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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Live Bats at Fenner Nature Center

  • See Bats Of The World Nov. 1, 2009
  • 1:30-2:30 for young kids
  • 3:00-4:00 for older kids.
  • Register at the door, which opens a 1/2 before show.
  • Fees $5.00/person & $15.00/family
  • FOFNC members: $4.00/person & $12.00/family

Bats common in Michigan are insectivorous, catching small flying insects, by echolocation. Some bats consume up to one-half their weight of insects in a night. On November 1, a show from the Organization for Bat Conservation at the Cranbrook Institute of Science will arrive at Fenner Nature Center with big and little bats from all over the world. Meet their bat-man. Wear your costume, stop in at our gift shop and receive a coupon towards a purchase. A prize will be awarded to the battiest guest.

Call 483-4224 - Fenner Nature Center for information.

How many kinds of bats live in Michigan?

Bats comprise one-fourth of the world's 4,000 species of mammals. Fruit-eating bats are nature's most important seed-dispersing animals. Nectar bats pollinate many rain-forest trees, shrubs, and flowers and without their help the forest would be less diverse.

The ability of insect-eating bats is phenomenal--one little brown bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Over-sized ears and nostrils help bats to use a sonar system that experts believe is a thousand times more sophisticated than the best airport radar invented to date.
Of the 43 species of bats that live in the U.S., nine insect-eating species of bats live in Michigan. All are nocturnal (active at night), and feed nearly exclusively on flying insects, including moths, beetles, and mosquitoes.

Bats in Michigan
1. The little brown bat is the most common and gentle bat found throughout Michigan and is the most seen species. A light brown bat with a wingspan of 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches, small ears, and large feet. In summer, colonies of the species live in hot attics and under shingles and siding or in manmade bat houses; in winter, they hibernate in caves, crevices, houses, hollow trees, or mines. Females form nursery colonies away from the males. Little brown bats like to feed on aquatic insects and are frequently seen dipping and diving over water but will also forage over lawns and pastures, among trees, and under street lights.

2. The big brown bat has a large nose, is reddish to dark brown in color, and sports a wingspan ranging from 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 inches. Its slow, steady flight, and large size make it fairly easy to identify. Beetles, wasps, mosquitoes and flies from pastures, lawns and vacant lots in the city make up its diet. They are late-dusk fliers that often swoop low to the ground. A colonizing species, big browns roost in buildings and under bridges in summer and hibernate in caves, mines, houses, hollow trees, and even storm sewers in winter. Efficient feeders, the species often roosts for a short nap after gorging itself. Porches, garages, and breezeways are good places to find them. The female gives birth to only one pup per year.

3. The hoary bat is Michigan’s largest with a wingspan of up to 15 inches and lives in the forest. It’s rarely encountered by people and migrates south in winter.

4. The red bat also migrates south and is a solitary bat of forests near water. Its long, pointed wings may stretch 12 inches, and it has short, rounded ears, and a furred tail. Color varies from a bright orange to a yellow-brown.

5. The silver-haired bat, considered scarce, lives in forested areas near streams and lakes. Similar in size to the red bat, it is black or dark brown with silver on the tips of its hairs.

6. The eastern pipistrelle bat does not migrate but hibernates in caves or abandoned mines through winter in the western Upper Peninsula year-round. A golden brown to reddish brown tiny bat with a wingspan of 10 inches or less.

7. The northern long-eared bat has very large ears make these bats easy to identify at close range. A brown bat with wings that stretch 12 inches, it typically roosts alone in buildings and under tree bark in the summer, small numbers hibernate together in caves, often with big brown bats.

8. The evening bat lives in extreme southern Michigan and is easily confused with the little brown bat except the evening bat has a curved, rounded fleshy protrusion (tragus) on the ear instead of a pointed tragus. Their wings span 10 to 11 inches. The evening bat flies low to the ground and is sometimes seen swarming around caves, which it rarely enters.

9. The Federally endangered Indiana bat in southern Michigan closely resembles the little brown bat.

Concerns: Scientific surveys of wild bats typically report rabies in less than 0.5% for most North American bat species. In addition, bats are not “carriers” of rabies; when a bat gets the disease it will die. Bats also tend to become paralyzed with the disease, often avoiding the aggressive form of rabies.

Bats prefer to live in dead trees during the summer. Without natural habitat, brown bats will take up residence in human-made buildings. Rather than killing these beneficial mammals, prevent entry into your home by locating and plugging potential entrance holes after sunset when they leave. Putting up a bat house nearby may discourage them from entering your home while keeping them in the area.

Original article: michigandnr.com
Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. 297pp.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Innovative Birdfeeder Design: Quick Clean Big Tube

I have been anticipating the arrival of the new Quick Clean Big Tube since spring. I wasn't sure about the new design so I only ordered one to check it out. It came in last week and wow-o-wow. It's beautiful!
I sold that one before I could even price it and have been waiting to write about it until we restocked. More arrived today and let me tell you about them.

