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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nature up close: What do bunnies eat in the winter?

Most of the bunnies you see in Michigan are the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). They have speckled brown-gray fur, big eyes, and a tail that is puffy white on the underside. In the winter its fur may be more gray than brown. Rabbits actually belong to their own order and are properly called lagomorphs. Many people mistakenly believe that wild rabbits and domesticated pet rabbits are the same species, but the domesticated rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) belongs to another genus and is only distantly related.

Famous for their breeding abilities, cottontails breed from February through September in Michigan. Gestation is about 28 days. Three to four litters of four or five babies are born each year. Young are born helpless in a shallow depression lined with grass and mother's fur, but they grow rapidly and are weaned when less than half the size of the adult.

They may live up to two years in the wild, but where predators are numerous they seldom survive more than one year. Hawks and owls are some avian predators, and foxes, raccoons, skunks, and opossums are some mammals that prey on rabbits.

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they're most active at dusk and dawn, and are generally found in areas with dense cover. They also do well in suburban and urban areas where lawns, gardens, and various shrubs meet their habitat requirements.

Rabbits feed on leafy plants during the growing season and the buds and bark of woody plants in the winter. They produce two types fecal pellets (the round, dry ones and cecotropes). The cecotropes are produced in a region of the rabbit's digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum contains a natural community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients. They must reingest these fecal pellets to reabsorb nutrients from its food because their diet of plants is hard to digest efficiently, and they have to make two passes at it to get everything out of the meal.

Besides the plants essential to their diet, rabbits also need safe resting places like fall brush piles or dense shrubs in which to escape from predators.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Question of the week: How Can Owls Fly Silently?

Whether they appear in ancient Greek texts or popular contemporary books and movies, owls captivate people by their silent flight. The Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, has long been associated with the wise and silently flying owl. The stealth-hunting owl also served as a protector to Greek armies. Images of the owl often decorated warriors' shields.

Hindu culture associates the owl and its noiseless flight with the goddess Lakshmi, and considers the owl as a symbol of luck and prosperity. Native American cultures also revere this winged wonder. Tribes, such as the Dakota Hidatsa, view the owl as protectors to warriors. Even today, owls hold a special place in pop culture. How could mail delivery at Hogwarts function without the trusty, noiseless owl postal system?

While it adds to the owl's mystique, silent flight serves a very practical purpose. It helps this nocturnal creature sneak up on its prey.

The design of owls' wings allows them to fly in almost absolute silence. Owls have broad wings with large surface areas that help them to float through the air without flapping too much.
Also an owl's primary feathers are serrated like a comb. This design breaks down turbulence into smaller currents called micro-turbulences. Then the edge of the feather muffles the sound of air flowing over the wing and shifts the angle at which air flows. These soft feathers allow air to pass through which eliminates sound.

Owls' secondary feathers are made up of soft fringes that reduce turbulence behind their wings. The trailing feathers on the back end of the wing are tattered, and the rest of the wing and the legs are covered in downy feathers. As the owl flies, the trailing fringe and tattered feathers break sound waves over the wings as air flows over them. The down feathers absorb any remaining noise created in flight.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Quick fun Facts: Great Horned Owl

Most birds have eyes at each side of their head. They see a different scene with each eye. But an owl’s eyes are at the front of its head. The owl sees the same scene with both eyes, just as a human does. However, an owl cannot move its eyes in their sockets. In order to see what is beside or behind it, the owl turns its whole head.

In dim light, owls can see better than other animals. The eyes of most owls have very large pupils. The pupil, or black part of the eye, is really an opening to take in every bit of light available. An owl’s pupil can open almost to the width of the whole eye.

Those tufts of feathers that stick up like ears on an great horned owl’s head aren’t ears at all. An owl’s large ear openings are at the sides of its head. The stiff feathers around the eyes act a lot like dish antennas. They reflect sound toward the ear openings. If the sound is louder in one ear than in the other, this tells the owl that the animal is closer on that side. The owl turns its head until the sound is equally loud in both ears. Then it knows it is facing the animal.

An owl can also “hear” the height of a sound. It turns and tilts its head until it gets a perfect “fix” on where the sound is coming from. Owls eat mostly small animals that creep through grass and leaves on the ground. An owl’s keen ears can hear the tiny sounds of prey, even when those sounds come from under snow.

