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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do you know where nutmeg comes from?

It's the last day of September and we all know that means.... it's almost Halloween! We already have our pumpkins on the front porch and my 4 year old nephew wanted to make pumpkin pie "from scratch." He loves to cook and wanted to know about every ingredient. I knew where everything came from except nutmeg. Do you know where nutmeg comes from? I do now.

Myristica fragrans is an evergreen tree indigenous to the Banda Islands in the Moluccas of Indonesia, or Spice Islands. The nutmeg seed is encased in a mottled yellow, edible fruit, the approximate size and shape of a small peach. Two different spices come from this fruit. Nutmeg is the dried inner part of the seed. It is surrounded by a red lacy network (called an aril), which is used to produce mace. The spice mace has no relation to the synthetic compound used in riot control sprays. The fruit is used in jams.

Nutmeg and mace have similar taste qualities, nutmeg having a slightly sweeter and mace a more delicate flavor. Mace is often preferred in light dishes for the bright orange, saffron-like hue it imparts. Nutmeg is tasty in pumpkin pies, mulled cider and eggnog.

Now ain't we smart.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutmeg

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Bird Feeding

Bird feeding has come a long way from offering some waste grains swept up from a hay-loft, bits of suet or pork fat nailed to a tree or maybe a few table crumbs placed on a tree stump.

Today, thanks to decades of observation and research, the menu available to offer the birds is more diverse to attract a wider variety of birds to your feeders and provide the most beneficial foods to meet birds' nutritional needs.

Peanuts, being relatively new to the bird feeding menu, are a great example. They are nutritionally high in protein and fat while being very attractive to a broad array of woodland and backyard birds.

Along with peanuts, birds in Michigan like Black-Oil Sunflower, Sunflower Chips, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle. For the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend. Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's no debris on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

Each of our blends is regionally formulated to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix but aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Therefore, there is no wasted seed. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Why would birds develop backward knees?

The other day I was thinking about how weird birds' legs are and how their knees are backwards compared to people knees. Why would birds develop backward knees?

Actually birds’ knees bend the same direction as our knees do. However, the knee is usually hidden under feathers close to the body.

Most birds actually walk on their toes. The joint that you are seeing “bend backward” is the birds’ ankle. And everything under the ankle is the foot. Basically, the bird has a long skinny foot with long skinny toes, and their knee, the one that is covered up with feathers, bends the same way as ours.

Source: Wikipedia Bird anatomy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bird_anatomy

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why is it called Red-bellied Woodpecker?

My husband kept telling me we had a Red-headed woodpecker at the feeder while I was at work. I was so excited about having a new bird at the feeder until I realized he was talking about our very frequent visitor, the red-bellied woodpecker. He said that that was a dumb name and that he was still going to call him Mr. Red Head. Will you explain why it’s called Red-bellied Woodpecker?

People often call the Red-bellied woodpecker by a list of common misnomers like red-headed or ladder-back woodpecker because of their gleaming red caps and striking black and white barred backs. Since virtually all woodpeckers are black and white with patches of bright colors on various parts of their bodies, the Red-bellied was named for the unique pinkish tinge on the belly, common to both genders.

However, the sight of a red belly usually isn’t the fist thing you see when it visits your yard. This can only be seen if the bird is facing you. But don’t expect to identify this bird that way. You need to look for the red head first. Adult males have a red cap going from the bill to the nape of the neck. Adult females have a gray crown and a red patch on the nape of the neck and another above the bill. Juveniles have no red at all, just a dark gray crown.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus
Order: Piciformes Family: Woodpeckers (Picidae)
One of the most common woodpeckers, it is found all along the eastern half of the United States. This woodpecker is unusual in that it will sample any food it finds. It eats seeds, fruit, acorns, insects and loves suet when it’s available. In the fall and winter it will store its food in the barks of trees to pull out and eat later.

Special cells on the end of their bills are constantly replaced because of the repeated pounding. Woodpeckers are important to many other bird species because they drill new nest holes each year and leave the old cavities for birds like swallows, owls, bluebirds, and a huge array of small birds like wrens and chickadees to use.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard

How do chipmunks and other animals know that they should hoard food for the impending winter months?

Studies have found that some animals never stop hoarding. This could mean the animals don't understand why they hoard, what it means for their future or even what future is. They simply do it out of instinct.

Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers. They have two breeding seasons. The first begins in February and the second in June. They can have up to nine babies but average four.

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

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

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

Green Space 5K Race

The Ingham Conservation District promotes and practices stewardship of our natural resources by providing personalized assistance and guidance to meet local concerns.

On Oct 11th they are planning a 5K Walk/Run in the Conservation District's 200 acres of streams and woods to raise funds for the District's Activities. Click here for details and registration form or Click here to go directly to electronic registration. Click here for a page with course maps.

Answers to questions:
Dogs on leashes are welcome. Long sleeved t-shirts available to those who are pre-registered. Additional prizes will be awarded. They have some very nice prizes including including a donation from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Very Berry Breakfast

I woke up today to the pleasant surprise of robins taking sips from our little pond and then flying back to the neighbor's tree. A flock of robins had gathered there to enjoy the ripe Mountain Ash berries. There must have been at least 40 American Robins having a very berry breakfast.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Have a Tidier Feeding Station

Like feeding the birds but don't want a mess on the ground? I recommended the following combinations of food, feeders and accessories so you can enjoy feeding your birds and have a tidy backyard, too.

1. Mounted on an Advanced Pole System® setup, the WBU Recycled Plastic hopper feeder with the Recycled Plastic Catch-A-Seed Tray and filled with WBU No-Mess Blend allows tidy feeding combination that will attract an incredible variety of birds.
Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No shells left on the ground and nothing will grow under the feeder. .
The Recycled Plastic feeders are made of recycled milk jugs. They won’t crack, fade or rot and have a lifetime guarantee. The Catch-a-Seed Tray prevents seed from falling to the ground and serves as a second feeder for birds like Cardinals.

2. For a compact, yet versatile tidy feeding station, we recommend offering WBU No-Mess Blend in our WBU Quick-Clean™ Seed Tube Feeder with a WBU Weather Guard and WBU Seed Tray. All of these come with a lifetime guarantee.

Our Quick-Clean feeders have removable bases that make cleaning a breeze. They’re also easy to fill and hang. Simply add our Weather Guard dome to your feeder to help protect the seed and birds from inclement weather. The Seed Tray prevents seed from falling to the ground and serves as an additional feeding area.

3. The WBU Dinner Bell™ feeder is a versatile feeder that can provide a tidy dining experience. The feeder’s built-in dome provides protection from the weather, and the built-in tray prevents food from falling to the ground.

Simply fill the WBU Dinner Bell with seed, WBU Seed Cylinders, mealworms or other food and enjoy the birds as well as a tidier feeding station. The WBU Dinner Bell is also backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wild "Spiders" Unlimited?

I am trying to figure out what kind of spider this is can you help?

Spider watching isn't as popular as birdwatching yet, even though they come in all shapes and sizes with lots of unique behaviors. And I can appreciate their invaluable role as predator, feeding on hundreds of insects in its lifetime.

However at this time I'm not a spider expert, but I did find a good site online to help us learn: http://www.insectidentification.org/.

This site describes your spider as a Marbled Orb Weaver.
Category: Spider
Common Name: Marbled Orb Weaver

Scientific Name: (Araneus marmoreus)
Characteristics: The unique 'marbling' pattern of colors on the abdomen, the orange head and black and white legs make this spider visually stunning. Like other orb weavers, this spider creates circular webs daily. This species prefers moist locations near water sources.

Females are twice the size of males and generally stay hidden at the web's perimeter in a mess of leaves. Adults are very active during the summer and autumn months.

General Adult Size (Length):0.24in to 0.71in. About the size of a nickel.
Identifying Colors: orange; yellow; black; brown; white

Information from: http://www.insectidentification.org/insect-description.asp?identification=Marbled-Orb-Weaver

So why are we seeing more spiders right now? Actually scientists estimate we're never more than three feet from a spider. However fall is a time when spiders ingest as much food as possible, making them more active and noticeable. They’ve also been growing all summer.

Arachnids have external skeletons. To grow they must grow a new soft skeleton underneath their existing one and then molt. When a spider molts it splits open and wriggles out of its old skeleton. The new skeleton that was growing underneath is soft and pliable, and once it’s stretched out to the larger size it hardens.

Also they usually lay their eggs during the fall so during late summer you will see more webs as the female spiders need more food to generate the eggs before it gets too cold.

The more you know, the less you fear, the more fascinated you become.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Long is a Hummingbird’s Tongue?

