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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do You Sell Squirrel Proof Feeders?

Squirrel proof feeders are our number one selling feeders at our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan. There are several to choose from and most have a lifetime guarantee even against squirrel damage.

Our best selling feeder is the Squirrel Buster Plus II.
  • Easy to fill
  • Easy to clean with no tools required
  • Lock top to prevent squirrel from opening
  • Huge seed capacity for fewer fillings
  • Cardinal ring for comfitable feeding distance
  • 6 ports close when squirrel attempts to sit on perch
  • Adjustable tension that can even be set to shut down on blackbirds
  • Dishwasher-safe parts allow easy sterilization
  • Lifetime guarantee
How it Works: When a squirrel climbs onto the feeder, its weight automatically forces the shroud down, closing the seed ports. Squirrels and large birds are foiled but not harmed in any way.
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Use the latest technology to stay one step ahead of pesky squirrels. This feeder's weight-sensitive spring mechanism closes feed ports when squirrels attempt to eat, and it is located inside the feeder so squirrels can't tamper with it. Use with or without the cardinal ring, depending on birds you wish to attract. Built-to-last UV-stabilized polycarbonate, powder-coated aluminum, and stainless steel. Holds 3 quarts seed. 7" dia x 22" high.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thermogenosis and Torpor (Shivering and Deep sleep)

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.

It also burns a lot of calories. Birds store the needed calories as fat, but they can only store enough for 16 to 24 hours. This is why you’ll see birds in a panic at your feeders right before it gets dark and at first light.

Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor).

When it’s especially cold, birds flock to feeders to build up their energy reserves. A seed blend with black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts is great to offer in the winter. It has a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. At Wild Birds Unlimited that would be our most popular WBU No-Mess Blend or WBU Choice blend.

Suet or seed blocks are great foods to offer many of the birds that will visit backyards in the winter. Suet is a high energy, pure fat substance which is invaluable in winter when insects are harder to find and birds need many more calories to keep their bodies warm. I would recommend our peanut butter suet.

Typically, your feeders serve only as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard. However, during cold, long, severe winter weather, your birds may switch to utilizing them as the critical source of food that enables them to survive from day to day.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Bird Part II

Hi there, I have been seeing some brown birds on my feeder for a while now and I’m trying to figure out what they are. I’ve search throughout the internet and the closest I’ve found that looks like this is the chirping sparrow. Could you take a look and let me know what kind you think this is if you’re familiar with it? Thanks so much! Monroe, NC

It is indeed a Chipping Sparrow! Chipping Sparrows have distinctive breeding plumage from April to August. Michigan residents (where I live) are most likely to see solitary Chipping Sparrows running around the garden with their chestnut cap, white stripe above the eye, and a black stripe through the eye during the summer months.

In the winter the birds usually travel in small flocks in North Carolina and other southern states. The chestnut crown is more diffuse and dull, the eye line is less dark, and the overall pattern and colors are less bold.

Some distinctive marks I noticed are the white eye ring, with darkly streaked upper parts, the unstreaked breast, the extended eye line in front of the eye toward the bill, and the light brown bill.

Thank you for the photos. It made identifying the mystery bird much easier. I also noticed the seed in your feeder and I can’t help but comment. The sparrows are probably eating the millet and sunflower seed. A good blend is high in Oil Sunflower and can also have Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, or Safflower mixed together. Don't buy a blend with Milo. Milo, the larger round, reddish seed I see in your seed blend is usually just kicked out of feeders and wasted. Eventually it might be picked up by a dove but it’s usually just left to rot on the ground.

I know the blends with milo tend to be cheaper but on the East coast it’s just a waste of money to buy those blends. If you can’t find a blend without cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo just use a straight sunflower seed.

Thank you very much for your question. Keep up your close observations. Please write again with any questions.

What's That Brown Bird with a Black and White Striped Head?

Good morning, I was delighted to happen upon your site! I have been feeding blue jays in my yard for a while. The store where I purchase the seed, ran out, so I bought some for indoor birds (it looked the same). Now I have these little birds eating along with the blue jays, but I don't know what they are. They are brownish and have a black and white striped head. I have been unable as of yet to capture them with the camera. I was wondering if you have any idea what they could be? I live in southeastern NC. Thank you.
It could be several birds. Top on the list are White-throated sparrows, Red breasted Nuthatch, or Chipping Sparrow. I'm actually not very good at naming birds just by descriptions. If you can send a photo I'm sure I can identify the mystery bird. Wild Birds Unlimited also has the online field guide that makes identifying unfamiliar birds easy. It's http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.
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As for the seed, birds usually have a preference. Black-Oil Sunflower, Fine and Medium Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types.
There are 18 Wild Birds Unlimited stores in NC. Perhaps one is nearby and you can check out their field guides with birds in your area or ask them for more information. To find a Wild Birds Unlimited store near you go to http://maps.wbu.com/.
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I hope I've been some help. Please write again with any questions. I love birds and it's nice to hear positive feedback about the blog.
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You can send questions to my e-mail at bloubird@gmail.com, visit our web page at http://lansing.wbu.com/, check out our daily blog at http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/, keep up with what I'm doing from twitter at http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited, and become a fan of our Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan Facebook page at http://tiny.cc/QmIv5.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Thinking About the New Year

