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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Should I take my hummingbird feeder down to force the birds to migrate?

No, I usually leave my feeder up until mid-October. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us whether there is a feeder up or not.

In the fall there is an instinctual clock that tells the hummingbirds when to head south. People still disagree over the precise mechanism within the bird that causes this. Most sources say that that food supply is not a factor and there is no reason to take down hummingbird feeders to stimulate migration. Birds that are born late in the season are vulnerable. Leaving your feeders up may provide a critical opportunity for these hummingbirds to build reserves and “catch up.”
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Just before they answer the call to travel south, they eat in excess and build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the back, belly, and throat. A hummingbird gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to travel 1,400 miles – with no wind of any kind. A headwind of only 10 miles per hour will cut that distance down to 600 miles and more than 20 mph will push them backward. However the ruby-throated hummingbird does take advantage of tail winds constantly. Southbound ruby-throats rebuild their reserves in the early morning, travel about 23 miles during the day and forage again in the late afternoon to keep up their body weight.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Family Fun at the Harris Nature Center!

The Harris Nature Center, 3998 Van Atta Road in Meridian Township, announces the following upcoming events and programs. They offer a wide range of programs for all ages and interests. Contact them at 517-349-3866 or harriscenter@sbcglobal.net for more information.

Click HERE for Walking Club 2009 - 10 Schedule

Migration: What a Trip!
Navigating great distances in the dark, birds of all sizes, including the tiny hummingbird, brave the dangers of migration each fall. Enjoy a campfire and a program, followed by a short guided walk through the evening woods with a naturalist.
Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 ~7:00– 8:30 pm $2.00/ person or $5.00/ family
Register by calling 517-349-3866

Weekday Science Programs
Child’s science education with programs designed to introduce science. These programs are open to children of all ages.
Fall Season (10-11:30 am or 1-2:30 pm)
September 11 ~Key it Out
October 2 ~Forest Ecology
November 6 ~Wonderful Waterfowl
$3/ child/ class or $7/ child/ season

Live Bats of the World
Silently hunting insects at night, bats are frequently seen and just as often, their intent is misunderstood. The Organization for Bat Conservation will bring live bats to the Harris Nature Center on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 2 and 4 p.m. The programs will include a variety of live bats from around the world, including the "Flying Fox."
This is an opportunity to get up close to these fascinating animals. The fee for the program is $6 per person. Seating will be limited, so register ahead by calling or e-mailing.

Nature for Toddlers
Children 3 years and under, accompanied by an adult can toddle into their first nature experience at the Harris Nature Center. There are three sessions of "My Cub and I," which meets for six weeks, beginning Monday, Sept. 21 from 9 to 10 a.m., 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. or 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The evening session has been added to accommodate families working during the day.
In this program, the naturalist will facilitate activities while the child and adult companion participate as a team. Participants will enjoy nature activities, games, walks, crafts, stories and songs.

Enrollment is limited, so parents should request a registration form by calling the nature center or online at http://www.meridian.twp.mi.us/. There is a $31 fee for this six-week program.

Chipmunk Story Time
Join Chicory Chipmunk at the Harris Nature Center once a month for nature stories followed by games or a walk. The programs are open to preschool and elementary children.The next story time, "Gotta Go, Gotta Go," is Thursday, Sept. 17 at 10 a.m., followed by story times on Oct. 15, Nov. 19, and Dec. 17.

The fee is $3 per child per session and is due at the time of the program. For more information, contact (517) 349-3866 or harriscenter@sbcglobal.net.

For general information about this and other programs offered at the Harris Nature Center, call (517) 349-3866.

Harris Nature Center Mission
The mission of the Harris Nature Center is to protect, promote and interpret the Red Cedar River and its surrounding ecosystems. Through creative exhibits, programs and exploration of the native environment of the Harris Nature Center, visitors are encouraged to observe, experience and appreciate this representative slice of mid-Michigan riverine habitat.

Why Do Goldfinches Nest So Late?

American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Finches (Fringillidae)

The male is a small, bright yellow finch with a black cap, wings, and tail, and white rump and undertail coverts. Female is duller with olive back and lacks black cap. Winter male has olive-brown upperparts, paler underparts, yellow shoulder bar, white wing bar, dark bill, and may show black on forehead and yellow on throat and face. Winter female is duller with buff wing and shoulder bars, and lacks yellow and black on face and head. Juvenile resembles winter female but has yellow wash on throat and breast.

