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

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What are some of the average dates for birds return to Michigan the in Spring?

Michigan is the home to over 400 species of birds. This includes birds that are here only in the winter, year-round, only in the spring and summer, and those that pass through Michigan to reach nesting ground further north and wintering ground further south.

Birds of Michigan by Ted Black is a good book to have around if you’re unsure of a bird’s timetable. It includes a range map and the status for each species in an average year.

You can also click here to view an earlier blog with informative websites.


Below is a list of the most frequently asked about birds and their migratory arrivals and departures:

Monday, March 30, 2009

How do Canada Geese communicate?

While many people know about the “honk” and “hiss” from geese, there is evidence that Canada geese can communicate at a sophisticated level with many different calls from loud greeting and alarm calls to the low clucks and murmurs of feeding geese.

Canada geese may be one of the most talkative animals after humans. Goslings, or baby geese, begin communicating with their parents while still in the egg. Their calls are limited to greeting "peeps," distress calls and high-pitched trills signaling contentment.

Canada geese form strong family ties. Usually in their second year of life, they find a mate for life. This family closeness means that Canada geese will almost always return to their traditional breeding sites. It also allows two or more different groups of geese to breed in the same geographic area without mixing. This has led to the evolution of almost a dozen different subspecies of Canada geese.

Breeding takes place from late March to early May. Once the 2 to 9 eggs are laid, the female incubates them until they hatch around 28 days later. Minutes after hatching, young Canada geese are able to follow their parents around and leave the nest. Both parents raise the goslings and the family usually stays together for a full year after the birds have hatched.

videohttp://www.youtube.com/Briantdavidson
This is a video from youtube. The photographer came across them hatching while fishing. He put the camera on a tripod and set it to take 2 sec of video every 2 min. It took 4 hours for them to hatch a total of six goslings. Later in the video one of the first hatched comes back into the nest.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Canada Goose

Canada Goose Branta canadensis
Order: ANSERIFORMES Family: Geese and Ducks (Anatidae)

Description:
Often called the Canadian Goose, the Canada Goose is 16-25 inches long with a wingspan of 50-68 inches. Both the male and female are large long-necked geese with black bills, black heads and necks with white throat patches that extend up the cheek. The body is brown with a brownish-white breast and belly. At least 11 subspecies of Canada Goose have been recognized and as of 2004 some of the smaller subspecies were designated their own species like the Cackling Goose.

General:
One of the fist signs of spring is the shifting flocks of Canada Geese migrating in a long, honking, irregular “V” across sky. Flying in “V” formations conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. It also allows each bird an unobstructed field of vision, so flock members can see each other and communicate while in flight.

Behavior:
Canada geese can be found on various habitats, more often in open areas around wetlands. They mate for life and both parents raise the young. While their eggs are incubating females lose their flight feathers, so they cannot fly until after their eggs hatch. A group of geese has many collective nouns, including a "blizzard", "chevron", "knot", "plump", and "string" of geese.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Home is Where the Nest Is: Bird House Basics

It is entertaining and educational to watch birds as they go through the many stages of their lives, including choosing a nest site, making the nest, laying eggs, feeding their hatchlings, and then, watching the fledglings as they venture out on their own.

Many people are choosing to bring this experience up close by placing nesting boxes around their backyards to house some of the many birds that would normally be looking for a hollow tree cavity.

It’s important to put houses up early to allow birds to find suitable nesting spots. There are many different styles of nesting boxes available, including those that are decorative and bird-specific. Wild Birds Unlimited recommends that before purchasing a nesting box, you should be sure that it meets these six requirements:

1) Designed for the species, according to bird’s size and nesting requirements.
2) Ventilation holes to provide a release for heat build-up.
3) Easily cleaned.
4) Easily mounted or hung.
5) Durable to withstand several seasons of use.
6) Drainage holes in the bottom of the house.

Click on the Wild Birds Unlimited bird house chart to see the common cavity nesters and their housing requirements.











Of course not all birds use nest boxes and you can encourage other birds to nest in your yard by providing nesting material and an attractive habitat.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Giraffe Bird House


Anna (age 7) carefully sculpted a unique home for the birds
which her Grandma proudly(?) displays in her yard.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where should I place a bat box?

Bats are finally being given their proper recognition as valuable to mankind in the ecological system. Their immediate appeal to people is their enormous capacity for consuming insects. One bat can consume half its weight in a night or as many as 600 or more insects an hour.