Aspects’ Big Tube perks:
  • Can hang or post-mount (versatile)
  • Holds 3 1/2 quarts: 4" Diameter, 18" Tube (huge capacity)
  • 6 newly designed feeding ports (love 'em!)
  • Easy to fill & Quick-Clean™ removable base for easy cleaning (brilliant!)
  • Aspects uses UV stabilized polycarbonate, the strongest and most durable plastic available (won't turn yellow in the sun)
  • All hardware is solid brass or stainless steel (quality)
  • guaranteed for life and made in the USA (you can't top that)
  • And if you need a weather guard or tray, that can be added at any time
Aspects and Wild Birds Unlimited are both committed to helping future generations appreciate and enjoy nature by donating to programs that support wildlife conservation. Aspects has always manufactured proudly in the USA to ensure quality and strives to continue to offer new, innovative products that are backed with a Lifetime Guarantee.
And let me tell you this new feeder is definitely a winner!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Can I feed goldfinch year round?

I just started to feed the goldfinch this summer. Do they stay in Michigan year round?
I love the American Goldfinch! The great state of Michigan is lucky enough to have goldfinch year round and if you enjoyed watching them in the summer they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.
And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to pinch it with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).
Finally, remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the Goldfinch love.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings?

The location of butterfly ears on their wings was discovered in 1912. Today, new research has discovered a clever structure in those ears that potentially makes it able to distinguish between high and low pitch sounds.

The Blue Morpho butterflies, which are native to Central and South America, are more famous for their amazing wing colorations than the sensitivity of the ears on their wings. But their simple ear sits at the base of the wing.

An oval-shaped tympanal membrane, with an unusual dome in the middle, is attached directly to sensory organs and is responsible for converting sound waves into signals that can be picked up by nerve cells.

Using a tiny laser beam, lead researcher Katie Lucas scanned the surface of the membrane while it was in action, and found that lower pitch sounds cause vibrations only in a part of the outer membrane while higher pitch sounds caused the entire membrane to vibrate.

The structure of the membrane could mean the butterfly can hear a greater range of pitches, which as Katie Lucas and her colleagues postulate may enhance the abilities of these butterflies to listen for birds.

The team suggests that sensitivity to lower pitch sounds may detect the beating of birds' wings, while higher pitches may tune into birdsong.

Source: http://www.livescience.com/animals/091026-butterfly-ears.html

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why would you build a peanut vending machine for crows?

Josh Klein did an initial experiment in 2008 in an attempt to teach crows how to live more purposefully for man, so that man would not annihilate the species. If you can train them to put coins in a machine for peanuts, could you teach them to collect garbage in exchange for peanuts? What if the crows could be used for search and rescue, in the same way as a dog? Below is a video on training crows to conduct mutually beneficial behaviors with humans:

Now it’s your turn to further the crowbox experiment. Go to www.crowboxunleashed.com if you think you can make this idea into something great.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Did I spot a rare bird?

I think I spotted a western species of junco at our feeder the other day. It was more of a brown bird instead of the usual slate-colored junco? Do you think it was blown off course by the recent winds?

In 1973 by the American Ornithologists’ Union grouped five junco species into a single species called the Dark-eyed Junco. The five subspecies are closely related and have similar habits, but differ in color and distribution, though they interbreed where their ranges meet. Michigan is typically home to the subspecies hyemalis, the Slate-colored Junco. The browner western subspecies, "Oregon" Junco, is a very rare stray in the east.

What you may have seen were the female juncos. They are typically browner than the males and are the first to pass through during migration. Up to 70% of Juncos wintering in the southern U.S. are females. The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. They the risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring.

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Can you name that bird just by its feet?

As I wrote about earlier, the knee joint of a bird is usually hidden under feathers. The backward bending leg joint that you see when birds are walking is the ankle. And when we talk about a birds’ foot we are actually talking about its toes.

Most birds we observe have four toes, but the exact number of toes and their arrangement, as well as their proportions, varies from family to family. The perching birds we see at the feeders in mid-Michigan usually have anisodiactyl feet. That means they have three toes that point forward and one toe that points backward to make it easy to grab a perch. The woodpeckers’ feet are an exception to the birdfeeder crowd. They have zygodactyl feet meaning two toes point forward and two point backward so they can get a good grip on a tree bark.

Birds that use their feet for waiting in trees, climbing, grabbing prey, and carrying it away are equipped with sharp curved and pointed claws like hawks, eagles, and falcons. Feet that run and scratch usually have strong stout toes with blunt claws like turkeys, grouse and others. Feet for swimming may have the first three toes webbed like ducks and gulls or include a webbed back toe as well like the pelicans and cormorants. The grebes and coots just have lobed toes for swimming. And the long toes of the herons spread the bird's weight over a large surface area to facilitate walking on soft surfaces near the water's edge where wading birds like to eat.

The size and shape of the claws and the way the toes are arranged as well as the length of the toes and the degree of webbing are all dependent on what a bird uses its feet for and where it lives. Like a bird's bill its feet reveal a lot about its lifestyle and the next time you have a chance take a close-up look at the fascinating feet of birds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How many birds would you say die or get injured during migration?