The American Goldfinch is a bird of many aliases: wild canary, yellowbird, lettuce bird, and thistle bird, just to name a few. Ask a gardening enthusiast and you might hear the name “lettuce bird” due to the bird’s practice of nibbling at the tender young leaves of this vegetable. The American goldfinch looks similar to a canary at a pet store and so sometimes is called "wild canary" or "yellowbird".

Another descriptive name, is “thistle bird.” It has long been known that thistle plants and goldfinch are almost inseparable, and even its genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, meaning “thistle.”Goldfinches rely heavily on thistle plants as a source of food and for nest-building materials. A research study in Michigan observed Goldfinches always liked to nest near an abundant supply of thistle seed.

Goldfinches delay the start of their nesting behavior until the thistles come into bloom so they can anticipate an abundant and reliable supply of seeds for their young. So keep your WBU finch feeder filled with fresh Nyjer® (thistle) seed to welcome the American Goldfinch to your backyard refuge.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Goldfinch Parents Winter in the South While Kids Remain Behind

Goldfinches are the only finch species that go through a complete color change molt two times a year. In the fall they take off their bright yellow, black, and white coat and switch to a muted olive color.

In October the Goldfinches separate into two groups based on age. Studies show that the birds hatched this year will generally stay in Michigan for the winter but their parents will go further south to winter. One thought is that the first year finches didn’t have to go through a molt and have more energy to survive a winter.

Just the opposite was found with Blue Jays. Studies show that the first year Blue Jays go further south to winter in a more plentiful habitat. While their crafty parents, perhaps knowing several survival tactics, stay the whole year.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Does anyone else think baby goldfinch sound like squeaky toys?

This is my favorite time of year. Have you been hearing a new voice in the air? Every morning I wake up to the tinkling tune of baby goldfinches. They look similar to the female or a goldfinch in winter colors and their baby call reminds me of a squeaky dog toy. "♪ High, low...♪ high, low, low."

At the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, I see the Daddy Goldfinch eating from my sunflower plants as his fledlings watch from a nearby apple tree.

They soon join him all the while calling out for his attention. I know that they'll soon have it all figured out including a grown up song and I'll miss their little "Mom my...Dad de de" in the morning.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Feeder Do You Recommend for Blue Jays?

The blue jays have discovered my feeding station. Do you recommend whole peanuts, shells and all, or just the de-shelled peanuts. They are so big that I'm thinking I need a different feeding station for them and am thinking of either a bigger platform or the blue jay nut holder thing.

Blue Jays eat fruit, nuts, berries, seeds, and suet. However if you offered a buffet, their first choice would be peanuts in the shell. I can recommend the peanut wreaths, large mesh peanut pantry, or tray feeders to hold the whole peanuts. Just remember you should fill them only when you’re there to watch because a party of blue jays can empty a feeder in less than an hour. But boy, during that hour it’s like watching a blue tornado.

The blue jays usually send out scouts to alert the band when food is available. One benefit of all that noisy calling is that it alerts other birds too, that there is food in the area.

As the jays prepare for winter they will cache or hide nuts up to 2.5 miles from their original source and retrieve them when needed.

In one research study, 50 Blue Jays were observed selecting and caching 150,000 acorns over a period of 28 days. Each bird cached a total of 3,000 acorns by selecting and hiding an average of 107 acorns per day.

That’s a lot of nuts! If you’re looking for something to last a little longer, the nutty seed cylinders, suet cakes, and birdie bells last two to four weeks and feed the jays as well as attract several other species of birds. I like to use these. I treat the jays and squirrels with peanuts in the shell occasionally on my tray feeder but I'm pretty lazy and prefer filling feeders less frequently.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

That's Not a Hummingbird at My Hummingbird Feeder.

My mom says she is seeing a bird (not a hummingbird) at her hummingbird feeder. Could she be right? She thought it might be a House Finch. I told her those are seed eating birds but she insists it is drinking from the hummingbird feeder.

Of course your mother is right! Don't you know that mothers always know best? How could you even doubt her? I'm afraid you're in for an "I told you so."

Many kinds of birds will come to hummingbird feeders, and house finches and orioles are among the most common after hummingbirds of course. Other birds that you might find testing the sugar water occasionally in mid-Michigan are catbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers and rose breasted grosbeaks. There also might be some migrating birds like warblers that will appreciate quick energy drinks at your hummingbird feeder.
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Let your mother know that if the House Finches become a nuisance at her hummingbird feeder she can offer them a dish of nectar for their own use.

