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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Photo Share: Boat-tailed Grackle female

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
This female Grackle is waiting for a drop of water to appear. We were at a park on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico when I noticed the Grackles taking turns getting the occasional drip from this faucet. Water everywhere but not drinkable for these birds. This shows how important it is to conserve fresh water. - Andrea from DeLand, FL

If anyone 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, August 28, 2014

Winter Bird houses

Should I take down my bird house for the winter? – Ludington, MI

In the late summer or fall, after breeding season is completed for cavity nesting birds you can clean out your nest box and put it in storage or leave it out for the birds to use as a shelter. Labor Day is the perfect time to clean and repair all your bird houses.

I would recommend taking in decorative gourds and pottery houses that wouldn’t last long in Michigan winters. Wood and recycled plastic houses however are the perfect place for Carolina Wrens, bluebirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, and sparrows to spend the night during the cold winter months.

Bird houses or Nest Boxes should be cleaned out at least once a year. It is easier to clean out nest boxes in September because the weather is usually nice. If you forget, you have to make sure they are cleaned out by the end of February before nesting begins in March. 

I usually place a plastic bag over old nest material and just sweep it all in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

Taking care to clean your feeders and nest boxes makes you a responsible steward of nature.
Related articles:
How to Attract Bluebirds: http://bit.ly/nfCq2b
When do you clean bird houses?: http://bit.ly/oiB7fu
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses: http://bit.ly/oBBA0d
How to Participate in NestWatch: http://bit.ly/opPqQ3
When is the best time to put up a bird house?: http://bit.ly/nq6z7d

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Birds circling high in the sky

Once only a southern US bird, by the 1960's Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura had extended their breeding range into Michigan. The popular theory is that the interstate highway system increased the availability of food in the form of roadkill. Every driver on the highways, will see at one time or another, these big dark birds circling high on the air thermals.

Feeding mainly on dead animals, vultures aren’t common backyard birds. Turkey Vultures nest as far north as the southern border of Canada and as far south as Chile. Populations in Michigan and other colder areas migrate south to warmer weather in the winter.

This big brownish black bird can have a wingspan up to six feet and is recognized easily not only by its large wingspan but also by its tiny, red, bald head. Male and female turkey vultures are identical in plumage and in coloration, although the female is slightly larger. Immature birds (under one year) have black beaks and heads. As the bird matures the beak gradually turns white and the head red.
Turkey vultures frequently circle and gain altitude on pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. They can soar for hours without flapping their wings. When they reach the top of the thermal, they glide across the sky at speeds up to 60 miles per hour and can cover many miles going from thermal to thermal without ever needing to flap.
The Turkey Vulture soars above the ground for much of the day, searching for food with its excellent eyesight and highly developed sense of smell.
Related Articles:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hummingbirds flying at night

Are hummingbirds active at night? – Hamilton, MI
Typically, hummingbirds feed heavily in morning and evening hours and find a secure roosting spot about a half hour or so before dark. But hummingbirds do fly at night during migration.
If you’ve never fed Ruby-throated Hummingbirds before, you must, must, must get a feeder out there today! We still have a wide selection to choose from at our Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI store.

Right now the birds are hungry! It’s fascinating to watch hummingbirds bulk up for the journey south. They are feasting on aphids, spiders and nectar especially. They need to increase their weight to about 2 pennies or about 1/5 of an ounce to survive the long migration flight south.

I am watching my slim little birds turn roly poly right before my eyes! You can notice the extra fat along the back, belly, and throat. A hummingbird gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to travel 1,400 miles – with no wind of any kind. A headwind of only 10 miles per hour will cut that distance down to 600 miles and more than 20 mph will push them backward. However the ruby-throated hummingbird does take advantage of tail winds constantly.

Southbound ruby-throats rebuild their reserves in the early morning, travel about 23 miles during the day and forage again in the late afternoon to keep up their body weight.
The first to go south are the older males, then the females and finally the first year hummingbirds. Newly hatched hummers have no memory of migration, just an urge to eat and move south. This urge is inborn so there is no reason to take your feeders down to force birds to migrate. That just forces them to look for food in another area until they feel fat enough and may not bother to return to your yard next year.

