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, January 30, 2015

Photo Share: Female Cardinal in Winter

Hi Sarah, here is a cardinal on a crisp January morning.
Thank you for sharing your photo. You can see more of Rodney Campbell’s work at: http://rodney-campbell.artistwebsites.com/art/all/birds/all 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, January 29, 2015

What is a Seahawk?

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as a sea hawk, fish eagle, river hawk, or fish hawk, is a fish-eating bird of prey. According to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black, they eat fish exclusively and are found near water on every continent except Antarctica.

While hunting, an Osprey will survey waterways from the air. Its white belly makes it hard for fish to see them while flying above. The Osprey's dark feathers around their eyes blocks the glare from the water, enabling it to spot a slowly moving shadow or flash of silver near the water's surface.

Folding its wings, the Osprey hurls itself in a headfirst dive toward its target. An instant before striking the water, the bird rights itself and thrusts its feet forward. With two toes facing forward, two toes facing backward and barbed pads on the soles of the birds' feet, even the slipperiest prey can't get away from their grasp. Watch the YouTube Video at: http://youtu.be/nA3LtXnNIto?t=44s
Related Articles:
The Bald Eagle as the National Symbol http://bit.ly/ythN8H
Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://bit.ly/A7TrNc
The Great Backyard Bird Count Instructions http://goo.gl/mSQA7
Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
Who Bird Watches http://goo.gl/vX9j5
Sports Illustrated Birdwatching edition http://goo.gl/RuJQQX

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bluebirds in blizzard

Winter is the time when high fat foods become more critical in a bird’s diet. Every night up to three-quarters of a bird’s fat reserves are used up; reserves that must be replenished the next day. When fat reserves are depleted, protein — mostly scavenged from muscle tissue — is depleted to keep up with energy needs.

Keeping your feeders filled with high energy, high fat foods can provide your birds with the critical nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of best choices to meet this nutritional need is suet and mealworms.

Seeds also provide fats, but in varying degrees. Peanuts provide 412 fat calories per 100 grams, sunflower chips (429 fat calories per 100 grams) and niger seed (342 fat calories).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Feeding birds in the winter

Do birds eat more in the winter? - East Lansing, Michigan

There are a lot of factors that effect how many birds show up at the feeders.

Year-Round Feeding
If you feed year-round you may have noticed birds seem to frequent feeders more at certain times. The most crucial time in the life of many birds may be late winter and early spring when seeds that occur naturally are scarcer. Unfortunately this is when a lot of people stop feeding.

In the spring and summer, birds are very busy. New birds are migrating up to Michigan, choosing territories, mates, and preparing to have young. Females incubating eggs on the nest take advantage of a convenient feeder for a quick bite. Later parents bring young birds to the feeder as a first step into the world. It is fascinating to watch the parents show their young how to pick up the seeds.

Some birds, like the Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatches leave us in the spring while others like the warblers, orioles and the hummingbirds, are only summer residents in Michigan.

Bird-Feeding Myths
Some people believe that once you start bird feeding, it should be continued. Or that feeding your birds in the summer will make them too lazy, too dependent or keep them from migrating at the appropriate time. All of these old myths have been dispelled by modern research and observation. Bird feeding is a fun and educational hobby. Birds appreciate the food but never become dependent on your feeder unless there is a severe storm that prevents them from foraging.

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining and educational pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults.

Related Articles:
Attract new birds to your yard http://bit.ly/xYtIN9
Is it too late to start feeding the birds this winter? http://bit.ly/w1dKZb
How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/AlJkKQ
How to Prepare Your Yard for Spring http://bit.ly/zYHZyV
Would the birds starve to death if I stopped feeding them? http://bit.ly/xOFgb9

Monday, January 26, 2015

Do you know Michigan's state symbols?

Happy Birthday Michigan!

On January 26, 1837, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill making Michigan the nation's 26th state. "Michigan" is believed to come from the from the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigami, meaning "great water" and referred originally toLake Michigan itself. The Great Lakes account for one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater supply.

In 1836 a pair speculators from Lansing, New York sold land to a non-existent city in mid-Michigan known as "Biddle City." The New Yorkers arrived to discover that the plots they had purchased were located in a marsh or underwater. Some of the pioneers stayed, and developed a village in what is now Old Town Lansing a mile north of the non-existent "Biddle City."

In 1847, the legislature passed a law to locate the state capital in mid-Michigan because many were concerned about Detroit's proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had captured Detroit in theWar of 1812. Unable to publicly reach a consensus because of constant political wrangling, theMichigan House of Representatives privately chose the Township of Lansing as the capitol out of frustration. The sleepy settlement of fewer than 20 people transformed quickly into the seat of state government and individual settlements began to develop along the Grand River.

State Symbols:
Bird - American Robin
Fish - Brook Trout
Reptile - Painted Turtle
Wildflower - Dwarf Lake Iris
Flower - Apple Blossom
Tree - White Pine
Stone - Petoskey Stone
Fossil - Mastodon

Fun Facts:
Michigan is simultaneously known for its cities, supported by heavy industry, and its pristine wilderness. Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state. It is home to a number of areas maintained by the National Park Service with 78 state parks, 19 state recreation areas, and 6 state forests.

Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the nation's first land-grant university and was the first institution of higher learning in the nation to teach scientific agriculture.

Michigan was the first state to provide in its Constitution for the establishment of public libraries and the first state to guarantee every child the right to tax-paid high school education.

Vernors ginger ale was created in Detroit and became the first soda pop made in the United States. In 1862, pharmacist James Vernor was trying to create a new beverage when he was called away to serve our country in the Civil War. When he returned, 4 years later, the drink he had stored in an oak case had acquired a delicious gingery flavor.

The Kellogg Company has made Battle Creek the Cereal Capital of the World. The Kellogg brothers accidentally discovered the process for producing flaked cereal products and sparked the beginning of the dry cereal industry.

The Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in America to feature cageless, open-exhibits that allowed the animals more freedom to roam.

Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes, more than 36,000 miles of streams and 116 lighthouses and navigational lights.

The Upper Michigan Copper Country is the largest commercial deposit of native copper in the world. Detroit is known as the car capital of the world. Alpena is the home of the world's largest cement plant. Rogers City boasts the world's largest limestone quarry. Elsie is the home of the world's largest registered Holstein dairy herd. Michigan is first in the United States production of peat and magnesium compounds and second in gypsum and iron ore. Colon is home to the world's largest manufacture of magic supplies. Grand Rapids is home to the 24-foot Leonardo da Vinci horse, called Il Gavallo, it is the largest equestrian bronze sculpture in the Western Hemisphere.

Related Articles:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Owl recycles old eagle nest

Introducing a New Owl Cam


The newest Cornell Lab Bird Cam just went live—Great Horned Owls from Savannah, Georgia.

This cam was initially planned to broadcast from an established Bald Eagle nest nearly 80 feet above the coastal Georgia salt marshes. But last month a pair of Great Horned Owls moved into the nest instead. So, we'll go with the owls.

Great Horned owls start nesting in January, raising their families in the dead of winter. The female will incubate the eggs while her mate brings her food. Within a month, up to five eggs will hatch and the owlets will be closely guarded by their parents. Six weeks after hatching, the owlets will leave the nest and walk around. In another three weeks, the young owls with already have learned to fly. The parents will continue to feed and care for their offspring for several months, often as late as October.

Right now the female is incubating two eggs, which should hatch around the end of January. Don't miss your chance to get to know these secretive denizens of the darkness as they raise owlets in the coming weeks.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

First bats to die from white-nose syndrome in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced recently that it has received the first reports this winter of bats dying from white-nose syndrome. Members of the public found dead bats outside the opening of an abandoned copper mine near Mohawk in Keweenaw County and reported it to DNR field staff.
Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) with white-nose syndrome, New York
White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first documented in bats in New York in winter 2006-2007. The syndrome was named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat, giving the appearance of a white nose. The syndrome was first discovered in Michigan in late winter 2014 in Alpena, Dickinson, Keweenaw, Mackinac and Ontonagon counties. Widespread die-offs of hibernating bats are expected in all of these counties, and potentially others, this winter.

“We understand the public will be concerned, and we share their concern for the plight of these bats,” said DNR wildlife veterinarian Dan O’Brien. “Unfortunately, there is nothing that the public can do to help the bats that are now dying."

WNS primarily affects bats during hibernation. Infected bats awaken prematurely from hibernation, deplete their fat reserves rapidly, and are unable to survive the winter. The public can help bat populations by staying out of mines and caves where bats hibernate.

The DNR asks that bat die-offs this winter be reported on the DNR website or by calling 517-336-5030. For more information on bats and white-nose syndrome, visit www.michigan.gov/wns and www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Photo Share: Dispute over species of bird

I say this is a Veery, my friend says it is a Hermit Thrush. Please advise. If you like this photo, feel free to share or use. Richard

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org, is a good website to compare different birds that look alike.

At first glance there are a few similar thrushes in the genus Catharus, but careful observation can help you tell them apart. For instance, Hermit Thrush is the only one of these species that lives in the U.S. in winter. 

Hermit Thrushes have a warm brown tail that contrasts with a duller brown back. They also habitually perform a frequent tail-lift, quickly raising the tail and slowly lowering it; no other Catharus thrush does this. The underparts are pale with distinct spots on the throat and smudged spots on the breast. With a close look you may see a thin pale eye ring (not a bold one).

The Veery  is similar to Hermit Thrush but more slender and longer-winged. Veeries have uniformly warm brown upperparts, indistinct spotting on the chest, and fairly plain faces with very little eye ring.  
Comparison of similar birds from: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Hermit_Thrush/id#similar

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to feed birds while on a vacation

Holly has sent us some wonderful photos of her birds on her seed cylinder feeder. Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Cylinder Feeders attract a variety of birds. They're low maintenance and easy to fill. Just slip on a medium (1.75 lbs) or large (4.5 lbs) seed cylinder and watch the birds feast for weeks.
The cylinder seed cakes are held together with gelatin and can withstand the winter weather really well. They also deter the house sparrows from scattering all the seed like they might from a loose seed style feeder. The birds have to stay at the feeder longer to work the seed free. This gives you more time to observe the birds up close.