Oh and birds aren't the only animals that like sugar water. Some squirrels and raccoons can try the feeders too. And Ken from Green Valley, Arizona took this shot of a Mexican Long-Tongued Bat coming to the hummingbird feeders. These bats are migratory, spending summers in southern Arizona and winters in Mexico. So he sees them in their spring and fall migrations. They are important pollinators of several cacti species.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I heard Hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese. Is that true?

Sorry, this is a nice story passed down from generation to generation, but only a story. Maybe people originally thought it was impossible for the tiny hummingbird to migrate south on its own and believed that hitching a ride under the wings of geese was the only way hummingbirds could make the long journey south.
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However as nice as this story is, it does a disservice to the mighty hummingbirds' abilities. Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles south every fall to reach their winter homes in Mexico and Central America under their own power. Migratory geese don't even end up as far south as the tropics. Also, Hummingbirds leave earlier than Geese. They start migrating in mid-July and are mostly gone by mid-October. Geese don't start migrating until mid-September and are not gone until early November.
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Many hummingbirds migrate around the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas and northern Mexico to winter in Central America. Others will fly from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. Regardless of which migration route they take it's inspirational.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do you know what it is?

I often see a grayish, medium-sized bird flying in front of me on the river. It makes quite a racket as it flies away. Do you know what it is?

The chatterbox you’ve been seeing is known as the belted kingfisher. The male alerts you that you’ve drifted into his territory by using his characteristic rattling call. He's probably encouraging you out of his fishing grounds with gentle scolding before he heads back upstream.

Belted Kingfisher Ceryle alcyon
Order: CORACIIFORMES Family: Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)

Description: The Belted Kingfisher is a medium-sized bird (11-14") with a large head and shaggy crest. It has a large, thick bill, bluish head and back with a white throat and collar. The male is white underneath with blue breast band. And contrary to most species the female is the more striking of the two. She wears a fashionable chestnut-brown belt.

Behavior: Belted kingfishers usually sit on perches overhanging water or fly above water until they spot a fish below. The kingfisher then dives in and grabs the fish. The pointy bill helps it catch fish, insects, amphibians, small crustaceans, small mammals and reptiles. Once a kingfisher finds a suitable snack it perches on a branch and stuns it prey by whacking its head against the branch, tossing it into the air, and swallowing it head first. After a meal, it regurgitates the indigestible bones.

During mating season, the male woos the smartly dressed female with mewing songs. The seasonally monogamous couple then digs a 3' to 15' long tunnel into a steep walled bank of clay or sand with a round domed nesting cavity at the end of the tunnel. Occasionally, they share the tunnel with swallows, who construct their own little side bungalows. The female lays 6-8 eggs on a nice nest of sand or regurgitated fish bones. The parents share incubating duties for two weeks before the naked chicks hatch. After four weeks, the young fledge and the kingfisher teaches the young to fish by dropping dead prey into the water.

General:
The kingfisher's scientific name comes from Greek legend. Alcyone, was so distraught when her husband drowned in a shipwreck, that she threw herself into the sea. The pitying gods transformed the lovers into kingfishers, who roamed the water side by side. There was an ancient belief that the birds nested on the sea, which they calmed in order to lay their eggs on a floating nest. This peace or calmness became known as the "halcyon days", when storms never occur.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I’m going to be in Lansing, Michigan for two days next week for work. Can anyone recommend a place to bird?



I was asked twice this week where to go birding in Lansing. I've never been a "birder." I am a backyard birdwatching fanatic. But no matter how hopping with bird activity my yard is, I don't think that an out-of-towner wants to go home with the story about the Blue Jay and Chickadee battling for time at my birdie bell.

There are lots of ongoing programs at Fenner, Harris, and Woldumar Nature Centers that I go to with my nieces and nephew. And Ingham County Parks Department manages more than 1,400 acres of land. Lansing is called "The City in the Forest" because of the more than 1,000,000 trees around the City.
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However, I finally decided if you’re new to the Lansing area you should visit the Lansing River Trail. It’s approximately 13 miles of paved trail that passes through numerous parks and natural areas. I used to love going there years ago with my dog and I know several photographers that come back with fantastic images. But I haven’t been there since they opened a three-mile extension running along Sycamore Creek connecting more than 650 acres of parks in Lansing. The new trail links Potter Park Zoo, Hawk Island Park, and Soldan Dog Park.

