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

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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Where Bluebirds go in the Winter

My husband saw a blue robin-sized bird at the feeder. Do you know what it was? Karen ~ Bath, MI

I believe you saw an Eastern Bluebird. They can stay in mid-Michigan year round. Bluebirds usually gather in the woods after their nesting season is done. There they forage for fruits, nuts, and berries from shrubs, trees, and vines. Some of those include dogwood, hawthorn, mountain ash, sumac, holly, bittersweet, pokeweed, grape, and honeysuckle fruits.

Flocks can be as large as 100 but typically range from 5 to 20 birds in mid-Michigan. Winter flocks forage for food together and wander about exploring possible roosting sites like bluebird houses or roosting pockets.
Eastern Bluebird on a cold December day.Image via Wikipedia

I didn't know that. Thank you for responding so quickly. My husband is becoming fascinated with the birds that are visiting the feeder.

I'm glad I could help. Feel free to write again any time.
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Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is white proso millet?

Ripe head of proso milletImage via Wikipedia
Ripe head of white proso millet
White proso millet is a small, round, cream colored seed about the size of the head of a pin. A lot of ground-feeding birds like millet. It’s a major ingredient in many wild bird seed mixes and desirable to many species of birds like doves, towhees, quail, bobwhite, tanagers, buntings, juncos and other sparrows.

Most seed eating birds prefer black oil sunflower seeds but cardinals, goldfinches, purple finches and pine siskins, eat white proso millet if their seed of choice is not available.

The following shows the results of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studies on food preferences of birds:

Sunflower seed:
a) black oil - superior to other foods for most seed eating species
b) black-striped - most species will eat but only Tufted Titmouse and Blue Jays prefer
White Proso Millet - preferred food of juncos, Mourning Doves and sparrows
Red Proso Millet - can be used as a substitute for white proso; however, not as preferred.
Golden (German) Millet - least preferred of the millets
Milo (sorghum) - generally unattractive to all species.
Cracked Corn - eaten about one-third as often as white proso millet.
Safflower seed - considered acceptable to most species except blackbirds and starlings.
Canary seed - less attractive than white proso millet
Rape seed (canola seed) - least attractive feed in the study
Wheat – unattractive to most species
Flax seed - almost completely ignored
Oats - only starlings found hulled oats highly attractive
Peanut pieces - attractive to numerous species
Niger Thistle Seed - not related to weed thistles. Highly used by finches.

We have tons of fresh seed delivered every week to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love.

Click HERE to see what the most popular seed blend is in mid-Michigan.
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do Voles Hibernate?

Winter Tunnels
The Meadow Vole Microtus pennsylvanicus is the most widespread vole in North America. About 5 inches, long counting their stubby tail, voles destroy many weeds especially weed grasses, recycle the nutrients held in the grass through their droppings, aerate and turn the soil through their digging activities, and serve as food for of weasels, snakes, foxes, coyotes, all owls, most hawks, and domestic cats.

Voles do not hibernate and have many survival tactics that they use over the winter months. Once winter has spread her blanket of snow, the meadow vole, also known as a field mouse, spends the winter constructing a labyrinth of snow tunnels. The tunnels provide a steady environment protecting these animals from the normal fluctuations of cold and wind. The temperature is often several degrees warmer in the tunnel.

Following the tunnels may lead you to the dining area where food was readily available. It may lead you to a bedroom where you will find a ball of fine grass and maybe some cattail fuzz for warmth. Following it further may lead you to the backdoor used for escape.

The vole’s tunnels provide a certain amount of safety. All their needs are provided under the cover of snow. They seldom travel out of the tunnel. Predators like hawks and owls must wait above the snow and let their ears detect the pitter pat of a vole feet as they run through their tunnels.

Next time you are out walking in the winter, think about who may be just beneath winter’s blanket.

University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology (Microtus pennsylvanicus)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do Woodpeckers Eat Apples?

Baldwin apple (U.S.A.) also known as Woodpecke...Image via Wikipedia
Baldwin apple also known as
Woodpecker or Pecker apple for attracting birds
Lots of birds like apples including most woodpeckers. And the trees like the birds right back because birds help to pollinate and spread the trees' seeds as well as patrol for insects.

