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, January 23, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC) Is Just Around the Corner

Join the 21st Great Backyard Bird Count

Bird watchers around the world take part, February 16-19
News Release: A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 21st annual GBBC is taking place February 16-19 in backyards, parks, schools, offices and anywhere else you find birds.

Anyone can participate in this massive global citizen science project. All it takes is a 15 minute break. Count the birds you see and then enter that checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contributes to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes over the years.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”

One of the most obvious changes observed in bird populations is due to the varying weather conditions. eBird reports show many more birds are remaining further north than usual because of warmer winters. In mid-Michigan sightings of Carolina Wrens, Northern Flickers and Eastern Bluebirds are becoming commonplace when ten years ago it was very rare for them not to migrate further south. Participants also noted that they were seeing fewer birds at their feeders, compared to other years during the GBBC. That may also have something to do with milder weather. The birds may be finding more natural sources of food and visiting feeders less as a result.

Last year the warm weather in February also kicked off early migration that started around GBBC time. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are well-known to arrive in early March in mid-Michigan. In 2017 however blackbirds were even more widespread than normal and their returning numbers continued to build through February’s final week. Comparing the 2017 GBBC map to the January 2017 map from eBird shows how much migration was already underway by mid-February. 

If the warm weather continues, we could see the earliest spring ever for bird migration in the eastern United States: watch for waves of Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Pine Warblers, and Chipping Sparrows next!

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Am I too old to join a band?

Music Monday – A New Beginning!

A new semester of music is starting and I feel like I’m a kid back in school. It has been a few years since I had to think about the start of a new school year for myself. There were always mixed emotions. Excitement for seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a while, excitement about new classes. The mixed emotions part came as I stressed about grades and taking tests. I haven’t had to take a final exam in decades but I still get a knot in my stomach when I see the back to school sales every year. I have school aged kids so I’m not so removed yet from the annual cycle and I still get the same excitement and dread when their school year starts. And NOW I’m starting a new semester of school!?

Starting in the New Horizons Band is different though. It is like going to high school the first day and finding out your schedule includes just gym, art or other fun classes. There are no final exams and your grade is based on… well there is no grades. It is just an opportunity to learn a subject without any of the associated negative stress.

I can imagine that learning a new instrument could be a little stressful for some people, but for me it was always exciting to try to learn to make music. Several years ago when my kids were in elementary school they had to learn the recorder. I thought I could do that so I bought a book and learned with them. What fun! A band instrument may be a little more intimidating, it often has a few more parts to it and can cost more which makes me think it must be more difficult. But in some ways it can be easier to gain a basic level of competence because most band instruments have readily available teachers, books and schools that can help you get started. And in this computer age, you don’t even need that because there are hundreds of videos online that will teach you all the basics if you want. I think I am still a little “old school” though because I prefer to learn from real people that I can interact with. I play a saxophone that I bought back in 1984. I’ve taken a few lessons over the years but when I started playing it again in the NHB after almost 30 years away, it took a little while to relearn all the fingerings. I started last spring and I can remember trying to relearn just 2-3 notes a day for a couple weeks before class started. Even today, a year later, I am still adding some alternate fingerings to my playing skill set. I am mostly learning from the people around me. It is keeping me sharp. That is what is truly amazing and fun about NHB. I get to learn, have fun playing music with a really nice group of people and keep my mind active learning something that I enjoy. And there are no tests!

The new semester for the NHB at Michigan State University Community Music School starts January 22, 2018 and anyone is welcome. If you are not sure about an instrument or your playing skill, come visit during a class and talk with us. You can also contact me directly at zarkadan@gmail.com if you would like my opinions about the class or contact the Community Music School for info about classes. Bring your instrument if you want to try playing along with the NHB. The semester starts January 22, but you can visit any time during the semester. See the flyer for class times.

Related Articles:
Music Monday http:/music-monday.html
MSU Community Music School http:/msu-community-music-school.html
At one time, everyone was a beginner http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/music-monday-at-one-time-everyone-was.html

Sunday, January 21, 2018

#SquirrelAppreciationDay: Portrait of a Gray Squirrel

Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS Gray squirrel
Close-up of an Eastern Gray Squirrel's head; note the brownish fur on its face, the gray fur on its back and the white fur on its underside.

Like many members of the family Sciuridae, the eastern gray squirrel is a scatter-hoarder; it hoards food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Some caches are quite temporary, especially those made near the site of a sudden abundance of food which can be retrieved within hours or days for reburial in a more secure site. Others are more permanent and are not retrieved until months later. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used partly to uncover food caches, and also to find food in other squirrels' caches. Scent can be unreliable when the ground is too dry or covered in snow.