"Life is a series of little deaths out of which life always returns." ~ Charles Feidelson, Jr.

Last week was the Winter Solstice, the day the Earth's Northern Hemisphere has the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The birds might consider it the beginning of the "real" New Year. I did too! It’s the day when the whole annual cycle begins all over, and I can look forward to the gradual lengthening of days.

You can’t help but admire our hardy winter birds in Michigan. When I go out to fill the feeders in the morning and hear the nuthatches and woodpeckers “laughing,” I feel happy that they’ve made it through the night.

And remember if you feel a little guilty about just throwing away your Christmas tree, its usefulness can be extended by placing it outside near feeders for added shelter against the weather and predators. In a matter of minutes, the old tree is providing a new natural cover.

The birds had an advantage with the milder November and early December which allowed them to seek natural foods. Though it might seem strange to humans, wild birds prefer to forage over visiting feeders (with the possible exception of the House Sparrows).

However, as the temperatures dip and natural food sources may become covered with snow or locked in ice, the supplemental food and water we provide is more widely appreciated and has a bigger impact on the birds’ survival.

I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season and I wish everyone a future filled with great birding experiences. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Is That an Owl Out There?

I think I saw an owl sitting in the tree in my backyard. It was a big round fluff of feathers about 8” tall (the size of a squirrel). I was distracted and when I looked for it again, it was gone. Is that possible around here in Lansing, Michigan?

Yes it’s very possible. The Eastern Screech-Owl Megascops asio is a year round resident in mid-Michigan. It has two color morphs (variations in color), reddish and gray. The gray individuals are more common in Michigan because they are better at withstanding our cold winters. Males and females look alike. The breast and belly are heavily streaked and spotted with black. They are approximately eight inches tall and weigh about 6 ounces. They have yellow eyes, ear tufts, a pale bill and make a “horselike” whinny vocalization.

Count yourself lucky if you saw a screech-owl. Their presence is rarely detected because they sleep the day away in tree cavities or man made nest boxes (and yes you can buy these houses at Wild Birds Unlimited).

While you were distracted the bird may have been routed by songbirds. Sharp-eyed Blue Jays and other smaller birds can mob Screech-Owls if they spot them during the day to remove what they see as a threat.

The Screech-Owl’s diet is the most varied of any North American owl species. It eats insects, small rodents, earthworms, fish and birds, some even larger than itself.

Screech-Owls do not migrate. They maintain home ranges throughout the winter. So keep your eyes open for another encounter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Do Birds Have Different Bills?

The bird's bill is a remarkably useful instrument that comes in all shapes and sizes. The bill shows various adaptations for methods of feeding.

Birds with all-purpose bills have general sort of diet using a bill that can cut, crush, rip, and open just about anything.

Some other examples are short thin bills for insect eaters, short thick bills for seed eaters, long thin bills can be for probing flowers for nectar or probing soft mud for worms and shellfish, strong hooked bills for tearing meat.
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The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), the largest member of the toucan family, possesses the largest beak relative to body size of all birds. The toucans use this exaggerated feature to attract mates and pick fruit from the thin ends of branches that can not support the birds weight. A recent study also found the bill can help the bird keep its temperature under control.

Flamingos are filter feeders, and have many complex rows of horny plates that line their bills to strain food items from the water.

Of course, gathering food is not the only use for the bird's bills. Birds use their bills in fighting and in defense of their territory, gathering nesting materials, building nests, grooming feathers, attracting mates, scaring predators, and other important rolls.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Season Greetings from Wild Birds Unlimited

“In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” - Aristotle


With the holiday season here, we are setting our work aside for a moment to extend our sincere appreciation to the friends and customers who make our jobs so enjoyable.

May your holidays be filled with family, friendship, and the magic of our world.



Wishing you peace for the holidays.

Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Road Suite 17
East Lansing, MI 48823

http://lansing.wbu.com/

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Many cultures consider birds a universal symbol of happiness and joy.