About 80 million years ago an early form of rose (a short, thorny plant with small, white, five-petaled flowers) was one of the earliest flowering plants to develop on earth. After many years several fruits evolved from this early rose. Apples, pears, plums, quinces, peaches, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all belong to the Rose (Rosaceae) plant family. The apple was the result of the cross-pollination of an ancient plum and a plant we call meadowsweet, in the genus Spiraea.

Using DNA technology the origin of the apples we eat today matches a small population of a single species still growing at the border of northeast China and the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. This isolated species evolved over the past 4.5 million years to become larger and sweeter, and was carried into the Western World by travelers on the ancient “silk roads.”

The crabapple is the only apple native to North America. The pilgrims planted the first United States edible apple orchard in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1600’s.

Today Apples are grown in all 50 states. The top apple producing states are Michigan, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia.

Some birds that use apple trees and crabapple trees for their fruit, flowers, or sap are:
American Robin, Blue Jay, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, American Crow, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Towhee, European Starling, grosbeaks, Gray Catbird, Hairy Woodpecker, House Finch, Northern Mockingbird, orioles, Purple Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Tufted Titmouse.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Where is Wild Birds Unlimited?

I found you by looking up wood duck boxes and was very impressed with your writing. I think you do a marvelous job. I've been sitting here at the computer for over an hour just reading. How do I order things? Monica - Wilton, NY

Jim Carpenter, owner of the first Wild Birds Unlimited in Indiana
I want to thank everyone that has sent me nice comments about the Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan blog recently. Your positive feedback is really encouraging. I’ve been receiving more and more calls and emails each month from people that have just stumbled on the blog and wonder where to buy the products I highlight in some of my posts.

Wild Birds Unlimited began with one retail store in Indianapolis, IN on January 1981. This store was such a success that Jim Carpenter, the owner, decided to use his knowledge about backyard bird watching and start to franchise his stores. In 1982, the store we own in Michigan became the first store in the franchise to open. Today, there are almost 275 stores across North America..

Unique Bird Feeding Station
Available only at
Wild Birds Unlimited
To find a store in your area go to http://maps.wbu.com/.

The tiny Wild Birds Unlimited brick and mortar store we own in mid-Michigan is filled with a wide variety of supplies you can't find anywhere else, to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby. We also know our local birds and teach customers how to choose and place feeders for maximum enjoyment in their yards.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs. Anyone can contribute by emailing me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Thanks for your comment and please write again.
Store location: 
Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823

E-mail:    bloubird@gmail.com
Website: http://lansing.wbu.com/
Blog:       http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/
Twitter:    http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/lansingwbu

Sunday, December 26, 2010

European Starling Fun Facts

• The European Starling was introduced into North America when the "American Acclimatization Society" for European settlers released some 80-100 birds in Central Park (New York City) in 1890-91. The head of this particular organization, Eugene Scheiffelin, desired to introduce all birds ever mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.

• Since its introduction into North America in 1891, European Starling populations have grown to over 200 million birds and they can now be found coast to coast and in Alaska.

• Rather than clamping their bill shut, starlings’ jaw muscles work to force it open giving them a great advantage when digging for grubs, worms, and bugs in the yard.

• Starlings, as members of the Sturnidae family, are cousins to the Mynah bird and are outstanding mimics. Individuals have been known to mimic the calls of up to 20 different bird species and may have a repertoire of over 60 different types of songs.

• Starlings were at one time considered a game bird in Europe, and were hunted for food.

• Starlings often return to the same nest cavity to raise their young each year.

• Bird banding records show the longest known life-span for a Starling in North America to be over 15 years old.

• European Starlings have a highly adaptable diet and eat a wide variety of foods, such as snails, worms, millipedes, and spiders, in addition to fruits, berries, grains, and seeds.

• Starlings can play an important role in reducing the numbers of some of the major insect pests that damage farm crops.

• Starlings in the Midwestern United States migrate south in the winter, but starlings in the East tend to be year-round residents. Young birds migrate farther than older birds.

• Migrating flocks of Starlings can reach enormous numbers; flocks of 100,000 birds are not uncommon.

