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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Some Native Sparrows

Though some native sparrows look similar, these sparrows have distinct differences.

Chipping Sparrow• They must consume over two pounds of seeds through the course of winter to survive. With an average body weight of only 13 grams, this means that Chipping Sparrows consume over 70 times their own weight in seeds each winter.
• They molt all of their body feathers once or twice a year and they may also replace the feathers on their face and throat up to six times a year.

American Tree Sparrow
• They are known to eat tons of common weed seeds each year.
• When the ground covered in snow, they have been observed flying around a weed plant, using their wings to dislodge seeds for easy retrieval.
• They eat 30% & drink 30% of their own body weight every day during the summer..

White-throated Sparrows• They have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own.
• They are occasionally known to mate with the Dark-eyed Juncos and produce hybrids.
• Their average travel distance is about 70 miles per day while migrating north in the spring.

Song Sparrows• They are the most common and widespread sparrow native to North America.
• There are 31 recognized subspecies of the Song Sparrow, more than any other bird species found in North America.
• When migrating, male Song Sparrows don’t travel as far south as the female so they can be the first birds back to the nesting grounds in the spring.

Dark-Eyed Juncos• Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “Snowbirds,” possibly due to the fact that in mid-Michigan we see the first junco around the time as our first snow. 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.”
• Dark-eyed Juncos tend to return to the same area each winter. Chances are that you have many of the same birds at your feeder this winter that you had in previous years.

For more information about native sparrows, visit allaboutbird.com - our online bird guide.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Nature will not be admired by proxy. ~Winston Churchill

"Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life." ~Rachel Carson

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Introducing the Effortless Birdfeeder™

This is a brand new feeder has been creating a lot of excitement with the customers at our Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing MI stores.

I’ll let you be the judge if this revolutionary all-in-one feeder and stand fills your bird feeding needs.

The features include:
  • Easy Re-filling & Cleaning
  • Squirrel Guard Keeps Critters Off
  • Free Standing Base Easy to Pick Up and Relocate
  • Small and Large Seed Trays to Attract a Wide Variety of Birds
  • Funnel Feature on Large Tube that Holds Approx. 6lbs of Seed
  • ABS Plastic and Metal Construction & UV Stabilized Tube
  • 5 Year Warranty

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black Squirrel History & Facts

We have lots of squirrels. I think I remember the black ones coming to the yard regularly in the 1980’s. Today I saw my first “gray” Gray Squirrel. If he mates with a black phase Gray Squirrel what color will the babies be this spring? Lansing, MI

The black squirrel, a melanistic subgroup of the of the common gray squirrel, is found all over the Michigan State University campus, and the surrounding areas. However, few people know the true story of how such a large population of black squirrels came to live in East Lansing.

Joe Johnson, chief wildlife biologist at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station, admits to having transferred some of the critters. He caught 20 black squirrels and relocated them onto campus in the early 1960s at the request of MSU President John A. Hannah."

President Hannah said that he wanted two things," Johnson said. "He wanted Canadian geese on the Red Cedar River and black squirrels on campus. I guess he thought the squirrels were really unique." The black squirrel is actually native to Michigan, but was almost wiped out when they were over hunted.

The black-coated squirrels occur more in the northern US and Canada. Their color varies from gray with a reddish cast to their coat, to dark brown, to black, or any combination of the above. Studies have shown that black squirrels have 18% lower heat loss than light colored gray squirrels allowing them to withstand harsh winters.

The gene for the black coat is recessive. If a black-coated and gray-coated Eastern Gray Squirrels mate, the offspring can be either gray or black depending on their genes. It takes getting that recessive gene from both parents for the fur to be black. If either gene is the dominant gray gene, the fur will be gray. So I guess you’ll just have to wait and see whose fresh face shows up at the feeder in the next few weeks. And make sure to send baby pictures! Now I’m curious.

The State News FACT or FICTION? by Amy Davis
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Will Hawks Eat My Dog?

Can anyone tell me what kind of hawk this is? I live in a suburban neighborhood with this hawk and a couple of it's family members. I and another neighbor worry about our small dogs. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you!

It looks like a Cooper's Hawk. I wrote an earlier blog about the bird at http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2009/02/bird-of-week-cooperss-hawk.html.

I'm not sure where you live, but the most common neighborhood hawks in mid-Michigan are the Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more sitings have been reported in the suburbs. It is also the beginning of migration. February and March are good times to see a lot of birds stopping over in our yards on the way to their final nesting grounds.

Cooper's hawks are predators primarily of birds and small mammals. Small means under a pound, so you don't have to worry about your dog unless it fits in a teacup.

