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, October 8, 2015

How to get chickadees to stick around longer

New seed cylinder character available for a short time only!
Lucky for birdwatchers, mid-Michigan's chickadees are non-migratory and will be around all winter. New fall and winter flocks have been forming for awhile. Flocks can consist of 2 to 18 birds. Normal suburban flocks range from 6 to 10 birds over a territory of 20 to 50 acres.

Young chickadees leave their parents about a month after they’ve hatched. They leave their natal territory and individually take up residence with other non-related chickadees several miles away. These first year chickadees have the lowest status in the group and try to pair up with a mate they can be with next breeding season and move up in rank as dominant birds die.

The average lifespan of a chickadee in the wild is 2.5 years. Keeping their little half ounce body working efficiently requires a lot of fuel. And the worse the conditions the more the chickadees need to eat.

Inquisitive, energetic, and strikingly marked, the Black-capped Chickadee is regular visitor to Michigan feeders especially in the fall. They may seem to be in a little bit of a frenzy. Attracted to sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suets at a bird feeding station, they are collecting food and hiding it for later just like squirrels. Read MORE on how chickadees cache their food.

https://youtu.be/dNR42p9icrkAt my feeding station I offer Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Seed Blend in a squirrel proof feeder, Peanutbutter Suet, and Seed Cylinders.

Seed Cylinders are tidy, long-lasting, tightly packed seed shapes held together with gelatin that slip on a cylinder feeder. The birds stay longer eating at the feeder instead of grabbing a morsel and flying quickly away to eat it elsewhere. And the cylinders are packed with high-calorie nuts to provide birds with enough energy stay warm. Cylinders can help attract many of your favorite birds, including cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers and goldfinches. And now we have Cute Seed Cylinder Characters available for a short time.
Related Articles:
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Exciting New Bird Food at Wild Birds Unlimited Stores http://goo.gl/LpVQne
Why don't chickadees stay to eat at the feeder? http://bit.ly/AkKThH
What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/rCdQqM
Holiday gift ideas for nature lovers: http://bit.ly/v8L2va
Feeding the birds will not make them dependent. http://goo.gl/dqYQu

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Birds sample a wide variety of foods

The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing No-Mess Blend is perfect for bird feeding. The first ingredient is Sunflower Seeds without the shell, the favorite of the seed eating birds like the cardinals, finches and other seed eating birds. The second ingredient is diced peanuts. This attracts all the bug eating birds like the chickadees, jays, nuthatches, woodpeckers and titmice. The third ingredient is hulled white proso millet. This attracts your juncos and other ground feeding birds.

The National Wildlife Federation did a study on which foods attract the most birds and keep them the healthiest. They found:

No-mess seed cylinder
1. Birds require a variety foods.
A backyard feeder is an especially efficient place to forage because it mimics what scientists call a “resource patch,” a cluster of food much like a fruit-laden tree. But don’t worry that birds will become too dependent on your feeders. Evolutionary pressures encourage birds to sample a wide variety of foods.

Birds are remarkably proficient at assessing potential food items for nutritional content and quality. Fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, white proso millet, safflower, Nyjer thistle seed and high quality suets are some of the best choices. Low-quality foods are discarded on the ground and may be avoided.

The study emphasizes that for birds, eating is not only about nutrition but about consuming a lot of food very quickly while avoiding predators. This makes the easy to eat, already shelled no-mess blend, very attractive to the birds.

No shells on the seeds makes the no-mess blend attractive to me too, since there's no debris or weeds on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, this blend offers the best value. There is about twice as much seed in the bag because you are not buying shells. This means it take the birds twice as long to go through a bag of seed but the birds eat everything.

Related Articles:
- Common winter birds in Michigan and their food preference: http://bit.ly/yp9YQA
- How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to winterize your bird feeding station http://bit.ly/xucuF8
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/vZ6gzM
- Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/5FpPr7

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The end is near for chipmunks

Photo by Gilles Gonthier
Dolly is watching the door intensely as a chipmunk helps clean up a little spilled food from our weekly seed delivery. This is the last chance for chipmunks to gather enough food to survive the winter.

Many people are frustrated by the amount of food they take away from bird feeding stations but chipmunks do have a purpose. They eat a lot of bugs, small rodents and stray seeds on the ground which humans can appreciate. And Mother Nature uses the chipmunks to spread plant seeds and fungi all around as well as become food for birds of prey.

Eastern chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

The chipmunks’ cheek pouches also transfer food to their tunnels. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. Eastern chipmunks do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate and wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

Related Articles:
The 25 known species of chipmunks in the world http://goo.gl/mAs2T
How much food can a chipmunk hold in his mouth? http://bit.ly/yD6Bn8
When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/yIfqFT
How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/A2wG1g
Will Safflower seed keep squirrels and chipmunks off my bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wYGDBi

Monday, October 5, 2015

3 reasons woodpeckers damage houses

Woodpeckers can cause a great deal of property damage and sleepless mornings. In one study, the birds stopped drumming 50 percent of the time within two weeks or so whether the homeowners did anything or not. My personal recommendation is to try to break the woodpeckers drumming before it becomes a habit. Hopefully I can suggest a solution that will work with your woodpecker.  