There are several seed cylinder flavors. Holly is using the Cranberry. Our Large Cranberry Fare Seed Cylinder is packed with pecans, sunflower chips, peanuts, safflower, black oil sunflower and cranberries - everything you need to help your birds survive the winter. Larger seed cylinders are ideal for using when you’re away on vacation, can accommodate a large amount of bird activity and requires you to refill your feeders less often
Thank you Holly for sharing a snapshot from your yard. It looks like you need a refill. Hope to seed you soon!

Related Articles:
How to get the chickadees to stay at the feeder longer http://goo.gl/Bn5G2u
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Best Large Capacity Bird Feeder http://goo.gl/fqmDby
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In honor of hard working Squirrels everywhere

Many animals prefer working for their food, rather than getting it for free, defying standard economic theory.

In honor of January 21st Squirrel Appreciation Day I would like to share a scientific theory on why those pesky squirrels work so hard to eat bird food.

The following is adapted from The Upside of Irrationaity: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely, HarperCollins (2010).

"Contrafreeloading," a term coined by the animal psychologist Glen Jensen, refers to the finding that many animals prefer to earn food rather than simply eating identical, but freely accessible, food found in a dish nearby.

To better understand the joy of working for food, Jensen first took adult male albino rats and tested their appetite for labor. Imagine that you are a rat participating in Jensen's study. After a few days of having a nice man in a white lab coat giving you lab crackers precisely at noon, you learn to expect food at noon every day, and your rat tummy begins rumbling right before the nice man shows up -- exactly the state Jensen wants you in.

Once your body is conditioned to eating crackers at noon, things suddenly change. Instead of feeding you at the time of your maximal hunger, you have to wait another hour, and at one o'clock, the man picks you up and puts you in a box with bar that you accidentally press, and immediately a pellet of food is released. Wonderful! You press the bar again. Oh joy! -- another pellet comes out. You press again and again, eating happily, but then the light goes off, and at the same time, the bar stops releasing food pellets. You soon learn that when the light is off, no matter how much you press the bar, you don't get any food.

Just then the man in the lab coat opens the top of the cage and places a tin cup in a corner of the cage. You don't pay attention to the cup; you just want the bar to start producing food again. You press and press, but nothing happens. As long as the light is off, pressing the bar does you no good. You wander around the cage, cursing under your rat breath, and go over to the tin cup. "Oh my! It's full of pellets! Free food!" You begin chomping away, and then suddenly the light comes on again. Now you realize that you have two possible food sources. You can keep on eating the free food from the tin cup, or you can go back to the bar and press it for food pellets. If you were this rat, what would you do?

Assuming you were like all but one of the two hundred rats in Jensen's study, you would decide not to feast entirely from the tin cup. Sooner or later you would return to the bar and press it for food.

Jensen discovered that many animals- including fish, birds, gerbils, rats, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees-tend to prefer a longer, more indirect route to food than a shorter, more direct one. That is, as long as the animal doesn't have to work too hard, he'll frequently prefer to earn his food. In fact, among all the animals tested so far the only species that prefers the "lazy" route is the commendably rational cat which prefers to be served.

The general idea of contrafreeloading contradicts the simple economic view that organisms will always choose to maximize their reward while minimizing their effort.
Watch the video: http://youtu.be/Y0NxxZWMOMQ
For more information:
3. NPR interview of behavioral economist Dan Ariely about his new book, The Upside of Irrationality.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flying Squirrels in Michigan

Although they can be found throughout the state, few people have had the opportunity to view Michigan's most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel. Two species of flying squirrels are found in the state. The northern flying squirrel (G. sabrinus) inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while its close relative, the southernflying squirrel (G. volans), inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.

Flying squirrels are entirely nocturnal, inhabiting mature forests and parks, as well as other woodlands. They utilize the many cavities that are found in mature trees for nesting and winter denning. Unlike bats, flying squirrels do not really fly. They have a loose membrane of furred skin attached between their front and back legs. The membrane helps these squirrels glide from tree to tree.

Flying squirrels readily visit bird feeders. One way to view these creatures after dark is to use a red light to illuminate the feeder. The red light does not bother the feeding squirrels but allows you to see their activity after dark.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons
While relatively abundant, researchers have been noticing a change. Northern flying squirrels are no longer being found in their historic range. Yet researchers are finding not only higher numbers of flying squirrels but in areas they had not been found previously.

The question for researchers is why it seems that the northern flying squirrel population is retreating while the southern flying squirrel is increasing. Some evidence suggests that the continued existence of the northern flying squirrel in the Lower Peninsula is at risk.

Researchers from Michigan State University will be establishing survey plots to document the range of the two species and compare this to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Source: Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus & G. volans)