About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wanted: Keen Eyes and Quick Fingers!

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has placed live cameras at active bird nests all around the country. Since 1999, they've archived more than eight million images from these NestCams.

Now they would like volunteers to help sort through the images using the new CamClickr—an online tool you can use to view the images and sort them into albums, then tag each image by the type of behavior you see: preening, eating, feeding chicks, etc.

What’s in it for you?
NestCams allow you to peek into the nests of Barn Owls, bluebirds, Wood Ducks, and other birds for an up-close look at fascinating bird behavior. CamClickr will appeal not only to bird lovers, but to people who enjoy testing their skills with online games. When you help sort and tag the camera images, you collect points and compete for prizes such as binoculars, DVDs, books and posters. It's easy and fun!
Why Cornell needs your help?
By using CamClickr to help tag and sort the NestCam images, you help scientists studying breeding bird behavior. The more they understand about bird behavior, the better equipped they are to understand how birds are responding to threats in their environment. Just visit http://www.camclickr.org/ to create an account.

Bring Trees to a Community in Michigan

Odwalla is a juice company that is planting trees in state parks, and will plant one for you too! All you have to do is click on the link below and choose Michigan.

The plant a tree program is going on through December 31, 2009. When you choose a participating park system (CA, CO, FL, MI, MD, NY, OH, PA, TX, UT, VA) Odwalla will donate $1.00 towards the purchase of a tree to the state parks in that state on your behalf. Click on the link below and then pass this information to a friend. http://www.parkvisitor.com/odwalla/ No purchase necessary, just a click.

The Value of Trees

Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful.

Studies prove that trees have a positive effect on many aspects of people’s lives, including their health, homes, businesses, communities, drinking water, and air quality.

An average American uses about 750 pounds of paper every year, and 95% of homes are built using wood. That means each person uses the equivalent of one 100 foot tall, 16 inch diameter, tree every year for their paper and wood product needs.

The amount of oxygen produced by an acre of trees per year equals the amount consumed by 18 people annually. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.

Sources: USDA Forest Service, Carbon Day, Arbor Day Foundation

Monday, June 29, 2009

What birds eat apples?

About 80 million years ago an early form of rose (a short, thorny plant with small, white, five-petaled flowers) was one of the earliest flowering plants to develop on earth. After many years several fruits evolved from this early rose. Apples, pears, plums, quinces, peaches, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all belong to the Rose (Rosaceae) plant family. The apple was the result of the cross-pollination of an ancient plum and a plant we call meadowsweet, in the genus Spiraea.

Using DNA technology the origin of the apples we eat today matches a small population of a single species still growing at the border of northeast China and the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. This isolated species evolved over the past 4.5 million years to become larger and sweeter, and was carried into the Western World by travelers on the ancient “silk roads.”

The crabapple is the only apple native to North America. The pilgrims planted the first United States edible apple orchard in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600’s.

Today Apples are grown in all 50 states. The top apple producing states are Michigan, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.

Some birds that use apple trees and crabapple trees for their fruit, flowers, or sap are:

American Robin, Blue Jay, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, American Crow, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern bluebird, Eastern Towhee, European Starling, grosbeaks, Gray catbird, Hairy woodpecker, House Finch, Northern Mockingbird, orioles, Purple Finch, Red-bellied woodpecker, Red-headed woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Tufted Titmouse.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Birds Never Forget a Face

We had a robin nesting under our back porch. We avoided the area all spring so she wouldn’t abandon the nest. She had two babies and everything went well. Is there a way to stop her nesting there next year so we can go outside?

I’m glad everything went well for the robin family. There was actually no reason you had to change your routine. Most birds living in urban areas have adapted to the presence of humans. They may even be a better judge of character than people.

In two recent studies researchers have found that the birds can recognize individual human faces that pose a threat out of thousands of people. Dr. John Marzluff a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington did the first formal study of human face recognition in wild birds by asking the people that were banding crows to wear rubber “bad men” masks.

