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.

Friday, July 31, 2009

"When we show our respect for other living things, they respond with respect for us." ~ Arapahoe Proverb

E. Jay Swindlehurst has entered his photo of a baby Red Bellied Woodpecker in the WILX pic of the week contest. Click HERE if you want to vote his photograph the best.

Every Friday we show customer photographs on our blog. Send a .jpg to bloubird@gmail.com to submit your photo.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I’ve seen the Water Wiggler advertised in my birding magazines. Do they really work?

It depends on what you mean by “work.” The Water Wiggler’s unique agitator action creates continuous ripples in the bath water, preventing mosquitoes from laying eggs. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, and the larvae hatch in 2 to 3 days. The Water Wiggler effectively creates surface water movement so mosquitoes can’t lay their eggs, braking the breeding cycle.

Moving water also attracts more birds because the rippling motion catches their eye and they can hear the tiny splashes.

It operates silently on two D-cell batteries for up to two months of continual use. Just place in bird bath and go; no wiring and no plumbing. You can use it with our Wild Birds Unlimited heated bird bath in winter, too.

Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing sell the Aurora Water Wiggler which will light up at dusk and slowly shift through the color spectrum. A sensor on the underside turns the unit on at dusk. The lights will shut off after three hours and come back on the following evening.

I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any further questions.

And for all those do it yourselfers click HERE for plans to make your own water wiggler out of some common household items.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yikes! What's that?

I don’t know much about bugs, but I’m willing to learn. So when I was harvesting some catnip greens from the garden, I was startled by what I’ve always called a “daddy longlegs” on one of the leaves.

I came inside and picked up the book we sell at Wild Birds Unlimited called Spiders of the North Woods. I was surprised to find what I was looking for on page one. The caption below the photo of the bug was “not a spider: harvestman; also know as daddy longlegs.”

Harvestmen are not spiders even though they are eight-legged invertebrate animals and belong to the class of arachnids. The difference between harvestmen and spiders is the harvestmen have two main body sections and are of the order Opiliones rather than the order Araneae. They also have no venom or silk glands. There are over 6,400 known species of harvestmen worldwide.

Many species are omnivorous, eating primarily small insects, plant material, and fungi. Late summer and fall is when harvestmen are most commonly seen, which is most likely how their name was derived.

Huh! Learn something new every day.

Source: Spiders of the North Woods by: Larry Weber

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Has your family lived in America longer than the House Sparrows?

Working at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI I hear dismissive complaints about House Sparrows every day like: "How do I feed the birds but not the sparrows; How do I keep the sparrow from nesting in my birdhouse; the sparrows are eating me out of house and home, sparrows are killing all our native songbirds..."

I see House Sparrows as survivors trying to live the American Dream. They have learned to thrive in close association with mankind, unlike the many other species that have declined or disappeared as a result of our activities. In fact, people have done the most destruction to native bird species and helped increase the house sparrow population both intentionally and unintentionally.

Between 1874 and 1876 a few House Sparrows were brought over from England and were released in Jackson and Owosso, Michigan to control insect infestations on crops. They quickly multiplied into thousands as they regularly raised three to five broods per year, each brood averaging around five babies.

Then it was discovered that 60% of the House Sparrows' diet consisted of the farmers’ seed crop instead of the bugs. However the information came too late to stop the population growth. Today due to several releases of a few House Sparrows across the US they are the most abundant songbirds in North America and the most widely distributed birds on the planet. And the House Sparrows in your yard may be 100th generation Americans.

So, love them...or hate them...they are here to stay. Our challenge is to learn to live with them as well as they have learned to live with us by mitigating their impact on our native species, while fully understanding the niche they now occupy in our avian landscape.

Have you tried the Sparrow Spooker?

I have a box of Blue Bird nestlings and the House Sparrows are mobbing them. I have had a nest of babies pecked to death previously. The House Sparrows are currently harassing the adult bluebirds. What should I do?

Have you heard about the sparrow spooker? I've had a lot of positive feedback from customers telling me it kept the determined sparrows away from their bluebird, chickadee, and wren houses.