The people of Scandinavia traditionally feed the birds on Christmas Day to ensure good luck throughout the coming year.
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Spread bird seed on your doorstep Christmas morning for New Year’s good luck!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Do You Feed Carolina Wrens?

Lately, I've enjoyed watching a Carolina Wren. We're a long way from Carolina! What should I be feeding him in my Michigan yard?

The “Carolina" refers to the Carolinian Zone, an area which includes much of Eastern United States and extends south to the Carolinas. The climate of this area is also moderated by our Great Lakes, so it is able to support animal and plant species usually not found in other northern parts.

Our Carolina wrens do not migrate but are very sensitive to cold weather. Severe winters result in a marked decline in their numbers. Having a known source of food is essential for providing wrens with the energy, stamina, and nutrition they need to survive. For this reason, it is a good idea to put out a feeder to help these birds (and other bird species as well) survive the winter.

Carolina Wrens are primarily insect eaters, but suet, peanuts, and mealworms are good substitutes for scarce insects during winter. They can be attracted to your feeders by providing a brush pile close to your feeding area. They feel more secure with a place to seek refuge nearby.

A good idea to encourage Carolina wrens to stay and feed in or near your yard is to provide roosting pockets near the bird feeders. Roosting pockets are little shelters, much like birdhouses (but smaller and not meant to be used as a nesting site), where the birds can roost and hide from the wind chill. The combination of roosting pockets and bird feeders during winter is one sure way to attract Carolina wrens in your area.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What Do Bunnies Eat in the Winter?

Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they're most active at dusk and dawn, and are generally found in areas with dense cover. They also do well in suburban and urban areas where lawns, gardens, and various shrubs meet their habitat requirements.

Rabbits feed on leafy plants during the growing season and the buds and bark of woody plants in the winter. They produce two types fecal pellets (the round, dry ones and cecotropes). The cecotropes are produced in a region of the rabbit's digestive tract called the cecum. The cecum contains a natural community of bacteria and fungi that provide essential nutrients. They must reingest these fecal pellets to reabsorb nutrients from its food because their diet of plants is hard to digest efficiently, and they have to make two passes at it to get everything out of the meal.
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Most of the bunnies you see in Michigan are the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). They have speckled brown-gray fur, big eyes, and a tail that is puffy white on the underside. Many people mistakenly believe that wild rabbits and domesticated pet rabbits are the same species, but the domesticated rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) belongs to another genus and is only distantly related.

Besides the plants essential to their diet, rabbits also need safe resting places like fall brush piles or dense shrubs in which to escape from predators. Hawks and owls are some avian predators, and foxes, raccoons, skunks, and opossums are some mammals that prey on rabbits.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Santayana's Law of Repetitive Consequences

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
~ George Santayana (1905) Reason in Common Sense, volume 1 of The Life of Reason


The Passenger Pigeon, once the most common bird in North America, went into a catastrophic decline in numbers and then extinction by 1914.

Similar in looks to the Mourning Dove, they lived in enormous flocks and during migration it was possible to see up to a billion birds taking several days to pass. Some reduction in numbers occurred as a result of loss of habitat when the Europeans started settling further inland.

Overhunting also played a large part in their destruction. Conservationists were able to get a bill passed in the Michigan legislature making it illegal to net pigeons within two miles of a nesting area, but the law was weakly enforced.

One of the last large nestings of passenger pigeons was at Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878. Over 50,000 birds were killed each day and the hunt continued for nearly five months. In 1896, the final flock of 250,000 were killed by American sportsmen knowing that it was the last flock of that size.

The last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, died at the Cincinnati Zoo on September 1, 1914. Within a few decades, the once most numerous bird on Earth was gone.

However, the extinction of the passenger pigeon aroused public interest in the conservation movement and resulted in new laws and practices which have prevented many other species from going extinct.

Wild Birds Unlimited is deeply committed to educating the public about the importance of understanding our environment and preserving our natural wildlife habitats. With every purchase you make, Wild Birds Unlimited stores donate a portion of the proceeds to support education, conservation and wildlife viewing projects at wildlife refuges, parks, sanctuaries and nature conservancies throughout North America. We also partner with several organizations listed below to bring people and nature together.

Click on the links to find out more about some of these organizations.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snapshot of a Ring-Necked Pheasant

A native of Asia, the Ring-necked Pheasant was introduced to Michigan in 1895 as a gamebird for hunters. Because pheasants thrive in a mix of cropland, hayland, grassland, wetland, and brush, their populations exploded. However, by the 1960’s farming practices began to change and the number of farms fell from 190,000 in 1940 to less than 60,000 by 1990. The amount of land farmed also decreased from more than 18 million acres in 1940 to less than 11 million acres in 1990. This change in the agricultural scene and the loss of habitat as well as predation, genetics, and overuse of pesticides, resulted in a sharp decrease of the pheasant population today.