After the birds were banded and released back on campus, volunteers walked around with the masks on and recorded the crows’ reactions in the following months. The birds did not forget and were very vocal about the supposed “bad men”. In fact the effect not only persisted, but has multiplied over the past two years. Dr. Marzluff found the “bad men” were scolded by many more crows than had experienced the initial trapping. The researchers hypothesize that crows learned the face of the “bad men” and spread the word through the flock.

Dr. Marzluff believes that this ability gives crows and their brethren an evolutionary edge. “If you can learn who to avoid and who to seek out, that’s a lot easier than continually getting hurt,” Dr. Marzluff said. “I think it allows these animals to survive with us — and take advantage of us — in a much safer, more effective way.”

In a second controlled experiment done on Duke University in North Carolina, one student was asked to touch the nest of a Northern Mockingbird on the busy campus. After the initial contact, anytime the volunteer that touched the nest walked by, the birds would loudly protest or attack that one particular student out of thousands that would walk by the nest. These results demonstrate a remarkable ability of birds to distinguish individual human faces. And more importantly, the birds’ varying responses to humans reflect a behavioral flexibility to threats in urban environments that allow certain bird species not only survive but thrive beside humans.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Did you hear something?

"The world is full of signals that we don't perceive." -- Stephen Jay Gould, (1941-2002) paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, science historian

Friday, June 26, 2009

Will I have exploding birds at my wedding?

My friend says if I throw rice at my wedding, the birds eat it and explode? I don’t think that’s true! Should I throw birdseed instead? E.B.

Rice and other grains, such as wheat, have played a prominent role in marriage ceremonies for centuries. Guests wish the bride and groom symbolically a lifetime full of fertility and of prosperity by throwing rice.

There are no documented cases of birds suffering from eating rice probably because it’s a natural food grown all around the world. It's really no different than the birds eating any other grain like millet or wheat. So to be clear, no wild birds will be harmed if they choose to eat rice thrown at a wedding ceremony.

The only thing you have to worry about when you throw rice is not slipping on the hard little rolling seeds and young relatives that think it’s funny pelting your face as hard as they can.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Have you noticed any birds with their mouths hanging open lately?

We’ve had a couple days without rain in mid-Michigan but now it’s full sun and in the upper 90’s! An open mouth is one sign that a bird might be overheating and working to lower its body temperature.

Birds lack sweat glands, so they pant like dogs instead of sweat like people. By opening its mouth a bird increases the airflow and causes more moisture to evaporate and cool their body.

When the temperature is in the 90's, a bird’s body may start to overheat. Birds give off excess body heat through their unfeathered legs and can ruffle their body feathers so hot air close to the skin can escape. A bird will also pant, travel less, find a shady spot, or seek water to reduce its body temperature.

In this heat a refreshing dip in a birdbath is very effective in lowering their body temperature and rehydrating their body to beat the heat.

You will also significantly increase the number of birds visiting your yard by providing bird baths, drippers, and misters. Wild Birds Unlimited has a wide variety of baths to choose from. Birdbaths come in many shapes, sizes and materials. They can be placed on the ground, mounted on a pedestal or hung. If you have any questions come in to the store and we can help you find the best bath for your yard.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is that bird bald?

We have had a bald cardinal visiting our yard. He looks healthy otherwise. Have you ever heard of anything like that? Is there anything I can do for it?

Is it that that time of year to address the perennial bald bird question already? Every July and August it is a somewhat common sight to see some bald birds at the feeder in mid-Michigan. For birds, molting is usually the periodic replacement of feathers by shedding old feathers while producing new ones. And, after the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

However, after nesting season some Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers. Many appear to be juveniles undergoing their first pre-basic molt or growth of their first winter adult plumage. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds are bald and some aren’t or why it’s just the head.