The hunting owl locates its prey primarily by sight during the day and by sound at night. It flies silently over the prey, brings its talons forward, and lands on the animal. After killing the prey, the owl lifts the catch to its mouth with a foot and then flies off to its eating spot, usually a tree. The stomach of an owl does not digest fur, feathers, and bones. These remains are rolled into oblong pellets which the owl coughs up a few hours after eating. The ground at the base of an owl's eating tree and the area around a nest are often littered with these pellets.

Who-o-o Is It?
It’s not easy to spot an owl. But you may be able to hear one. The great horned owl sings out, “Whoo-oo-who, who-who, who-who.” Its song is a repetition of one-two-three, one-two, one-two.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bird of the week: Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl- Bubo virginianus
Order: STRIGIFORMES Family: True Owls (Strigidae)

Description
The great horned owl, the fiercest and most powerful of the common owls, is sometimes called the cat owl because of its catlike ears, eyes, shape of head, and appearance when huddled up on its nest. It has feather tufts on its head that resemble horns. The upper parts of the owl's body are sooty brown with gray-brown mottling, and its dark underparts make its white throat standout. The great horned owl measures approximately 18-25 inches in length and has a wingspan of approximately 36-60 inches from tip to tip.

General
A group of owls has many collective nouns, including a "bazaar", "glaring", "parliament", "stooping", and "wisdom" of owls.

The Great Horned Owl was first seen in the Virginia Colonies, which is where it derived its species name. The common name refers to the tufts of feathers, called Plumacornes, on top of the head that resemble "horns". The fact that these are the largest owls in the southern United States makes them the "Great" Horned owls. They occur in wooded areas in the continental United States throughout the year and though they are not considered threatened or endangered, they are limited by suitable nesting sites.

Behavior
These birds nest in January and February and do not build their own nests, they prefer to utilize the nests of other birds such as hawks, crows and herons. Most Great-horned owls live about 13 years in the wild but some have lived into their 30's in captivity

These birds mainly hunt by sitting atop a high branch and wait to ambush prey but they are also known to walk on the ground to capture small prey and wade in shallow water to snatch frogs. The Great-horned owl has an extremely wide variety of prey species, of which 253 different species has been identified. It spends the majority of its time hunting at night, preferring to feed on small mammals, such as rabbits, woodchucks, mice, rats, squirrels, and skunks. The great horned owl is also known to feed on birds such as ducks, game birds, quails, and occasionally geese or turkeys.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Family Fun: Letterboxing

Green Hour - Discover the Wonder of Nature

Letterboxing, much like geocaching, has been growing in popularity over the past several years. It's like an outdoor treasure hunt, and, I have to tell you -- it's a total blast!

It is the perfect family activity! We get to discover new places, spend time together, hike, and put our brains to good use trying to solve a mystery!

We have the essentials -- an unlined notebook, a pencil, an ink pad, and, of course, a clue (picked up from the website letterboxing.org). We're starting out with a simple one, but as we advance we'll need to pick up a compass and improve our map skills.

Has your family ever tried letterboxing or its high-tech counterpart, geocaching? These family-friendly activities are a great way to spend time together outdoors, get some exercise, and work on skills such as problem solving, map reading, and math.

Click here to go to the Green Hour Site for more information.

Friday, December 26, 2008

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. ~William Shakespeare

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tufted Titmouse

• No ventriloquist’s dummy! Tufted Titmice have a remarkable alarm call which is a loud scold that fades off as if the bird is moving into the distance. This may fool predators into chasing the phantom bird call while the titmouse stays safely hidden.
• During the winter the Tufted Titmouse forages together with Chickadees, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers and Brown Creepers.
• The Tufted Titmouse has been expanding its range northward since the 1940’s and is now found almost to the Canadian border across most of its range. Speculation for the expansion includes warming winter temperatures and the increase in mature woodland habitat.
• Tufted Titmice typically select one seed from a feeder at a time. They shell it and hide the kernel within 130 feet of the feeder from which they obtained it.
• No empty nesters here! Young Tufted Titmice often remain with their parents throughout their first winter. They may even stay with its parents into the nesting season and help its parents raise the next brood.
• Tufted Titmice do not excavate their own nesting cavity. Instead they use natural holes in trees and abandoned cavities excavated by Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Red-headed, and Pileated woodpeckers, and by the Northern Flicker. They will also use artificial nesting boxes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bird of the Week: Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse
Baeolophus bicolor Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Titmice and Chickadees (Paridae)

Description
Tufted titmice are 15 to 17 cm long and have wingspans of 23 to 28 cm. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes.