I know you wrote you leave your hummingbird feeder up until you haven’t seen a hummer for two weeks. I’m leaving my feeders up later than I usually would and I’m pleased that I’m getting these occasional fat hummingbirds like you said. I bought the saucer style feeder that you recommended as the best, but I don’t fill it all the way now. Can they still reach food or should I fill it to the top every time?

At the end of September in mid-Michigan, you’re not going to see the regular hummers that you enjoyed all summer. So it’s alright to fill your saucer feeder only half full. Hummingbirds actually have a long flexible tongue that is good for reaching into long flowers or the bottom of your feeder. The tongue itself isn't just muscle but includes a series of small bones folded accordion-like. When a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flexes its tongue muscles, these bones unfold and allow the hummer to extend its tongue almost an inch past the tip of the nearly inch-long bill. And believe it or not, a hummingbird's tongue can lap at the rate of 13 times per second.

I’m glad you’re still enjoying the hummingbirds. Keep the questions coming.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mother Nature Puts on Her Fall Wardrobe

Pull out your favorite sweater and get ready for the annual show of colors. Pretty soon the leaves of our deciduous trees will be cast off, as they go through a chemical processes that will also treat us to the season’s most vibrant colors.

As Michigan gets fewer hours of sun, trees respond by slowing and eventually stopping the production of chlorophyll. This is a green pigment vital to photosynthesis, the process that enables plants to manufacture their own food. As the chlorophyll breaks down and the green color dissipates, the yellow and orange pigments, carotene and xanthophyll become visible.

Every autumn the trees also begin to synthesize anthocyanin to protect leaves from sun damage, lower their freezing point, allow them to remain on the tree longer, and buy the tree more time to recover nutrients from it leaves. Sunny days and cool nights favor anthocyanin production which creates bright red leaves.

There's no better place than Michigan to see the dynamic colors of a trillion trees aflame. Michigan.org provides updates as the foliage changes and suggests color tours.

For a more detailed description of how leaves change color go to: http://www.na.fs.fed.us/fhp/pubs/leaves/leaves.shtm

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Last Weekend of Summer

I hope everyone is taking advantage of this beautiful day! Weather forecasters are predicting a wet start to fall which officially starts this week. The birds seem to think harsh weather will soon be here too. I’m watching the goldfinch attack my nyger thistle feeder. The babies look so sleek and sharp in their new feathers and dark bill. The parents look ragged as they molt their bright summer feathers and change into their winter feathers. They all squeak and fuss when a chickadee plants himself on their feeder.

While the goldfinch flutter and flap and never fly in a straight line, the chickadees seem to be no nonsense flyers. They fly in like a guided missile and plant their feet on the feeder with such confidence, sometimes even upside-down. They grab a seed quickly and then shoot off to eat it or hide it for later.

Then a
hummingbird flies by and stops at her nectar feeder. Can you believe how round they have become? They are like giant marbles with wings.

blue jays and cardinals are no longer bald. Their winter feathers seem to be growing in nice and thick, although their heads still look a little small for their body.

There have been lots of reports about unusual birds migrating through. And don’t get me started on the antics of the squirrels this time of year. Just drive careful and be on the lookout for crazed squirrels darting in the street, stopping in the middle trying to decide if they should continue or abort their mission to cross the road.

Feed the birds! Enjoy the day!

Notes from Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What is Bird Banding?

Bird Marking is a Time-honored Method for Repeatedly Identifying Individual Birds

At one time people thought some birds in the wild would hide away all winter in a tree like a bear. It was hard to keep track of which bird was which and where they all went at different times of the year.

In 1902, Dr. Paul Bartsch of the Smithsonian Institution initiated systematic, scientific bird banding in North America. In his notes he wrote: "There are still many unsolved problems about bird life, among which are the age that birds attain, the exact time at which some birds acquire their adult dress, and the changes which occur in this with years. Little, too, is known about the laws and routes of bird migration, and much less about the final disposition of the untold thousands which are annually produced."

Bird banding and bird marking has become far more complex and systematic since Bartsch’s time. Today's system uses bands, tags, flags, collars, markers etc. depending on the bird. And tomorrow’s technology could gather even more interesting information to study.