Basically once the birds are committed to a nesting site you hang shiny flutter ribbon above the birdhouse (you can find this "scare tape" at our stores). Studies have shown that certain bird species, including house sparrows, will not fly under the ribbon. Our sister Wild Birds Unlimited store in Middle Tennessee talked about their experience with a sparrow spooker. Click HERE to read their beautiful blog.

Or for more detailed plans to make your own sparrow spooker, click HERE to visit the very informative Sialis.org website.

Sources:
Sialis- http://www.sialis.org/sparrowspooker.htm May all your blues be birds!

Our Wild Birds- http://ourwildbirds.blogspot.com/2009/06/sparrow-spooker.html

806 Meadow Lark Lane
Goodlettsville, TN 37072 Phone: (615) 859-7597
http://goodlettsville.wbu.com/

Monday, July 27, 2009

If you live with a cat you have to see this!

video
I'm afraid I can't get enough of Simon's Cat. Simon Tofield is an English animator who has a great interest in British wildlife, painting, the great outdoors and of course cats.
Do not disturb
He has three cats - Hugh, Maisie and Jess. Fly Guy is the latest short film. His earlier releases can be found on his official home page http://www.simonscat.com/films.html/.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where did my Tree Swallows go?

I liked watching the swallows’ acrobatics in the sky as they’d dart, swoop and snatch bugs in mid air. I put up two of your Wild Birds Unlimited birdhouses 30 feet apart because you said that way I might get both a bluebird and a swallow. I did! The bluebirds are almost done with their second nesting. The swallows only nested once and then a chickadee moved in. I haven’t seen the swallows since. Did I do something wrong?

Not at all, it sounds like you had a very successful nesting season. Tree Swallows are typically single-brooded, although they may attempt a second nest if the first fails. After nesting they gather in wetlands where they build their reserves by feeding on insects to prepare for their journey south. Most leave Michigan by mid-August. They migrate in loose flocks by day and gather in large groups to roost at night. With the first signs of autumn, they migrate until they reach their wintering grounds which stretch from North Carolina, the Gulf Coast, and Southern California to Cuba and Guatemala.

Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor

Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Swallows (Hirundinidae)

Description: Tree swallows have iridescent greenish-blue on their head, shoulders and back, and a white underside. They have a short black beak and dark brown feet. Young tree swallows look similar to adults, but they are brownish above instead of greenish blue.

General: Tree Swallows arrive in mid-Michigan in March. They prefer open areas in the sun, pastures, fields and golf courses and nest in natural tree cavities, or man-made nest boxes, including those built for bluebirds. The bluebird and swallow are both native species and both desirable birds to have in your yard. One proven technique that allows both songbirds to nest together successfully is to set up pairs of boxes, no more than 10-20 feet apart. Since Tree Swallows will not allow another pair of swallows to nest within 20', the second box is free for bluebird use and the two species can co-exist, after some initial squabbling to sort out who gets which box.

Behavior: Tree swallows do not spend much time on the ground. They can often be seen perching in long rows on wires. They also spend much of their time in flight.To bathe, swallows swoop down over a body of water and lightly brush the water. To eat swallows catch mostly winged insects while in flight, but can forage on the ground for insects, spiders, seeds, and berries. A group of tree swallows are known collectively as a "stand" of swallows.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

There are Labradoodles and cockapoos. Why aren't there any Rob-a-dees or Stardinals? I mean how do they recognize one another so they can mate?

"Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together."
William Turner ~ The Rescuing of Romish Fox (1545)


You have a very interesting question. All animals with feathers are in the Class called birds or Aves and all the warm-blooded vertebrate animals with hair and females that produce milk are in the Class called Mammalia. Other Classes include Amphibians, Reptiles, and Pisces. Each animal within their class is then further defined by Orders, Families, Genera, and Species.

All dog breeds belong to the species Canis lupus familiaris. The dog is descended from the wolf and the evolution of such widely differing breeds has been heavily influenced by conscious human selection, in addition to natural evolution. On the other hand there are about 10,000 species of birds. So the difference between the American Robin and the Black-capped Chick-a-dee is similar to that between sharks and goldfish, or dogs and cats, or lizards and snakes.