When hunting, Cooper's hawks usually perch during the day and watch for prey. They wait until their prey is unaware of their presence, then quickly swoop down and seize it. Mourning Doves, starlings, chipmunks, and small squirrels are common prey for Cooper's hawks. Their short, rounded wings make them very maneuverable flyers in dense, forests and even follow prey up evergreens. These hawks also pursue prey on the ground, half running and half flying.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors attracted to bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flies away. So enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • If you feed birds, place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds.
  • Keep in mind hawks in the neighborhood play an important role in controlling bird and rodent populations and usually ignore cats, dogs, and people.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that visit only do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse?

Is there a particular direction I'm suppose to face my new bluebird house? Julie in Mason, MI

My first response for the placement of a bird house was the same advice I give in the placement of bird feeders; put the houses where you can view them. After years of customer feedback I still give that advice but add that if possible the entrance hole should face east or southeast for the most success.

In Mid-Michigan Eastern Bluebirds like to nest in fields, meadows, orchards, farm fields, large lawns, and golf courses. Their houses should be mounted on our Wild Birds Unlimited APS birdhouse pole or a fence post approximately five feet above the ground. If possible, face the house away from prevailing winds and facing towards a tree or shrub and 100 feet from the house. Trees and shrubs provide a perching area for the bluebirds to hunt bugs and a landing spot for the young bluebirds when they first leave the house. Eastern Bluebird houses should be spaced at least 100 to 150 yards apart.

I did a little investigating and found a report to back up our customers' theory that birds have a preference in the direction of their house. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has collected research by citizen scientists across the U.S. to reveal that the Eastern Bluebirds will nest in a bird house that faces in any direction. In the northern states like Michigan, however, the birds prefer the early morning sun coming in the front of the house as it faces the east.

The studies showed: "Overall, it is clear that nest boxes facing in easterly directions fledged on average more young than boxes facing in other directions. Our data, therefore, suggest there is a benefit to breeding in east-facing nest boxes at northern latitudes, where night temperatures tend to be colder. No benefit, however, could be detected farther south." [1]

Cornell is still collecting information on nesting. Anyone can monitor nests - it's a rewarding way to spend time outdoors and participate in science. To learn more go to NestWatch a nest-monitoring project developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in collaboration with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, and funded by the National Science Foundation. [2]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Migration of Eastern Bluebirds

I was surprised that I’ve been feeding bluebirds all winter. Are the bluebirds that are eating from my feeders now going to be around during the nesting season or are they just here for the winter? Colin in DeWitt, MI

This was a very big winter for bluebird watchers in mid-Michigan. I’ve never ordered so many mealworms from December through February. The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store even had to get a larger fridge to store extra worms.

Usually, the Eastern Bluebirds will gather in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

But are they the same bluebirds you had last spring? The Eastern Bluebirds are considered partial migrants. Scientist believe that a certain percentage of bluebirds aren’t genetically programmed to fly south in the winter.

According to SandyTSeibert’s article titled “Bluebirds Migrate to Find Better Weather and Better Resources”: “Eastern bluebirds do not simply shift southward. In some of the warmer areas of the country, many are year-round residents. Often, the birds from Canada and the northern U.S. will leapfrog over areas with many resident birds in order to avoid competition for food. These birds will travel as far as Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and the southern portions of Alabama, Georgia and Texas.
Not all northern bluebirds exhibit this type of migration. Some will migrate shorter distances and remain with resident birds throughout the winter. They will face more competition for food but, if they survive, they will have the benefit of being the first to return to their breeding area in the spring. This gives them the benefit of being able to claim the most desirable territories.”

So why did we see so many bluebirds this year? One answer could be that the population may have increased. Another answer could be that we had such a mild winter that more bluebirds were noticed or more may have survived.

With the lengthening of daylight the birds are becoming more active. Nesting season is just around the corner. Make sure your houses are ready and feeders and baths are full. We will continue to stock everything you need to keep your bluebirds happy and healthy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Season of Song Begins

You may have noticed that as it gets lighter earlier that the birds are beginning to sing more. What triggers this change in behavior?

A key part of a bird’s brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to longer days, the cells start to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone, previously associated only with growth and metabolism. It indirectly stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete further hormones called gonadotrophins, causing male birds' testicles to grow and, results in increased singing during breeding season.

So now is the time to be thinking about providing nesting material and nesting boxes to attract wild birds in your yard because there is nothing like birds’ songs to herald the approach of spring.

Friday, February 19, 2010

About Birdwatchers

“There has been a tremendous renaissance in nature study in recent years; it has been called a form of escapism, and perhaps it is in a way, but not an escape from reality; but rather, a return to reality; a flight from unreal things.”
~ Roger Tory Peterson

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dryer Lint is a NO NO for Nesting Material

Offering birds construction material to build a nest is just one more way for you to attract a wider variety of bird activity to your yard. But I’ve been hearing several people say that they are saving their dryer lint for nesting material this spring.