That is impossible right now for scientists to calculate. One estimate is that about 50% of the migrating population won’t return to their original birthplace.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the whirling blades of wind farms not only creating renewable energy but killing flying birds and bats. It’s already known that the wind turbines should not be built in bird migration routes. But the National Wind Coordinating Committee also came up with the following bird fatality statistics in the United States:

•98 million to 980 million fatal collisions with buildings and windows
•130 million to more than one billion fatal collisions with high-tension lines
•60 million to 80 million deaths caused by automobiles
•4 million to 50 million fatal encounters with communications towers
•72 million birds each year are killed by toxic chemicals, including pesticides
•Domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds each year
•15 million birds a year in North America are killed in managed annual waterfowl hunt kills
•20,000 to 37,000 fatal collisions with wind turbines

At the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store today we had a Swainson’s Thrush stuck under our awning. It was running back and forth trying to fly up, up, up through the glass ceiling. The House Sparrows that live up there think it’s the best designed building ever because bugs go up there and get stuck too. All day long I watch the sparrows fly up grab a quick meal and fly down.

New birds to the area, however, like the thrush sometimes get stuck. I rescued a hummingbird once with a net because I knew it didn’t have all night to figure out how to get out of the awning. But we watched this thrush for about an hour running back and forth. Finally the sparrows ganged up and pushed the thrush down and out. I’ve seen them do this before with a Goldfinch and a Downy Woodpecker. Whether they were offering a helping hand or just shooing away a stranger from their territory, I was glad he was finally free. I couldn’t help but think of the millions of other birds that find themselves in similar situations during migration and don’t make it.

The good news is I got an up close view of the Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus. It was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist, and is also called the Olive-backed Thrush. On its breeding grounds in northern Michigan it is usually seen perched high in a treetop. During migration the bird skulks low on the ground under shrubs and with luck spend its winter in the tropics. A group of thrushes are collectively known as a "hermitage" and a "mutation" of thrushes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Share Nature's Bounty

Now is the time for fall harvest. As you start preparing for the holidays, don’t forget about your birds! Here are a few ways to take advantage of seasonal items to attract birds to your yard:

1. Squash and pumpkin seeds Whether you are carving a pumpkin, or preparing a pumpkin pie, set aside the seeds. Nuthatches love them, and many other birds will eat them as well. You also may have noticed squirrels rearranging the face of your Jack O’Lantern as they have quick nibble.
2. Apples When you are making apple pies don’t throw away the apple cores. There are a number of birds which may be attracted to apples, including Cardinals. You can also roll birdseed in with extra pie dough and bake it in the shape of a bagel. When cool hang from trees. The pie crust usually has lots of fat which is substitute for the insects that birds eat but are not plentiful in cold weather.
5. Nuts Many insect eating birds greatly appreciate this high protein food. Too much salt isn’t good for the birds, but a few leftover party nuts mixed with other bird seed can be a treat. You can also collect nuts from the trees in your neighborhood, including acorns and walnuts.
6. Peanut Butter Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk. You’ll be surprised how many cute birds this will attract up and down your tree. Or spread Peanut butter on pine cones, old bread, or cookies. Then roll them in birdseed and hang them on your bushes with raffia string.
7. Orange Rinds Cut a large orange in half and eat the inside. Poke holes ¼ inch from the rim and attach a twine handle. Mix the last handful of unsweetened cereal at the bottom of the box with stale crackers or bread crumbs, dried out raisins or holiday stuffing. Fill the orange half and hang the filled feeder from a tree.
8. Ornamental Corn Autumn decorations for your home can also provide the birds with food. Blue Jays and Squirrels will enjoy ornamental corn.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Guest Blogger Chuck: Rare Bird Sighting

I'm not a blogger but I need to tell you about something that happened last evening that I've not experienced at my house ever before.

I was eating my supper at about 6 p.m. and something outside the window caught my attention. Just as I looked over to give it my full attention it seemed as if two hummingbirds zipped away the way they do all summer long in the same location. I decided it must have been a couple of sparrows or finches and went back to my meal. A minute later the motion was back at the window and this time I looked to see the hummer hovering between the Fusia and Geranium plants that are still blooming on our front porch.

I haven't seen a hummer since the second week in Sept. and my resident birds left back on Labor Day week-end! I've NEVER seen hummingbirds anywhere near this late, even in warm years. WHAT WERE THESE BIRDS THINKING
?? It's cold!!! C

Over here at the East Lansing, MI Wild Birds Unlimited shop we’ve actually had several "eagle eye" customers reporting late hummers. It’s not unheard of for Ruby-throated hummingbirds to stay until the end of October but I want to throw out the possibility that you might have seen Rufous Hummingbirds.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common hummingbird in Michigan. However, the Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus is the most widely-distributed hummingbird in North America and a few have been documented in Michigan late into November. They winter in Mexico but these feisty birds can survive in extremely cold temperatures if there is food available. Click HERE for a photo of a Rufous in the snow.