Feeders can have a real positive impact on the number of birds that survive so please keep them clean and fresh. I recommend you continue to maintain feeders until you haven’t seen a hummingbird for two weeks; depending on where you live in Michigan that can be anywhere from the end of September to mid-October.

Related Articles:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bird gangs form in the fall

Northern Cardinal photo from Wikimedia Commons
I hope everyone is enjoying the last days of summer. Every evening and morning I listen excitedly as the trees fill with chips and chirps of cardinals forming winter gangs. Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and  move around trying to join up with the older more experienced cardinals after nesting season. If your yard is hospitable you can enjoy large numbers of these bright red birds during the dreary winter months.

A lot of other birds are also looking to join gangs right now. It’s not unusual for a group of mixed species to fly together for protection and to forage for food. If you take a walk in the woods you may observe that certain birds gather together in a relatively small space, while the remainder of the woodland is empty.
Titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and woodpeckers which do most of their foraging on trees are sometimes called a tree-foraging guild. Bird guilds are groups of species in a community that exploit the same set of resources in a similar manner, but are not necessarily related closely taxonomically.
Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer

Migrating warblers, kinglets, pewees, gnatcatchers, and vireos may join tree-foraging guilds for a short time during migration stopovers. I love it when the kinglets fly in to mingle with the chickadees every fall. The Black-capped Chickadee seems like such a small bird until it’s sitting next to the teeny tiny crowned kinglet.

But even though these birds work together to survive there are still scuffles and fights to determine hierarchy. Sometimes it’s based on size; the larger Hairy Woodpeckers are more dominant over the smaller Downy Woodpecker which is more dominant than the White-breasted Nuthatch, which can be more dominant then the titmouse which is always more dominant than the chickadee.

Dominance may also be determine through age and gender. An older male titmouse may find he’s socially dominant over a young female nuthatch.
Socially dominate tree-foraging birds get first choice at where they want to feed on the tree.

This may be why the little, least dominant chickadee has developed a special ability to charm humans into giving them treats. At my feeding stations I try to keep all the birds happy with a variety of foods at different levels and in different locations around the yard.

Related Articles:
Do Birds Eat Only at Certain Levels? http://goo.gl/vgE94
Why feed birds in the fall http://goo.gl/Jq4Aj
You get more birds if you feed year-round http://goo.gl/IsJKJ
Shilly-shallying Golden-crowned Kinglet: Adorable! http://goo.gl/d50zT
Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer http://goo.gl/ji1vh

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eagles fight over fish mid-air

Stealing a fish
This picture shows an immature Bald eagle stealing a fish from the adult, which is a common occurrence in the Winter. Picture was taken at Rock Island County, Illinois, along the Upper Mississippi River.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Why the Robins in the area have disappeared

Hi there, I was wondering if you can answer this question? I have noticed that all the Robins in the area have gone. We had a few that nested in our trees over the summer and the last I saw of them was around the first week of August. I thought they didn't leave until early September. They are no where to be found. - Kingsville, Ontario which  is just a short distance from Windsor, Ontario.

If your robins left early that is probably a good sign that everything went smoothly for them this nesting season. The males are no longer territorial once they've completed nesting.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Every year in late summer and fall, robins leave the areas where they've raised their young and switch their diet from mostly earthworms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. If you take a walk in the woods you will probably hear large flocks of robins as the forage and roost together.

If food is abundant, I am lucky enough to have robin flocks remain in my mid-Michigan area throughout the winter. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But most robins migrate to the central and southern states from November until late March. I’m afraid that this is just another sign of the end of summer.

Thanks for your reply. The Robins in my yards had their first batch (4) in the Pine tree in my front yard. They were very safe from other predators. All babies were fledged and finally flew off with parent bird.

The second batch was in the Maple tree in my back yard. Same Robins. This time they had only 3 babies. All fledged as they should except one baby took a little longer to leave the nest but finally it did.

I believe these parent Robins are the same two from last year because last year I noticed a small white tuffed of feathers that was on the female and this year it was the same. They, last year had two batches successfully.