Source: WBU Educational Resources - Starlings

Saturday, December 25, 2010

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

Season Greetings from Wild Birds Unlimited

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


Friday, December 24, 2010

Feed the Birds for New Year Good Luck

To our friends….

The people of Scandinavia traditionally
feed the birds on Christmas Day to ensure
good luck throughout the coming year.

Spread seed on your doorstep Christmas
Morning for New Year’s good luck!

Store location:

Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823

Email: bloubird@gmail.com
Web: http://lansing.wbu.com/
Blog: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited
Facebook: Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan http://tiny.cc/QmIv5

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Northern Flicker Roosts Alone in the Winter

A hungry yellowshafted Northern Flicker, strug...Image via WikipediaHi, I'm not a bird watcher, and really don't know about birds. I have about 10 bird houses in my backyard and have had some finch feeders, that's it. My question is about a small bird that has been sleeping in the under side of our front porch awning. This is at least the second winter or maybe the third. He/she sits up in the corner behind the framework of the awning and some wires that lead to a light that spotlights our American flag all night. The bird it is not in the light beam at all. It has no nest, just sits on the aluminum rail or on the electrical cord. It's always alone, no mate.

It flies in about 4:45pm every night and leaves in the morning; you don't see it all day. I've tried to find out what kind of bird it is, but can't find a picture of it on line. Now to describe it…it's a small black, grey and white bird. It has a grey cap on its head. Black eyes and is black around the eyes also. White cheeks. It looks like it has a goatee, under its beak is a black spot. Its chest is grey with speckles of white and black. It tummy is whitish. Its feet are black. His back looks mostly black, but I can't see it that well. Its beak is black, round (not flat) and short with a very tiny hook going downward. Do you know what it is?
Thanks, Bev

Thank you for writing. What your describing sounds like a Northern Flicker which unlike other woodpeckers, spends about 75% of his time foraging on the ground. They are found almost everywhere in North America and year round in mid-Michigan. The eastern and mid-western United States have the Yellow-Shafted Flicker and the west has the Red-Shafted Flicker. The Gilded Flicker of the southwest is very similar to the Red-Shafted Flicker.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker (Colaptes aura...Image via Wikipedia

Northern Flickers are medium sized woodpeckers with black-barred brown back, white rump, and black tail. Flickers in mid-Michigan have black polka dots on the belly and a black bib under their long bill. The males also have a black “mustache.” As you observed the birds have a gray crown with a red chevron on the back of the head and have yellow underwings and undertail. Females resemble males but lack moustache stripes.

Flickers nest in man made nest boxes or dead tree cavities in most suburban environments and forest edges. Unlike most other woodpeckers, Northern Flickers are mainly ground feeders, eating ants, termites, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, other insects, and spiders. In winter, Northern Flickers forage for berries from poison ivy, Virginia creeper, dogwood, and sumac, as well as nuts. They do come to feeders for seeds, nuts and suet. So maybe if you have a suet feeder out it would stick around during the day. Or watch any fruit bearing trees and bushes to catch him eating.

At this time of year you’ll notice that flickers are the earliest of the backyard birds to retire at night, sometimes going to their lodgings an hour before sundown. But they go out soon after sunrise, unless there is bad weather; then they may linger in their apartments. Flickers will roost in any open cavity in a tree, or even in a partially sheltered spot on the open trunk; they often drill holes in barns or find a spot under the eaves of houses for winter roosts. Larger birds, such as flickers and other woodpeckers, like to roost alone. It’s not unusual that it has no mate with him.

Unfortunately the Flicker populations appear to be declining. Some contributing factors might be due to the loss of nesting sites in dead trees and competition with other cavity nesting birds. Wild Birds Unlimited has flicker houses available for the birds to nest in during breeding season or you can build your own Northern Flicker house from the plans on the Michigan DNRE website: http://ning.it/gPwfHx

To read more on the Northern Flicker go to http://www.wbu.com/chipperwoods/photos/nflicker.htm

It also just occured to me that this was the bird that changed the life of Roger Tory Peterson,  the preeminent naturalist of the twentieth century.