Birds have an innate ability to recognize their own species and look for mates based on their song, color of plumage, and behavior or distinctive courtship displays. However closely related bird species can interbreed, producing hybrids. One example is the Baltimore Oriole which can hybridize with the Bullock's Oriole where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains.

Birds in captivity can also hybridize like the Harlequin Macaws, Catalina Macaws, and many others. However birds prefer their own species in general. So, sorry, I don’t think we’ll see Stardinals anytime soon. But if you do, send me a picture.

Friday, July 24, 2009

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." -William Shakespeare

“You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing - that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”

~Nobel Laureate Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988)

Sometimes people are embarrassed because they don't know a lot about birds or have pet names for their backyard guests. There shouldn't be anything intimidating about birdwatching. It can be what you want it to be; fun, educational, entertaining, or a livelihood. I like it when people tell me stories about what they have observed about their birds. And if you have any questions I can help you find some answers.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why are so many birds hitting my window?

Right now there are still young birds around learning the ropes and unfortunately, many times it's the inexperienced birds that fall victim to window strikes. Birds also strike windows as they quickly try to escape predators, hitting glass in a moment of panic. And during spring and fall migration, window strikes increase as birds unfamiliar with the area pass through.Window strikes are hard to totally eliminate, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity:

1. Locate feeders and birdbaths within 1-2 feet of them so they can't gather enough speed to cause significant injury or about 20-30 feet from windows so birds have time to change direction. Window feeders also alert birds to a window.

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

3. 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.

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, July 22, 2009

The Art of Deception

A bunch of leaves or three leaf litter toads that almost disappear on the forest floor of Panama?
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Click HERE to find out.
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The Aug 2009 edition of National Geographic features photographs by Christian Ziegler on the art of deception in nature. National Geographic online also has an interactive sight where you can hear him explain his magnificent shots.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Much better than TV!

Some days seem longer than others when I’m working at the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI. But now that I have the desk moved over by the window, I am loving my window feeders. I’ve had so much fun this spring and summer watching the birds jockey for table time, babies learning to feed themselves, and my favorite is when the birds sing right next to the window. My Droll Yankees Winner Window seed feeder adjusts to welcome cardinals or I could move the dome closer to the seed dish if I only want small birds. I fill it with sunflower chips so there is no mess but any seed, mealworms, fruit or suet could be used. It is easy to lift off the suction cup bar for filling and cleaning.
8 x 6-1/4 x 8 inches.

Features:
  • Holds 1/2 lb
  • Deep dish holds two cups of seed, suet, fruit or mealworms
  • Curved rim makes perching easy
  • UV stabilized polycarbonate to prevent yellowing
  • Open construction with clear view of birds on the feeder
  • Cover overhangs dish and prevents runoff of rain into dish
  • 3 high quality suction cups to hold feeder securely
  • Drainage holes eliminate water from dish
  • Lifetime Guarantee
  • Made in the USA

Monday, July 20, 2009

Look out for falling pancakes!

When raindrops leave a cloud several thousands of feet off the ground they are larger than a softball. Scientist originally thought these large drops collided with each other to create smaller drops. Now a study published online July 20, 2009 in Nature Physics produced new evidence to explain how single drops shatter into a wide variety of sizes.

Two scientist from Aix-Marseille University in France, Emmanuel Villermaux and Benjamin Bossa, conducted experiments on isolated water droplets. A high-speed camera captured each contortion of a solitary drop as it fell. Though the drop fell only a few meters, the researchers applied an upward air current to simulate the experience of a raindrop during its long fall from the sky.

The photos reveal a large drop flattening out like a pancake and then collecting air like a parachute until it eventually shatters into many smaller globules.

After creating mathematical equations to describe this shattering, the researchers found that the breakup of individual drops alone was enough to explain the staggering variety of raindrops — no collisions necessary.

Click HERE for video.