Growing up I remember we would have bald Blue Jays appear at the feeders every fall. They were large, lively, loud, healthy birds with tiny bald black heads. Fortunately, new head feathers grew in within a few weeks.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with most of these birds, despite how bad they look. The only other reason a bird might lose patches of feathers may be due to health problems such as malnutrition, mite infestation, or some unidentified disease.

The description of your Cardinal’s baldness, however, sounds like the unexplainable but temporary feather loss that is common this time of year. Even though staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds, I believe your Cardinal will be alright without any intervention and grow its feathers back soon.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goose Gaffe?

This amazing photo of a greylag goose was taken by wildlife photographer Brian McFarlane in Strumpshaw, Norfolk, England. He said, “I cannot believe how this goose got into such an incredible position. It was a windy day and it was making life difficult for the birds. Some were more expert at controlling their flight while others were tossed around in mid-air."

Turning its body upside might not be as unusual as you think. It's known as whiffling. Geese will sometimes twist themselves into awkward looking positions in order to slow down and reduce their height quickly.

For more on the story, visit the Belfast Telegraph.

Basic Instinct

My nephew asked why the Robins throw worms in the pond. I know the fish enjoy them and it did remind me of the old photo by Paul Lemmons.

Birds' parental instincts kick in at the sight of small open mouths eliciting an inborn response to feed. The photo shows a Northern Cardinal delivering worms to a goldfish at the edge of a garden pond. The gaping mouths of the fish stimulated the bird. The goldfish, accustomed to being fed at the surface, didn't care who was doing the feeding. To read more go to Birdscope.

Sources: The Birds of North America Online www.bna.birds.cornell.edu and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology (see www.birds.cornell.edu/homestudy).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Crafty Crow

Every morning I wake up to a crow outside my window calling out what food is available in our yard to his fellow crows. His “Caw, Caw, Caw” I believe translates into, “We have the usual fare of peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds here.” And then I hear his brother scout in the distance, “I’ve got a garbage bag full of chicken bones over here.” And a little further in the distance I hear another crow scout announce, “Ripe road kill over here, enough for all!” My yard never makes the morning cut for breakfast, but a scout is here every morning to check what I have to offer.

American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Description: The American crow is a large, beautiful, black bird that looks like it has iridescent purple feathers in the sun. Both sexes are similar. Its scientific name Corvus brachyrhynchos is Latin for "raven with a small nose."

General: Their populations are just now recovering in mid Michigan from the first appearance of West Nile virus in the Western hemisphere in 1999. Their susceptibility to the virus made them a useful indicator of the West Nile activity.

However the American Crow is still often reviled for being a large, loud, messy, scavenger of garbage even though crows are one of the most intelligent birds around. A group of crows has many collective nouns, including a "cauldron", "congress", "horde", "murder", and "muster" of crows.
Behavior: American Crows are very social animals and interaction with other crows is very important to them. The average crow lives for twenty to thirty years. They have close family groups and usually mate for life. Juvenile crows typically leave their family at 3 to 4 years but will still return to visit.

As members of the corvid family, crows are considered to be among the most adaptable and intelligent birds in the world. They can mimic the sounds made by other animals, and they learn to associate noises with events, especially with the distribution of food. They work together and have shown the ability to construct and use tools.

The following video is from The Life of Birds by David Attenborough:

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"You have to re-educate the public mind about every 15 or 20 years or it forgets everything learned a while back."

"How rich will we be when we have converted all our forests, our soil, our water resources, and our minerals into cash?"-- Jay Norwood Darling, (1876 - 1962) artist/cartoonist, conservationist, head of the U.S. Biological Survey - 1934-35

Let's Hear it for the Dads.

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What's Going on at the Feeders?

"Look deep into nature, then you will understand everything better. " -Albert Einstein

Most of our Wild Birds Unlimited customers have commented on the increased activity at the feeders. With this unusual spring Michigan is experiencing, insects are harder to find, and many birds are welcoming the supplement of seed and suet to feed their hungry young. I’ve even watched robins introduce their babies to my suet feeders.