Thanks for the contribution Chuck! If anyone else would like to write about their observations feel free to email them to bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Great Day in the Yard

The day began when I woke up to what sounded like chickadees singing under water. Even though I was anticipating the arrival of the White-throated Sparrows it was still a surprise to hear their song among our usual backyard glee club members. You’ll only hear this yodel-like song of White-throated Sparrows for a few weeks in the spring and fall as they pass through the Lansing area.

When I went downstairs for a cup of tea, it was just getting light. I glanced out the window and saw what looked like old dry leaves, rustling in the wind. As I focused the leaves came alive and I saw it was a mixed flock of sparrows including one Song Sparrow, one Junco, some House Sparrows, and many White-throated Sparrows scratching away under the bushes.

I opened the door to go refill the feeders and there was an explosion of startled birds, wings flapping, to the trees. They immediately settled and gradually fluttered back to the ground even as I was still filling the feeders. I think they gave me dirty looks trying to hurry me along out of their breakfast area. (Although I want to think the chickadee was saying “thank you” even though it sounded more like “new food here!”) The White-throated Sparrows immediately started feeding on the ground, flipping aside leaves with their bill and scratching away leaf litter with a series of quick kicks.

These white-throats may stay for a few weeks, however with winter looming, the day will come when the last one will leave for a more hospitable wintering grounds. I'm already missing them, just thinking about it. But today I enjoyed how the White-throated Sparrows welcomed dawns first light with their song and added a flurry of activity to the yard.

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

• Individual White-throated Sparrows have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own. They all have distinct white throat feathers.
•White-throated Sparrows are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.
•A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.
•The white-throated and White-crowned sparrows only pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate north or south in the spring and fall.
•You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Toughest Birds at Your Feeders

Woodpeckers, as their name suggests, peck on the wood of trees to look for or hide tasty treats, and to build nests. In addition to drilling holes, woodpeckers will knock their heads to send sound signals.

They can strike a tree at speeds up to 15 mph, which is enough force to create brain damage in most other birds, and certainly in our human brain. But due to a number of adaptations, woodpeckers thrive on this heavy hitting.

First the woodpeckers' skulls are incredibly strong, yet lightweight, due to a reinforcing meshwork of bony support struts. Their brains also sit snugly in the skull with very little cerebrospinal fluid meaning the brain won't bang around as the head moves back and forth.

Second the dense muscles in their neck and mouth contract just before impact, which transmits the impact past the brain and allows its whole body to help absorb the shock.

Third the tongue starts out on top of the mouth, passes through the right nostril, between the eyes, divides in two, arches over the top of the skull and around the back part of the skull passing on either side of the neck, coming forward through the lower mouth, and uniting into a single tongue with sticky barbs on the end which can extend up to 4" from the beak. The tongue is also thought to act as an additional buffer to the brain.

Fourth there are special cells at the tip of the bill that constantly replace the lost material, keeping the bill strong and sharp.

Fifth they close an inner eyelid a millisecond before a strike comes across the bill to prevent harm from flying debris and hold the eyeball in place.

Sixth is the adaptation in their feet. They have two toes that point forward and two that point backward that allow them to cling to tree trunks. Other backyard birds have three toes forward and one in back.

Seventh the woodpeckers’ pointed tail feathers are also especially strong and rigid, and their tail bones, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles are very large in comparison to other birds. These modifications allow a woodpecker's tail to serve as a sturdy prop that supports its weight while clinging to trees. Some Wild Birds Unlimited Suet feeders have tail props to make it more comfortable for the birds to feed.

This behavior and many other woodpecker adaptations can be witnessed in your yard. Woodpeckers can easily be attracted to feeders filled with suet or nuts. Simply offer these foods and you can get an up close and personal look at some of the toughest guys in the neighborhood.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)

There was some excitement this morning at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store. A Cooper’s Hawk was… well I’m not sure what he was doing. Ya see there’s this squirrel that was… well I’m not quite sure what she was doing either. But they were both definitely doing something or maybe not.

There’s a first year squirrel that’s been hanging around the store, dodging in and out of parking lot traffic. I watch her occasionally stick hickory nuts under peoples’ tires. I’m not sure if she’s hiding them or letting the tires crack them open, but she’s very entertaining. Gray squirrels can come in several different colors. This one has black legs, a red back, and patches of white on her belly and tail tip. I’ve grown used to her morning peek-a-boo through the door with the cats every day.

So when I saw a Hawk swoop down on her as she was digging around in the front garden I wanted to scream “LOOK OUT!” But hawks are fascinating to watch too, especially up close, so I watched. The hawk was bouncing around in my aster plants, which are especially thick this year, while the squirrel was digging around for lost sunflower heads, oblivious to any danger!

Then the squirrel walked into the open parking lot. NO! I’ve seen a hawk drop down on our back porch to take away a squirrel before in one swoop. I thought our patchwork colored squirrel was a goner, but the Cooper’s Hawk just did a couple taps on the squirrel’s back. I grabbed the camera and took a picture through the window. It's not a great picture. I was a little shaken up even if the squirrel wasn't. Squirrel and bird looked at each other and then I think the squirrel decided she just didn’t have time for “this” and continued her hunt for masses of food to hoard.