However basic bird banding still involves the capture of birds in a long stretched out mesh net, putting a metal or plastic band around the leg and then releasing the bird back into the wild. Before its release the bander records the time and place the bird is banded, and the birds age, sex, and any other pertinent information and sends it to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

The North American Bird Banding Program is jointly administered by the United States Department of the Interior and the Canadian Wildlife Service. If you ever find a dead bird with a band you can call 1-800-327-BAND (2263) with the band number, and how, when and where the bird was found. This can help with the migration, longevity, mortality, and population studies. Click HERE to find the reports on how long a bird can live and what is the oldest banded bird.

1) 100 Years of Bird Banding in North America 1902- 2002:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wide-Eyed Wonder

First a flutter, then a rustle,
Cannot seem to move a muscle.
Wide-eyed wonder, ears now strained,
Want to jump, but am well trained.
~Stevie found a bird in the field.
S. in NY

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Baby Bird Indentification Help Needed!

After cutting down a large pine in Northeastern PA, two baby birds where found still in tact in their nest and unharmed. These strong willed survivors were rescued and are doing remarkably well. They love eating canned cat food and are growing quite rapidly. Please help in identifying which type of species they are. They are mainly grey in color with several layers of feathers some having slightly white tips. Their legs are quite beefy shall we say as well as their talons for their size. What is most distinct is the shape of their beaks. Their beaks are about the same size as their heads but are a little irregular in shape with a bump on the inner top. Could these baby birds be some type of dove? Any help in identifying them is greatly appreciated as well as any tips in caring for them such as how long should they be kept before being let free, handling them, feeding them, etc.

Thank you for your help.

Poor babies! They look like Mourning doves. You need to talk to a licensed rehabilitator in your state as soon as possible. I talked about it a couple times on my blog at lansingwbu.blogspot.com. To find a rehabilitator call the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in your state or look online for a Wildlife Rehabilitator. When I looked for your state I found Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators: (http://pawr.com/public/?cat=2).

If you find an injured or orphaned wild animal you can also call a local veterinarian or a local Wild Birds Unlimited store for contact numbers. I know your heart is in the right place, but I'm afraid it is illegal (in the USA) for unlicensed individuals to possess any wild bird for any reason beyond overnight care before transporting to a rehabilitation site. Good luck! I hope everything turns out OK.

Thank you so much for your quick response in helping me with these baby birds. I will proceed and do exactly as you recommend.

Thank you again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hey, What Did Grandma Mean I Eat Like A Bird?

As many of you have noticed, birds have been attacking the feeders like there is no tomorrow. And there won't be if they don't bulk up now to prepare for a harsh Michigan winter or a long journey south. Birds change into a “superbird” state when their internal clock is triggered by shorter days and cooler weather at the end of summer.

Right now a bird needs to increase its fat reserves by as much as 1-10% per day. This feeding frenzy is called hyperphagia. In human terms, this would mean I would have to gain 12 pounds per day. That gives "eats like a bird" a whole new meaning. But remember that their fat increase is vital for the extreme energy required to survive the coming months.

To help the birds, you can feed them high energy, high fat foods. 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.

Source: Have Wings, Will Travel: Avian Adaptations to Migration http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/migratorybirds/fact_sheets/default.cfm?fxsht=4

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Where do birds of Michigan go in the winter?

That’s a very good question and I’m sorry I can’t give you a very good answer. In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nesting in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird.
In Michigan, birds can belong to several groups:

Permanent residents or non-migrating birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Black-Capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, or House Sparrows are common year round residents.
Summer residents like the Ruby throated hummingbirds, orioles, swallows, or rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive in our northern backyards in the spring, nest during the summer and return south to winter.
Winter residents like
Red Breasted Nuthatches and juncos, not seen in our area during the summer, think mid-Michigan is the perfect place to spend the winter.
Transients like the White Throated and White Crowned Sparrows are migratory species that nest farther north than our neighborhoods, but winter farther south and we see them only a few weeks during migration, as they pass through.
Other bird species seen at the feeder year round may also be migratory. While we see
American Goldfinch throughout the year, some of the ones we see in the winter may have nested in Canada. And Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident. They are obligate partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. And sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by poor winter crops can lead to irruptions of bird species not normally seen in our area like the Pine Siskins or Redpoles.
It’s not easy getting every bird’s travel plans straight. For example one my favorite birds, the
Northern Cardinal, has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. During the early days of the expansion the birds would migrate back south during the winter, but in time they became a year round resident in Michigan.
Migration isn’t an exact journey. Using published literature, bird observer reports, and observations of bird watchers it has been found that many factors like the temperature changes and land development are very likely influencing birds’ migratory patterns and will continue to alter patterns in the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short?