However, with all of the wet weather, it is imperative that a close eye is kept on the feeders. At the very least, feeders can get clogged with wet seed and at worse the seed could be moldy and cause the birds sickness. So, in between rain drops, take a quick peek at your feeders, especially your goldfinch feeders, and toss out any moldy seed, suet, fruit, or nectar, and make sure your feeders are clean. Remember, birds give us a lot of pleasure as we watch them eat, so let’s provide them a safe and clean feeding station at all times.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Garden Tours Galore 2009

If you are looking for something to do next weekend the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition is hosting its annual garden tour June 27 and 28, 2009. This is where you can visit spectacular local gardens. They offer garden advice from the "Experts," and fun mini plant sales.

This year the Tour will be selling Munchkin Hostas (groundcover hosta) and Dickon's Gold Campanulas. The plants will be available while supplies last at two of the gardens on the Tour. All proceeds from the Mini Plant Sales will support the work of Greater Lansing Housing Coalition.

Advance information about the Gardens Galore Tour is available by calling (517) 372-5980, by email at info@glhc.org, or online at www.glhc.org. Tickets are available for $15 at Wild Birds Unlimited with cash or check. To purchase by credit card, please call GLHC office at (517) 372-5980. Tickets are good for both days and for repeat entrance at all of the gardens.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nature teaches more than she preaches.

"I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."
John Burroughs, (1837-1921) naturalist, essayist

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why is bird poop white?

I don't know about anywhere else, but in Lansing most bird poop is white, usually with a dark center. I don't think birds eat very much that is this white (mostly seeds and insects), so why is it white? Thank you, D.W.

Birds are always on the move and don't have time to stop for potty breaks. That's why flying birds can't be house broken because as soon as the need arises instinct tells them to get rid of the useless weight to be a more efficient flyer.

But why is their poop white? Songbirds can't urinate like mammals because they don't have a bladder. Their kidneys extract nitrogenous wastes from the bloodstream, and instead of excreting it as urea dissolved in urine as we do, they excrete it in the form of uric acid.

Uric acid emerges as a white paste often ejected with the waste from food which is the darker stuff in the center. Both waste products come out together because birds have a single opening called a cloaca, which they use for waste disposal and reproduction.

And finally, if you think you've been the target of a bird bomber, keep in mind that a lot of people considered it good luck!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cheep Trick: Lansing Woodpecker in Luck with Quick Thinking Birdwatcher!

Because I work at either the East Lansing, MI Wild Birds Unlimited bird food stores every day you would think I would never run out of bird seed. Au contrair, mon ami? I forget to bring home seed and suet constantly.

Yesterday when I saw Momma and baby Downy Woodpecker at an empty feeder I could have kicked myself for forgetting to bring home suet again! Instead I took a slice of bread and spread some all natural crunchy peanut butter on one side and slipped it in the suet feeder. Voila! Everybody is happy. I can watch the birds have dinner while I eat mine and my blood pressure comes down.
If you don't have a suet feeder you could also spread a fork full of peanut butter on tree bark and see what birds you attract. Lots of birds like peanuts because it is a food that is high in protein and fat. In fact peanut butter suet and suet dough are our two most popular suets with the birds.
To see what else I've fed my birds click HERE to see an earlier blog I wrote on creating less waste in the kitchen. And I will bring home suet tonight!

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm trying to find the name of a wild brown bird in Michigan with orange under bellies.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know a bird by people’s descriptions. I’m a little better with pictures. However, three birds come to my mind instantly when you said "brown bird with orange bellies".
  1. Female Baltimore Oriole
  2. American Robin
  3. Female Eastern Towhee

Now because you said bellies, I’m thinking it had orange on both sides of the belly and I’m going to go with Female Eastern Towhee. If that’s not right send me a little more information. Was it in the city or country, was it larger than a sparrow, are there any other markings that stand out, was it near a feeder…?