Behavior
Tufted titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and hanging upside down while searching beneath twigs for insects. They are active during the daytime and do not migrate extensively, remaining in residence throughout the winter. They are fairly confident birds and can be trained to come at the sound of human voices and take food from their hands, though not as easily as their cousins, the black-capped chickadees. Tufted titmice store food under bark or under objects on the ground. Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. Pairs separate from winter flocks in preparation for mating by February.

General
Eats insects, spiders, snails, various berries, acorns, and seeds. Forages in trees, sometimes upside down, often in mixed species flocks like chickadees. Most Tufted Titmice live their entire life within a few miles of their birthplace. They only occur in areas where rainfall is greater than 24 inches per year, and are more common where rainfall exceeds 32 inches per year. The Tufted Titmouse is very appealing visitor to the feeder. A group of titmice are collectively known as a "banditry" and a "dissimulation" of titmice.











Saturday, December 20, 2008

Family Fun: Foil Relief

This project was sent in by Anna, age 7, from Lansing, MI.

Foil Relief: This was so fun. We used stamps, pencils (dull ones), and other objects to either draw on or imprint the foil. You can color indented side with permanent ink pens. The other side is a beautiful relief.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Day in Lansing, Michigan!

 
It's almost winter.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Product Highlight: WBU Recycled Tail Prop Suet Feeder

A Woodpecker’s pointed tail feathers are especially strong and rigid. The tail bone, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles are also large in comparison to other birds. These modifications allow a woodpecker’s tail to serve as a prop that supports their weight as they climb and cling to trees.

The Prop-er Way to Eat

WBU Recycled Plastic Tail Prop Suet Feeder lets birds eat in a natural way. The paddle simulates a tree trunk and offers birds a place to prop their tail while they feed. Even the Pileated Woodpecker's huge frame will fit on our feeder. Recycled Plastic feeders are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs. They won't rot, crack, fade or warp like wood can and are easy to fill and clean. They also come with lifetime guarantees. And of course they are made in the USA!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nature up close: Types of bird bills

The bird's bill is a remarkably useful instrument that comes in all shapes and sizes. The bill shows various adaptations for methods of feeding.

Birds with all-purpose bills have general sort of diet using a bill that can cut, crush, rip, and open just about anything.

Some other examples are short thin bills for insect eaters, short thick bills for seed eaters, long thin bills can be for probing flowers for nectar or probing soft mud for worms and shellfish, strong hooked bills for tearing meat.

The huge bills of Toucans are both decorative and functional. Being light, as well as long they allow the birds to pick fruit from the thin ends of branches that can not support the birds weight.

Flamingos are filter feeders, and have many complex rows of horny plates that line their bills to strain food items from the water.

Of course, gathering food is not the only use for the bird's bills. Birds use their bills in fighting and in defense of their territory, gathering nesting materials, building nests, grooming feathers, attracting mates, scaring predators, and other important rolls.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Question of the week: Why does the Woodpecker’s bill not wear down?

Considering the pounding it takes, why does the Woodpecker’s bill not wear down to a ragged nub?

A bird's bill is composed of a number of separate horny plates called rhamphotheca which are made of a protein called keratin (the same protein that makes our hair).
It does wear down, but special cells on the end of the bill are constantly replacing the lost material. This keeps the chisel-pointed bill strong and resilient, while actually allowing it to be sharpened with every blow.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Woodpeckers

  • A Pileated Woodpecker "drums" on hollow trees with its bill in order to claim territory.
  • A group of pileated woodpeckers are collectively known as a "crown" of woodpeckers.
  • Beetle larvae make up about one-third of the Pileated Woodpecker’s natural diet. Ants are the next most important food item.
  • The barbed tip of a woodpecker’s tongue is very sensitive to touch and can both detect and impale insect larvae. The tongue is coated with sticky mucus that is secreted by large salivary glands; this coating helps to ensure that its prey does not slip away.
  • Woodpeckers are among a very few birds that have zygodactyl feet – which simply means they have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backwards. Most birds have an arrangement of three toes forward and one backwards. Having two sets of opposing toes gives them a much better grip on the trees they land on and climb.
  • In order for woodpeckers to survive the 10G’s of force that they can sustain with every blow against a tree, they have the following special adaptations:
    -The bones between the beak and the skull are joined by a flexible cartilage, which cushions the shock of each blow.
    -The skull is made of spongy, air-filled bone and the brain is packed very tightly into the brain cavity, with little room to rattle around during impacts.
    -The shear force from each blow is directed not to the brain, but downward towards very strong neck muscles that act as shock absorbers.
    -A woodpecker’s head and body are always in a perfectly straight alignment when hitting a tree to avoid breaking its neck.
  • When feeding on wood, grubs make an audible sound that could be heard by a woodpecker.
  • Woodpeckers have a better sense of smell than most birds and may be able to detect the strong odor of the formic acid that ants, bark beetles and termites excrete (smells like Sweet Tarts.)
  • If you want to provide good habitat for woodpeckers, consider leaving the dead tree snags in and around your yard.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Order: PICIFORMES Family: Woodpeckers (Picidae)