Related Articles:
Special squirrel adaptation http://squirrel-adaptation.html
Where squirrels sleep at night in the winter http://squirrels-sleep-at-night.html
Squirrel Dancing http://squirrel-dancing.html
What squirrels eat in the winter http://squirrels-eat-in-winter.html
Red Squirrel facts & figures http://squirrel-funny.html
Where flying squirrels live http://flying-squirrels-live.html
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food http://squirrels-like-to-work-for-their-food.html
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

Saturday, January 20, 2018

#SquirrelAppreciationDay: Fun Facts on #squirrels to share

There are 279 species of squirrel worldwide including tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. 8 species are found in Michigan.

On average, our backyard squirrels eat about 1-2 pounds of food per week. They eat much more than nuts. Squirrels are omnivores and eat fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits, as well as eggs, small insects, caterpillars, and small animals.

Squirrels plan ahead and bury nuts and seeds at various locations and return to them throughout the year when food is scarce. They put on elaborate bogus food burying displays to deceive onlookers.

Tree-dwelling squirrels such as the grey squirrel live in tree hollows, bird houses or build dreys (similar to bird’s nests) made of twigs high in trees. They are lined with grass, bark, moss and feathers for added comfort and insulation.

Although a single male can fertilize an entire litter, usually there is varying paternity, so a single litter could have multiple fathers. A typical grey squirrel litter consists of four offspring born about an inch long, naked, with closed eyes and ears.

Related Articles:  
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
Black squirrel with a blonde tail http:/black-squirrel-with-blonde-tail.html
Origin of National Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg
Fascinating Squirrels facts http://squirrels-in-mid-michigan.html
How squirrels were introduced into the neighborhood http://squirrels-were-introduced.html
How squirrels remember where they've buried nuts http://squirrels-remember.html
Invasion of American Killer Squirrels http://invasion-of-american-killer-squirrels.html
The World's Largest Squirrel http://largest-squirrel.html
What Happens after you Hang up the #1 Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder? http://what-happens.html
People Interrupt Mr. Squirrel's Holiday Shot! http://people-interrupt-mr-squirrels-holiday.html

Friday, January 19, 2018

Backyard squirrels

They may have a reputation for making bird feeding less enjoyable, however, squirrels aren’t going away any time soon. Perhaps by looking at them from a different perspective, you can begin to appreciate, if not enjoy, squirrels and their behaviors.

Squirrels are one of the most curious and adaptable animals to be found anywhere and they are unmatched in their problem-solving ability to defeat many so-called "squirrel proof" feeders!

Squirrels can jump up to five feet vertically and ten feet between trees or structures. They have the ability to cling from objects with their back foot toes (with support from their tail) which allows them to hang upside-down and eat.

So, if you want to keep squirrels from bothering your bird feeding setup, Wild Birds Unlimited has tested and determined the best foods, feeders and accessories to confuse and confound even the most brilliant squirrel in your neighborhood.

And if you decide to raise the white flag and enjoy their amazing antics, we have lots of fun and functional squirrel feeders that will brighten up both their day and yours, too.

Visit us soon, and we’ll help you feed the squirrels if that’s your thing, or we’ll help you defeat ’em once and for all.

Related Articles:

Special squirrel adaptation http://squirrel-adaptation.html
Where squirrels sleep at night in the winter http://squirrels-sleep-at-night.html
Squirrel Dancing http://squirrel-dancing.html
What squirrels eat in the winter http://squirrels-eat-in-winter.html
Red Squirrel facts & figures http://squirrel-funny.html
Where flying squirrels live http://flying-squirrels-live.html
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food http://squirrels-like-to-work-for-their-food.html
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

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#BirdYourWorld Photo Share

Sarah, these are mostly your feeders that I gave my son near Maple City, MI. He gets lots of birds up there.

It looks like he has a finch feeding frenzy and one lone chickadee making his way through the suet.

Thank you for sharing! 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.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Special squirrel adaptation

A lot of squirrel territory is the vertical, navigating up and down the trunks of a trees. They find a nut on the ground and run to a tree trunk to eat out of the view of predators. Because they have the treat in their hands, they only have their feet to secure them to a safe perching area. Fortunately they have well-developed claws in both the front and hind feet to latch on to rough surfaces.

They also can feed comfortable headfirst down trees by swiveling their back ankle joints. Squirrels can maneuver quickly and gracefully thanks to a special adaptation where their ankles, or wrists, articulate. The squirrel may be heading down the trunk but its feet and claws point upward, enabling a good grip on the bark and a speedy dexterous descent.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Robins stay here all year long

I have just seen a large group of Robins here in in Coastal South Carolina and I was somewhat surprised. Do they stay here all year long? - Cheryll
Yes, some America Robins migrate but if you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common. When I hear their chirp in the crab-apple tree in the dead of winter, it always takes me by surprise!