Sometimes seen foraging in gardens, pheasants eat mostly seeds, corn kernels, and buds in the winter. Unfortunately cold snowy winters are a problem for the birds because they have featherless legs, unlike the native Ruffed Grouse. In very bad weather, pheasants are known to stay on a roost for several days without eating.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reindeer: The Truth Behind the Legend

This article was sent to me by eNature.com

Each Christmas season we hear the stories of the eight tiny, flying reindeer that pull Santa's sleigh all over the world in one night. But what made Santa choose reindeer to help him accomplish this feat? Wouldn't elephants, with their huge flappable ears, make a better choice? Okay, there's the weight factor, but what else makes reindeer the right choice for the jolly North Pole toymaker on his annual voyage? Read on to learn some of the secrets of the world's most famous deer.

While Prancer and Dancer and the gang are the stuff of legend, reindeer are not. These large deer live in northerly climes, in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Arctic. In Eurasia (and the North Pole) they are called reindeer and in North America more commonly caribou, but they are all the same species. The wild herds of Alaska and Canada are known for their mass migrations, while large numbers of those in Eurasia are domesticated, raised for fur, meat, milk, and as work animals. Whether you call them reindeer or caribou, one thing is certain: they are physically well suited to pull a sleigh full of toys and a right jolly old elf.

Questions and Antlers
We've seen the pictures and we know that Santa's reindeer -- Dasher and Dancer and Blitzen and the rest -- sport antlers. Does this mean that all of them (even Vixen?) are males? Not exactly -- in fact, it almost means the opposite. Reindeer and caribou are unique among deer in that the females grow antlers, too. And even more interesting is the fact that the females retain their antlers from one spring till the next, while mature males shed their antlers in the fall -- and are unadorned on Christmas Eve. So the creatures that pull Santa's sleigh must be females or youngsters. Of course, it's entirely possible that a male reindeer with the power to fly also has the power to keep his antlers through the holidays.

All-Terrain Feet
The all-terrain vehicle enables humans to traverse rough, muddy, snowy, or icy terrain. The caribou or reindeer has it beat: it has an all-terrain foot. The animal's remarkable hoof actually adapts itself to the season -- becoming a sort of ice skate in the winter and sneaker in spring. The caribou of North America can run at speeds of almost 50 miles per hour and may travel 3,000 miles in a year. Luckily, the animal is helped along by its amazingly adaptable footpads. In the summer, when the tundra is soft and wet, the footpads become spongy like the soles of tennis shoes and provide extra traction. In the winter, when snow and ice coat the North, the pads shrink and firm up, while the rim of the hoof, like an ice skate's blade, bites into the ice and crusted snow to keep the animal from slipping. Sounds like the perfect footwear for an animal that needs to come to a flying stop on an ice-encrusted rooftop in the dark of the night!

Fur Float
Given its geographic preferences, a reindeer has to have a pretty warm coat. In fact, the coat has two layers of fur, a dense woolly undercoat and longer-haired overcoat. The outer coat consists of hollow, air-filled hairs that give the animal such buoyancy when it enters water that only the lower two-thirds of its body submerges. A caribou or reindeer swims with ease and good speed, and migrating herds will not hesitate to swim across a large lake or broad river. If Santa ever decides to take to the seas rather than the air, he is in good hands!

For more of their nature articles visit http://enature.com/articles/

True or False: Is Mistletoe the "Kiss of Death?"
There is a myth about American Mistletoe, the plant often hung in doorways during the holiday season to elicit kisses from those standing beneath it. Reputed to be the "kiss of death," it is said to be so poisonous that humans can be killed if they eat its leaves or berries. Is this myth true or false? Read on to find out! read more
Birding Focus
Chickadees Are Cold Weather Machines
Though any bird that survives winter in the North amazes those of us that depend on furnaces and warm blankets, the black-capped chickadee may be the most incredible of all winter survivors. read more

When did Reindeer Learn to Fly? http://bit.ly/veTLpT

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snowmen come from heaven... unassembled.


Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity;
so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.
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~Henry David Thoreau, journal, 5 January 1856

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to Choose Optics

Answer these questions to get a better handle on what you really need:

How much magnification do you need?
Making the image 8 or 10 times closer with binoculars is the most popular choice.

8x binoculars work well in all terrain and in a wide variety of situations because images tend to be brighter with wider fields of view. The large view makes it easier to follow fast moving birds in thick woodland environments, scan for animals from a distance, and to follow action in sporting events.