The Pileated Woodpecker is Michgan's largest woodpecker at sixteen and a half inches in length and a wingspan up to 30 inches. Its size, sleek black back and wings, offset by a red crest, are obvious field marks. The males have a characteristic red "mustache", which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black. Another distinct field mark is the large white area under its wing which is viewed when the bird is in flight.

There is some confusion on how to pronounce "pileated". Some lean toward "PIE-lee-ate-ed", while others say "PILL-ee-ate-ed". Both pronunciations are accepted. The name comes from the brilliant scarlet crest of feathers on the top of its head, called a pileum (PIE-lee-um). The genus name, Dryocopus means "oak tree cutter".

Pileated Woodpeckers are known for the large holes or excavations they produce while foraging for food and producing their nest cavities. The holes can be greater than a foot in length. They have even been known to break smaller trees in half! They are searching for carpenter ants and wood-dwelling beetles, a favorite snack. During their quest, they produce large holes that are relied upon by many mammals, birds, and reptiles for shelter and nesting. They also will eat fruit and nuts. Pileated Woodpeckers will frequent feeders near a large woods.

Though Pileated Woodpeckers are not in any imminent danger, there is reason for concern. Pileated Woodpeckers rely heavily on big trees for their nest cavities. They prefer large dead trees within mature forests. With many areas losing large trees due to disease and clear-cutting, one should watch his species closely. Since so many other creatures depend upon this bird for survival, it would be devasting, if it was lost.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Family Fun: Dove of peace

To make this graceful, white dove, you'll need:


  • a 9-inch paper plate,
  • green construction paper,
  • felt-tip markers,
  • a green pipe cleaner,
  • small white feathers, and
  • glue.

First, trace a dove profile and two wings on the paper plate and cut the shapes out.

Glue the wings to each side of the dove and attach the feathers to the wings.

Color in the eyes and beak.

As a finishing touch, slide a pipe-cleaner olive branch through a hole in the beak, then glue on green construction paper leaves.

Attach yarn or string to the doves and hang in a pleasing display.

The Dove - A Symbol of Hope and Peace

The dove, as a symbol of hope and peace, dates from biblical times. Noah released birds after the Great Flood to go look for land. The dove returned with an olive branch, symbolizing hope. Let us all Hope for Peace in the coming year. Best of Holidays to everyone.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book of Note: Night Tree by Eve Bunting

Night Tree by Eve Bunting

Recommended for 4-8 years but really a book for all ages. A very simple and sweet story about appreciating the natural world.

A family makes its annual pilgrimage to decorate an evergreen tree with food for the forest animals in the winter.

Birdwatching Alleviates Stress

Many people enjoy the birds that come to their yards. Feeders are an easy way to watch nature up close.

For people confined indoors (and this includes me inside the store all day, as well as those housebound by medical, or weather reasons), birds are a particular joy to watch.

A few minutes watching the birds between customers or with customers is the perfect way to alleviate the stresses of the day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What Bird?

Thought you may be interested in this Photo I took of a Jay in my Garden.
Regards
M.L.
South Gloucestershire
Thank you for the photo.
People in Michigan have never seen this bird in their yards. So what bird is it?
Eurasian Jay
Latin name: Garrulus glandarius
Family: Crows and allies (Corvidae)

Overview
Although they are the most colourful members of the crow family, jays are actually quite difficult to see. They are shy woodland birds, rarely moving far from cover. The screaming call usually lets you know a jay is about and it is usually given when a bird is on the move, so watch for a bird flying between the trees with its distinctive flash of white on the rump. Jays are famous for their acorn feeding habits and in the autumn you may see them burying acorns for retrieving later in the winter.
Where to see them
Found across most of the UK, except northern Scotland. Lives in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, parks and mature gardens. Likes oak trees in autumn when there are plenty of acorns. Often seen flying across a woodland glade giving its screeching call, it becomes more obvious in autumn when it may fly some distance in the open in search of acorns.
When to see them
All year round, but often more obvious in autumn when they travel most in search of acorns, beech mast and hazelnuts to bury.
What they eat
Mainly acorns, nuts, seeds and insects, but also eats nestlings of other birds and small mammals.