So now that I recommended the River Trail I thought I better check it out for myself. I dusted off my bike and borrowed my niece’s helmet. (It was pink with flowers on the side and Barbie emblazoned on the front but I haven’t been on a bike since school so I thought I better take precautions.) And off I went on my very first intentional birding trip!
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I’m glad I recommended the River Trail because I had a fabulous time. I saw lots of birds including different kinds of sparrows, a couple kingfishers, and flocks of ducks, geese, and robins. I heard lots of woodpeckers, nuthatches, warblers, and more. I also saw a Potter Park Peacock and peeked at their Australian aviary exhibit.
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The trails are definitely family friendly. Everyone I met along the way was very helpful pointing out attractions and different paths I should take. The paved trails are wide and well maintained so even wheelchairs can manage. It was a beautiful day today and I caught just a hint of fall colors in the trees. Well worth your time to try this trail.


Do you have a favorite birding spot? Email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bees Scaring Off My Hummies!!!

My Hummies are coming to feed and getting frustrated and discouraged by the bees. Any suggestions?

The only sure defense against bees and wasps is to absolutely deny them access to the nectar. Before I switched all my hummingbird feeders to the trouble free WBU saucer feeders I occasionally had a bee problem too.

Originally all my hummingbird feeders were beautiful blown glass feeders. They looked wonderful in the garden but mainly fed the bees. After we opened the Wild Birds Unlimited stores I did a little more research and discovered if you swab the ports with almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid the feeder. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day.

I eventually gave up and replaced all my hummingbird feeders with the fabulous problem free Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders. I’ve talked about them before. Click HERE to read that article.

If you choose not to try a new feeder there are a couple other tricks to try beside my cherry extract.

  1. The Wild Birds Unlimited store in North Carolina recommends: “Use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). Put the plate on a ladder or stool near the hummingbird feeder the bees are using and they will probably move over to the plate. Each day, move the plate a foot or two further away from the hummingbird feeder and eventually the bees should stop using the feeder.”
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  2. Hummingbirds.net recommends: “If you choose not to try a new feeder and wasps persist, first try moving the feeder, even just a few feet; insects are not very smart, and will assume the food source is gone forever. They may never find it in its new location, while the hummers will barely notice that it was moved. If that doesn't work, take the feeder down for a day or until you stop seeing wasps looking for it. You'll see hummers looking for it, too, but they won't give up nearly as soon as the wasps. Also, reducing the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.”

I hope that helps.

Friday, August 21, 2009

They're eating me out of house and home!

Working at Wild Birds Unlimited, I hear this all the time. So first I would like thank you and everyone that supports our small business. People who shop here are the best!

Second I'd like to thank the birds for the peace of mind they give me and hopefully you during stressful times.

This is my favorite weather. The wind is blowing and the leaves are rustling. Make sure you take time to smell the roses and listen to the birds.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon. The song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on this earth."
-------------------------------- —Dorothy Frances Gurney

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What are slugs good for?

My nephew, Evan, had fun at MSU’s storytime yesterday. Later he and his sister, Anna, enjoyed exploring the MSU gardens. This time Evan found a slug. Have you ever examined a slug up close? What do they do in the garden beside eat the leaves off your favorite plant and leave a slimy trail?

WHAT IS A SLUG?

Most of our native Michigan slugs feed on fungi, lichen, carrion, and plant materials in wooded areas and are very important for nutrient cycling. The non-native invasive slugs, however, can be very destructive, feeding on flowering and leafy garden plants, as well as crops such as wheat and corn.

Slugs belong to the Phylum Mollusca (the mollusks, which also includes squid, octopi, snails, clams, and oysters). Slug parts up close are very interesting (see diagram). Their skin is sensitive to water loss so they prefer cool, dark, moist habitats. If you’re not into looking under rocks and leaves, the best time to hunt slugs is just after sunset and in the early morning hours before dawn.

Slugs produce two types of mucus: one which is thin and watery, and another which is thick and sticky. The thin mucus is spread out from the center of the foot to the edges to help prevent the slug from slipping down vertical surfaces. The "slime trail" that a slug leaves behind helps other slugs find mates. The thick mucus spreads out to coat the whole body and provides some protection against predators by making it hard to handle. There are many predators of slugs including birds, reptiles, amphibians and ground beetles.