On the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History website they write: At the age of 11, birds “took over” his life. His seventh grade teacher, Blanche Hornbeck, enrolled her students in the Junior Audubon Club, taught them about birds, and often walked them to a nearby forest where she used nature to teach writing, art and science. It was during that year on an April morning that Roger had an experience that shaped the rest of his life. While hiking with a friend at nearby Swede Hill, the boys spotted a seemingly lifeless clump of brown feathers on a tree, very low to the ground. Although merely sleeping, the boys thought the Northern Flicker was dead. Later, Peterson described the experience: “I poked it and it burst into color, with the red on the back of its head and the gold on its wing. It was the contrast, you see, between something I thought was dead and something so alive. Like a resurrection. I came to believe birds are the most vivid reflection of life. It made me aware of the world in which we live.”

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles

Haliaeetus leucocephalus5Image via WikipediaThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment are warning Michigan drivers to use caution this holiday travel season and keep an eye out for bald eagles.

Bald eagle mortality due to motor vehicle accidents is on the rise in Michigan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment are warning Michigan drivers to use caution this holiday travel season and keep an eye out for the rare birds.

Bald eagles have been seen more frequently along roadways and as a result, the mortality rate due to vehicular trauma has gone up in the last six years.

Bald eagleImage via Wikipedia
Car accidents accounted for 774 bald eagle deaths in 2008, or 29 percent.

The DNRE says eagles are feeding on road kill, so drivers should slow down when they see a dead animal alongside the road in case a bald eagle is nearby.

The bald eagle recovered enough in number to be taken off the endangered species list in 2007.

To report a live or dead eagle on the ground or scavenging on road kill in Michigan, click HERE. This information will help biologists determine where management action is most needed to reduce future eagle deaths.
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Small Michigan Owl Visits Neighborhood

Hi, I found this owl on my front porch and this owl was so cool. Would you happen to know what type of owl this is? Thank you. Michele

Oh how exciting! It looks like an Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio). They are found in nearly every habitat throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. These owls are common in suburban as well as rural areas.

The Eastern Screech Owl has two color morphs (variations in color), reddish or gray with darker streaking on the body that makes them very difficult to distinguish from surrounding tree bark.

Eastern Screech Owl Red Phase.Image via Wikipedia
Males and females look alike but females tend to be larger. They are less than 10 inches tall and weigh about 6 ounces. They have yellow eyes, ear tufts, a pale bill and make a "horselike" whinny vocalization that rises and falls.

Screech Owls do not migrate. They maintain home ranges throughout the winter. Pairs occasionally roost together during the winter in hollow trees, nest boxes, and trees with dense foliage.

They are nocturnal and hunt for lots of rodents and insects by sound. Their ears, right behind the face, are lopsided. This allows for exceptional depth perception and can help them locate prey.

They hunt from dawn to dusk, so your owl was probably perching and waiting to swoop down on unsuspecting prey. Very nice!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Kirtland’s Warbler 2010 Population Study

Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii), maleImage via Wikipedia
Male Kirtland's Warbler
Press release: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment released their annual survey information indicating the state’s population of the endangered Kirtland’s warbler remains steady.

Biologists, researchers and volunteers in Michigan observed 1,733 singing males during the official 2010 survey period. The lowest numbers were recorded in 1974 and 1987, when only 167 singing males were found.

Warblers are detected by listening for their songs which can be heard at distances up to one-quarter mile, providing an excellent way to detect the birds with minimum disturbance. Only the males sing, so estimates of breeding population size are obtained by doubling the number of singing males recorded, based on the assumption that each male has a mate in its territory.

The 2010 survey was a joint effort by the DNRE, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Michigan Department of Veterans and Military Affairs, Michigan Audubon Society, and citizen volunteers.

This year, singing males (numbers in parentheses) were found in 11 Northern Lower Peninsula counties: Alcona (178), Clare (99), Crawford (288), Iosco (167), Kalkaska (60), Montmorency (28), Ogemaw (552), Oscoda (256), Otsego (24), Presque Isle (6), and Roscommon (41). Surveyors identified 29 singing males in five Upper Peninsula counties: Baraga (3), Chippewa (15), Delta (7), Marquette (5), and Schoolcraft (4). Twenty-six additional singing males were observed outside Michigan: 23 in Wisconsin and three in Ontario.