Product Highlight: Binoculars

How to Choose Optics
Answer these questions to get a better handle on what you really need:

How much magnification do you need?
Making the image 8 or 10 times closer with binoculars is the most popular choice.

8x binoculars work well in all terrain and in a wide variety of situations because images tend to be brighter with wider fields of view. The large view makes it easier to follow fast moving birds in thick woodland environments, scan for animals from a distance, and to follow action in sporting events or at the theatre.

10x binoculars give you more detail for viewing raptors, waterfowl, and large wildlife, and are preferred for observing at longer distances and in more open terrain. Keep in mind that you need a steady hand. It takes very little hand tremor to affect your view.

Do your binoculars need to be waterproof?
Most standard binoculars will stand up to light rain and humidity. But if bad weather is a possibility, then get a waterproof binocular.

Will you wear eyeglasses or sunglasses?
Constantly taking your glasses on and off is not only frustrating, but it will slow you down when tracking fast-moving birds. Twist up eye cups allow you to twist the eye cups up to give you the perfect eye relief when you aren’t wearing glasses and twist down the eye cups when you wear glasses.

Full Size Binoculars or Compact?

Compact binoculars (like EO Triumph 8x25 binoculars) are small enough to fit in a pocket while you're at work in the yard. These small binoculars will be bright enough for daytime use and, if light gathering isn't an issue, are easier to travel with and take along for walks, concerts and football games.

Full-Size Binoculars (like EO Denali 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars) will provide better image quality than compact binoculars. Full-size binoculars will gather enough light to show good color and definition from dawn to dusk.

Our most popular binocular is:
Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular

Field of View: 408 feet/1000 yards
Eye Relief: 18 mm
Close Focus: 7.0 feet
Weight: 21.9 ounces
Dimensions (HxW): 5.4 x 5.0 in.
Weatherproofing:Waterproof/Fogproof

The Denali's crisp, contrasting views work hard when scanning across open fields for raptors and other wildlife. Phase correction enhances resolution, contrast, and overall sharpness. Fully multi-coated lenses provide maximum brightness and true colors.

Rugged, sleek and elegant in form, the redesigned Denali is waterproof and fog proof for durability you can count on in any weather. Waterproofing seals optics against water damage. Fog proofing prevents fogging of internal lenses. Ergonomic styling provides comfortable handling. Twist-up eyecups adjust for full-field viewing even with eyeglasses.

The Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular comes with:
Rainguard, tethered objective lens covers, neck strap, carry case, and an Eagle Optics Platinum Protection Unconditional Transferable Lifetime Warranty.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nature up close: What happened to the Passenger Pigeon?

The Passenger Pigeon, once the most common bird in North America, went into a catastrophic decline in numbers and then extinction by 1914.

Similar in looks to the Mourning Dove, they lived in enormous flocks and during migration it was possible to see up to a billion birds taking several days to pass. Some reduction in numbers occurred as a result of loss of habitat when the Europeans started settling further inland.

Overhunting also played a large part in their destruction. Conservationists were able to get a bill passed in the Michigan legislature making it illegal to net pigeons within two miles of a nesting area, but the law was weakly enforced.

One of the last large nestings of passenger pigeons was at Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. Over 50,000 birds were killed each day and the hunt continued for nearly five months. In 1896, the final flock of 250,000 were killed by American sportsmen knowing that it was the last flock of that size.

The last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. Within a few decades, the once most numerous bird on Earth was gone.

However, the extinction of the passenger pigeon aroused public interest in the conservation movement and resulted in new laws and practices which have prevented many other species from going extinct.

Wild Birds Unlimited is deeply committed to educating the public about the importance of understanding our environment and preserving our natural wildlife habitats.

All Wild Birds Unlimited stores donate a portion of proceeds to support education, conservation and wildlife viewing projects at wildlife refuges, parks, sanctuaries and nature conservancies throughout North America.

We’ve also developed many partnerships with organizations that support its core mission of bringing people and nature together. For a link to these partners click here: http://www.wbu.com/partners/index.html

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Question of the week: Why do Mourning Doves nod their heads when they walk?