Source: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nphys1340.html
Aix-Marseille Université, IRPHE, 13384 Marseille Cedex 13, France
Institut Universitaire de France, 103 bd Saint Michel, 75005 Paris, France
Correspondence to: Emmanuel Villermaux e-mail:
villermaux@irphe.univ-mrs.fr

How many chickadees does it take to equal the weight of one squirrel?

How do the weight activated squirrel proof feeders work? Why don’t they shut down when 4 birds sit on the feeder?

Most birds have hollow bones with internal struts that make them very strong. (Exceptions include swimming birds, like loons, which have solid bones to help them dive up to 150’ for food.)

Birds also have a smaller total number of bones than mammals. This is because many of their bones have fused together, making the skeleton more rigid. Birds do have more neck vertebrae than many other animals to help them groom their feathers. But overall it takes over 65 chubby chickadees to equal the weight of one medium squirrel.
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bird Identification Help!

This is photo of a bird that was under my bush. It's about 5-7 inches. Anyone know what it is?

Sora Porzana Carolina
Order: GRUIFORMES Family: Rails and Coots (Rallidae)

The Sora is an 8-10” marsh bird that has a black face and throat, with a short, yellow bill. The breast and nape of neck are gray. The back is mottled brown and the belly displays black and white barring.

It also has short, round wings which offer seemingly weak, but highly maneuverable flight through tangled vegetation. Its strong yellow legs, with long slender toes provide a strong walking and running ability amongst tangled wetland vegetation. Although this species prefers walking to flying, its long distance capabilities are evident in its migration to Michigan in mid-April and in September when it goes back to the Caribbean to winter.

The Sora is the most common and widely distributed rail in North America. It is commonly heard in many wetlands, but is rarely seen. Similar to other rails, the sora is a secretive species, hiding in the dense vegetation of its wetland habitat. The sora calls frequently, whistling and whinnying its calls to other soras, as well as in response to other rails.

Their diet consists of mollusks, insects, and snails picked from the ground and seeds of marsh plants, and duckweed found by probing soft mud with its bill. Their greatest threat is the destruction of the freshwater marshes where they breed: they have consequently become scarce in heavily populated areas. A group of soras are collectively known as an "ache", "expression", and "whinny" of soras.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

How do you get wild birds to eat out of your hands?

I’m watching the chickadees at the feeder. They're so cute! Do you think I could train them to eat from my hand?

It takes patience but this is actually a good time of year to get birds to feed from your hand. There are a lot of new inquisitive birds trying to learn how to find food. Birds that are easiest to train usually have a super duper favorite food that they will come for even if it’s in your hand. This would be whole peanuts for Blue Jays or mealworms for chickadees, robins, nuthatches, and bluebirds.

The easiest way for you to start to make friends with the birds is to establish a routine. I’m here at the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI every morning at 10am filling the feeders.

I usually make my imitation of a Blue Jay announcing there is food in the area. It’s not even close to a real jay call but they seem to understand.

Next I clean up the feeding area by sweeping the sidewalk or changing the birdbath water. The birds are super excited about the filled feeder and come around even if I’m still there fussing. I start sweet talking them about how pretty they look today or imitate some tweets as best I can. They give me funny looks but start to see me as harmless.

Now that the routine is established I start to become incompetent. I bring out their favorite bird food but don’t fill the feeder right away. When I see the birds waiting, I fill the feeder and hold it in my hand. The birds usually will come down to feed after a couple minutes. I hold as still as possible.

After a week of doing this I can come out with seed in my hand and the birds usually make the transition easily.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Berry Wars!

You’ve patiently waited all summer for the cherries to ripen. Tomorrow they will be at their peak for picking. Then in the morning you discover you’ve been hit by Berry Thieves! If the fruit is ready, a variety of birds can pick a tree clean in a day.

Fruit grows on trees, bushes, climbing plants and on shrubs and several species of birds love them. Purple mulberry splats decorate the sidewalk as the berry season begins in mid-Michigan and as the season progresses so does the color of splats. For birds, the range of fruit and the extended length of the season during which various types become available provides many songbirds a nourishing lifeline year round.