In Michigan the Little Brown Bat and the Big Brown Bat are the most likely to use Wild Birds Unlimited bat houses which meet the specifications determined by Bat Conservation International and the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bats find the bat houses just like birds find bird houses. If a house is in the proper location, meets the bats’ requirements and is needed, bats will move in on their own.

Bats like it high and hot so you should place the house at least 15' above ground for the best chance of occupancy. Houses should have an open area below because bats like to "fall" out of their box at night and "swoop" back to the box in the morning.

Bats like to get at least four hours of direct sunlight in the morning. If you don't have a place with enough direct light you can paint/stain your bat house a darker color to help it absorb more heat. Please note that these suggestions are for Michigan bat nesting boxes.

Bat houses are often placed on the side of a house, garage, or barn. Dead trees can also work, but live trees are usually too shaded. If the bats don't seem to like the placement of your box within a couple full summers, it's time to try a different spot. Sometimes we feel that we have the perfect place, but the critters just don't respond. Experimenting is the hallmark of wildlife attracting. Just remember, think like a bat.

A portion of Wild Birds Unlimited proceeds goes to the Organization for Bat Conservation to support research, rescue, conservation, and education projects. If you want to try making your own bat house, plans can be found at
BatConservation.org.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How do I prevent window strikes?

Right now there new birds in 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.
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  • Window screens will reduce injury even if a bird flies into it. Use them where practical.
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  • 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.
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  • 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: http://www.birdsandbuildings.org/docs/WB1989BirdWindowCollisions.pdf

Monday, March 23, 2009

New birds arriving!

At this time of year the variety of birds appearing in your yard can literally change every morning as many small songbirds migrate through the night. Species such as warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, buntings and sparrows all migrate overnight.

Some reasons are to avoid the heat of the day, windy conditions, and predators. Many species use the stars in the night sky to guide them, and there is some evidence that, perhaps, magnetic fields at the poles help guide them.

Other large-winged birds such as hawks, eagles, vultures and even pelicans migrate during the day, as they rely on thermals and updrafts to fuel their flight. They are efficient flyers and use very little energy during migration, allowing the wind to fuel their flight.

When you think about migration facts, it is astonishing to learn of the amazing feat that many birds accomplish twice each year as they move between their summer and winter range and back again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Blackbirds and Orioles (Icteridae)

Description: The male is an all black bird with red shoulder patches edged in yellow. The female and juvenile have heavily streaked underparts and mottled brown upperparts.

General: The loud konk-a-ree or ogle-reeeeeee is a very welcoming sound after a long winter. Male Red-winged Blackbirds usually arrive in mid-Michigan in mid-March and the females a little later.

Behavior: During the breeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds eat mostly insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, butterflies and moths. They often use a feeding technique known as gaping. They expose insects that are hiding under sticks and stones or in the bases of leaves by forcibly spreading open their bills. If no bugs are available in early spring they may initially frequent your feeder.

Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. They have been observed to have as many as 15 females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly five females in its territory. Once he is done wooing the females, over a quarter of the male’s time is spent vigorously defending his territory from other males and predators.

Meanwhile the female Red-winged Blackbirds starts building a nest among cattails in four stages. Initially they weave together several supporting pieces of vegetation and then intertwine the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is then lined with mud, and the final step is to line the nest with a layer of fine grasses.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

State of the Birds






Secretary Salazar Releases Study Showing Widespread Declines in Bird Populations, Highlights Role of Conservation

Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released the first ever comprehensive report on bird populations in the United States, showing that nearly a third of the nation’s 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline due to habitat loss, and other threats.

Surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, including the annual Breeding Bird Survey, combined with data gathered through volunteer citizen science program such as the Wild Birds Unlimited’s Great Backyard Bird Count, show once abundant birds such as the northern bobwhite and marbled murrelet are declining significantly. The possibility of extinction also remains a cold reality for many endangered birds.

Birds are also highly sensitive to environmental pollution and climate change, making them critical indicators of the health of the environment on which we all depend.

The United States is home to a tremendous diversity of native birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting terrestrial, coastal, and ocean habitats, including Hawaii. Among these species, 67 are Federally-listed as endangered or threatened. In addition, more than 184 species are designated as species of conservation concern due to a small distribution, high-level of threats, or declining populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service coordinated creation of the new report as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative.

The report is available at www.stateofthebirds.org.