If you watch the birds at your feeding station you will see that some birds hop, hop, hop, and others prefer to walk around. Birds that hop take advantage of the pause between each jump to look around. Walking birds like the Mourning Doves, Robins, and Starlings, all move there head forward and back as they walk.

Based on an experiment done with doves walking on a conveyor-belt, it was discovered the head nodding is a way of fixing the eyes on their surroundings. Although the head is moving relative to the body, the eyes are steady relative to the world, so the bird can focus on food or distant predators. When the speed of the belt was adjusted so that the doves were stationary relative to their surroundings, they stopped nodding.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Quick fun Facts: The birds of the 12 days of Christmas

The Birds of the Song "The Twelve Days of Christmas"

Jeff and Amy Price (reprinted with permission)
The twelve days of Christmas actually refer to the days occurring between Christmas and Epiphany. Traditionally, this period was often observed with parties or other celebrations.

While the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is often listed as a traditional medieval English carol, it may have its roots in France. Over the centuries the song has undergone many changes and some of the words Americans now sing may be anglicizations of the original text. Our interpretation of the meaning of this song is that it represents preparations for a party being held on the evening of Twelfth Night.

What does this have to do with birds? Well, the first seven 'gifts' are all birds. We thought it would be fun to discuss which birds might actually be represented in the song - as well as provide some wild North American species that could be substituted in the song instead.

On the first day of Christmas . . .
The partridge in the song most likely refers to the Gray Partridge (Perdix perdix), a species native to Britain. If the song actually originated in France it might also refer to the Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), a species introduced to England in 1790 (after the song was written). While the Gray Partridge has been successfully introduced into parts of North America, a better choice might be any of the members of the grouse family - perhaps Sharp-tailed or Ruffed Grouse.

The two turtle doves given the second day could refer to European Turtle-Doves (Streptopelia turtur), a species found in England and France during the summer months. North America's most widespread equivalent would be the Eurasian Collared-Dove. This species was introduced into the Bahamas in 1974 and has now spread throughout much of the Southeast. Prefer a native species? Mourning Doves could be substituted instead.

We were unable to find any clues as to which type of chickens the three French hens refer to. It has been thousands of years since the Red Jungle Fowl of India and Southeast Asia was first domesticated and became the ancestor of all domestic chicken breeds. In this country a wild equivalent would be the Greater or Lesser Prairie-Chicken.

Four colly birds. Typically, the song lyrics are four calling birds, possibly an anglicization of four colly birds. Colly refers to soot or coal black and a colly bird probably refers to the Blackbird (Turdus merula). The Blackbird is actually a thrush, not a blackbird. As for their edibility, remember the nursery rhyme with the words "four and twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie." In North America the closest relative would be the American Robin - a member of the genus Turdus, but not very black.

Five gulderers. Huh? Some experts think the phrase five golden rings may be an anglicization of the term five gulderers. A gulderer typically referring to a turkey or possibly a guinea fowl and thus going better with the spirit of the song. Turkeys were first carried to Europe from Mexico early in the 16th century; first appearing in England in 1524. The Wild Turkey is widespread throughout much of North America.

Six geese a-laying. Many domestic geese are descendants of the Greylag Goose (Anser anser). While Greylag Geese can sometimes be found in parks in North America, the wild alternative would be Greater White-fronted Goose. The geese 'a-laying' suggest that these birds weren't eaten but were given in order to provide eggs for the party guests, possibly for the morning after the party.

Seven swans a-swimming. Mute Swans are widely used for ornamentation on estates, such as where a Twelfth Night party may have been held. Mute Swans have been introduced and established in many parts of North America. For a North American native swan choose the Trumpeter (only found in North America) or Tundra (which is also found in England).

What about the rest of the song? Well the maids a-milking are providing drinks for the party, the drummers drumming and pipers piping are the musical entertainment, and the ladies dancing and lords a-leaping are the party guests.

The above material is copyrighted. It may not be published without permission from the authors (ask, the answer is probably yes).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bird of the week: Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura
Order: COLUMBIFORMES
Family: Pigeons and Doves (Columbidae)

Description
Mourning Doves are a medium-sized wild bird ranging from 9 to 13 inches with a wingspan of 15-18 inches. They weigh between 3 to 6 ounces. Their colors are a grayish brown back with a buff underneath, black spots on the wings, and a black spot shaped like a comma below and behind the eye.