10x binoculars give you more detail for viewing raptors, waterfowl, and large wildlife, and are preferred for observing at longer distances and in more open terrain. Keep in mind that you need a steady hand. It takes very little hand tremor to affect your view.

Do your binoculars need to be waterproof?
Most standard binoculars will stand up to light rain and humidity. But if bad weather is a possibility, then get a waterproof binocular.Will you wear eyeglasses or sunglasses?Constantly taking your glasses on and off is not only frustrating, but it will slow you down when tracking fast-moving birds. Twist up eye cups allow you to twist the eye cups up to give you the perfect eye relief when you aren’t wearing glasses and twist down the eye cups when you wear glasses.

Full Size Binoculars or Compact?
Compact binoculars (like EO Triumph 8x25 binoculars) are small enough to fit in a pocket while you're at work in the yard. These small binoculars will be bright enough for daytime use and, if light gathering isn't an issue, are easier to travel with and take along for walks, concerts and football games.

Full-Size Binoculars (like EO Denali 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars) will provide better image quality than compact binoculars. Full-size binoculars will gather enough light to show good color and definition from dawn to dusk.

The most popular binocular at Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing is:

Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular

  • Field of View: 408 feet/1000 yards
  • Eye Relief: 18 mm
  • Close Focus: 7.0 feet
  • Weight: 21.9 ounces
  • Dimensions (HxW): 5.4 x 5.0 in.
  • Weatherproofing:Waterproof/Fogproof
The Denali's crisp, contrasting views work hard when scanning across open fields for raptors and other wildlife. Phase correction enhances resolution, contrast, and overall sharpness. Fully multi-coated lenses provide maximum brightness and true colors.

Rugged, sleek and elegant in form, the redesigned Denali is waterproof and fog proof for durability you can count on in any weather. Waterproofing seals optics against water damage. Fog proofing prevents fogging of internal lenses. Ergonomic styling provides comfortable handling. Twist-up eyecups adjust for full-field viewing even with eyeglasses.

The Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular comes with:
Rainguard, tethered objective lens covers, neck strap, carry case, and an Eagle Optics Platinum Protection Unconditional Transferable Lifetime Warranty.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Well, everybody knows that the bird is the word!

Odd Phrases That Involve Birds

We get a lot of odd ducks shopping at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI. But before anyone gets flighty and gives me the bird, let me make it clear that you are all good eggs.

The English language is full of odd phrases and idioms. I compiled just a few of the birdy variety for you to ponder.
  • Odd Duck: someone with a touch of eccentricity.
  • Good Egg: someone that is good inside and out.
  • Jay walker: to cross a street in a reckless manner.
  • Flip someone the bird: raising the middle finger as a rude sign.
  • Little bird told me: not revealing who told you something.
  • Bird's-eye view: view seen from high above or a hasty look at something.
  • Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: Having something for certain is better than the possibility of getting something better.
  • Birds of a feather flock together: Similar people tend to associate with each other.
  • The early bird catches the worm: If you get to work early, you will succeed.
  • Free as a bird: unhindered
  • Happy as a lark: very cheerful
  • Naked as a jaybird: nude
  • Proud as a peacock: very haughty
  • Silly as a goose: very foolish
  • Cold turkey: to stop a bad habit without medical aid
  • Feather one’s nest: to look after one`s own financial interests
  • Lame duck: a politician who has little time left in office and little power
  • Ruffle someone's feathers: to upset or annoy someone
  • Spread one's wings: to begin to be independent and try new things
  • Take under their wing: to be under the care of someone
  • Watch you like a hawk: to watch someone very carefully
  • Wild goose chase: a chase that is futile or worthless
  • Wing it: to do the best in a situation that one is not prepared
  • As the crow flies: a straight line between two places
  • Get one's ducks in a row: to put one's affairs or something in order
  • Like water off a duck’s back: without any effect, easily
  • Ugly duckling: an ugly or plain child who grows up to be pretty
  • Night owl: someone who likes to stay up very late at night
  • Swan song: the last work or performance by an artist
  • Twitter: social networking service that users to send and read messages known as tweets

Monday, December 14, 2009

How Far Can Owls Turn Their Heads?

Most birds have eyes at each side of their head. They see a different scene with each eye. But an owl’s eyes are at the front of its head. The owl sees the same scene with both eyes, just as a human does. However, an owl cannot move its eyes in their sockets. In order to see what is beside or behind it, the owl turns its whole head.

