughout the year and are believed to maintain a monogamous pair bond for life.
· Though the size of their territory varies greatly with the type and quality of habitat, a Barred Owl’s home territory is approximately 700 acres.
· The prey (food) of Barred Owls is primarily small mammals, such as squirrels, chipmunks, voles and mice. Barred Owls will also prey in lesser amounts on small birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish.
· Predators of the Barred Owl include Great Horned Owls, Northern Goshawks and climbing mammals such as raccoons and weasels.
· Barred Owls nest only once per year and lay an average of two or three eggs per nesting.
· Only the female incubates the eggs. Incubation lasts for 28-33 days and starts when either the first or second egg is laid.
· The young will be covered with a fine down and will begin to beg for food a few moments after hatching.
· The female will brood the young almost continually for about two weeks. During this period, the male will deliver all the food for her and the young to the nest.
· The young owls will leave the nest at approximately four to five weeks of age and remain in the branches of the nest tree until they are able to fly at around 10 weeks of age.
· The young owls will stay together with their siblings throughout the summer and are fed by their parents. Then, the young will strike out on their own in early fall when the parents slowly wean them from feedings.
· According to bird banding records, the oldest known Barred Owl living in the wild was at least 24 years old. However, most Barred Owls would be lucky to reach even half this age.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Simple trick to keep crows away

Will a dove ever build a nest in a box? For the last 3 years crows have destroyed the nest and babies

Doves don't use nest boxes. Their nest is usually a fragile, shallow platform of twigs. They will nest on the branch of a shrub, tree or even sometimes on the ground. Wild Birds Unlimited does have nesting shelves or platforms that can be installed on trees and the sides of houses to help Doves and Robins with nesting.

However there is one simple trick Wild Birds Unlimited customers have used to protect their baby doves, bluebirds, and robins from crow attacks. Find a decorative crow (maybe from a past Halloween) and hang it upside down where the crows will see it. Just like hanging the American flag upside down, in the crow world this is officially recognized as a signal of distress. You may hear cawing for several minutes as the word is passed and then they leave the area.

Of course crows are smart so it may not be 100% effective. I love the doves but accept that they are an easy prey bird. They help feed many raptor and corvid babies as well as many mammal species. Fortunately, Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. Mourning doves may breed several times in a breeding season, from February to October. While the average longevity for a typical adult is only about 1.5 years, realistically the mortality rate of juveniles can be as high as 70% in their first year of life. But they can also be the longest lived bird found in North America. Bird banding research recorded one dove more than 31 years old.

Related Articles:

Nesting platform for doves and robins
Keeping the crows at bay https://goo.gl/65U6ea
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://bit.ly/wMKEKF
How Do You Keep Doves From Dominating a Feeder? http://bit.ly/zDAwR2
Birds taught the military about camouflage http://bit.ly/zij0Lm
Birds freeze or fly at the approach of a predator http://bit.ly/wwJTpT

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The show must go on: Red-wings arrive!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Only a few more days until spring! We started the week by losing an hour of sleep and then we get another winter storm in mid-Michigan. On the bright side, there is a bright side. I come home from the Wild Birds Unlimited store and it is still light enough to watch birds. (Woohoo!) I saw cardinals and robins pairing up, and saw and heard my first the Red-winged Blackbirds!

The redwings are among our earliest spring migrants. March is when the male Red-winged Blackbirds arrive in mid-Michigan. The females will arrive a little later. Some people don’t like to have the Red-winged blackbirds at their feeder in the spring because they are loud and messy and eat a lot. While there’s some truth to that, Red-winged blackbirds also consume large numbers insects and weed seeds, so they have their good points as well. And when the rains come in the spring, the bugs are sure to follow and then we’ll be happy they eat so much.

The snow shouldn't hurt these early migrating birds. They are equipped with several layers of fluffy, insulating down to trap heat. As long as they find a source of food and water, they can produce enough energy to survive bad weather. 

High on the list of best choices to meet the nutritional needs of birds is suet and certain seeds like peanuts, sunflower seeds and nyjer seed. Our most popular Wild Birds Unlimited No Mess Seed Blend is filled with many of these high fat seeds and nuts making it an ideal food, along with suet, to offer your birds.

The Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess Seed Cylinder is another way to offer sunflower chips, peanuts, tree nuts, and fruit to all the seed, nut and fruit loving birds. No-Mess Seed Cylinder is a tidy dining option that a lot of birds will enjoy. No shells means no mess and no wasted food, making this seed cylinder a great value. This 100% edible cylinder is great near flower beds patios and decks.  
Related articles:
- Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/xbZ9lR
- Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
- Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/jrpDX
- How can birds survive this cold weather? http://goo.gl/4v2d4

Monday, March 12, 2018

#MusicMonday – Clawhammer Banjo Tune

I spent too much time watching birds this week and didn’t really get around to writing anything for the blog for the week. So I am going to steal something that was written a while ago and just reprint it here, or really not print it but play it. It is written in a different language but I think you will understand the language.

Music is a language of its own. Sometimes a rather complex language at that. Often similar to poetry, sometimes prose, there is usually some structure to it and although the music may be written in one language, it is often interpreted differently by the individual “reading” the language similar to how each individual reads the meaning of a poem. The poem that I am playing in the video, “Sandy River Bell”, is a simple piece performed with the structure AABB. When I play banjo, it is just for fun and to relax and because of that, I mainly play pieces that would be considered light reading. So here is my entry for the blog today: https://youtu.be/KGHG6SwrTQQ

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What sandhill cranes feed on

What do Sandhill Cranes eat?