Why Woodpeckers Peck Your Home
Woodpeckers damage structures for basically three reasons:

1. Searching for insects or hiding food (Some people find feeding suet distracts a woodpecker from their house.)
2. Creating cavities for nesting and shelter (Sometimes putting a woodpecker house helps deter damage.)
3. Drumming (Drumming is a means of communication between woodpeckers. Like some birds sing, woodpeckers drum. There are different drumming calls that they may use: mating; alarm; or territorial. This can be heard over long distances, if they use a surface with adequate acoustic properties.)

Laws Woodpeckers are a federally protected bird under the North American Migratory Bird Act. So you can't use lethal control on woodpeckers without contacting your Federal Wildlife Officer.

Strategies to Control Woodpecker Damage
Unfortunately, there is no easy guaranteed solution. So with that being said, try the following strategies: 

1. Check for insects. Woodpeckers feed on insects in wood.
2. Cover all damage as soon as possible. Place aluminum flashing over the areas where the woodpecker is pecking. The flashing will stop the pecking at that spot because: a) it is metal, b) it changes the sound, and c) woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. Just make sure that the woodpecker is not living in your home.
3. Scare the woodpecker away using one or more of the following:
  • Mylar tape: Wild Birds Unlimited has some Mylar tape (1-inch-wide strips) flutter ribbon you can hang in the area. Woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. If you don't have Mylar, hang tinfoil, aluminum pie plates, or old CDs or DVDs.
  • Mylar balloons: The dollar stores usually have shiny Mylar balloons you can hang in the area.
  • Garden hose: One animal damage controller recommends placing a garden hose with a sprinkler set at an angle to reach where the bird is drumming. The woodpeckers leave after a few squirts because they don't like hanging on to wet structures.
  • Attack spider: This is a relatively new (2003) technique. A large spider drops down at the first knock to scare woodpeckers through sight and motion. These can be found at party stores now. It also scares little trick or treaters. Bonus!
  • Owl effigies: These are only effective if you are willing to move them around on a daily basis. I don’t really recommend these but we usually carry them at Wild Birds Unlimited.
  • Exclusion techniques: If woodpeckers are damaging your siding under an eave, hang some netting from the eave line down to the ground. If the net is extended away from the house wall, the woodpecker can't get close enough to damage the wood.
Also, as soon as you notice problems, take action quickly before the woodpecker decides your home is a nice place to live.

If the attack is on windows and not just an accidental window strike, the likely behavior is a reaction to the bird seeing an intruder on its territory. A simple solution to this problem is to cover the window with screens or rub the window with a bar of soap to decrease the reflection. The Mylar tape or balloons also work to keep the birds away from your windows.

Source: MSU Extension- http://www.extension.org/faq/926

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Bluish gray headed bird with white spectacles

Photo by Kelly Colgan Azar
The Blue-headed Vireo's peak migration through mid-Michigan is in the first couple weeks of October. They winter farther north than the other vireos, with many remaining through the winter in the southeastern states.

Sometimes the people naming the birds see colors that I don't. Their head has a gray hood of feathers with blue tinges in the sun, white spectacles, and white throat. They are a medium-sized vireo with olive-green above, whitish below, and yellow sides. Their wings are dark gray with two white or pale yellow bars.

Their diet consists mainly of bugs, berries and small fruits. Look for them at the suet feeder and the bird bath as they migrate through in the spring and fall.

Related Articles:
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
Michigan's Kirtland's Warbler Continues to Exceed Recovery Goal http://goo.gl/Q3xQ0
Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan http://goo.gl/VOl3s
When is bird migration over? http://goo.gl/1Fiq6
Blackpoll Warbler: Greatest warbler migrant http://goo.gl/GcSTE

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Choose the right seed and suet for birds who remain in winter

Summer's gone, but bird-watching enthusiasts can continue enjoying feeding the birds year-round. All you have to do is attract them to your feeders with quality seed mixes and suet options, then enjoy the show.

I’ve listed some of the most common birds you’ll see in mid-Michigan and the food they like at feeders.
1. Northern Cardinal - Sunflower seed, Safflower, Peanuts, White Proso Millet
2. American Goldfinch - Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Seeds
3. House Finch - Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Seed
4. House Sparrow - White Proso Millet, Sunflower seed
5. Dark-eyed Junco - White Proso Millet, Sunflower seed, Nyjer Thistle
6. Mourning Dove - Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Safflower, White Proso Millet, Nyjer
7. Tufted Titmouse - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
8. Black-capped Chickadee - Nuts, Sunflower, Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Suet, Mealworms
9. Carolina Wren - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
10. Red-breasted Nuthatch - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
11. White-breasted Nuthatch - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
12. Downy Woodpecker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
13. Blue Jay - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet
14. Red-bellied Woodpecker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
15. Northern Flicker - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Suet, Mealworms
16. European Starling - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet, Mealworms
17. Cedar Waxwing - Mealworms, Suet Nuggets, Berries and Wild Fruit
18. Eastern Bluebird - Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
19. American Robin - Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
20. American Crow - Peanuts, Sunflower seed, Suet
21. Cooper’s Hawk - Songbirds, Squirrels, Suet