I’d like to say that we DO NOT recommend dryer lint. There may be perfumes and soap residue, but more important it isn’t a good nest building material. Lint hardens after getting wet providing a poor nest for baby birds.

There are several different nesting materials that we DO recommend. Birds generally line the inside of their nest with a soft lining. Clean pet hair or cotton yarn cut no longer than 3 inches can be stuffed into an old mesh onion sack or an unused suet cage and hung from trees and bushes for birds to use in nest building. (I know it’s not hard to collect a handful of cat hair right now as the cats are switching to their spring coat!) You can also purchase natural cotton balls and Birdie Bells full of feathers, straw, and cotton at our Wild Birds Unlimited stores in East Lansing, MI.

In the end, whether the birds are collecting twigs, leaves, feathers, cattail fluff or cottonwood down, moss, bark, pine needles, mud, or spider webs from the yard or the nesting material we offer, it's fun to watch as different birds collect different construction materials in the spring.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"Frisky" Fox Squirrels

I’ve created a situation here. I love, I love, I love my squirrels! I like how they dance around the yard and are so entertaining. Don’t get me wrong I love my birds but I’ve got these big brown squirrels trained to come up to the back door during breakfast and knock on the window for food. Now I’m a little worried because a couple squirrels seem to be getting fat. Should I cut down on the food? Tammy, MI

I don’t think you have to worry. The fat ones are probably just eating for 3 or 4. The Eastern Fox Squirrel Sciurus niger can mate any time but generally begin in January and February and again in May and June. Gestation lasts 44 days and an average litter size is 2-3 naked babies weighing between 13-18 g. Females can have several mates, and the males will compete with each other or “dance” to determine who is dominant.

Fox squirrels are found throughout the eastern and central United States, south into northern Mexico, and north into Canada. It is the largest tree squirrel in Michigan at 10-15 inches in length with tan underparts and cinnamon colored upperparts.

They usually nest in a tree hollow or a leaf nest in the crotch of a tree. You can also buy or build a squirrel nest box. The female takes care of the young with no help from the males. They develop rather slowly. Their eyes don’t even open until the fifth week. At 7 weeks they begin to climb about the nest tree and then venture onto the ground at about 10 weeks. At 3 months they begin to lead a more or less independent existence. Sexual maturity is reached at age of 10 months. Females can produce 2 litters in a year, although 1 is the norm.

Young fox squirrels disperse away from their mothers range in the fall of their first year. Male fox squirrels venture farther and may die more as a result. In captivity Fox Squirrels have had a recorded lifespan of 8-18 years. However in nature the average lifespan is 7 months due to predators and human interaction (cars, hunters…).

The eastern fox squirrel is a solitary animal, although it will share a feeding area with other squirrels. And even if you didn’t feed them they would survive on a variety of plants, fruits, nuts, berries and bugs. So enjoy away!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Birds Mate

As I wrote about before, most birds choose a single partner for the nesting period and some stay paired for their entire life. Courtship, generally the male’s responsibility, usually entails singing but can also consist of many other activities like drumming or dancing.

During breeding season, the male's testes which lie within their body at the end of each kidney become several hundred times larger than normal to produce sperm which moves to the cloaca where it is stored until insemination (the act of sex). In bird anatomy, a cloaca is the posterior opening that serves as the only opening from which they excrete both urine and feces, unlike mammals, which possess two separate orifices for evacuation.

The female bird's ovaries are also enlarged during breeding season to produce the ovum. The ovum is a single cell that we recognize as the yolk of an egg. The female bird unfans her tail, moves it to one side while the male climbs up onto her back or gets close to her. Their cloacas are pressed together and the sperm moves from the male to the female. This act is called a cloacal kiss.

The ovum is fertilized in the female bird's oviduct by a sperm cell from the male bird. The oviduct is a tube that transports the egg from the ovary to the cloaca and where the white of the egg and shell are formed. In most birds, the ovary releases an ovum at daily intervals during the breeding season until a complete clutch of eggs is laid. Once fertilized, the ovum becomes the nucleus of the egg. The egg will be laid by the female into her nest, incubated, and then the baby bird will hatch.

Sperm is stored by the female for at least a week, in some species over a hundred days. Then as each ovum from the ovary moves into the oviduct, it gets fertilized with the stored sperm, producing a clutch of eggs, all with the sperm from that one cloacal kiss.

There are a few species of birds where the males do possess a retractable penis that can be pulled back into the bird. These birds include ostriches, cassowaries, kiwis, swans, geese, and ducks. Since waterfowl sometimes make love while in the lake or pond, the penis helps ensure that the sperm is not washed away by the water.