So, then, I guess they have gone to gather with the flocks. Thank you so much for your information. Marion
Related Articles:
- Why Robins are Attracted to Water http://bit.ly/qP9aTs
- Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
- Fun Facts About The American Robin http://bit.ly/n9CSni
- Why robins are called Robin Redbreast and not orange breast http://goo.gl/OB4iT

Friday, August 22, 2014

Photo Share: American Goldfinch feasting on flowers

Like most finches, the American Goldfinch is a vegetarian.

Even during the breeding season, when most birds switch their diet to more insects and other invertebrates to feed their rapidly growing young, goldfinches feast on flower seeds. 

If anyone 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, August 21, 2014

Feeders just for the Goldfinches

Finch feeders have very small feeding ports to control the flow of the teeny tiny Nyjer® (thistle) seed but still allow skinny-billed finches to extract a seed. There are two popular styles. One is a stabilized, polycarbonate tube that has a perches for the birds to stand on and pick a seed from a slit in a tube. The other is a mesh tube where the birds cling and pluck seeds from any open spot.

When choosing a finch feeder always look for something easy to fill and easy to clean. The Wild Birds Unlimited finch feeders in East Lansing, MI have Quick-Clean bases that makes maintenance a snap, a Lifetime Guarantee and are also made in the U.S.A. You can’t go wrong!
One problem people often mention when feeding finches Nyjer® (thistle) is the waste of seed below. Unfortunately as small as nyjer seeds are, the black part on the outside is merely the shell finches split open efficiently to extract the high fat, high protein oil within. So actually what looks like wasted seed is probably just lots of tiny shells. Fortunately this seed has been heat treat so that if one seed does escape a finch’s grasp it won’t sprout.

Another benefit to finch feeders is that the squirrels and larger birds will leave it alone. Goldfinches are the main bird attracted to straight Nyjer® (thistle). A few other birds attracted are House finches, chickadees, sparrows, siskins, doves, buntings, redpolls and juncos.

Related Articles:
Prevent soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a
How to Attract Goldfinches http://bit.ly/A6CwjB
How often do you clean a bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wTk0c7 
Where do you place finch feeders? http://goo.gl/avIs2

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Grapes and birds

There are more than 50 species of Wild Grapes in the Vitis genus native to eastern and central North America. They grow in woods, on riverbanks and along fence-rows and flower in late spring to early summer.

We had a huge fence at our elementary school covered in vines. Fresh, tender leaves to me are the first ingredient to my favorite food, Vegetarian Stuffed Grape Leaves.  

The vines also produce berries from August until frost which attract a variety of birds and other animals that eat the fruits and disperse seeds.
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 and practical uses. http://goo.gl/XEyWf

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What does it mean when you see a bird on your porch at night

My cat was so excited last night because we had a brown finch spend the night in the corner of our porch right next to the sliding glass door. Was there something I should have done for the bird? It was gone in the morning. - Milford, Michigan

Birds look quickly for a spot to roost as the sun goes down.
It's best to let sleeping birds lie. There are a lot of new birds out there in late summer. Inexperienced birds have some inborn knowledge but there are also some things that have to be learned through trial and error. It’s not unusual to find birds early in the morning asleep on a feeder or maybe behind a nearby flower pot.

After juvenile finches become independent, they form large flocks that congregate at food sources. Scientist thought they also roosted together at night. However recent field work done by the Bird Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology revealed that wasn’t true.

Researchers attached radio transmitters to nine groups of House Finches in Ithaca, New York, to help locate the birds at their roosts. They found the birds didn’t have large permanent roosts. Their nighttime layovers were temporary and seemed to be located wherever a finch happened to be foraging at the time.

If you watch your feeders in the evening you'll notice that when the sun goes down, most birds find shelter quickly in nearby bushes, but one bird might decide the corner of the porch is a secure enough retreat.

Related Articles:
House Finch feeding his baby http://goo.gl/g4svn
House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://goo.gl/5GF8h
Do Birds Sleep Standing Up? http://goo.gl/Z06Nq