Evan found a Gray Field Slug Deroceras reticulatum. Although not native to North America, this slug has been in Michigan as long as the earliest European settlers. Their skin color can vary greatly and they can grow to be 5cm. Take a peek under your hosta plant leaf tonight and get up close to a slug. Fascinating creatures!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How can I get rid of the hawk in my yard?

I was watching the birds last night when WHAM!, a mourning dove bounces off the window. After I make sure the dove has flown away, I look up and see a beautiful Cooper's Hawk sitting on top of my fly-through feeder. He was a little perturbed that the Mourning Dove escaped him but not too worried. There is a lot of wildlife to choose from in our yard. I watched him straighten his feathers, look around, (silence in the yard), and then fly off. I'm sure it had nothing to do with me smashed against the window yelling, "LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!"

Native American folklore says: "If a hawk appears to you, then right now a clue about the magic of life is being presented. This magic can imbue you with the power to overcome a currently stressful or difficult situation."

I like that thought. If you feed birds long enough, a Hawk will likely show up sooner or later. Sometimes the hawk perches for a while. It is on those occasions that the phone at Wild Birds Unlimited starts ringing: "How can I get rid of this thing? It's killing my birds!" Of course that is what certain kinds of hawks do.

The most common neighborhood hawks in mid-Michigan are the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more sitings have been reported at well-stocked feeding stations. Hawks have to eat too, and whether they are hunting around your feeder or off in the woods, they are going to catch about the same amount of prey each day. Consider yourself lucky that you have a front row seat to one of nature's more dramatic dances.

However, most people do not put up feeders with the intention of attracting hawks. They want Cardinals and Chickadees and Goldfinches. Having a hawk blast through, scattering the birds and perhaps carting one off, is not the experience most bird watchers want.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flys away. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties.
  • Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by Hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I have wasps in my birdhouse. What should I do?

Bees and wasps usually use unoccupied houses, but it’s best not to spray the house with any poisons. If you have one of our Wild Birds Unlimited easy clean out houses, I would leave the door open so there is a lot of light in the box. If there is no easy clean out you can plug the hole for a couple days until they get the idea. If they have already established a nest it is best to let them be and not take any active measures to exterminate them. Instead, wait to clean them out in the fall when the weather is cooler and their activity has halted.

To stop this from happening again, rub a thin layer of bar soap on the inside surface of the roof. The slippery surface prevents the insects from attaching the nest to the wood. Don’t use any oils like Crisco which could melt and get on bird feathers. A little Ivory Bar Soap rubbed on the inside of the birdhouse roof doesn’t hurt the birds and deters any insects from attaching a nest inside. Good luck!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What are a Group of Doves Called?

A group of doves has many collective nouns, including a "bevy", "cote", "dole", "dule", and "flight" of doves.

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

Description
Mourning Doves are a medium-sized wild bird with a grayish brown back, 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, red legs 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.

Behavior: 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. When not nesting they generally eat enough to fill their bi-lobed crops and then fly back to digest. The bird's crop is a large sac at the bottom of the esophagus. In some areas the Mourning Doves nest almost year round because they feed their young “crop milk,” a fluid from the lining the crop. The parents regurgitate the "milk" directly into the hatchling's mouth and throat.
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General: Their wings make a musical whishing noise when they fly. The feathers of a Mourning Dove are loosely attached to their skin and serve as a means of escape by easily pulling free when grabbed by a predator.
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Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. While the average longevity for a typical adult is only about 1.5 years, the oldest known free-living Mourning Dove, as proven by bird banding research, was more than 31 years old. This is the longest life-span ever recorded for any terrestrial bird found in North America. They get their name from their mournful song.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are You an Ornithologist?

No, but I am an avid backyard birdwatcher and my family and I own two Wild Birds Unlimited shops in mid-Michigan. I think of myself as a student of nature. I like observing wildlife and doing research and learning new things about birds.

Ornithologists study everything and anything to do with the biology and habits of birds. It can be as focused as looking at the changes in blood cells in an individual bird or as wide as the study on how birds are changing in today's environment and how they might be affected by ecological change in the future.