The quest for survival has led plants to develop delicious and ingenious ways of making the animal world compete in sending their seeds out to new lands. The yummy, bright colored, vitamin packed, flesh of the fruit conceals and protects the seed within. Birds and berries are a remarkable example of Mother Nature in action. Birds eat the produce and spread the precious seeds contained in the berry over a wide area. They extract or excrete the undigested seeds enabling the plant to grow and spread.

There is no doubt that plants are one of the world's most successful life forms. They are able to survive in virtually every environment imaginable, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles. There are even tough “weeds” poking up through the cracks in the cement. Plants evolved countless methods of producing and spreading seeds. So don’t blame the birds for stealing all the fruit. They are being used in Mother Nature's master plan to spread tiny packages of genetic material across the land to ensure the survival of her planet of plants.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Birding Update

Now that it is finally beginning to feel like summer, Wild Birds Unlimited regrets to inform you that fall migration is now underway. As we approach August and September you will see an increase in feeder activity. Some birds are already starting to migrate and some are starting to fatten up in anticipation of the journey. You may even start to see some of the Northern birds that only winter in mid-Michigan.

Click HERE to watch a full episode of PBS’s NATURE which shows how seasonal changes compel a wide variety of creatures, from whooper swans to monarch butterflies, to begin their epic migrations in the spring and fall covering thousands of miles and employing ingenious methods to reach their destinations.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Let Nature Nurture

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the Universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction."~ Rachel Carson

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cats and Bird Watching

Even the sweetest cats still have the instincts of their wild ancestors. When something flutters by, they must swat it down. Cats allowed to roam outside stalking the songbirds kill billions of birds each year, and for that reason you should never allow your kitty outside.

It’s also healthier for them to remain inside the house. The American Bird Conservancy has developed a campaign – called Cats Indoors! – to educate cat owners about the damage their pets can do to songbirds, other wildlife and themselves by freely roaming the outdoors.

This doesn't mean that they can't enjoy a neat window feeder or a nice feeder set up outside. About half of our customers begin birdwatching as a way to entertain their cats during the day.
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What are your thoughts?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Birds are everywhere but seem to exist in an alternate universe, overlooked by most people. Even I don’t think about some birds that don’t visit me every day at my feeders or birdbaths. So today I’m writing about the “seagull” I see circling the parking lot of the Lake Lansing Rd Meijer across from our East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store as I carry out seed.

Their population has increased in Mid-Michigan due to its scavenging abilities. Some people view them as pests seen at many parks, beaches, golf courses, fast food restaurants, or grocery store parking lots. However their ability to thrive with all of the land developments is something to appreciate.

The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis
Order: CHARADRIIFORMES Family: Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)

Description: There are differences in plumage depending on the 18-20” medium-sized gulls age. An adult is all white except for gray back and wings and wingtips that are black, but in the winter they usually have a pale gray hood. The legs are yellow, and so is the bill which has a distinctive black ring that gives the species its common name. Each juvenile has a wide brown band at the end of its tail, and the rump, head, and breast are more or less marked with brown speckles. A young bird also has brownish rather than gray wings, pink legs, and the end of the bill is entirely dark rather than ringed.

General: These noisy white birds are likely to be found along major rivers and large lakes in Michigan but despite the misnomer of "seagull" they can be drawn inland by easier pickings than they can find along the shore. A group of gulls has many collective nouns, including a "flotilla", "gullery", "screech", "scavenging", and "squabble" of gulls.

Behavior: Ring-billed gulls nest once a year in colonies on the ground, and sometimes in trees near inland lakes. Nests are built by both members of a monogamous breeding pair. Nests are constructed of dead plant material including twigs, sticks, grasses, leaves, lichens and mosses, and may be interspersed with those of other water birds. They have been recorded living as long as 23 years in the wild. However, it is likely that the majority of the birds average 3 to 10 years.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Hummingbird Feeder is a Sticky Mess!