The hawk made a couple more taps on the squirrel’s back and then flew off into a nearby tree to sit. It’s been a few hours since the incident. The hawk is gone now but the squirrel is back shoving nuts under tires.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Say Yes! to Michigan.

Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI has the best Michigan made products around for wild birds. This 16" hand carved suet log feeder made out of white cedar is just one example. It features 3 holes to insert suet plugs. The birds really flock to this feeder because the natural wood is so inviting and the suet is easy to access.

Fill the feeder with the specially designed suet plugs that are filled with assorted seeds, nuts, fruits, and insects to attract a variety of wild bird species. Simply insert the plug in the suet log feeder and watch the woodpeckers and other suet-eating "clingers" gather.

Watching birds can be a meditative and restful experience. There are several unique birds attracted to suet. Some walk upside down and some have a call that sounds like they are laughing. All are fun to watch.

We have a variety feeders. Several from Michigan. For more information visit our website: http://lansing.wbu.com/

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'm definitely not birdbrained! Or wait, maybe I am.

A Chickadee's strategy for survival

How would you deal with a situation where your ability to remember where you put something might actually mean life or death? This is the situation Black-capped Chickadees find themselves in every winter. They need 20 times more food in the winter than they do in summer because they can lose 10% of their body weight just during a cold winter night. So they've got to eat often.

As autumn approaches, they begin hiding or caching seeds for the winter by the hundreds. In a behavior called "scatter-hoarding," each seed is individually hidden under tree bark or dead leaves. The amazing thing is that they can accurately remember the location of each seed they hoard. Not only that, they also remember the quality of items they initially stored, making more of an effort to retrieve the higher quality food.

Scientists have found that the hippocampus region of the brain , the area associated with this type of spatial memory, is proportionately larger in chickadees than in other birds that do not cache food. Not only is it generally larger, it actually increases in size in the autumn and shrinks back to its original size each spring.

Look for the chickadee’s scatter-hoarding behavior at your feeders this fall, and just maybe you will learn a few tips from them on how to remember where you put the car keys.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I may look like Olive Oyl but I feel like Pop-eye.

Tuesdays are my busy days. We usually have a few tons of seed delivered to our East Lansing every week. I just finished unloading 3 tons of the best and freshest seed around! No-Mess blend is by far the most popular blend we sell. Half of the pallets were of 20# and 40# bags of No-Mess. It was a good day. Only one bag wasn’t fully heat sealed and exploded all over. No worries though. My good friend Chippy came over to the front sidewalk to vacuum up the fall out.

It took longer to bring it all in today because I had to unload 2 tons of the best designed bird feeding poles systems too. Our exclusive, patented Advanced Pole System® (APS) is pretty unique and super sturdy. There are several individual pieces to mix and match to build an ultimate bird feeding station to meet your own individual needs. If you want to get yours in the ground you better hurry before it freezes. There are a lot of pieces you can mount on the deck too.

I’m afraid I was in a little bit of a manic mode and also rearranged the East Lansing store so when you come in don’t panic. If you can’t find something I’m sure I can remember where I moved it.

It was very busy today. Everyone came in to buy the roosting pockets and I completely sold out! People were telling me that they’ll make perfect gifts. I ordered more and they’ll be here by Friday along with a lot of other supplies like heated birdbaths. Do you have yours out yet?

I saw my first Junco today. Cold weather’s a comin’. Are you ready?

Monday, October 12, 2009

So how do the small birds stay warm in the winter?

In the winter birds can grow twice as many feathers but they still have to shiver almost constantly to increase their body temperature in cold weather. This shivering process is called thermogenosis. The constant shivering produces heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature.

They also fluff up to trap air between their feathers and bodies to create a natural layer of insulation, and sleep with their bills under their wing feathers to breathe in warmer air. And of course they seek shelter out of the wind and cold. Some, such as the chickadees & titmice, huddle together in natural shelters like bushes. Also nesting boxes become roosting boxes in the winter. Or there are also roosting pockets.

Invite Birds to this Charming Village

Birds will stay nice and cozy in these delightful roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses. It offers essential protection to enable survival.

· Fill with seeds or with nesting materials
· Turn your backyard into a bird sanctuary
· Helps birds conserve energy for winter survival

Hang them from tree branches, vines or fences to provide safe, warm nooks for small birds. They add charm to the garden year-round and they may even serve as nests in the spring.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Bird Wears Striped Underpants?

We had a new bird in the yard. It was similar to a House Wren but smaller. It was little and dark brown and stayed close to the ground at the edge of my pond and had very short tail feathers. Could it be a baby wren?

I think you were lucky enough to spot a Winter Wren passing through on its way to its wintering grounds. Winter Wrens (Troglodytes troglodytes) breed in the upper part of Michigan and also further into southern Canada’s boreal forests. They spend the winter in the states below Michigan. So in the Lansing area you might see a Winter Wren passing through your yard from October to early November and again in April to early May.

Winter Wrens are differentiated from House Wrens by a much stubbier tail, light line over the eye, and dark heavily barred underpants (or undertail coverts and leg feathers).