Many of the Cherokee legends are concerned with birds. Two of the more common birds observed year-round were the chickadee and the tufted titmouse. They named the chickadee tsïkïlilï', a word that imitates the bird’s call and the titmouse, Utsu'`gï, which means “topknot” because of its crested head.
The chickadees and the titmice are closely related, and act alot alike. In winter they forage together in loose, noisy flocks. It’s usually the saucy, loud titmice that takes the lead rather than the chickadees. The Cherokees admired the more subdued personality of the chickadee, feeling it was an honest messenger that accurately foretold the coming of an absent friend or unknown stranger or even an enemy. The titmouse was considered to be a false messenger. For them, it was “The bird that lies.”

These characteristics are embodied in their myth about a terrible ogress named U`tlun'ta, or Spearfinger. This monster could assume any shape or appearance but usually appeared as an old woman, “excepting that her whole body was covered with a skin as hard as a rock that no weapon could wound or penetrate, and that on her right hand she had a long, stony forefinger of bone, like an awl or spearhead, with which she stabbed everyone to whom she got near enough.” With her long finger she would extract the victim’s liver, his essence, and eat it.

After many tries, the Indians finally trapped Spearfinger in a deep pitfall, “but shoot as true and as often as they could, their arrows struck the stony mail of the witch only to be broken and fall useless at her feet, while she taunted them and tried to climb out of the pit to get at them.”

"They kept out of her way, but were only wasting their arrows when a small bird, Utsu'`gï, the titmouse, perched on a tree overhead and began to sing "un, un, un." They thought it was saying u'nahü', heart, meaning that they should aim at the heart of the stone witch. They directed their arrows where the heart should be, but the arrows only glanced off with the flint heads broken."
The Indians caught the titmouse and cut its tongue off, “so that ever since its tongue is short and everybody knows it is a liar.”

Then a chickadee quietly appeared and alighted upon the witch’s right hand as a signal of where her evil heart was actually located. An arrow directed there pierced the vital organ so that she fell dead. Ever since, for the Cherokees, the chickadee has been known as “The truth teller.”

Sunday, September 13, 2009

What Bird is Always Looking for Peter?

I was taking a walk in the woods today and heard peter, peter, peter. I know I should know this bird call but I just can't think of it. Can you help me?
Peter, Peter, Peter” is a very familiar song of a Tufted Titmouse. Along with the chickadees in my pines these birds can be real characters. They are sparrow-sized, social birds that like to sing loud and clear just outside my window every morning. Tufted Titmice also give fussy, scolding calls when predators are sighted. This harsh distress call warns other titmice of the danger. Click HERE to listen Cornell Lab of Ornithology's recordings of a clear whistle song and a scratchy nasal call of the 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:Tufted Titmouse are regulars at backyard bird feeders, especially in winter. They prefer sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, and other seeds as well. They build their nests in cavities, so putting up nest boxes is a good way to attract breeding titmice to your yard. The birds also eat insects, spiders, snails, various berries, acorns, and seeds. They forage 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, September 12, 2009

How Do Birds Sleep?

Wow that’s actually more complicated than you might think. When I go to sleep the most I worry about is cat-related sleep deprivation. (I won’t go into detail. Those of you that live with cats know what I’m talking about. Click HERE if you need more details.) But what about birds? These tiny creatures must always be alert for predators, ready to dart away at a moment's notice. The best that many of them can hope for are short little bursts of sleep.

Sleeping habits can also change with the seasons. Birds tend to sleep in the same areas they inhabit during the day. For instance, territorial birds often sleep on their nests, during the breeding season but now in the fall might sleep communally in large roosts. Water birds will sleep sitting or standing on the shore, or in the water or on predator-free islands. Tree-dwellers prefer to sleep in trees or dense shrubs out of a predator’s reach.

When birds are tired, they scrunch down to sleep because that automatically makes the toes grip their perch and stay locked. In the legs of tree-dwelling birds, the tendons from certain muscles extend down the leg behind the ankle to attach to the tips of the toes and when their knees bend, the tendons are pulled taut, making the toes on their feet clench.

Some birds can also sleep with only half a brain and one eye open, always on the lookout for danger. Keeping one half of the brain at rest is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS).