Contact: Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 607-254-2137, pel27@cornell.edu

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Lab’s web site at www.birds.cornell.edu.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sitting in the "Cat" bird seat

The expression "sitting in the catbird seat" means to be in a good position. It actually refers to the Catbird, which is a real bird.

The Gray Catbird Dumetella Carolinensis is a summer resident in Michigan and has a call that sounds like a cat mewing. The way they watch from trees makes them good 'sentinels', quickly recognizing predators and announcing a warning vocally, and they're hardly ever fooled by Cowbirds because of the close watch they have on their nest.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What is the best Hummingbird feeder?

When you are looking for a new feeder make sure it is easy to fill and easy to clean. This is especially important in a hummingbird feeder which should be cleaned and refilled with sugar water at least once a week and more often during warmer weather.

My favorite hummingbird feeder is the original Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) saucer style. These hummingbird feeders are easy to fill and most importantly easy to clean. The saucer style is leak proof and bee resistant and the built in ant-moat stops ants from reaching the nectar.
The feeder has perches (I love it when they stop to drink) and three feeding ports.

The cover is bright to attract hummingbirds and has raised flowers to prevent rain from running into the bowl. Both the cover and the clear bowl are constructed with UV stable poly carbonate, the most durable plastic available and are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. The hanging rod is solid brass. Feeders can be hung or post mounted. It comes with a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA. And now WBU saucer style comes in different sizes and colors too!

The Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder, our second most popular feeder, has developed a strong reputation for being a durable, reliable, and effective hummingbird feeder for people in the country.

What makes this hummingbird feeder so great? For one thing it is very easy to clean. Simply remove the bottle and the base comes apart in two pieces allowing you to reach both sides of the feeder ports. The glass bottle and hi-impact food grade styrene parts can even be put through the dishwasher. The high grade construction will last for years, and the design is time-tested and has been modified through the years to make it one of the best feeders available.

The bright red base will attract plenty of hummingbirds, and the new wider ports, countersunk to keep bees or other birds from stealing nectar, allow up to 8 hummingbirds to feed at once. The new double-ringed perches give the hummingbirds a place to rest while feeding. This helps them save their energy for flying and catching insects. Made in the USA, the Best-1 hummingbird feeder is preferred by customers that live in the country. It doesn’t blow around in high winds, disassembles for easy cleaning, comes in different sizes, and replacement parts can be purchased.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When do I put out my hummingbird feeder?

With spring just a couple days away, the most frequently asked question this week was when to put out the hummingbird feeders?

In mid-Michigan you have to pay your taxes and put out your hummingbird feeders by April 15th. You can track the migration of the Ruby throated hummingbird on www.hummingbirds.net.

The hummingbirds we see in April probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How long does it take for Bald Eagle eggs to hatch?

Bald Eagles are monogamous and mate for life. Together they build their large nest, called an eyry, at the top of a tall, sturdy tree or they may also nest in a cliff or on the ground in treeless regions.

A new nest averages 2 feet deep and 5 feet across. They are lined with twigs, moss, grass, and feathers. The nest becomes larger each year as the eagles return to breed and add new nesting materials to shore up the old nest. Eventually, some nests reach sizes of more than 10 feet wide and can weigh several tons.

Breeding bald eagles typically lay one to three eggs once a year, and they hatch after about 35 days of incubation. Hunting, egg sitting, eaglet feeding and brooding duties are shared by both parents. The young eagles begin flying three months after hatching and are on their own about one month later.

Monday, March 16, 2009

From our Wild Birds Unlimited sister store in So. Yarmouth, MA

Thought you folks would like to see some amazing photos. These were sent to me by one of our eagle volunteers. Nice to have your camera by your side when things happen...
Tom Thompson

http://southyarmouth.wbu.com/
1198 Main Street (Rte.28)
South Yarmouth, MA 02664 Phone: (508) 760-1996

Eagle and Swan at Lakelse Lake Near Terrace, B.C.

Kelly Munday took these pictures near Waterlily Bay at LakelseLake. Eagles are very common in our area. They are amazing photos! Enjoy!
What a beautiful bird, so graceful and majestic.
You can see the feathers flying here.
This one is so amazing to see the eagle wing span beside the swan.
Poor thing must be scared to death.
The eagle is loosing his grip on the swan here.The swan starts falling straight down.
The swan falls into the water, swims away and the eagle just looks on. I am amazed the eagle would tackle something so big in mid air.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Order: FALCONIFORMES Family: Kites, Eagles and Hawks (Accipitridae)

Description:
Large, hawk-like bird with dark brown body and white head and tail. Heavy bill, legs, feet, and eyes are yellow. Sexes are similar. Juvenile is dark brown with variable white mottling on wings and tail for the first four years of life.