Of course there are a lot more birds in Michigan during the winter and they don't just eat from feeders, but this gives you a start. For more information we have Birds of Michigan Field Guides or you can visit our online Bird Guide to identify birds at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/.
Related Articles:
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://bit.ly/oL3iCF
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/nImz5g
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men
- What is the best bird feeder? http://bit.ly/qVr7i8

Friday, October 2, 2015

Photo Share: Breakfast In The Woods

Red-breasted Nuthatch by Lubos Houska
The nuthatches don’t stay long at the feeders. They prefer to grab a seed and hide or cache their food under the bark of trees to retrieve and eat at a later time. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to keep their stash a secret from competitors and help them survive during bad weather and when food sources are low. 

Related articles:
- Birds Move Trees http://bit.ly/oPqFgG
- Screech Owls cache uneaten prey items in cavities http://bit.ly/pJ7jCP
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker stores its food in the barks of trees http://bit.ly/nqYS7j
- Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard http://bit.ly/qFANnl  
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/qq5xu1 
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/ngkPX3

Thursday, October 1, 2015


We’ve had a pretty good fall so far for the birds. There have been lots of natural food sources and the weather has been very nice. Canada’s natural seed crops were also very good this year. A couple years ago Canada’s seed crops were horrible and we had a lot of “new” birds migrating further south than normal to visit our mid-Michigan bird feeders.

Every year ornithologist Ron Pittaway analyzes the cone and berry crops of the boreal forest to predict if certain birds will irrupt into the northern U.S. or remain further north. A bird irruption is an irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t found typically, motivated usually by the search for food. This year Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast predicts several bird species will stay in Canada for the whole winter.

That means we will probably see fewer Pine Siskins and redpolls at the finch feeders. You can read the full 2015-2016 Winter Finch Forecast at: WINTER FINCH FORECAST.

However we will still get our regular winter birds like the Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatches. And the Farmer’s Almanac says that Michigan's winter will be colder than normal, with below-normal precipitation and generally below-normal snowfall. The snowiest periods will be in late November, December, mid-January, and early and late February. That means that the birds that stay with us, like the chickadees, doves, sparrows, jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches and cardinals all might hit the feeders hard when their natural resources are covered by snow. See the full Farmer's Almanac report: http://www.almanac.com/weather/

Related Articles:

Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/pEuMKo
Bird of the week: Pine Siskin http://bit.ly/qNqIuK
Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
When should I clean my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/w0424S

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Woodchucks fattening for winter

Groundhogs, also called woodchucks, are a member of the squirrel family that weigh between 7 and 14 pounds.

When They Hibernate
Groundhogs are typically active until the first real frost of winter, often October or November. Then they hibernate until February or March.

What Happens to Their Bodies

As the days shorten and  temperatures drop a groundhog's body releases a hormone that helps guide the animal into hibernation. In their hibernation state, a groundhog's heart rate slows to around four or five beats per minute. A groundhog's body temperature falls from 98 degrees Fahrenheit to as low as 38 degrees. They don't wake up to eat like chipmunks. Their body is fueled by the fat the groundhogs have built up in the summer and fall.

Getting Ready

Groundhogs spend a good bit of the warmer months getting ready for hibernation. They eat nearly a pound of food per day in the fall to help build up his fat stores, and Then he digs a deep den that he lines with grass or twigs to make a comfy nest for his long nap.

Related Articles:
- When do bats hibernate? http://goo.gl/IES4Bt  

- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/uGhBOB
- Do opossums hibernate during winter? http://bit.ly/u4ORP6
- Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/sixWTH
- Feb. 2nd groundhogs end their hibernation http://bit.ly/vPHVtx

Thank you Holly for sharing your photo! 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.   

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not time to take hummingbird feeders down

Is it time to take the hummingbird feeders down?

Photo by vladeb
I usually leave my feeder up at least until mid-October or maybe even a little later. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks, it's probably safe to take it down.

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.

Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles south every fall to reach their winter homes in Mexico and Central America under their own power. They fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese.

It's not necessary to take down feeders to force hummingbirds to leave. The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food. However, weather is a factor. Hummingbird will take advantage of the winds to push them in the right direction.

Many hummingbirds migrate around the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas and northern Mexico to winter in Central America. Others will fly from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula.

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 when the winds and weather are just right.

Related Articles:
Hummingbird Information on Habitat and Habits http://bit.ly/It2WwE
Where have my Hummingbirds gone? http://bit.ly/IHzxy3
How Do I Know If It's a Baby Hummingbird? http://bit.ly/IHzCSh
Gardening for birds http://bit.ly/It58nR
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/FQ9kxU

Monday, September 28, 2015

Birds gather in the fall

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Photo by Nigel
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