Eastern Towhee Pipilo erythrophthalmus
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Description: About the size of a Robin, the Male and female towhees have dark plumage on their heads and backs and rusty-orange flanks on a white belly. The males, head, neck, throat and back are black while the females are dark brown. The scientific name Piplo is derived from the Latin pipo, meaning “to chirp”. Erythrophthalmus is derived from Greek words that mean “red eye.” Eastern Towhees in Michigan have red eyes, but white-eyed birds are common in the southern states.

General: Eastern Towhees live in Michigan from late March to mid-November. They are often heard before they are seen. The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist Mark Catesby. During the spring nesting season the males sing 'drink your tea' loudly from exposed perches and their call when disturbed is a loud 'towhee'. A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" and a "teapot" of towhees.

Behavior: Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance. They are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food. They use this same technique on the forest floor and underneath feeders even when the seeds are clearly visible. If your feeders are near dense underbrush you may attract towhees with peanuts, sunflower seeds, millet or cracked corn.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Special Request: Inside a Birdhouse Video

The posting of this UK video about Robinsons be Natural fruit squashes was at the special request of Anna & Evan. Anna likes the little boots by the door in the beginning and Evan likes the little man in the Cuckoo Clock saying "hello".

You can go to the company's website at http://www.robinsonsdrinks.co.uk/benatural/ to view the making of the commercial and their activity videos that encourage families to have fun outdoors.

And if you're wondering, you won't see that bird in your yard unless it's escaped from a pet shop. The Domestic Canary (Serinus canaria domestica) is a domesticated form of the Wild Canary, a small songbird in the finch family originating from the Canary Islands.

Frog and Toad

Today I spotted an American Toad Bufo americanus in the garden. They're very common in mid-Michigan but this one was a real character. While I was working in the garden, I think it came out of its self made mulch burrow just to watch me fuss with the flowers.

Toads always make me smile. Some of the first books I was able to read to myself (and still my favorites) were from the series Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. The two protagonists are similar in appearance to the real amphibians. Frog is taller and greener, and Toad is short, stout, and browner.

Frogs and toads, along with the salamanders, are members of the class Amphibia. Amphibians are characterized by a life cycle which begins with an unshelled egg laid in water. The egg hatches into a gill breathing larva (called a tadpole or polliwog in frogs and toads). The larva gradually develop legs, lungs, and other modifications for life as an air breathing adult capable of living on land.

But how can you tell a frog from a toad? It's been said that a toad is just a lumpy frog. Toads do have thicker, more warty skins compared to the smoother skin of most frogs. Toads are adapted for drier conditions like suburban gardens unlike frogs which spend most of their time by water. Also toads have shorter hind legs than frogs and move in short hops or simply walk instead of making long leaps.

And by the way, neither frogs nor toads, will give you warts! That is just a myth.

Sources: Michigan DNR
and Reptiles & Amphibians of Michigan Field Guide by Stan Tekiela available at Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Creeper Spotted Lurking Behind Tree in Mid-Michigan Backyard!

It’s such a treat when I spot the Brown Creeper circling the locust tree right outside my window. They're not a frequent visitor like the nuthatches but it’s always a welcome site to see a creeper patrolling the tree for bugs.

Brown Creeper Certhia americana
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Creeper (Certhiidae)

Description: The creeper has a long stiff, pointed tail to help it climb tree trunks, and a long down curved bill to probe insects from bark. Its brown back feathers with buff white streaks, white eyebrow feathers, and white belly feathers make them nearly indistinguishable from a piece of bark.

General: The cryptic Brown Creeper usually hangs out in old-growth forests and will nest behind loose bark of a dying tree. The base of the nest is attached to the bark with webbing from cocoons or spider egg cases, and then a cup is made of fine pieces of bark, fibers, leaves, mosses, and feathers.