General: Today, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs of bald eagles. There are over 482 breeding pairs in Michigan. The Bald Eagle has been the symbol of the United States of America since 1782. At one time, the word “bald” (balde) meant white, not hairless, referring to the white head and upper neck of the adult Bald Eagle. They can live up to 40 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. A group of eagles has many collective nouns, including an "aerie", "convocation", "jubilee", "soar", and "tower" of eagles.

Behavior: Bald Eagles hunt mainly fish or scavenge for carrion. They don't mature until their fourth or fifth year only then receiving their characteristic white head and tail plumage. Bald Eagles generally mate for life and renew their pair bonds each year by adding new sticks and branches to their massive nests, the largest of any North American bird. Pairs perform dramatic aerial displays where a pair flies to a great height, lock talons and then tumbling perilously toward the earth. The birds brake off at the last second, just before crashing into the ground.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

How often should I clean my feeders?

Imagine you're going out to your favorite restaurant. When you first went there the it was brand new and clean. Now you go in and they give you a water glass that's dirty, and when you peek into the kitchen you see the chef cut up a moldy tomato for a salad.

Hopefully you've notice the change in the place before you've actually eaten something to make you sick. You realize they're not maintaining the place and walk out and never come back. Now imagine your regular birds coming to their favorite feeding station and see a filthy feeder. When was the last time you’ve cleaned it? You don't want to make your birds sick.
It can be detrimental to the birds if you don’t clean your feeders regularly. In order to keep healthy birds at your feeders, consider the following:


1. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00 and it is ready the next day. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part bleach or 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..
2. Check your feeders after a rain to make sure the seed is dry. If not, replace it.
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3. Store seed in a cool dry location. Wild Birds Unlimited has closed steel containers that work well to protect seed from unwanted seed thieves or bad weather..
4. When choosing a new feeder look for something easy to clean and fill.
.If you keep these measures in mind, you can keep this hobby enjoyable for your family and safe for your birds.
Bon appetite!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fenner Nature Center

Celebrate Spring’s Return at Fenner Nature Center’s

M
APLE SYRUP FESTIVAL

Saturday & Sun March 21 & 22, 11am to 4pm

After an especially long and snowy winter, the occurrence of this year’s vernal equinox is something to celebrate. Fenner’s annual event features more stuff to do than ever! Here are some of them.

~Regularly scheduled guided “maple-sugaring” walks.
~Regularly scheduled guided “birding by ear” walks (bring binoculars!).
~LIVE Birds of Prey program once each day (small entry fee required).
~LIVE Michigan Reptiles & Amphibians exhibit, featuring over 30 species!
~Nesting box exhibit.
~Wildlife artists and crafters.
~Face-painting and kids’ crafts.
~Pancake finger-foods that include (you guessed it) maple syrup for sale.
~More food and drink, including maple sugar products, for sale.

Entry is FREE. Bring your family and friends, and don’t forget the camera!

Visit Friends of Fenner Nature Center’s website, http://www.fofnc.org/, for a schedule of events.
Call Fenner at (517) 483-4224 or email fncdirectors@gmail.com for more information.

Fenner Nature Center 2020 E. Mt. Hope (at Aurelius) Lansing, MI 48910

Photo Friday: Brain Tease















"Family of Birds"

About the artist:
Octavio Ocampo was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico in 1943. He first studied art as a boy and today is one of Mexico's most prolific artists and very famous around the world.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fair Trade Gourd Bird House from Peru



In the Andean mountains of Peru, in a tiny village of 50 families, fine gourd carving has been practiced for over 4000 years. Carvers served their communities by recording Andean celebrations, oral tradition, rituals, myths, and weddings.

Today Lucuma Designs works with talented, self-taught artists in family workshops. The techniques they practice have been redefined into creative gourd birdhouses for the modern day world. Wild Birds Unlimited has a nice selection of these wren bird houses made from gourds with original designs.

The artists live mostly from their craft but are also able to take care of their small farms, raise livestock, and grow some crops. Lucuma Designs makes sure that all products were made by artists who enjoy their work and are compensated fairly. Women artists are able to work from home while earning an income for their family. In a country with more than 50% unemployment, Lucuma helps instill in these artists a sense of independence and self worth.

When you purchase a gourd birdhouse at Wild Birds Unlimited, you are purchasing a handcrafted, unique gift, and also showing your support for fair trade.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Weather is everywhere.