I've got a question for you. How do I stop my bottle feeder from dripping? The stopper has a ball bearing in the tube but it still seems to drip,drip, drip. E.M. Lansing, MI
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Glass hummingbird feeders with stoppers are beautiful in the garden among the flowers. There are some tricks I can suggest but because these feeders utilize a vessel filled with water resting on top of a small column of air, they may occasionally drip. Some recommendations to minimize dripping, so that you can truly enjoy your feeder are as follows:

1. Always fill the feeder completely full with cool nectar. Push the stopper in and invert quickly to avoid any air entering the feeder. Tube feeders operate on a vacuum principle. Only if the feeder is initially filled completely full will the vacuum form!

2. Only hang your feeder in the shade or partial shade. The cooler the feeder, the less likely it is to drip. If that isn't convenient Wild Birds Unlimited does have hummingbird shades.

3. Make sure to keep the feeder very clean by regularly cleaning the vessel with hot water and a bottle brush. Do not use soap as its residue may cause your feeder to drip. Try periodically using a vinegar rinse to thoroughly clean your feeder and then rinse well with hot water.

4. Last resort: place stopper assembly in very hot water to soften the tube. You can bend it slightly to increase the angle. This will stop dripping, but might make it more difficult for nectar to come down the tube.
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5. If you've tried all these tips and it still drips try a different feeder like our best selling saucer feeders.

And you didn't ask about this, but if you have an ant problem we have an easy solution. There are functional and decorative ant moats you can add to any feeder. Simply fill the little container with water. Ants can't cross the water moat to reach your hummingbird feeders' nectar.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hummingbird Pulls Top Gun Stunts

For its size, courting flier dives faster than a returning space shuttle

Source: http://www.sciencenews.org/ by SusankMiliushummingbird

During breeding season, the male Anna’s hummingbirds soar some 30 meters and then dive, whizzing by a female so fast that their tail feathers chirp in the wind. As the birds pull out of their plunge to avoid crashing, they experience forces more than nine times the force of gravity. “They look like a little magenta fireball dropping out of the sky,” says Chris Clark of the University of California, Berkeley.

Clark took advantage of the males’ predictable dive orientation, setting out a caged female, or even a stuffed female on a stick, to inspire birds to dive right in front of his video cameras. Males flew up and plunged over the female typically 10 or 15 times in a row, but one enthusiastic stunt flier completed 75 consecutive dives with a break of only a few minutes.

Analyzing the recordings revealed that birds at first flapped their wings as they dove. For a short period at their peak speed, the birds folded their wings and drilled down through the air at speeds up to 61 miles per hour.

Adjust for body length, and the world just got a new fastest bird, Clark says. The hummingbirds’ speed reached 385 body lengths per second, easily beating the peregrine falcon’s recorded dives at 200 body lengths per second. A fighter jet with its afterburners on reaches 150 body lengths per second, and a space shuttle screaming down through the atmosphere hits 207 body lengths per second. Then diving males stretch out their wings to pull out of their dive before crashing. If birds didn't have great strength for this maneuver, "their wings would just break off," Clark says.

Such prowess impressed Clark, but when he saw wild female birds watching the show … well. “Sometimes they looked bored or flew away,” he says. Males typically just kept on diving.

Hummingbird Diving In Action from Science News on Vimeo.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I Need a Moment of Zen!



I am looking forward to the end of this week! I'd like to thank all the customers for your patience, and apologize for any inconvenience you experienced shopping at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing.

The first half of the week I was on the phone with AT&T trying to fix our Internet connection problems so I could process credit cards. If you heard me screaming "yes, no, DSL, PC, no, no, technical support, I don't know!..." I was talking to AT&T's advanced automated customer service system. I finally reached a person that put me on hold while I was transferred to another person who transferred me... well you get the idea. After two days on the phone they sent me a new router that was programed wrong & I spent another day on the phone trying to connect to the Internet. Time to breath easy? Not yet.

Next came the replacement of our air conditioner and furnace which was located in the ceiling of our back room (cat room) and for some reason this took three very long days to complete. The cats were not amused. In fact poor little Eli Bird stayed in the seed room terrified most of the time. Time to breathe easy? Please, yes!