Behavior: Brown Creepers are the only tree creepers in North America. Feeding mainly on invertebrates found on tree trunks, they start at the bottom of a tree, spiral upward, then float down to the base of the next tree and begin again. A group of creepers are collectively known as a "sleeze" and a "spiral" of creepers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Father's Day Gift Ideas at Wild Birds Unlimited

Give Dad the gift of nature this Father's Day!

We have so many great products in stock--here are just a few:

Give Dad a squirrel solution this Father's Day! The Squirrel Buster Plus squirrel-resistant bird feeder is our top seller. The spring mechanism foils squirrels and the tension can be adjusted to discourage large blackbirds as well. Squirrels hate this feeder, but Dad will love it!

For those Dads who love to watch the squirrels' antics, we carry a great selection of feeders just for squirrels. Choose from munch boxes that you fill with seed, a table and chair that holds ear corn, and many more. We even have a feeder for bungee jumping squirrels! Love 'em or hate 'em, squirrels are very entertaining!

Optics are always a good choice for Father's day or any day gifts! We carry a high quality binoculars at a reasonable prices.

From bird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, bird books, bird seed, and bird stands, to bat houses, rain gauges and thermometers, you are sure to find something for Father's Day.

Go Green for Father's Day with a made in Michigan recycled birdhouses or a recycled plastic bird feeder. Many different styles of feeders are now available.

And if you just can't decide, there's always a WBU Gift card available in any denomination you choose. Don't forget Father's Day is on the 3rd Sunday of June.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How did people keep birds and animals out of their homes before the invention of window screens?

The American colonists learned about yellow fever shortly after they arrived in the New World. The spread of this plague by mosquitoes devastated many communities.

Finally in 1861 an employee that made wire mesh sieves for food processing realized that the wire cloth could be sold as window screens to prevent critters from coming through open windows. By 1874, E.T. Barnum Company of Detroit, Michigan became very successful selling window screens, and today in the United States, not having screens on the window would be unacceptable in most areas.

So what did people do before screens? I had a customer come in to shop at our Wild Birds Unlimited recently that had spent a year in the UK. She said if she ever had to live there again she would open a screen shop. What she missed the most about the U.S. were the screens on the windows, doors, and chimneys. She told me she couldn’t keep her pets in the house, animals from nesting in the chimney, or the birds from stealing her morning toast.

Good question!

When am I supposed to clean out a birdhouse?

If the birds have been successful in raising their young in a nest box, the babies will fledge and then there is at least a two week break before they might begin to raise another brood. I always call it their family vacation time. You can clean the nest box at this time while the baby birds are shown the territory and taught how to forage on their own.

If something happens to disrupt the success of the first batch, the birds might begin a new nest within a week. You don’t have to remove the nest in this case but broken eggs or dead nestlings should be removed immediately. If they want to try again in that box, it will give them a head start to have an existing nest. Also try to determine why there was a failure and how to prevent further tragedy.

By cleaning out a nest box you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests making it closer to the entrance hole.

To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest 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. Thanks to Barbara S. for a very good question.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Michigan Pebble Bird Birdbaths have arrived!

Every year we get requests for our pebble baths because they are a unique style of birdbath that is made in Gowen, Michigan. Supplies are limited, however and when these are gone, we may not be able to get more until next year.

How do I keep my birdbath clean?

First it is good to change your water frequently and scrub the bath with a good brush. There are also two different products available at Wild Birds Unlimited to help maintain the quality of the water. The first is a liquid you add each time you change the water or there is a tablet you leave in the water for a month.

Birdbath Cleaning Brush This 8" brush is well suited for cleaning birdbaths, as well as for many other household uses. It has stiff, tough polypropylene bristles that will do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.

Microbe-Lift BirdBath Clear is a bio-enzymatic product specially formulated for birdbaths. Prevents organic contaminants from forming including white scale deposits, iron, copper and hard water stains. Uses two unique propietary technologies; One system helps to prevent the buildup of stains and mineral deposits on the birdbath surfaces, while the second system keeps water clear and free from the organic debris that can make the water cloudy.