They have a small, thin black bill, dullish red legs and feet and dark brown eyes. Males are larger than females and show more color with a bluish cap, pink chest and neck feathers and three white outer tail feathers. The female is graced with an olive gray cap and a tan breast. Neck feathers can be greenish or pinkish with one or two white outer feathers. Their wings make a musical whishing noise when they fly.

Behavior
Mourning Doves generally eat enough to fill their crops and then fly away to digest while resting. An interesting fact about the Mourning Dove is that when they are building a nest the female stays at the nest site and the male bird collects the sticks. He then stands on her back to give her the sticks and she then weaves them into their nest. A Mourning Dove pair rarely leaves its eggs unattended. The male usually incubates from midmorning until late afternoon, and the female sits the rest of the day and night. In some areas the Mourning Doves nest almost year round because they feed their young “crop milk”. Pigeons and doves produce "crop milk," which is a fluid from the lining the crop, a thin-walled, saclike chamber at the bottom of the esophagus. The parents regurgitate the "milk" directly into the hatchling's mouth and throat.

General
Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. They get their name from their mournful song.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Family Fun: Snow Painting

#1 Family Fun Activity- Snow Painting
Materials:
Empty Spray bottles
Water
Food coloring
Step 1: Fill your spray bottles about halfway full of water add a few drops of food coloring.
Step 2: Shake bottle up and spray on the snow.

You can make a green snow dinosaur or colorful snow castles.

#2 Family Fun Activity- Watercolor butterflies
Materials:
Coffee Filters
Pipe Cleaners - cut in half
Spray Bottles full of colored water from above.

Step 1: Flatten out the coffee filter on a newspaper or cardboard and spray it with colored water. Carefully move the wet filter to a dry spot. Let it dry.
Step 2: When the decorated filter is dry, pinch it together in the middle.
Step 3: Fold your pipe cleaner in half and then put it around the pinched part of the coffee filter.
Step 4: Twist the 2 pipe cleaner ends together. Bend the ends to form antennae.

Make bunches of butterflies and hang them from the ceiling or decorate your Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Question of the week: Why don't birds get shocked when they sit on high voltage lines?

When they are only in contact with one power line, they are not forming a complete circuit, so the electricity does not flow through them. Some larger birds, like hawks and eagles, have been electrocuted when they stretch their wings into another power line, completing the ciruit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Quick Fun Fact: How was the Turkey named?

Why A Turkey Is Called A Turkey?

While many people enjoyed their Turkeys this Thanksgiving, some on a plate and some at their backyard feeding station, you have to wonder why they are called “Turkeys”.

There is a lot of confusion about this Native American bird, however, it is not from the country of Turkey. It wasn't known outside the Americas until Spanish explorers brought some from the New World to Spain in the early 1500s.

There are a few explanations on how Turkeys were named. In the days when geography was a little sketchy, Europeans sometimes referred to any exotic import as Turkey. (ie. Turkey Bird, Turkey rug, Turkey bag.)

Another story is that Europeans already ate guinea fowl they imported to Europe by Turkish merchants. So when the first American settlers were presented with a similar large bird for Thanksgiving it was giving the generic name Turkey.

Or, people may have thought turkeys, peacocks, and guinea fowl were all alike. A Latin and Greek translation of the bird's scientific name, Meleagris gallopavo, is “guinea fowl chicken peacock.”

And if any of you are wondering Tofurky (Tofu Turkey) was surprisingly good!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bird of the week: Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Description
The Dark-eyed Junco is a medium-sized sparrow with dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts which contrast with the white, outer tail and white belly. The female and immature juncos are less slate colored and tend to be browner than the adult male.

Behavior
Dark-eyed juncos usually hop or walk as they move along the ground. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males. Males need to risk harsh winters farther north in order to be closer to their breeding grounds. Females do not need to compete for territories in the spring and can take their time returning. The younger males winter the farthest north and must work hard to claim a breeding spot. Dominant birds have an advantage when feeding and claiming territories and will face another bird and raise and fan their tails, revealing the white outer tail feathers. They may also rush at or peck at subordinate birds in order to chase them away. Aggressive behavior occurs mainly in winter flocks and increases with increasing flock size.

General
Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “Snowbirds,” possibly due to the fact that they are more likely to visit feeding stations during snowy periods. Many people also believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. Another possible source of the nickname may be the white belly plumage and slate-colored back of the Junco, which has been described as “leaden skies above, snow below.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Family Fun: Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat

Certify Your Habitat Get started now!