Kirtland's Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii), femaleImage via Wikipedia
Female Kirtland's Warbler
As the amount of habitat has stabilized, the population of warblers has stabilized in northern Michigan’s jack pine barrens ecosystem. The warblers nest on the ground and typically select nesting sites in stands of jack pine between four and 20 years old. Historically, these stands of young jack pine were created by natural wildfires that frequently swept through northern Michigan. Modern fire suppression programs altered this natural process, reducing Kirtland’s warbler habitat.

To mimic the effects of wildfire and ensure the future Kirtland’s warblers, the DNRE and its partners manage the forests through a combination of clear-cutting, burning, seeding, and replanting that promotes habitat for many species, including deer, snowshoe hare, other warbler species, and rare plants, in addition to Kirtland’s warblers.

Kirtland's Warblers breed in upper and lower Michigan and winter throughout the Bahama Islands.

For more information on the Kirtland’s warbler, contact the DNRE Wildlife Division, Natural Heritage Program, Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909, or visit the DNRE website: www.michigan.gov/dnre or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kirtland's Warbler Fact Sheet.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

Last Minute Gifts for Birdwatchers

Sarah, you’ve never steered me wrong. You know my husband is a bird fanatic and I want you to recommend something I can buy that every birdwatcher wants. I want something that you would use. ~N

That’s a tough question. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI store is loaded with fabulous items for birdwatchers and nature lovers. Maybe I can narrow it down to our top 10 best sellers in December.

Top 10 Gifts in no particular order:

1. Gift Cards – This is a no-brainer. WBU gift cards are good at all Wild Birds Unlimited stores and allow your loved ones to buy whatever they want.

2. Brome Squirrel Buster Plus Feeder – This is our best selling squirrel proof feeder. I’ve had this feeder for years and absolutely love it. It’s easy to clean and fill, attracts a variety of birds, is squirrel proof, and has a lifetime guarantee.

3. Seed Cylinder Feeder – I just bought this feeder a couple years ago and am very happy with the birds that are attracted to the cylinders. I actually have two cylinder feeders now and would recommend this to anyone that wants something a little unique.

4. Recycled Classic Hopper Feeder – This is a great feeder for all birds. The recycled hoppers are all lifetime guaranteed but I don’t know if you’ll ever have to worry about that. The recycled plastic is so sturdy and easy to clean, you'll love it.

5. Advanced Pole System Bird Feeder Set-up – So many people complain about having several crooked or tipping Shepard's hooks around the yard. With the Wild Birds Unlimited unique pole system you can build the ultimate bird feeding station that has a stabilizer to keep your poles straight. The box set ups give the basic parts and make a great gift and then you can always add more pieces to make the set up to suit your needs.

6. Bird Houses or Roosting Pockets –Birds use these man made shelters in the winter to get out of the snows and wind. I like to watch them in the morning when one pops out, then another, and another. Several birds go in the shelters each night and in the morning it’s like watching clowns coming out of a car at the circus. How many fit in there?

7. Heated Bird Bath – Boy we’ve had a hard time keeping these on the floor this year. The heated bird baths are a convenient way to offer birds that much needed water in the winter. You do the birds a big favor when you provide fresh water.

8. Mesh Finch Feeder – My absolute favorite feeder. The finches flock to the mesh feeders year round in mid-Michigan. I started with one when they first came out a few years ago and now, let me count, I’m up to 5 feeders. Love, love, love them!

9. Peanut Wreaths – These are “fill when you want to watch them” feeders. Right before we have company over, I fill these feeders and people are always amazed at the flurry of activity the Blue Jays and woodpeckers display as they squabble over the peanuts.

10. Birdie Bells – Right now I only have three of these feeders. I have them hanging right outside the windows. Woodpeckers, titmice, chickadees, and every other seed and bug eating bird take turns at these feeders. It’s an easy convenient feeder that makes a great gift for someone that has everything.

Thank you for making that list for me. You jogged my memory. He did wonder if we should get a heater for our bird bath but I think the “heated” bird bath sounds easier. See you soon. ~N

That's great! I'm glad I could help. I forgot to mention books. We have a nice selection of books. Right now the most popular are our Birds of Michigan books and the Backyard Birdsong Guide.