An owl's neck has 14 vertebrae, which is twice as many as humans. This allows the owl to turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right from the forward facing position. An owl cannot turn its head full circle as is the common belief.

The stiff feathers around the owls’ eyes act a lot like dish antennas. They reflect sound toward the ear openings. If the sound is louder in one ear than in the other, this tells the owl that the animal is closer on that side. The owl turns its head until the sound is equally loud in both ears. Then it knows it is facing the animal.

An owl can also “hear” the height of a sound. It turns and tilts its head until it gets a perfect “fix.” They hunt mainly for small animals that creep on the ground, and can even locate by sound those animals hiding under snow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why is that Bird Singing at Night?

I shop at the East Lansing store. Every night at around 11pm I'm hearing a Mourning Dove singing. Does it have insomnia? It seems like this happened for a few weeks around last Christmas too.
In the winter the Mourning Dove is generally a sound sleeper and settles in for the night at dusk. Could the call you heard be from the Great Horned Owl? On bright moonlit nights in December in Michigan the hooting of the horned owls marks the beginning of their mating season. The males show their physical vigor and vitality by hooting for a few weeks to attract females and deter any other encroaching males.

Of course it was an owl! Now that you say that, I totally knew that. We live in the city and I just wasn't thinking owl. Thanks for your help! I feel so stupid.

No problem. I'm glad I could help. Send in a question any time. You probably weren't the only person wondering about the bird. If you want to learn more bird songs I recommend Stan Tekiela's Birds of Michigan book & CD set.
The Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus measures approximately 18-25 inches in length and has a wingspan of approximately 36-60 inches from tip to tip.

These birds prefer to utilize the nests of other birds such as hawks, crows and herons in January and February when they breed.

After a mate is chosen they bow to each other, with drooped wings, rub noses and preen each other. If all goes according to plan the female will lay 2 to 4 eggs and incubate them for 26-36 days. Six weeks after hatching, the owlets become "branchers" when they start to walk in the trees around the nest.

They cannot fly well until 9 to 10 weeks old. Then the parents show them around and teach them how to survive. In autumn the juveniles disperse widely, while the adults return to the area near their breeding grounds. They'll each maintain solitary existances until the next nesting season.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Decorate a Tree for Your Birds

While you are enjoying the many tasty treats that abound this holiday season, don't forget to share some goodies with the birds. Decorating a tree for our feathered friends and other wildlife is an activity the whole family can enjoy. Here are some fun and easy recipes for making treats for the birds.

Pine Cone Feeder
1. Tie natural rough brown string around the top of a pinecone.
2. Pack Peanut Butter into pinecone.
3. Roll pinecone in Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) Seed.
4. Hang from a tree.
Be sure to select a tree somewhere near a window so that once you have completed your decorating, you and your family can sit back and watch the beautiful birds enjoy their holiday treats.

Wild Bird Seed Cookies (makes 2-3 dozen)
1. Combine 2 c. flour, 1/2 c. sugar and 1/2 tsp. baking powder.
2. Add 1/2 WBU suet cake or 1/2 c. butter or shortening
3. Mix until crumbly.
4. Drop in two eggs – shells and all.
5. Blend 1/2 c. WBU birdseed into the dough.
6. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
7. Roll out the cookie dough to about 1/4-inch thick.
8. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters
9. Use a drinking straw to make a hole in the center of each cookie to hang the cookies later.
10. Bake at 325° F for 12-15 minutes or until cookies harden. Let them cool.
11. Cut twine and string up cookies.

Additional Treat Ideas
Other decorations that can be strung and placed on trees include popcorn, fresh cranberries, thick fresh orange slices, peanuts in the shell, dried apples or dried figs. You can also string rice cakes, crab apples, baby dried corn bundles, or grapes.

Natural rough brown string, ribbon and raffia can be used for hanging the decorations. The birds will use this material for nesting in the spring.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The poetry of the earth is never dead. ~John Keats


Thursday, December 10, 2009

How Do I Deter Crows at the Feeder?

The crows have discovered our backyard feeders and are prone to take over. How can we keep the crows from scaring away the song birds we love.

You didn’t specify what feeders or food you are using, but when you set the table the birds come. Crows don’t realize they are “bad” birds. In fact I love to watch how the crows interact with each other.

The American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchos is in the family of corvids, which includes both crows and ravens. Large flocks of crows are loud and can eat a lot. However, crows are some of the smartest birds on the planet. Their populations are just now recovering in mid Michigan from the first appearance of West Nile virus in the Western hemisphere in 1999. Their susceptibility to the virus made them a useful indicator of the West Nile activity. They are also useful in cleaning up road kill or garbage on the roads and can consume about forty thousand grubs, caterpillars, worms and bugs during a single nesting period.