Healthy Ponds Birdbath Dispenser treats birdbaths up to 7 gallons. Delivered with two disposable, floating plastic dispensers; each refill is effective for up to 30 days.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Is too late to put up a hummingbird feeder?

While the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have settled into their territories to nest by now, every bird is always foraging and may appreciate a new reliable backup feeder. You may also notice in late June newly fledged hummers have to check out everything to see if it's food, so you may catch them with new feeders.

Then starting in the middle of July males begin to wander widely, and some are already heading south. So, before you know it you'll have hungry southbound migrants to feed! Migration continues through the middle of October so there are plenty of opportunities to see hummers feeding. The migration south is a more leisurely trip than the race north. So you may see these new hummers at your feeder for a couple weeks before they catch a good wind to move further south.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mockingbird vs. Eagle Slide Show

The Virginian-Pilot© May 31, 2009
While covering the recent LPGA golf tournament in Williamsburg, Virginian-Pilot photographer L. Todd Spencer encountered a mockingbird sparring with an immature bald eagle at the 18th hole. Click HERE to view a slide show in which Todd describes the display of undeterred persistence and nonchalant resistance.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bird Poop Helps Save the World!

While I enjoy the antics of the starling babies that have invaded my feeder, I can’t help but notice the large amount of what I call “thank you for a good meal” droppings. So after my daily feeder maintenance I come in and to my surprise, read an article about how bird droppings are helping scientists save the world!

Actually ecologists believe Emperor penguin populations are a useful climate change indicator due to the birds' reliance on sea ice. However because of their remote location it was hard to track their movements. Even using standard satellite imaging it was impossible to track the penguins themselves because they are too small. Yet the penguins which spend eight months on sea ice to raise a family do leave behind evidence of that stay; lots of evidence. Stretches of excrement-stained ice are so large that they are visible from space. It has also helped scientists locate 10 new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS) penguin ecologist, Dr Phil Trathan, said: "Now we know exactly where the penguins are, the next step will be to count each colony so we can get a much better picture of population size. Using satellite images combined with counts of penguin numbers puts us in a much better position to monitor future population changes over time."

The Cambridge-based British Antarctic Survey (BAS) is a world leader in research into global environmental issues. It is a component of the Natural Environment Research Council. More information about the work of the Survey can be found at: http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/

Side note: Why are there so many starlings at the feeder this year? Starlings usually change their diet in the spring and summer to consist mainly of insects but I believe the spring has been so cold in mid-Michigan this year that the insects haven’t hatched in their usual numbers. So the starlings as well as many other insect eaters have been supplementing their diet at the birdfeeders. Click on The Safflower Solution if you want to deter starlings at your feeder.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Do other animals have feathers?

No, the biggest difference between birds and other animals is that birds have feathers. Every bird has feathers and everything that has feathers is a bird. A Whistling Swan, in winter has the most with about 20,000 individual feathers. And the fewest feathers? That distinction goes to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird with about 940.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How do you become a birdwatcher?

I enjoy watching the birds as I have my morning coffee. How do I learn more about the hobby? R.
Who Bird Watches?
History shows humans have long been fascinated with birds. There are nearly 10,000 known species that now inhabit the earth and can be seen anywhere in the world including your own backyard.

What is Bird Watching?Bird watching begins simply by observing birds. Gradually you can begin learning their names, identifying their markings, observing their activities, songs, behavior, and habitats.

Why bird watch?Birds can be an indication of overall environmental health. If you’re interested in the environment, paying attention to birds can give you insight into many aspects of nature. Also, with our busy lifestyles, we often forget to slow down and enjoy the surroundings. Bird watching gives you the chance to escape and relax.

How do I start?
To invite more birds to your yard you can set up a birdfeeder, birdbath, or birdhouse. I especially like my window feeders so I can really see the birds up close! Wild Birds Unlimited has several styles. I fill it with our No-mess blend so of course there will be no mess below the feeder.