And if you come in next week give Eli an extra cuddle. He deserves it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fledglings Feed Nestlings

With Eastern Bluebirds both parents cooperate in raising the young. In Michigan it’s normal for them to have two broods each season.

Backyard birders in St. Louis, MO, documented bluebird fledglings from the first nesting help raise the nestlings of the next brood. Click HERE to see their photos. It’s rare but several studies show Eastern Bluebird fledglings occasionally stay around to help feed the nestlings in the second family.

Fledglings are grayish in color with a speckled breast. The blue color becomes much more prominent and the speckles on their breast disappear as they mature.

You can also watch a short video they made by clicking HERE.

"Good parents give their children Roots and Wings." --Jonas Salk

I’ve been watching a robin baby running around the yard chasing its parent around for the past week. I saw it on the suet feeder this morning feeding itself. How long before it is independent?
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It sounds like your little robin is coming right along. When robins first leave the nest they can't even fly.
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Baby robins are nurtured in their nest until they are about 2 weeks old. Then their parents begin a 2 week basic training course to teach their offspring to hop, sleep on sheltered branches at night, forage for food, and learn how to fly.
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Baby robins are very vulnerable before they can fly. To help ensure that the baby robins in your yard are safe, keep cats indoors and don't use unnecessary pesticides in the lawn and garden.
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It's a big world out there and it’s amazing how quickly these young birds learn to be independent.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why did the Goldfinches stop coming to my feeder? It's still half full!


There is no one reason you don't have finches. First make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed 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).

Second, make sure your feeder is clean. Finches are finicky and avoid dirty feeders.

Third, finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. Don't just top off your feeder with fresh seed. Empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of your feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. The birds will probably eat down to that certain level again and you'll have to repeat the process.

My favorite feeder is the Mesh Finch Feeder. Several birds can feed at a time, the seed airs out, it's easy to clean, easy to fill, has a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA. They eat from top to bottom. However if you're thinking of switching feeders be aware that finches don't like change and it may take several minutes to several months for Goldfinches to accept a new feeder.

Fourth, there are a lot of natural sources available right now. They are vegetarians and will flock to any flowers that form seed heads like cosmos or black-eyed-susans.

Fifth, the birds are very busy right now nesting. The Goldfinch is one of the latest breeding songbirds, waiting until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and down are readily available to weave nests and feed the young.

Is it worth the bother? Yes! I love the happy, warm, song of the Goldfinches. I love the huge flocks of finches that flutter down from the tops of trees as they take their turn at the feeder. I love that I can hang the feeder anywhere because squirrels and other animals don't bother with Nyjer Thistle. And once you understand the Goldfinches' needs, they are easy to please and very pleasing to watch.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What is Nyger Thistle?

Nyjer, niger, and thistle are all common names used to identify a tiny black birdseed cultivated in Asia and Africa that is high in calories and oil content, and loved by American Goldfinches. However it is not related to the purple, prickly, Canada thistle weed at all.

The scientific name for the Nyjer plant is Guizotia abyssinica. Its bloom has yellow, daisy-like flowers, and before it is shipped into the country the Nyjer seed has been heat treated to prevent the growth of any noxious seeds. Even if it did sprout, Michigan’s growing season is too short to produce a flowering plant.

In the U.S. there are 20 different kinds of native thistle plants, but by far the most common thistle in peoples yards was actually brought over from Europe. Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense, is a vigorous, competitive weed that occurs in a wide range of habitats and is difficult to control due to its ability to regrow from its extensive, deep creeping root system. It is native to Europe and was apparently introduced to North America by colonists in the early 17th century. It is illegal to sell and by 1991 it had been declared noxious by at least 35 states and 6 Canadian provinces. Canada thistle is a 2 to 5 foot tall herbaceous perennial with branched, grooved and slender stems that become covered in hair as the plant grows. Numerous small, compact rose-purple or white flowers appear on the upper stems from June to Oct. forming round, umbrella shaped clusters.

So it’s alright to come in and ask for thistle seed because we know you want Nyjer seed. However we still have to label our seed Nyjer because the Agricultural department would come in and shut us down for selling thistle, a noxious weed seed.