They are quite small, barely tipping the scales at about nine grams. With its tail held perfectly erect, the feisty little bird often chips loudly at intruders. Winter Wrens also bob their heads almost continuously and tend to hang out near water, often inhabiting dense, dark thickets.

Although the Winter Wren is small, in proportion to its size and weight, the call of the Winter Wren is 10 times louder than that of a crowing rooster. On average, Winter Wren’s sings between 16 - 36 notes per second.

Their scientific name is taken from the Greek word "troglodytes" (from "trogle" a hole, and "dyein" to creep), meaning "cave-dweller", and refers to its habit of disappearing into cavities or crevices while hunting spiders or where it builds its nests. A Winter Wren nest is typically in an old stump, woodpecker cavity, or rock crevice, with a roof over the cup.

Mid-Michigan has 5 species of wrens at some point of the year. The House Wren and Carolina Wren are the most common at bird feeders during the summer. The Sedge Wren and Marsh Wren are also common summer residents in mid-Michigan but reside mainly in marshy areas. The Winter Wren just passes through and I’m glad you had a chance to see this cutey!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How do so many tiny birds migrate from the Great Lakes all the way down south?

Migration is the seasonal movement of birds, generally between breeding and non-breeding areas. The most common reason to migrate is the availability of food, shelter, and water at different times of the year. For instance, the lack of insects and plants in the winter means there is less food to eat.

To prepare for migration, birds become hyperphagic. That means they eat more food, which is stored as fat for their long journey. Fat is normally 3% to 5% of the birds mass. Some migrants almost double their body weights by storing fat before migration. The ruby-throated hummingbird weighs only 4.8 grams and can use stored fat to fuel a non-stop, 24-hour flight across a 600-mile stretch of open water from the U.S. Gulf coast to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico! And it’s even more amazing when you realize that most of the birds are only a few weeks old.

When you think about migration you may not realize that a majority of small song birds begin their journey at dusk and fly throughout the night. Scientists believe that birds fly at night because it’s easier to avoid predators and the calmer, cooler weather at night is better suited to their marathon trips.

Birds are also sensitive to weather conditions. There is no set date for migration. Birds can literally be blown in your yard for a pit stop and then ride out on the next good wind. Most night-migrating songbirds fly below 2000 feet when flying over land, but occasionally, fly higher to reach favorable winds.

So how do they know where to go? The upper beak of a bird has magnetite receptors that act like a GPS to determine which way they're flying. Along with this internal compass that uses the Earth’s geomagnetic field, birds use light, stars, and other external cues to guide them on remarkably long journeys.

Click HERE for the link to a special broadcast from NPR’s Science Friday which discusses bird migration, how birds orient themselves, what bird banding projects reveal and how scientists track birds during migration using Doppler radar and microphones.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Autumn Reflection

The goal of life is living in agreement with nature.

~Zeno (335 BC - 264 BC),
from Diogenes Laertius,
Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why are the birds hitting my windows?

I just moved into a house that has windows all along the back facing the woods. All of a sudden I've noticed an increase in the number of birds hitting the windows. What's going on and how do I stop this from happening?

Right now there are first year birds and new birds migrating throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Birds also strike windows as they quickly try to escape predators, hitting glass in a moment of panic. Window strikes are hard to totally eliminate, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity:
  • Locate feeders and birdbaths about 20-30 feet from windows so birds have time to change direction or within 1-2 feet of them so they can't gather enough speed to cause significant injury.

  • Window screens will reduce injury even if a bird flies into it. Use them where practical.

  • Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds. It takes multiple decals on the window surface; one stuck in the middle won't make a difference.

  • Mylar reflective strips hanging loose in front of the window will move in the breeze and alert birds flying too close to a window.

  • Use a yellow highlighter to draw X's on the inside of a window. The fluorescent highlighter is visible to birds, because the fluorescent ink will simultaneously absorb UV and release visible light. However it works best in sunlight, and worst in low light or on overcast days. This last suggestion comes from an experiment conducted by David Sibley, author of the Sibley Guide to Birds. http://sibleyguides.blogspot.com/search/label/bird-window%20collisions

It is estimated that between 100 million and one billion birds are killed every year in the United States when they crash into glass windows. And even one billion deaths might be a conservative estimate, says ornithologist Daniel Klem Jr. of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

Dr. Klem actually studied window collisions by conducting several experiments in which he hung clear panes of glass, mirrors, and picture windows adjacent to one another in a woody thicket facing an old field habitat. A strike was registered when a specimen was found beneath a window or a feather, body smudge or blood smear was found on the glass.

A copy of his study can be found on the following link: 2009. Preventing Bird–Window Collisions. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 121(2):314-321. Daniel Klem Jr.

If you do have a window strike and the bird is injured CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What’s wrong with this Bee?

Today when I came into the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing I saw a bee on the rock out front. My flowers have attracted a lot of bees, butterflies, and birds. However this fall’s chilly rainy season and sudden drop in night time temperatures are catching some wildlife off guard. Last night a goldfinch stayed at the feeder too long and decided the corner right outside our back porch door was the safest place to spend the night. It kept him out of the wind and rain and delighted our cats to no end! In the morning the only evidence of our squatter was a couple of droppings and an old feather.