Sandhill Cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often root around for seeds and variously berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians, in shallow wetlands. During migration, cranes may eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum.

Sandhill Cranes are very social birds that mate for life. On migration, their flocks number into the hundreds and are composed of mated pairs and close family members. While migrating, they communicate constantly with one another. Interestingly, males and females often sing duets as they fly.

It is always a special treat to find a flock of sandhill cranes on the ground. Look for them during migration late or early in the day in large fields or open, shallow wetlands. Only then can you appreciate their size and beauty. Sandhills are a tall, long legged, long necked gray bird with a bright red crown. From wingtip to wingtip their outstretched wings can measure up to 7 feet.

In Michigan, sandhills nest in solitary nests on the ground near or over shallow water in marshes and bogs. They nest by heaping plant debris into a low mound. Two eggs are laid; the young follow the parents soon after hatching, fly in about 70 days, and stay with the parents for nearly a year.

Their numbers were much reduced by habitat loss and shooting in the early part of this century but have grown in recent decades. A two year survey funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund confirmed 805 breeding pair statewide. Most breeding pairs in the Lower Peninsula were found in a six county area near Jackson and Ann Arbor. Highest concentrations in the Upper Peninsula occurred in the eastern counties. 

Related Articles:
- Whooping Crane Migration http://goo.gl/avz5lG
- Photo Share: Crane and Grouse http://goo.gl/Unsqy8
- Sandhill Crane breeding: http://goo.gl/9GkgEH
- Lucky Duck saved from frozen pond: http://goo.gl/HClYGP

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How to stop birds hitting windows

Spring is the beginning of bird migration throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and the unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Millions of birds are killed each year from flying into windows. Now you can help prevent these collisions with a simple, easy to apply window decal.

Wild Birds Unlimited – East Lansing has WindowAlert static-cling decals that contain a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight.

This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds. WindowAlert decals help birds see windows and avoid striking the glass. To the human eye, the decals appear as frosted or etched glass. WindowAlert decals come in many shapes including leaves, hummingbird, butterfly, hawk and snowflake.

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 click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

If the attack on windows is a regular occurrence and not just an accidental window strike, the likely behavior is a reaction to the bird interpreting its reflection as an intruder on its territory. Some birds are highly territorial and defend their nesting area vigorously in the spring. The Warning Web is a patented method of getting birds to avoid the window thinking that it is a spider web. And yet to our human eyes it practically disappears when on window.
Related Articles:
Emergency Numbers for injured birds http://bit.ly/KLhavK
How to stop the Mad Cardinal Attacking My Window. http://bit.ly/KLhESM
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
Follow spring migration patterns online http://goo.gl/WLGiu

Friday, March 9, 2018

Photo Share: Like having a unicorn visit

For me, having an opossum visit my yard is like seeing a unicorn. These sweet-natured and adorable creatures are the only marsupials in North America. This means that they are mammals that give birth after only 13 days gestation to tiny gummy bears about the size of grains of rice. These babies then have to make their way to their momma's belly pouch to finish developing. An average litter is eight or nine joeys, and the average time they stay in their mother's pouch is about two-and-a-half months, before eventually climbing on her back. Their eyes open in 58 to 72 days and they are weaned and on their own at approximately 5 months of age. The breeding season for our opossums can begin as early as December and continue through October with most young born between February and June.

The opossum is also unique because it is the only mammal in the United States with a prehensile tail, which can be used for grasping like a hand. Young opossums sometimes even hang by their tails. And they are the only mammal that has four fingers and an opposable thumb on each of its hind feet that works like a human thumb. All nails are nonretractable, except for the thumb.

From Wikipedia: Marsupials are any members of the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, opossums, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Some lesser-known marsupials are the potoroo and the quokka.

Marsupials represent the clade originating from the last common ancestor of extant metatherians.  Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur on the Australian continent. The remaining 100 are found primarily in South America, but thirteen in Central America, and only the
Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in North America.

Opossums are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion, or road kill, invertebrates, seeds, fruits, nuts and small vertebrates. Opossums also keep rats and cockroaches at bay by eating them if they find them in their territory. Opossums are mostly immune to rabies, and have partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and other pit vipers. They tend to go about their business mostly at night and have a solitary life. They are usually non-aggressive and prefer to “play possum” or fake death.

So if you see one crossing the road slow down to let them pass. And if they visit your yard just let them do their business. Studies give less than a 50% chance of survival to relocated animals. The Virginia opossum, should be viewed as the great “groundskeeper.”  When left alone, the opossum does not attack pets, chew your telephone or electric wires, spread disease, dig up your flower bulbs or turn over your trash cans. On the contrary, the opossum does a great service in insect, venomous snake, and rodent control. He takes as his pay only what he eats, and maybe a sheltered place to sleep.

“Attacks” by opossums are simply non-existent. When they get too close, or move under the deck just let them be. If you are lucky enough to have one of these guys come around, you can rest assured he is cleaning up what he can, and will soon move along.

Related Articles:
Opposums are natural predators of ticks https://goo.gl/UqEBqn
What do Opossums eat? http://what-do-opposums-eat.html
Mysterious Regurgitated Nuggets Left Behind at Birdfeeder http://regurgitated-nuggets-left.html
Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? http://turkeys-eat-ticks.html  
How to attract robins to your yard http://attract-robins-to-your-yard.html

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.