Along with finding a safe place from predators to catch a few winks birds also need protection from the weather. Birds fluff their feathers to create many tiny air spaces that drastically reduce heat loss (the same principle that makes down jackets so warm in winter) and bury naked body parts into their feathers. This is why many birds pillow their head on their shoulder with their bill tucked among downy back plumage and have one leg held tightly up against the body.

Birds can also begin a constant shivering called thermogenosis to produce heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature. Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go even one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor.)

So remember, when you snuggle safely under the covers tonight, it might not be as easy as you thought to be free as a bird.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Backyard Bird Update

I saw a large bird on my feeder that looked like it was wearing a tweed jacket. Do you know what it is?

Ahh, yes that is an excellent description. It looks like a juvenile Rose Breasted Grosbeak. Fall is a time when you might see a variety of strange birds at your feeders. Different juvenile species and migrants passing through can make September an exciting time for backyard birdwatchers.
Large numbers of finches are more common, as juvenile American Goldfinch learn to feed. And sightings of unusual sparrows scratching underneath feeders have been reported. Longer nights and diminishing food supplies are sending Michigan birds to feeding stations in large numbers in search of supplements to their diet. As winter approaches, providing high calorie and high fat foods can be important to the birds.

Oil sunflower is the favorite of most seed eating birds and a great overall seed to offer. (Click HERE to read more on which seeds are preferred by wild birds.) Suet and peanuts are also high energy, high fat foods which are invaluable in the fall when insects are harder to find and birds need many more calories to keep their bodies warm. But please stay away from the cheap filler seeds. It’s a waste of your money and it makes it harder for the birds to wade through all the junk to find good seeds. There are no filler, waste of your money seeds, in any of our Wild Birds Unlimited blends. Check your suet too, to make sure it has a minimum of 6% crude protein and 35% crude fat and not a lot of fillers.

It's the goal of Wild Birds Unlimited for you to have the best possible experience from your bird feeding hobby. Backyard bird feeding is the most relaxing, fulfilling, educational and exciting hobby that everyone can enjoy. If you have any questions come in to our East Lansing. We can give you accurate information about our local birds.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, we are Your Backyard Bird feeding Specialist®, here to help bring you, and nature together.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What happened to all the robins?

I had a robin nesting on my front porch this year. It was such fun watching the babies run around the yard. Now I miss hearing their song in the morning. Why have they disappeared?

I like the American Robins too. When I’m out fussing in the garden, robins always seem so friendly and interested in what I’m doing. But every year in late summer and fall, robins leave the areas where they've raised their young and switch their diet from mostly earthworms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries.

The males are no longer territorial once nesting season is over. The robins will now gather to forage for food and roost together at night. Take a walk in the woods and you’ll probably see large flocks of robins, gathering fruit under trees.

If food is abundant, some robin flocks may remain in mid-Michigan throughout the winter. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But most robins end up in the central and southern states from November until late March. I’m afraid that this is just another sign of the end of summer.

Monday, September 7, 2009

It's a Perfect Day to Labor in Your Yard

I hope everyone is enjoying this Labor Day Weekend. It is beautiful outside! Yesterday was fall cleaning day for me. I went around knocking on all my birdhouse doors to make sure no one was home and then did a little, well actually, a major fall cleaning. I had fun looking at how some birds like to use straw, some cotton, or moss, or feathers in their nests.

I’m afraid I was in a “cleaning zone” and didn’t take any photos but our sister WBU in Tennessee has a great photo on their blog (Our Wild Birds) of different nests on top of each other as the birds fought for the right to use one nest box.

Now I’m almost ready for fall. I prepared a checklist to help you make sure your yard is ready too.

Preparing Your Yard for the Fall and Winter Checklist:
Provide Roosting SpotsNest boxes turn into roosting boxes in the winter for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might stay all winter in mid-Michigan. Clean out old nests from houses to allow birds the opportunity to roost in a warm, clean house when winter winds blow. You can also plant natural shelters like bushes or buy roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses available at Wild Birds Unlimited to offer essential protection in the winter.

Prepare Bird BathsBirds also need a source for water in the winter. In our area, weather can turn cold fast and freeze the water in bird baths. It is always good to cover ceramic bird baths or bring them in for the winter. It’s best to place a plastic or metal bath out with an added heater or a buy a heated birdbath. If you’re not sure what you need, Wild Birds Unlimited will give you accurate information on how to support our local birds.