If clouds are made up of water, why do they differ in color, from fluffy white to dark and black?
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Clouds are a visible masses of billions of droplets or frozen crystals floating in the atmosphere above of the Earth. The main reason clouds differ in color is the thickness of the cloud. Light tends to pass through nice, fluffy cumulus clouds. As it becomes more dense, less light comes through, and it becomes darker. These large dark, round masses are called stratocumulus clouds. Not a lot of sunshine gets through so there is a shadow beneath the cloud, which makes it appear dark.


Yesterday, the precipitation in mid-Michigan indicated we had a Nimbostratus cloud, a formless cloud layer that is almost uniformly dark gray.
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According to the National Climatic Data Center's website, Lansing averages a 51% chance of sunshine and lists it as the fifth cloudiest city in Michigan. Marquette is officially the cloudiest city in Michigan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How do birds produce such a complex variety of notes?

I woke up this morning to the screech of a Red-Tailed Hawk (not common in my yard). At first I didn't believe it, but then I heard the kee-eee-arr again. It was at first light but there seemed to be a lot of birds in the yard which is strange if there is a hawk at the feeding station. I searched the tops of the trees and then heard the songs of an American Robin, Blue Jay, and finally a Canadian Goose "honk, honk" in quick succession. None of these birds happened to be in the yard at the time.

I finally located a European Starling in a tree next to my window mimicking the whole series of songs again. It reminded me of David Attenborough's TV special The Life of Birds. The following is a clip from the special showing the Lyrebird trying to attract a mate. The Superb Lyrebird is thought to have the loudest bird call in the world.

video

So how do birds produce such a complex variety of notes?

Birds have a syrinx, a sound-producing organ, that is the equivalent of the human sound box. But it is situated much lower down, at the junction of the two bronchi or air tubes leading to the lungs.

This means that the syrinx has two potential sound sources, one in each bronchus. The separate membranes on each bronchus produce separate sounds, which are then mixed to produce a far greater variety of sounds than humans.

The best time to hear bird song is at dawn. One reason may be that dawn is the best time for sound to travel. Or it may be because it’s still too dark to do any successful foraging.
Bird song has two main functions: to defend a territory and to attract a mate. Male birds generally use shorter, simpler songs for territorial defense. Gaps in the song enable the singer to listen for replies, and determine where their rival is and how far off.

When they are trying to attract females onto their territory, males sing longer and more complex songs.

If you're not sure which bird sings what song the book Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song is very popular. It's a beautiful coffee table book that allows you to enjoy bird songs at the touch of a button and a joy to children just learning about birds.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fun Facts About The American Robin

  • Worms only make up about 15%-20% of the summer diet for American Robins. The rest of the diet is made up of other insects, fruit, nuts, and berries.
  • Contrary to popular belief, American Robins don’t find earthworms by hearing or smelling them. Robins find earthworms by cocking their head to one side, independently using each eye to look for visible signs of worms.
  • Most of the earthworms found in North America today did not exist prior to European settlement. They were imported mainly from Europe by early settlers. The worms or worm cocoons traveled in the rootstocks of plants brought by the settlers from their homelands. They were also release into the new world through soil that was used for ship ballast that was discarded after the voyage to the new world.
  • Robins can be attracted to a feeding station by offering mealworms, fruit and a birdbath. It’s especially fun to offer mealworms during nesting season when the robins can stop and pick up a mouthful of tasty worms to take back to their babies. They will fill their mouth until you think nothing else could possibly fit inside and still continue to try to pick up more, dropping some in the process and then trying to pick up more.
  • On average, over 50% of all nesting attempts by American Robins fail to produce young. Out of the successful nesting attempts, only ¼ of the fledglings will survive until November. Robins live on average about 1 ½ years, but, according to bird banding records; the oldest known Robin found in the wild was almost 14 years old.
  • Robins typically nest from April through July and can have 2-3 broods in a season. The female does the nest building and incubates the eggs alone. Upon hatching, both parents feed the average brood of four young.
  • Robins usually return to the same area to nest each year and may occasionally use last year’s nest again after some renovation.
  • Robins are particularly vulnerable to pesticide poisoning due to their preference for foraging on lawns. Please don’t use poisons on your lawn.
  • During breeding season, male American Robins grow black feathers on their heads to attract females. Once the mating season is over, these feathers are lost.
  • A group of robins are collectively known as a "worm" of robins.