However, ornithology is one of the few sciences remaining where non-professionals regularly make significant contributions like in the annual bird counts around the world. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has citizen science projects for anyone who watches birds, from backyards to remote forests, to help researchers better understand birds and their habits. Click HERE to learn more.

The Lab is a non-profit membership institution whose mission is to interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Cornell’s programs work with citizen scientists, government and non-government agencies across North America and beyond. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology believes that bird enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels can and do make a difference.

Wild Birds Unlimited also feels it is very important to support efforts in environmental preservation and education. With every purchase you make, Wild Birds Unlimited stores donate a portion of the proceeds to support education, conservation and wildlife viewing projects at wildlife refuges, parks, sanctuaries and nature conservancies throughout North America. We also partner with several organizations listed below to bring people and nature together. Click on the links to find out more about some of these organizations.
American Bird Conservancy
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Bird Studies Canada
The Organization for Bat Conservation
The Purple Martin Conservation Association
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
The National Wildlife Federation
The National Audubon Society
The North American Bluebird Society
Chipper Woods Bird Observatory
The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Foundation

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Favorite Feeder (this week).

I've been enjoying my Birdie Bell this week. A banditry of chickadees have been dancing all over the bell, plucking one seed at a time from the compact bell shaped seed block and cracking it open between their little feet.

I have the larger seed cylinder feeder in my main feeding area but I wanted something small for right off the deck. I didn't want a mess either. The Birdie Bell was perfect! The squirrels & chipmunks were the first to find it and then the chickadees and goldfinches soon followed.

It's a secure, all-weather holder that's easy to fill and so far indestructible. I go back and forth filling it with the sunflower or peanut bell-shaped seed blocks. They usually last between 2 to 4 weeks depending on the activity. Sometimes when I forget to bring home the refill seed bells, I fill it with fruit like apples, grapes, or oranges. Next spring I might get another one to fill with cat hair and cotton for the birds to use in their nests.

It's a nice starter feeder available at both our Wild Birds Unlimited stores in East Lansing, MI

Working Together Works

These three pigeons showed remarkable ingenuity by using teamwork to take a refreshing shower.

After waiting until it was clear of humans, one pigeon jumped on the lever of the water fountain, while another kept watch and the third took a cool drink.
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When it had drunk its fill, and had a shower, it was time to move along and let his friends take their turn.

For 10 minutes the pigeons drank and washed while passersby in the bustling business district of Brisbane, Australia, marveled at their initiative.

Unlike other birds that take a sip of water and throw back their heads to swallow, pigeons suck up water using their beaks like straws.

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Thursday, August 13, 2009

People Interrupt Mr. Squirrel's Holiday Shot!

No wait a minute I think you need to reverse that. Cheeky rodent becomes star of couple's vacation photo.
In the isolated beauty of the Canadian lakes, this couple thought it was safe to take a picture without a stranger wandering into shot.

But they hadn't reckoned on this curious interloper deciding to steal the limelight.

Melissa Brandts explained: "My husband and I were exploring Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park-Canada when we stopped for a timed picture of the two of us. We had our camera set up on some rocks and were getting ready to take the picture when this curious little ground squirrel appeared, became intrigued with the sound of the focusing camera and popped right into our shot! A once in a lifetime moment! We were laughing about this little guy for days!!"

Source: National Geographic

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is Pishing?

Historical evidence suggests that pishing may date back to the time of St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Today it is a popular American technique to draw North American bird species out into the open using the sound of air expelled through pursed lips. This technique is used by scientists to increase the effectiveness of bird diversity surveys, and by birders to attract species that they might not otherwise see. Curiously it is not as effective in other areas of the world.

A birder can coax birds out from the cover of trees and undergrowth to investigate the pishing noise. Some birders just say the word “pish, pish, pish.” Others use a shushing style. One characteristic that seems to work is a prolonged, unhurried and even-toned quality in the sound. Loudness is not important and can be counterproductive. Also it’s better if each note is drawn-out and raspy. The sound must arouse a bird's natural inquisitive instinct enough to investigate the incessant, repetitive calling.

For beginners, pishing works best in an area with thick vegetation. Once you’re deep in the woods, you are literally inside the birds' living room, and pishing produces the best views and detects the most species. Another tip is to stay perfectly still. Bird vision is much sharper than ours and is highly tuned to detect movement. Flocking is a survival aid and ensures that many pairs of eyes and ears are on the alert for danger. Sitting down and remaining stationary makes it harder for the birds to locate a mystery sound.