What Do You See?


Did you know the act of cloud watching is called nephelococcygia? The word comes from "The Birds," a play by Aristophanes written in 414 B.C. In this play, birds see shapes in the clouds. Another character basically tells them that are crazy for imagining this...hence the term nephelococcygia or “cloud cuckooland.”

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly?

That's a good question. In a laboratory, scientists found Monarchs could fly almost 4 mph. However that could vary depending a lot on weather conditions. We do know it takes them about 2 months to travel 2000 miles from Michigan to their winter home in Mexico.

For a lot more interesting facts on butterflies visit The Journey North Website.

How Fast are Hummingbirds?

I'm watching the hummingbirds zip around my hummingbird feeders and I'm wondering what bird is the fastest?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds can fly up to 27 mph and if they catch a good wind they can move up to 60 mph.


But the fastest living creature is believed to be the
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, reaching speeds of at least 124 mph and possibly as much as 168 mph when swooping from great heights.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July



Happy Independence Day!
Today, over 200 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, we celebrate this great nation. The United States is truly a diverse nation and each year on July 4, Americans can celebrate that freedom and independence with family gatherings. Everyone at Wild Birds Unlimited would like to thank you for supporting our local business and wish the USA a Happy Birthday!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Flashdance: The Fireflies Mating Ritual

In the animal kingdom, fireflies are somewhat unusual because they use their light-producing capability to find a mate in the dark. Also known as lightning bugs, fireflies are are actually beetles which hatch from eggs in the fall and spend the winter and early spring as larvae burrowed in the soil only to emerge as adults in late spring. The adult males usually flash while patrolling an area, while the females flash a response from a stationary perch.

You might see more than one type of firefly in your yard. There are several species of fireflies in Michigan. Photinus is the most common firefly in our area with about 15 species. Each is about one half inch in length, and it produces a yellow-green flash. In the dark, you may be able to tell them apart by the color of their flash or distinctive flash patterns.

Click HERE to see the Museum of Science’s virtual habitat.

Spotting fireflies is a special preshow to the fireworks on the Fourth of July in mid-Michigan, but lately the numbers seem to be declining. The Museum of Science is asking for help from volunteers to track these amazing insects. If you would like to collect data for further research Click HERE. No special scientific training is required.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Frankenstein Bird Visits Wild Birds Unlimited Store

When I was working at the Wild Birds Unlimited store, I heard a Gray Catbird making its mewing call. I told a customer to listen for the catbird as we were walking out with her seed. She’d never heard of a “cat-bird”. The name does sound funny the first time you hear it and generates thoughts of a half cat, half bird creature. Of course after I said this the bird disappears, so I bring out a Birds of Michigan Field Guide to reassure her I wasn’t making up a story about a bird that sounds like a cat.

Gray Catbird Dumetella carolinensisOrder: PASSERIFORMES Family: Mockingbirds and Thrashers (Mimidae)

Description: A little smaller than a Robin, its body is uniformly dark gray with the exception of a chestnut brown patch under the tail and a black crown, tail, bill, eyes, and legs.

Behavior: The catbird has adapted well to the widespread urban and suburban habitats created by people and is often seen in neighborhood gardens. An occasional visitor to peanut, suet, or fruit feeders, the catbird forages mainly on the ground, gleaning insects from litter and low bushes and eats fallen berries during late summer and fall. It pokes with its bill, turning leaves and twigs to find the food underneath.

It often announces its presence by singing a series of musical whistles and catlike meows, interspersed with imitations of other birds' songs. It may start singing before dawn, while it is still dark, and can continue until after dusk, being one of the last birds to settle in for the night. A group of catbirds are collectively known as a "mewing" and a "seat" of catbirds.

General: In Michigan Gray Catbirds live in dense thickets of shrubs of woodlands, and are occasionally found in residential areas. They prefer areas without many conifer trees. Most catbirds winter in the tropics of Mexico and Central America where fruit is quite abundant. About 80% of the catbird's winter diet is composed of fruit.