Robins head off to the woods in large flocks in the fall and winter to eat fruits, nuts, and berries. You'll see them occasionally foraging at certain trees that produce fruit, usually after a snow. They can fly miles to forage for food in the winter. You may see them in your yard for two or three days devouring a crab apple tree's fruit and then not see them again the rest of the winter.

At the end of winter when natural supplies run low, they start to show up at my feeders looking for mealworms, suets, seed cylinders, and picking out the nuts in my no-mess blend birdseed. And make sure you have water. Birds need to drink and bathe too, even in cold weather. Dirty feathers lose much of their insulating properties, so a clean bird is a warm bird. A heated birdbath on cold days or a fresh bowl of water on warmer days is a big help. Thank you for sharing your observation!

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Music Monday – At one time, everyone was a beginner

Like many people, I’ve always had a love of music. My interest in music though was not just listening, but wanting to play instruments. I can distinctly remember even as a very young kid wanting to play something. Part of that was just my natural interest in trying to understand how things worked. Probably a negative associated with my interest was that I didn’t have the attention to stick with one thing for very long so I understand the basics of a lot of instruments but I’ve never stuck with any long enough to become very competent on any. Even now as I have begun to play my saxophone again after many years of being away, I have to quash the urges to take up the tuba or trombone or bass clarinet. They are all so interesting and if I had all the time (and money) in the world, I would try my hand at them all. But for now, I am going to work on the saxophone. Fortunately, being able to play in the New Horizons Band at the MSU Community Music School has given me some direction and incentive to practice and become a better musician on the instrument I have. And yes, I do practice. Probably not as much as I should or would like to but I still have a full-time job. NHB does have many people still working as well as many that are retired. It is a mix of all ages and skill levels. That range of skill levels makes NHB unique in its ability to accept new members all the time. All you need to join, is a willingness to learn and a love of wanting to play music.

I feel that on the range of skill levels, I am still a beginner, maybe a seasoned beginner since I have been with the band for about a year now. And I have to continually remind myself that being a beginner is OK, that it takes time to learn anything new. That everyone starts out as a beginner. Before I started in the band I did what I think is very common. I started asking questions like “how hard is it to take up an instrument as an adult”. If you search on Google with that question, the results frequently landed on sites from music teachers or schools where they say that is the most frequently asked question from every adult that they work with. As an adult, we often feel very accomplished in our own field of endeavor but have forgotten how many times we had to overcome challenges before we became competent. To learn an instrument as an adult, you have to think like a child. Don’t be embarrassed by small failures, let them be learning experiences. I frequently miss notes and struggle with syncopated rhythms or cut time. I circle those sections on the music sheet as we play and when I go home, I work through those sections so that maybe I will be able to play through them in class next time. It is part of my personal journey to become better doing something that I have always loved. I remind myself that I am not trying to become a professional musician, I am doing this because I enjoy playing music. NHB has given me the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do since I was a kid and to have fun doing it with a group of other like-minded individuals.

New Horizons Band at the MSU Community Music School is now recruiting New Members. If you would like to talk to me in person or have questions about joining, I will be at the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store this Saturday (January 20, 2018) from 10am to about noon and would be happy to answer any questions. You can also write me with questions at zarkadan@gmail.com. The new semester starts the week of January 22 and you are welcome and encouraged to visit during any practice to see what we do. You can also visit the Community Music School Sunday January 21, 2018 between 3-5pm during their Open House to get more information.

Related Articles:
Music Monday http:/music-monday.html
MSU Community Music School http:/msu-community-music-school.html

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What birds will do in the cold

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Photo Share: Bald Eagle in Lansing, Michigan

Can you spot the eagle?
During Michigan winters, bald eagles are seen throughout the state of Michigan, and while they nest mainly in the Upper Peninsula, we have begun to see some eagles nest in Lansing. The eagles in the photo hang out along the river in my sister backyard in Lansing.

If she's lucky, during the beginning of the breeding season, from mid-February to mid-March, she might be able to see some mating displays. The mating "cartwheel" display begins high in the air with the two birds darting and diving at each other, until they lock talons and drop in a spinning free fall, until the last possible moment when they separate.

Nests are usually located in the tallest tree in the area, often a white pine or dead snag. They are usually made of sticks with a lining of grass and moss. Nests may be refurbished each year until they reach enormous sizes, up to ten feet in depth and 20 feet across.

Last year a pair built a nest a little way from Potter Park Zoo and fledged two eaglets. They were one of  nearly 1,000 active nesting sites around the state.

Related Articles:
Why Bald Eagles nest in the winter http://why-eagles nest-in-winter.html
Nesting Eagles facts and figures http://t.co/vpj99ZV
A closer look at our National bird http://bald-eagle-facts.html
Amazing moment bald eagle chases down and catches a starling in mid-air http://t.co/U3CT5Sh
Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles http://t.co/A9R33zI