And suet feeders too. Lots of birds are looking for the high fat suet offers and there is always room for a suet feeder. The list can go on and on so I  better stop here.
Talk to you later, Sarah

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fun Facts About Juncos

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

• According to Project Feeder Watch, Juncos are sighted at more feeding areas across North America than any other bird. Over 80% percent of those responding report Juncos at their feeders.

• To avoid the competition, many females migrate farther south than most of the males. Up to 70% of Juncos wintering in the southern U.S. are females. Males tend to stay farther north in order to shorten their spring migration and thus gain the advantage of arriving first at prime breeding territories.

• Juncos, along with some other members of the sparrow family, practice an interesting foraging method called “riding.” They fly up to a seed cluster on the top of a grass stem and “ride” it to the ground where they pick off the seeds while standing on it.

• The longevity records for Dark-eyed Juncos is 10 years.

Source: WBU Educational Resources-Juncos

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

New Bird of Prey Dinosaur Named after Twin Sisters

Geminiraptor suarezarum, meaning “Twin grasper of the Suarezes” is a raptor-like dinosaur named in honor of twin sisters, Drs. Marina and Celina Suarez. They discovered the bones while helping paleontologist James Kirkland with a Utah Geological Survey as graduate students.

It was an incomplete upper jaw that looks like it could be inflated by a large and unique air sack. This identifies the fossil as belonging to a new species of troodontid.

These “raptor-like” dinosaurs are often credited with being more intellectually advanced. This is based on the fact that the troodontid braincase is as much as six times larger than other dinosaurs.

The 7 foot dinosaur is thought to be 125 million years old. Most of the known raptors discovered in North America date to between 72 million and 75 million years ago, which makes the discovery the oldest reported specimen of its kind.

Press Release: Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah Sets Record with Seven New Species of Dinosaur in 2010
Research article: A New Troodontid Theropod Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Utah

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snow Cams in Michigan

Wild Bird Crossing

So far mid-Michigan hasn't been hit by very severe weather. If you’re interested in how well the rest of the state is fairing or if you need to keep up-to-date on trail conditions, snow depths, road conditions or the weather, visit www.michigansnowcams.com.  

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can All Birds Learn to Talk Like Humans?

I have two budgies that have become surprisingly proficient talkers. They love to watch the birds outside on the window feeder and I was wondering, if the wild birds wanted, could they speak English.

http://abbyvanburen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2birds.jpgWhat a wonderfully scary question. Can you imagine coexisting with birds that speak the same language? Some people don’t have to imagine. Dr. Irene Pepperberg worked with an African Grey Parrot for 30 years and found that her bird could communicate to her as well as a five-year-old human.

Cover of
Pepperberg was interviewed on NPR after she wrote a book, Alex & Me, in which she explores the world of animal cognition and describes her unique relationship with her parrot. The full NPR interview is attached below.

We know that some birds are more likely to imitate human speech than others but not why. Parrots have a thicker more muscular tongue than most birds adapted for manipulating food in the bill. This may make them more articulate.

To talk, humans use their lips, tongue and vocal cords. Birds have a sound-making organ that other animals, including humans, do not, called the syrinx, Greek for pan pipes. When a bird breaths in air it flows in through the trachea which forks as it passes to the two lungs. Where the trachea forks is where the bird's syrinx is located.

For birds to speak words they would use their tongue and syrinx which has a pair of structures called medial tympaniform membranes, which produce a flow of air in the throat that results in sounds. So to answer your question, in theory I guess it’s possible for birds communicate using human speech if they wanted. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112405883

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

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.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

How to Attract Cardinals

The Northern Cardinal is often the first bird to visit a feeder in the morning and the last to stop by and grab a bite at night. Recognized easily by the male’s bright red plumage, the cardinal has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Back then the bird was known only as a southern bird. Today, it has a wide range throughout the East, most of Michigan as well as southern Canada.

Cardinals prefer to feed on the ground so if you can "raise the ground" by feeding cardinals on tray feeders, hopper feeders or any feeder that gives them a comfortable feeding position they'll be happy. Their favorite food is oil sunflower, nuts, safflower and fruit. This makes the Cranberry Seed cylinder on a WBU Dinner Bell feeder very successful. It covers all their needs.