This made me think the bee out front might still be alive. I've read about bees spending the night on flowers during a cold night. If their body temperature drops much below 86°F their wings don't work and they have to find a spot to hole up for the night.

Bees can maintain their body temperature in colder air, but they must remain very active to do so. If a bee finds itself away from its colony and it turns cold fast, they may spend the night on a flower, their metabolic rate much reduced, leaving only when it warms up the next day.

Each time I carried seed out for customers I watched for any bee stirrings. After a couple trips out to check on the bee I dusted her into my warm hand and placed her in the side garden where the sun was shining. As I watched I was amazed when she came alive, reoriented herself and became a busy bee once again.

So do honey bees migrate? Click HERE to find out what the bees do during the winter.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Will my birds starve if I go on vacation?

No, birds are survivors and won't starve if you go on vacation or even down south for the winter. You can have someone fill your feeders when you're on vacation, but don't worry if that's not possible. Birds usually follow a circuit each day, visiting a number of feeding areas. However, birds that come at dusk on a cold evening are hungry, and it's nice to make sure that they always find something to eat in the yard.

That could also mean nut or berry bushes and trees to supply a natural food source. Or allowing native flowers, such as coneflowers, black eyed Susan's, and cosmos go to seed and stand through the winter. These all provide food for the birds. A habitat that provides naturally for wild birds is a very relaxing place for people, too.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why do geese fly in a V formation?

Scientists have determined that the V-shaped formation that geese use when migrating serves two important purposes:

First, it conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In fact, a flock of geese can fly 70 percent farther by adopting the V shape rather than flying in isolation.
The second benefit to the V formation is that each bird has an unobstructed field of vision, allowing flock members to see each other and communicate while in flight. Fighter pilots often use this formation for the same reason.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Do you think my injured hummingbird has a chance?

Last year at this time we had a hummingbird hit our window. It looked like it had a broken wing and we took it to the rehabilitator that you recommended. I was afraid to ask but, do you think it survived?

I asked Cheryl Connell-Marsh about your bird and I'm pleased to let you know that it did recover nicely. However by the time it recovered it was a little too late to release the hummingbird to into our harsh Michigan weather. So Cheryl made arrangements to have the bird chauffeured to Florida where it was released and observed frequently at a hummingbird feeder there all winter.

Cheryl's compassionate caring helps a lot of animals. I asked her how she became a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and she sent us her response:
"A licensed wildlife rehabilitator first begins their training under another experienced wildlife rehabilitator. After this initial training period we must then attend and successfully complete a Nationally Certified training program. Next the rehabilitator must submit an application to the DNR with a letter of recommendation from both a licensed veterinarian and another rehabilitator. After an inspection of the rehabilitators facility and cages, we are then licensed for certain animal species and are included on the DNR website for the public: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/."

Cheryl estimated the cost to rescue a bird is about $50, while squirrels, bunnies, fawns and other mammals are about $150 each. This doesn't include the cost to maintain the facility or the considerable time involved in raising the wildlife that must be kept from 1-4 months.
"After learning how much money and time is put into this many people ask me why I do this. I simply tell them I cannot turn any animal in need away. Sometimes my time with them is brief and all I can offer them is warmth, comfort, and a safe place with people who genuinely care about them. Most of the time I am able to raise them, heal them, and successfully release them back into the wild. Releasing a baby you have raised for months is always a combination of sadness and joy, but it is worth all of the money and all of the time I have spent."
Donations are appreciated greatly for the care and feeding of these animals and can be sent payable to Cheryl at the Nottingham Nature Nook, 16848 Towar Ave, East Lansing, MI 48823.

If you are interested in meeting with Nottingham Nature Nook organization to discuss the how and why of wildlife safety and rescue, or you are interested in becoming a member, please contact Cheryl Connell-Marsh, at 517-351-7304.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Norris Ingells Walk for Nature

Norris Ingells was a photo journalist at the Lansing State Journal for many years. He initiated a weekly nature feature and illustrated it with his own photographs. His passion and curiosity about nature riveted the readers of the paper. He was a valued member of the Board of Directors of Friends of Fenner Nature Center (FOFNC).

In honor of the spirit and passion of Norris Ingells, the Friends of Fenner have instituted the Norris Ingells Walk for Nature. The walk is designed to get more people out into the natural world and also take this opportunity to raise funds to further nature education in the community. Information: Contact Fenner Nature Center at 517-483-4224 or visit http://fenner.homestead.com/events/norris_ingells.html

Event time: Saturday, October 17, 2009 at 10:00 am
2020 E. Mt Hope (Corner of Aurelius and Mt Hope)

Stay after for the Apple Butter Festival!

Apple Butter Festival

Fenner Nature Center 2020 E. Mt. Hope Avenue
www.fofnc.org or 517.483.4224
October 17th & 18th 11 A.M.–4 P.M.