This may be as far as you want to go in bird watching. Or as the birds become more familiar to you at the feeder you can look up their names in a book or field guide, investigate using binoculars, join the local Audubon Society, or open up your own Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop. There are no set rules to bird watching.

Michigan has over 400 species of birds. A few of the most common birds seen at a seed feeder in mid-Michigan are the Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, European Starling, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Mourning Dove.

Bird watching is a wonderful hobby for people of all ages. It can be enjoyed almost anywhere at any moment of the day. All in all, bird watching is relaxing, fun, and educational. If you have any specific questions I can answer them in the blog or you can come into our Wild Birds Unlimited shops for more ideas or help.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Blowing In The Wind

Can you believe it is 40°F in June? It was sooooo cold today, for a minute I thought it was snowing. Then I realized it was the cottonwood seeds, what I think normally as the first sign of summer in mid-Michigan!

Cottonwoods can be either male or female. It is the fluffy white seeds produced by the females during early summer that give the tree its name. [Cotton for clothing comes from the true cotton plant (Gossypium sp.), not the cottonwood tree.] The seeds are only a couple millimeters long, which is quite remarkable considering that they can become one of the largest trees in North America, up to 100 ft. high with massive trunks over 5 ft. in diameter.

Well anyway schools out! Hooray! Everybody bundle up and run around and enjoy the summer and then come in for some hot chocolate by the fire.
Source: Trees of Michigan by Stan Tekiela available at East Lansing, MI Wild Birds Unlimited stores.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What is white proso millet?

White proso millet is a small, round, cream colored seed about the size of the head of a pin. A lot of ground-feeding birds like millet. It’s a major ingredient in many wild bird seed mixes and desirable to many species of birds like doves, sparrows, towhees, quail, bobwhite, tanagers, painted and indigo buntings.

Most seed eating birds prefer black oil sunflower seeds but cardinals, goldfinches, purple finches and pine siskins, eat white proso millet if their seed of choice is not available.

The following shows the results of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studies on food preferences of birds:
Sunflower seed:
a) black oil - superior to other foods for most seed eating species
b) black-striped - most species will eat but only Tufted Titmouse and Blue Jays prefer
White Proso Millet - preferred food of juncos, Mourning Doves and sparrows
Red Proso Millet - can be used as a substitute for white proso; however, not as preferred.
Golden (German) Millet - least preferred of the millets
Milo (sorghum) - generally unattractive to all species.
Cracked Corn - eaten about one-third as often as white proso millet.
Safflower seed - considered acceptable to most species except blackbirds and starlings.
Canary seed - less attractive than white proso millet
Rape seed (canola seed) - least attractive feed in the study
Wheat – unattractive to most species
Flax seed - almost completely ignored
Oats - only starlings found hulled oats highly attractive
Peanut pieces - attractive to numerous species
Niger Thistle Seed - not related to weed thistles. Highly used by finches.

We have tons of fresh seed delivered every week to our two Wild Birds Unlimited stores in East Lansing, MI. Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love.

Click HERE to see what the most popular seed blend is in mid-Michigan.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rain, rain...come again another day!

If you are having trouble keeping your seed dry and fresh when it rains, two products that I recommend are weather guards and feeder fresh. .
A WBU Weather Guard is designed to keep bad weather from spoiling your seed in the tube. This is a clear plastic dome that slips on top of most of our WBU tube feeders. It will not deter birds from feeding, in fact, many enjoy feeding under the shelter and out of the wet weather. It has a lifetime guarantee and is made in the USA.

Feeder Fresh is added to the seed when you fill a feeder. It absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand. Feeder Fresh keeps the seed and feeder dry, keeps molds from forming, and thus reduces the chance of Aflatoxin and other mycotoxins.

Once the Feeder Fresh absorbs its own weight in water it will discontinue absorbing, and be identical to the silica grit that birds normally ingest. Made in the USA.