Because many times they will choose the seed that’s easiest to eat, the WBU No-mess blend bird seed in a Squirrel Buster Plus bird feeder with a cardinal perch ring will also entice the birds to your yard.

The bright red plumage of the Northern Cardinals is a magnificent sight against the snowy backdrop in winter. So put out a feeder now to enjoy the beauty. Cardinals that live in mid-Michigan and further south stay year round and gather in larger numbers until spring.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Food & water from bird feeders can impact birds’ survival

The mild November and early December in mid-Michigan allowed birds to seek natural foods easily. Though it might seem strange to humans, wild birds prefer to forage over visiting feeders.

Last night, however, the natural food sources may have become covered with snow or locked in ice. If this ice sticks around for 2 or 3 days, birds can starve to death. When ice coats the seeds and berries in the wild, the birds can’t eat them. At those times, bird feeders are often their only source of food available.

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.

Your feeders serve only as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard except during cold, long, severe winter weather. So today your birds may be utilizing them as the critical source of food that enables them to survive the day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Original Nutcracker

White-breasted Nuthatch in Algonquin Provincia...Image via Wikipedia
White-breasted Nuthatch

Nifty and Nimble Nuthatches!
Nuthatches are are very easy backyard birds to identify. If you see a bird creeping downward on a tree, it’s a nuthatch. It’s the only species that can “walk down a tree.” It needs no tail support because it has incredibly strong feet!

That said, generally you won’t see large numbers of nuthatches in your yard. Most nuthatches visit feeders in ones and twos. They are feisty and aggressive birds, and pairs generally defend a territory of 10 to 30 acres. They feast on seeds and insects found in trees, and many times will hide seeds from feeders in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches are the most common visitors to feeders in Michigan. They enjoy suet, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Red-breasted Nuthatches are pickier than White-breasted Nuthatches, and their diet is made up mainly of conifer seeds.

Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea) at a feeder.Image via Wikipedia
Pygmy Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatches live in ponderosa forests in the West and survive the bitter winter nights by roosting with 50 to 100 or more other Pygmy Nuthatches in tree cavities. With so many birds in the cavity, they stay warm and can lower their metabolic rate to conserve energy.

A Brown-headed Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). Photo...Image via Wikipedia
Brown-headed Nuthatch
Another species, Brown-headed Nuthatches, live primarily in the Southeast United States in mature pine forests. These birds live in flocks, although they do not have the “sleepovers” the Pygmy Nuthatches have.

To attract nuthatches to your yard, try a suet or peanut feeder as well as our Wild Birds Unlimited seed cylinders.

Original article:
WBU Educational Resources: Nuthatches
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Free Downloads of Bird Sounds from Around the World

New Database from Michigan State University

News Release EAST LANSING, Mich. — A growing online library of bird sounds, photos and information offers a new resource for backyard birders and seasoned ornithologists alike.
European Robin Erithacus rubecula

The Avian Vocalizations Center at Michigan State University, or AVoCet, offers free downloads of bird sounds from around the world. It also features sonograms that visually chart the sounds, photos of birds recorded, Google Earth maps of recording locations and links to other online sound collections.

More than 10,200 recordings from over 3,190 species in 45 countries are now available on AVoCet, “and that’s growing quickly,” said Pamela Rasmussen, an assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator at the MSU Museum. “Soon recordings and their data from many more species and areas will be available for download from AVoCet.”

There are, after all, 10,000 bird species, all of which make sounds of some type. Many birds, such as cardinals, even sing in regional dialects. Some birds have huge vocabularies – a single male Brown Thrasher is known to give 2,000 different notes.

A comprehensive collection of bird sounds can yield better understanding of habitats, ranges and habits, while allowing more efficient and thorough biodiversity studies, Rasmussen said. “It’s very difficult to see birds in a tropical rainforest, but not difficult to hear and recognize them.”

Project AVoCet aims to provide a global database of well-documented, downloadable bird sounds in aid of environmental and ornithological research, conservation, education, and the identification and appreciation of birds and their habitats. They’ll be adding much more over the next few months and beyond (see “What’s here now? and “Coming soon!”). And, you can even let them know if you’d like to get involved!

More information:
The Avian Vocalizations Center at Michigan State University, or AVoCet: http://avocet.zoology.msu.edu/