Once attracted by pishing, the first birds to arrive often announce their presence by calling. In turn this stimulates others to join in the commotion. However once they discover the sound’s source, they quickly melt away as they realize they have been duped.

The exact translation of “pish” is unclear. It might be a “hey, you” and the birds pop out to see if someone was talking to them. The other theory is that it imitates an anxiety call of a bird in trouble or an alarm call of a squirrel. Mobbing behavior is commonplace among little birds that can become prey of owls, hawks, and other predators. So it may be more of a “look out, help me” warning call that gathers an entourage of irate small birds into action to protect themselves. Or it may just be a bit of peoplewatching on the part of the birds. However, the meaning is still unclear so don’t overuse the technique because we don’t want to unnecessarily overstress our bird friends.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Did My Wren Nest Too Late?

I pulled out a lot of twigs and stuff that was in my hanging plant during the summer and then the next week it was there again. I figured out that it was a house wren nest. Now I'm worried that the babies won't survive the winter because momma bird started nesting too late in the summer to give her kids a chance to grow up and get out of the nest to migrate south.

I don't think the baby birds will have any trouble. The migration south isn't as hurried as the migration north. There are still a lot of food sources available and plenty of time to mature. A busy forager in low tree branches and shrubs, the House Wren eats a wide variety of bugs. At the feeders they prefer mealworms, suet and nuts. House Wrens usually leave mid-Michigan by October.
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House Wren Troglodytes aedon

Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Wrens (Troglodytidae)

Description: Sexes look similar. House Wrens are a brown bird, darker above than below, with wings and tail dotted or lightly barred black. It also often flicks its tail up as it sings.

General: House Wrens are frequent visitors to mid-Michigan backyards and gardens and are famous for taking advantage of unusual nesting places. Nests from this prolific songster have been found in mailboxes, flowerpots, boots, house lights, and of course old woodpecker holes, natural crevices, and small birdhouses.
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Their nest is a messy collection of twigs and sticks. Several nests may be started by the male to deter other birds from nesting in the area and allow the female to choose the best nest. After the female selects her preferred site she lines the nest with finer material including bark, grass, feathers and hair.
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The House Wren lays 5-8 white, pink-white, or grayish, speckled or blotched with reddish brown eggs which she incubates for two weeks. The young are tended by both parents until they leave the nest two weeks later. Usually two broods are produced. Older adult males sometimes tolerate a first year male within their territory while it learns the ropes of what is a suitable nesting territory.
After the nesting season, the pair breaks up and House Wrens migrate to the southern United States and Mexico for the winter. Males return to the same breeding territory year after year. There is no information on site fidelity in females.
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A group of wrens has many collective nouns, including a "chime", "flight", "flock", and "herd" of wrens.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How did the Northern Cardinal get its name?

That’s an interesting story…

In 1758 the Cardinal was one of the many species originally described by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature, in the genus Loxia cardinalis. Loxia is derived the Greek loxos which means crosswise. Based on appearance, Linnaeus thought the Cardinal was related to the Red Crossbill.

However taxonomists found the two species were not closely related. Subsequently in 1838, it was changed to the genus Cardinalis and given the scientific name Cardinalis virginianus, which means "Virginia Cardinal" because there were a lot of Cardinals in Virginia. Then in 1918, the scientific name was changed to Richmondena cardinalis to honor Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist. But in 1983 that was changed again, to Cardinalis cardinalis and the common name was also changed to "Northern Cardinal.”

There are actually several bird species in the world with the name Cardinal. The term "Northern" in the common name refers to its range, as it is the only cardinal found in the Northern Hemisphere.
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And the “Cardinal” name was derived from the vivid red plumage of the male, which resembles the robes of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Whatever the name, Cardinals are beautiful birds that are a favorite to watch at mid-Michigan feeders.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cardinals Were Not Always a Resident of Michigan

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Cardinals and Grosbeaks (Cardinalidae)

Decription:
Northern cardinals are medium-sized songbirds (8-9 in). The adult male is bright red with a black face and red bill. The adult female is buff-brown with a red tinge to the crest, wings and tail. Like the male, the face is darker and the bill orange. The babies look similar to the female with a dark bill.

General:
Backyard bird enthusiasts almost always want to attract the bright red Northern Cardinal. The red color of the Cardinal’s feathers is the result of pigments called carotenoids. The amount of the pigment ingested, and then deposited in the feathers as they molt, influences the quality and depth of their coloration.