The “good” song birds actually appreciate crows in the winter too. Crows announce loud and clear when you fill the feeder, if there is a predator nearby, and will defend their territory against incoming hawks.

However if you are supporting too many crows, there are a few techniques to reducing the numbers that visit your feeders.

Keeping the crows at bay

1)Change seed: Take away cracked corn or food scraps, their favorite foods. Switch to an all safflower seed diet for a few weeks. Squirrels, blackbirds, starlings, and crows don’t like safflower. It may take awhile for the other songbirds to accept the change but it is a favorite with cardinals and chickadees. And gradually the rest of the songbirds will switch over to safflower.

2)Change your bird feeders: Replace platform or hopper feeders with tube feeders, the Squirrel Buster Plus weighted perch feeder, or the upside down suet feeder. If the birds are unable to sit and eat comfortably they will probably move on to easier feeding areas.

3)Keep larger birds away from spilled seed: Since song birds knock seed out of feeders, limit access to spilled seed by placing rocks or shrubs beneath your feeders. Smaller birds will be able to hop in and out of tiny places, unlike crows.

4)Make the area more desirable for songbirds: Lots of trees will make them feel secure, as will the presence of a constant water source. Blackbirds and Crows prefer the open fields or yards.

I hope these tips reduce the number of crows at your feeders to an acceptable level. Thanks for the question.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Attract Birds This Holiday Season

Seasonal Needs
Nights are longer and colder this time of year. Birds require high-fat, quick-energy foods to stay active and warm. Insect-eaters are looking for more fats and fruits. Seed-eaters are searching for high-oil seeds and nuts. .
Have you noticed how ravenously the birds eat at your feeders, especially early in the morning and just before dusk? Chickadees can gain as much as 10% of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.

Recommended Foods
Attract more birds this holiday season and meet their dietary needs with a Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Wreath, No-Mess Blend seed, a Cranberry Fare Seed Cylinder or Peanut Butter Suet. Each has high-fat, quick-energy ingredients like black oil sunflower, peanuts, pecans, suet, or cranberries.

Our pecan packed Seed Wreath is a dining delight for birds, and it can add festive cheer to any yard. Use it as a decoration, or hang it near your existing feeders that are busier than ever these days.

Recommended Feeders
We recommend serving No-Mess Blend in our EcoTough™ Classic hopper feeder, Aspects Tube feeder, or Brome's Squirrel Buster Plus feeder. All are easy to clean, easy to fill, and come with a lifetime guarantee. But most importantly the birds like these feeders the best!

Also offering a Cranberry Seed Cylinder in a Seed Cylinder Feeder is an easy way to provide birds with essential calories throughout the holidays. Nuthatches can be seen prying seeds loose and sometimes flying off to store them for retrieval later in the same day or a quick source of food the next morning.

Or our EcoTough™ Tail Prop Suet Feeder is perfect for the Peanut Butter or Nut and Raisin suet cakes and attracts a wide variety of natural bug eating birds. The paddle simulates a tree trunk, allowing you to see woodpeckers use their stiff tail feathers for extra support while they feed. Slip a suet cake in and when a bird lands on the tail prop feeder they think they have just discovered a tree stuffed full of yummy bugs!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why Should I Put Out Suet?

If you have never fed suet, you have missed some great neighbors. Common birds that eat suet are downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers. Chickadees, northern flickers, nuthatches, and starlings are also avid suet eaters.

By adding suet to your wild bird's menu, you will also attract wrens, warblers, thrushes, brown creepers, brown thrashers, and blue jays. You can also attract orioles, pine siskins, titmice, and the ever popular bluebird.

What is suet?
Suet is animal fat. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds. Our Suet is made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. Special processes remove impurities that cause low melting points and spoilage problems.

Why do birds eat suet?
Suet is one of the top three foods to feed wild birds. Birds have high metabolic rates. It is not unusual for birds to consume 1/4 to 1/3 their body weight worth of food a day! Offering peanut/suet cake provides a high caloric energy source.

How do I feed suet?
Suet is traditionally fed in wire cages. There are also recycled plastic suet feeders with a tail prop, squirrel proof suet feeders, decorative suet feeders, suet log feeders... Come in and see our wide selection. If you buy extra suet, it can be stored in the freezer.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Is There a Pileated Woodpecker Feeder?

My sister is new to birding. They just moved in to a new house that is next to the woods. She said she wants to attract the Pileated Woodpeckers to a feeder. Is there such a thing?

Now is a great time to start feeding woodpeckers and Pileated Woodpeckers are known to frequent feeders near a large woods.

The Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
is Michgan's largest woodpecker at sixteen and a half inches in length and a wingspan up to 30 inches. The males have a characteristic red "mustache," which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black.

Their pointed tail feathers are especially strong and rigid. The tail bone, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles are also large in comparison to other birds. These modifications allow a woodpecker’s tail to serve as a prop that supports their weight as they climb and cling to trees.

So to attract Pileated Woodpeckers I would recommend the WBU Double Tail Prop Suet Feeder. The paddle simulates a tree trunk and offers birds a place to prop their tail while they feed. Even the Pileated Woodpecker's huge frame will fit on our feeder. There is also a WBU Recycled Plastic version that won't rot, crack, fade and also is easy to fill and clean. They hold two suet cakes at a time and yes we do sell suet too.

Tail Prop suet feeders also attract a wide variety of other birds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and other woodpeckers.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Squirrels: Guest Blogger from WBU Redmond, WA

"Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love."
-- Hamilton Wright Mabie

It's Christmas every seed delivery day for the squirrels that live next to the Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) stores across the United States. We have one squirrel at the East Lansing, MI store that thinks we're in his way as we unload the seed every week.

Diane Drisch, the owner of a sister WBU store in Redmond, WA actually caught one cutey in the act with her camera and wrote about her encounters:

"During seed delivery we now have a really smart squirrel who waits for us to bring a stack of seeds inside. When the coast is clear he runs over to the nuts and grabs some. He also has a partner-in-training. Right now we think it's cute. But if he gets too bold, we'll have to rethink the whole "peace on earth, good will towards squirrels" theme of this month.
.
Diane Drisch
http://redmond.wbu.com/

Overlake Square,
15155 NE 24th St.
Redmond, WA 98052 

Phone: (425) 747-8908

P.S. This must be payback for all the squirrel baffles we've sold."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bugs of the World

LIVE AT FENNER NATURE CENTER
Did you know that cricket’s ears are on its knees? Or that a fly has taste buds on its feet? Come visit Fenner Nature Center to learn all about bugs.

The MSU Bug House will be bringing both live and pinned specimens.

Register at the door, which will open a half-hour before the show. Seating is limited.

Sunday, December 6, 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.
Fees $5.00 per person/$15.00 per family
For FOFNC members: Fees $4.00 per person/$12.00 per family
Call 483-4224 - Fenner Nature Center for information.

Do Birds Get “Goose” Bumps?

Goose bumps appear on many mammals when they are cold or afraid. Bumps appear at the base of the body hair making it stand up straight. The medical term for goose bumps on a person is cutis anserine. The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as horripilation, piloerection, or the pilomotor reflex.

The name common name probably came from the similar appearance to a goose after all of its feathers have been plucked. The term "goose bumps" is misleading because the bumps on a goose’s skin do not qualify as piloerection, though birds do have the same reflex of extending their feathers out to keep warm.

In the winter birds can also grow twice as many feathers. The outer feathers protect them from wet weather and wind. The downy feathers underneath are fluffed up to trap air creating a natural layer of insulation. They can also scrunch down to cover their feet or pull a leg up close to the body and sleep with their bills under their wing feathers to breathe in warmer air.

Staying warm requires a lot of energy, even for the most insulated bird. That’s why they look for high-energy food especially right before they turn in for the night and when they break fast in the morning.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Art of Silent Flight in Slow Motion!

"Nature does nothing uselessly." ~Aristotle(384 BC - 322 BC), Politics

Silent flight not only adds to the owl's mystique, it serves the very practical purpose of sneaking up on its prey.

Owls' wings are designed to allow them to fly in almost absolute silence. Owls have broad wings with large surface areas that help them to glide through the air without a lot of flapping.

It also helps that an owl's primary feathers are serrated and to cut the flow of wind into smaller currents called micro-turbulences. Then the edge of the primary feathers muffles the sound of air as it passes by shifting the angle of the air flow and allowing air to pass through the wing.

Today using the wise old owl's secret to silent flight may just be the key to reducing airplane noise. Researchers propose the possibility of creating retractable fringe to mirror owls' serrated feathers and applying a velvety coating on landing gear to absorb noise just as downy feathers do for the owl. This plan could eventually reduce noise pollution all over the world.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Will My Birds Starve If I Go On Vacation?

Let me ask you this. Is it bad to feed the birds now if we’re going on a six week vacation after Christmas? I’m assuming they won’t just hang around the empty feeders and starve.

Birds are pretty clever. If the feeder is empty they’ll look for other sources. Studies show that the birds you see in your yard are only eating about 20% of their meals at feeders.

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.