Clean Feeders
Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry.

Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.

Feeder/Hardware Maintenance
Check you feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill. If you are going to need a new Advanced Pole System to hang your feeders this winter now is a good time to get in the ground before it freezes.

Fill FeedersWild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will visit this winter. Even though natural food sources are plentiful right now, birds are definitely taking note of which yards have food available. What you do as the days grow shorter lets the birds know where to go when that first storm hits. And beautiful, hungry, thankful birds can brighten any dreary winter day.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Impressive Wake of Turkey Vultures

It’s common this time of year to see a string of geese flying across the city of Lansing, getting ready for their journey south. I especially enjoy when they fly low over our house, putting on an aerial performance and forming a V-shaped phalanx with impressive precision.

However last night I saw a vortex of Turkey Vultures, a less common sight above my house but no less impressive. According to Turkey Vulture Society “The turkey vulture is one of the most skilled gliders among the North American birds. It migrates across the continents with minimal energy output. Vultures launch themselves from their perches only after the morning air has warmed. Then, they circle upward, searching for pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. Once they have secured a thermal, they allow it to carry them upward in rising circles. When they reach the top of the thermal, they dive across the sky at speeds near 60 miles per hour, losing altitude until they reach another thermal. All this is done without the necessity to flap. In fact, the turkey vulture can glide for over 6 hours at a time without flapping a wing!”

When I saw them collecting above my house I thought for a minute I was in an old western and the “buzzards were gettin’ ready to pick my bones clean.” But of course Turkey Vultures are not known to circle a dying animal. And as I watched their hypnotic circling a little longer, I realized that this is just another gathering a birds preparing for fall migration.

“Buzzard” a term for a family of hawks is also an incorrect term for the vultures. Recent studies have shown that American vultures are not closely related to hawks and falcons as was previously thought.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes auraOrder: CICONIIFORMES Family: Vultures (Cathartidae)

Turkey vultures were given their name because their featherless red head gives them the appearance of a turkey. The rest of this medium-sized vulture that is mostly black.

Fun Facts
  • Turkey Vultures feed on carrion and are often seen on the roadside cleaning up dead carcasses. In some cases, turkey vultures also eat rotten fruits and vegetables and occasionally they prey on insects, reptiles, or bird nestlings.
  • Because turkey vultures are major consumer of carrion, they play an important role in biodegradation.
  • Unlike most birds, they have excellent eyesight and highly developed sense of smell.
  • A group of vultures has many collective nouns, including a "cast," "committee," "meal," "vortex" and "wake" of vultures.
  • The International Vulture Awareness Day in September.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fenner Nature Center presents live birds of prey

Live birds of prey presentation:
Call 483-4224 - Fenner Nature Center for information. Register at the door, which will open a half hour before the show.

Fees: $5.00 per person/$15.00 per family
For FOFNC members: Fees $4.00 per person/$12.00 per family
1:30 – 2:30 PM for young kids
3:00-4:00 for older kids.

On September 12, Joe Rogers from the Wildlife Recovery Association will bring live raptors to Fenner. WRA is one of the oldest organizations in Michigan that cares for injured and orphaned wildlife. It specializes in rehabilitation of birds of prey such as eagles, owls, and hawks. Joe Rogers gives hundreds of presentations per year to schools and special interest groups of sell-out crowds all over Michigan. His presentation will feature live birds of prey that have been injured in such a way that they can never survive in the wild.

Largest Orb-weaving Spider in Michigan!

Anna and Evan found this spider while picking some posies in the garden and they wanted to share their find.

I'm very impressed! The Yellow Garden Argiope Argiope aurantia is the largest known web-building spider in Michigan. Yours looks like a female. The males are about a quarter that size. He usually builds his own web in the outlying part of the female's web. These spiders mature in late summer and fall. Look closely for an egg sac to one side of her web or close to her resting position at the center. Each female watches over her eggs as long as she can, but she will die in the first hard frost, if not before.