Music! Mid-Michigan Songwriters, Saturday, 11–3
Dorothy Cooley, Art Cameron, Biddle City Band, Measured Dose, Lyn Sawicki, Cindy McElroy, Copiaco Sisters
Author Visit, Reading & Signing, Saturday, 11–1
Debbie Diesen, The Pout-Pout Fish. Books available for purchase… a New York Times best selling childrens’ book.

Traditional Wild Rice Camp with Barb Barton & Friends, Saturday, All Day

Music! Kitchen Band, Sunday, 11–12:30
Dave Birney, Andrea Coombs, Joe Coombs, Craig Henry, Mary McIvor, Nicki Rose, Marv Watson, Tom Wellman

Lansing Area Shape Note Singers, Sunday, 12:30–2
A music notation designed to facilitate congregational singing, our local Shape Note Singers are back for this year’s festival by popular demand.
Lansing Storytellers Association, Sunday, 2–4

All Weekend:
Native American Flute Player, Heritage Crafters & Apples, Perennial Plant Sale, Log Sawing, Henna Tattoo Artist, & Much More!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Peoplewatching Bird

by Shel Silverstein

Birds are flyin' south for winter.
Here's the Weird-Bird staying north,
Wings a-flappin', beak a-chatterin',
Cold head bobbin' back 'n' forth.
He says, "It's not that I like ice
Or freezin' winds and snowy ground.
It's just sometimes it's kind of nice
To be the only bird in town."

I think a lot of birds had the same idea. My birdbath was frozen yesterday. (Time to pull out the heated birdbath.) But that doesn't mean the feeder activity is down. With these cold wet days that mid-Michigan is having, I've never seen so many birds at the feeders. And I'm not alone. Customers are reporting high numbers and variety of birds at the feeders.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How do I stop woodpeckers from pecking on my house?

We have had what I believe to be a Hairy Woodpecker pecking on the roof of our house and flying into our great room windows for about a week. I figured it would eventually give up before it damages the house or hurts itself, but I may be wrong. Any suggestions for getting the bird to stop?

Woodpeckers can cause a great deal of property damage and sleepless mornings. In one study, the birds stopped drumming 50 percent of the time within two weeks or so whether the homeowners did anything or not. My personal recommendation is to try to break the woodpeckers drumming before it becomes a habit. As Barney Fife says “nip it in the bud”. Hopefully I can suggest a solution that will work with your woodpecker.

Why Woodpeckers Peck Your Home
Woodpeckers damage structures for basically three reasons:

1. Searching for insects or hiding food (Some people find feeding suet distracts a woodpecker from their house.)
2. Creating cavities for nesting and shelter (Sometimes putting a woodpecker house helps deter damage.)
3. Drumming (Drumming is a means of communication between woodpeckers. Like some birds sing, woodpeckers drum. There are different drumming calls that they may use: mating; alarm; or territorial. This can be heard over long distances, if they use a surface with adequate acoustic properties.)

Woodpeckers are a federally protected bird under the North American Migratory Bird Act. So you can't use lethal control on woodpeckers without contacting your Federal Wildlife Officer.

Strategies to Control Woodpecker Damage
Unfortunately, there is no easy guaranteed solution. So with that being said, try the following strategies:
1. Check for insects. Woodpeckers feed on insects in wood.
2. Cover all damage as soon as possible. Place aluminum flashing over the areas where the woodpecker is pecking. The flashing will stop the pecking at that spot because: a) it is metal, b) it changes the sound, and c) woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. Just make sure that the woodpecker is not living in your home.
3. Scare the woodpecker away using one or more of the following:
  • Mylar tape: Wild Birds Unlimited has some Mylar tape (1-inch-wide strips) flutter ribbon you can hang in the area. Woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. If you don't have Mylar, hang tinfoil, aluminum pie plates, or old CDs or DVDs.
  • Mylar balloons: The dollar stores usually have shiny Mylar balloons you can hang in the area.
  • Garden hose: One animal damage controller recommends placing a garden hose with a sprinkler set at an angle to reach where the bird is drumming. The woodpeckers leave after a few squirts because they don't like hanging on to wet structures.
  • Attack spider: This is a relatively new (2003) technique. A large spider drops down at the first knock to scare woodpeckers through sight and motion. These can be found at party stores now. It also scares little trick or treaters. Bonus!
  • Owl effigies: These are only effective if you are willing to move them around on a daily basis. I don’t really recommend these but we usually carry them at Wild Birds Unimited.
  • Exclusion techniques: If woodpeckers are damaging your siding under an eave, hang some netting from the eave line down to the ground. If the net is extended away from the house wall, the woodpecker can't get close enough to damage the wood.

Also, as soon as you notice problems, take action quickly before the woodpecker decides your home is a nice place to live.

If the attack on windows is a regular occurrence and not just an accidental window strike, the likely behavior is a reaction to the bird seeing an intruder on its territory. A simple solution to this problem is to cover the window with screens or rub the window with a bar of soap to decrease the reflection. The Mylar tape or balloons also work to keep the birds away from your windows.

Good luck.

Source: MSU Extension- http://www.extension.org/faq/926