To landscape for cardinals plant evergreens, berry bushes, and fruit trees as part of the habitat. Cardinals will eat beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, and snails, but prefer wild fruit and berries, sunflower seeds, safflower, and nuts. They will feed on the ground or perch at hopper feeders, platform or tray feeders, and some tube feeders. Cardinals are often the first to visit a feeder in the morning and the last to stop by and grab a bite at night.

Behavior: The cardinal has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the Northern Cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. After nesting season Cardinals stop defending territories and begin to flock together. During the early days of there expansion they would migrate back south during the winter. But in time they became a year round resident in Michigan and winter is a great time to watch cardinals.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Eco-Friendly Birdfeeder that the Birds Love!

Recycled Plastic Hopper Feeders are our most popular box style feeders. These feeders have the classic look of wood but they won't crack, fade or rot and have a lifetime guarantee.

The unique curved design on the side of our WBU hopper feeders is for an easy view of the birds and has been standard for over 17 years.
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Other features include:
  • Easy to fill by lifting the roof and pouring the seed
  • It can be hung or pole mounted.
  • A removable seed tray allows for easy cleaning and dry seed
  • Made from recycled milk jugs
  • Popular with a variety of seed eating birds especially cardinals
  • Lifetime Guarantee
  • Made in the USA

Friday, August 7, 2009

Birding is a world of small gestures, but small gestures can change the world.



This fella landed on the branch and then it looked as if he let out a big sigh as he relaxed and fluffed up his feathers. LOL

photo by Brandy in Middletown, NY

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's the slowest flying bird?

The slowest-flying bird in the world is the American Woodcock, which manages to avoid falling out of the sky while flying at only 5 mph during an elaborate courtship routine.

American Woodcock Scolopax minor

Order: CHARADRIIFORMES Family: Sandpipers (Scolopacidae)

The well camouflaged American Woodcock nests in Michigan’s moist woodlands and damp thickets. It normally goes about its business in a quiet and reclusive manner, but during courtship the male woodcock launches into the air, twittering upward in a circular flight display until, with wings partly folded, he plummets to the ground in the zigzag pattern of a falling leaf, chirping at every turn. At the end of this stunning “sky dance,” he lands precisely where he started.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why did I take a picture of bird poop?

I’m not sure if you can appreciate how much this moth looked like a wet bird dropping on the window, but he almost got Windexed. I noticed its fuzzy feet just before I sprayed the cleaner.

A little research on the internet under “bird poop moth” revealed its name to be, if you can believe it, Pearly Wood-Nymph. At first I thought such a beautiful name for something that looks disgusting was wrong. But once you think about it, the moth is actually a natural wonder. With its wings tight together it is beautifully grotesque.

Birds are the main predators for moths and butterflies. For defense they can either flash warning colors or hide. The Monarch butterfly alerts birds about its yucky taste through its bright orange and black pattern. The Pearly Wood-Nymph uses camouflage, and because birds don't eat bird droppings, these moths enjoy some protection with their 'disguise'.

However, as much as I appreciated its design, I did hurry it off the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing storefront window and into the flowers.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What birds winter in Michigan?

I know this is a stupid question. I just started birdwatching. I bought a feeder from you that is shaped like a house. There are a lot of different birds at the feeder. I know birds migrate. Are there like any birds here during the winter?

It's not a stupid question. Customers ask me all the time what birds come to the feeder in mid-Michigan during the winter.

As cold weather approaches and the lakes freeze most shore birds move south to find food. Some birds don't even wait for cold weather. Once their nesting is done they slowly journey south to areas that can sustain them through the winter.

And south doesn't necessarily mean South America. South to some birds nesting in Canada is Michigan. Some Dark-eyed Juncos, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, Redpoles, Crossbills, and Snow Buntings are just a few birds only seen here during the winter. The White Throated and White Crowned Sparrows are common migrants in mid-Michigan from mid-September to mid-November.

As winter approaches, many birds change some of their eating habits and you may see an increase in traffic at your feeder. Birds that usually eat insects may start to add rich, high energy foods such as fruit, nuts, seed or suet to supplement their diets.

And don't forget birds also need a source for water in the winter. When the weather turns freezing, a heater or heated birdbath can keep an open water source for birds to bathe and drink.