Because of our cold winter, the eggs of this species hatch in the late summer or autumn, but the hatchling spiders become dormant and do not leave the egg sac until the following spring. Over 1000 spiderlings overwinter inside the cocoon and then hatch all at once in the spring. Tiny and blind at first, they remain near the egg sac for a few days. Soon they molt through more advanced stages until they begin to resemble the adult spider. Unable to feed at first, they subsist on an internal yolk sac.
The web of the yellow garden spider is distinctive: a circular shape up to 2 feet in diameter, with a dense zigzag of silk, known as a stabilimentum, in the center. The purpose of this structure has been a mystery, but recent research has shed some possible light on the subject. These special threads stand out in ultraviolet light possibly attracting insects who can see in UV light. It also may help to disguise the spider who sits right in the middle of the stabilimentum. The entire web is usually eaten and then rebuilt each night, often in the same place.

This was a great find!

Source: Spiders of the North Woods by: Larry Weber

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Discover a Refuge In Your Own Backyard®

Keep your eyes and ears open for birds passing through your yard. Last night we had and exhausted song sparrow plop down on our back porch and rest. This caused major excitement with the many birdwatchers in our family. The bird didn’t hit the window or appear injured or sick, just tired. We watched for about 15 minutes until he seemed to catch his breath and move over to eat under our birdfeeders.

Variations in migration patterns are numerous. Some species move only a short distance like from the Upper Peninsula to mid-Michigan. Others will travel hundreds or even thousands of miles, some over vast bodies of water or tracts of inhospitable terrain. Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident. They are "obligate partial migrants," meaning only part of the population migrates annually.

There is still a lot of unknowns about migration. A recent study found that migratory birds aren’t picky about their rest stops. Birds that travel thousands of miles between nesting grounds and wintering grounds twice each year, sometimes just need a place to stop. As forests have been cleared for development, birds have to find sanctuary in whatever forest, woodlot, or yard available when they become too tired or encounter bad weather on their journey. And if they choose your yard to stop over, hopefully you’ll have fresh water, food, and shelter to make their journey a little easier.

  1. Study finds migratory birds not picky about their rest stops: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009b/090812DunningStopover.html
  2. Bird banding recovery data to document migration behavior in Song Sparrows: http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/NABB/v024n04/p0122-p0128.html
  3. WBU Educational Resources on Bird Migration: http://www.wbu.com/education/birdmigration.html

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wild plants that combine unique shape, fascinating folklore and practical uses.

As the summer days wane (sigh), daylight grows shorter, nights get cooler and the wildflowers grow high. Two of the most common wildflowers seen along the roadside, Queen Anne’s Lace and Common Teasel are both non-native species.

Common Teasel Dipsacus fullonum was imported from Europe into North America, possibly as an ornamental flower but more often because the dried flowers were used in wool production. The dried heads were harvested by wool companies to attach to spindles and “tease” wool cloth.
Today it can be found throughout Michigan. It blooms from July to September and Goldfinches and blackbirds feeding on the seed heads are one reason the seeds have dispersed so widely.
The name 'Dipsacus' was derived from the Greek verb meaning "to be thirsty," which is likely in reference to the multiple water-collecting cups formed by the stem leaves. Birds like to sip from these shallow pools and sometimes insects become trapped in the water and the plants absorb their nutrients as they decompose.
Queen Anne's Lace Daucus carota also called "Wild Carrot," was also introduced from Europe, and the carrots that we eat today were once cultivated from this plant. This fern-like plant is best known for its flowers, which are tiny and white, blooming in lacy, flat-topped clusters with a dark, purplish floret center.

It is a biennial plant that blooms from May to October. The plant does have some benefits. The caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail butterfly eat the leaves, bees and other insects drink the nectar, and predatory insects, such as the Green Lacewing, come to Queen Anne's Lace to attack prey, such as aphids.

The origin of its common name is a little unclear. There are several anecdotes as to why the Carrot Flower is named the Queen Anne’s Lace.

1. A Queen is represented by the purple floret and the white florets make up her lace collar.
2. Another story associated with the name describes the occasion of Queen Anne of England (1655-1714) pricking her finger while making lace, staining the lace with blood.
3. English botanist Geoffrey Grigson suggests that the name of the plant comes not from a Queen of England but from Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary and the patron saint of lace makers.
4. Or supposedly, when the future Queen Anne arrived from Denmark to become the queen of King James I of England she challenged the ladies in waiting to a contest to see who could produce a pattern of lace as fine and lovely as the flower of the wild carrot. The ladies knew that no one could rival the queen's handiwork so it became a triumph for Anne. She however, pricked her finger with a needle and a single drop of blood fell into the lace, that is said to be the dark purple floret in the center of the flower.