Join the thousands of wildlife enthusiasts across the country who have been recognized for creating havens for neighborhood wildlife in their very own yards. These individuals have provided the essential elements for healthy and sustainable wildlife habitats and have earned the distinction of being part of National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program.

When you certify with your application fee of $20, you’ll receive all these great benefits.
  1. A personalized certificate that recognizes your NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat™.
  2. A free NWF membership which includes a full year’s subscription to the award-winning National Wildlife® magazine.
  3. A free subscription to the quarterly e-newsletter, Habitats, full of insightful tips and information on gardening and attracting wildlife year after year.
  4. Your name listed in NWF’s National registry of certified habitats…to recognize all you’ve done for wildlife.
  5. And, once you complete your application, you’ll be eligible to purchase the “wildly” popular Certified Wildlife Habitat™ yard sign that shows your commitment to conserving wildlife.

All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:
Food Sources:Native plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, nectar
Water Sources: Birdbath, pond, water garden, stream
Places for Cover: Thicket, rockpile, birdhouse
Places to Raise Young: Dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond
Sustainable Gardening: Mulch, compost, rain garden, chemical-free fertilizer

Click HERE for more information

Friday, November 28, 2008

Can you Help Identify this Backyard Bird in Michigan?

Can you help me out and tell me what kind of bird this is? It was taken at my girlfriends house in Jackson, Michigan.











What a treat!

The Northern Flicker is found almost everywhere in North America and year round in mid-Michigan. The eastern and Midwest United States have the Yellow-Shafted Flicker and the west has the Red-Shafted Flicker. The Gilded Flicker of the southwest is very similar to the Red-Shafted Flicker.

The northern populations of the Northern Flicker are migratory, with fall migration taking place September to November. So if this Flicker is new to the area it may see your yard as a good place to winter from its summer home in Canada.

Flickers measure 13" with a wingspan of 18"-21" and they are seen in most suburban environments and forest edges.

Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are mainly ground feeders, eating ants, termites, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, other insects, spiders, berries, seeds, and nuts. They do come to feeders for seeds and suet.

The yellow shafts of the feathers and its habit of flicking its bill give the Yellow-shafted Flicker its name. Both males and female yellow-shafted have a gray crown with a prominent red chevron on the back of the head and a large black spot marks the breast. Only the male Flicker has a black mustache so the photos you sent (above) show a female.

Unfortunately the Flicker populations appear to be declining. Some contributing factors might be due to the loss of nesting sites in dead trees and competition with other cavity nesting birds.

For more information go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_flicker/id

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Product Highlight: Seed Wreaths

Great gift ideas for you and the birds are Seed Wreaths, Functional Bird Seed Houses, Peanut Wreaths, Giant Pine Cones dipped in seed, and birdseed in the shape of a Snowman.

These gifts are long lasting and designed to feed a variety of different birds including the popular chickadees, finches, and Cardinals.

These are perfect hostess gifts or place them in different locations around your own yard and watch the fun and activity increase.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nature up close: Snow Crystals

Wilson Alwyn Bentley (1865-1931) was frustrated by his inability to sketch the snow crystals that he was examining on his microscope before they melted. At the age of seventeen he decided to learn how to use a relatively new device called a camera. Finally in 1884, after two years of trial and error, Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley became the first person to successfully photograph snow crystals, which are commonly known as snowflakes.

Through remarkable determination he went on to become a true pioneer in the field of atmospheric science, as well as an innovative, talented photographer.

Over his lifetime, Bentley published sixty articles on snow, dew, frost and raindrops. In 1931, Snow Crystals, a book with 2,435 illustrations was published. Unfortunately he died that same year from pneumonia.

The black and white photos are samples of Bentleys work. The link to the Bentley Snow Crystal Collection by the Buffalo Museum of Science is http://bentley.sciencebuff.org/
Another informative website on snow crystals is Snowcrystals.com.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Question of the week: Is that Downy sleeping at my feeder?

I watched a Downy Woodpecker yesterday freeze in position against the feeder for several minutes. I'm wondering if it was snoozing? It was a most interesting behavior.

Did the feeding station suddenly go quiet? Was there any other activity at the feeders?

If a hawk was seen by the downy it may have decided to remain completely still instead of taking its chances by flying away from a predator.

It is common for birds to freeze in a position or fly away when a predatory bird flies over or lands in a tree nearby.