And, although it is not necessary to copulate frequently since the sperm is stored within the female, remember those hormones are still making the birds excited. Many pairs of birds will mate numerous times within a few days.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Do Birds Mate For Life?

In North America most birds form bonds for at least a single nesting. These pairings allow birds to split domestic duties for protecting eggs and caring for hatchlings.

Other pair bonds include mating for life, either by pairing up again each breeding season or remaining with each other year-round. Cardinals, jays, doves, and robins are some of the common backyard birds that spend several seasons together with the same partner.

Even cowbirds which lay their eggs in other birds nests are largely monogamous.

One exception to the social pattern of monogamy with backyard birds that comes to mind is the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. After a brief courtship and mating, the female builds a nest and raises her family alone. Male hummingbirds do not help raise the young.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mystery bird: Orange-Crowned Warbler?

I'm wondering how many emails to you start with some variation of "Sorry for the poor quality of the picture..." 

So, sorry for the poor picture. I've been trying to get a photo of this one for some time, but it's very skittish. This was a rare convergence of "bird" & "camera already in hand." I had to tilt far to one side, with my right foot hooked around the leg of an end table to keep my balance, just to get a clear view. I managed this one shot before the bird skittered away.

I often see it when the goldfinches are around, but it appears different to me. The shape of the head seems more delicate, and the color is more evenly spread around the body.

Maybe a warbler of some sort? Maybe a pine siskin? Maybe a goldfinch and I'm just imagining things? Joy K. North Central Texas

I suspect that it is an Orange-crowned Warbler. I hope that’s right because I’m patting myself on the back for getting better at naming these mystery birds from across the country. This warbler is not normally seen in mid-Michigan (where our Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store is located).

Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata) is a small warbler distinguished by having no distinguishing markings. This songbird has olive-grey upperparts, yellowish underparts with faint streaking and a thin pointed bill. An orange patch on the crown is usually concealed except during courtship or when alarmed. They also have a faint line over their eyes and a faint broken eye ring. Females and immature birds are duller in color than males.

Orange-crowned Warblers don't migrate as far south in the fall as most warblers, with many staying in the southern United States. They are bug eaters and will also feed on tree sap, berries, and fruit. In the winter, as you’ve discovered, they can approach nectar, seed, or suet feeders for a quick bite. They are usually solitary birds, but after nesting season they may be found mixed in with flocks of chickadees, goldfinch, vireos, or other bird groups.

For more pictures and information you can look up Orange-crowned Warbler on the Migratory Bird Center Website at:

Thank you very much for your photo and question. I hope everyone is participating in the
Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Interesting and Noteworthy

I read recently a National Geographic article asking: "How much life could you find in one cubic foot?"

They explained that: "Earth is the only planet we know that has a biosphere... Most of the organisms of the biosphere, and the vast number of its species, can be found at the surface or just below it… working together in a constant turnover of birth and death…Without the smooth working of all this linkage, the biosphere would cease to exist.

Thus, we need all of this biomass and biodiversity, including all of the creepy-crawlies. Yet in spite of its vital role, life at the ground level remains relatively unknown, even to scientists."

Photographer David Liittschwager actually took a green metal frame, a 12-inch cube, out in to the field for a closer look. To check out the miniature ecosystems photos from land, water, tropical, and temperate environments go to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/cubic-foot/wilson-text

Related Articles:
- Why should we care about birds? http://bit.ly/ztC1dt
- Beat winter blues with birdsong http://bit.ly/xdlTlB
- Flashdance: The Fireflies Mating Ritual http://bit.ly/ysuA9q
- What is a Slug? http://bit.ly/AlQwWS
- Sounds of Summer: Michigan Cicada http://bit.ly/xnUpVW

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thinking of summer

Thought you might like to share this with customers on the blog; a summery photo to take our minds off all the snow.

This was taken in 2007 in Fowlerville, MI. The goldfinch was hanging off either a WBU feeder or part of the APS pole, and obviously curious about something.
Mike Grimm

Beautiful! It's hard to believe spring is just around the corner. Thanks for the "Friday Photo." Please feel free to contribute any time. WBU East Lansing, MI

The Great Backyard Bird Count XIII Begins!

Are you ready? It's time for the GBBC.
Step by step instructions for this citizen science project are on the website: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html
and you can submit your checklist at: http://gbbc.birdsource.org/gbbcApps/input.

It's important for everyone to participate. Get your neighbors involved. We want mid-Michigan to be represented properly! Let's all get involved.

Need a little help? Come into our East Lansing  Wild Birds Unlimited store if you have questions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bluebird Feeding Frenzy

“If you get bored with birds, you’re bored with life."
"Birds are eloquent expressions of life and vitality, and watching them makes you a bit more alive." ~ Roger Tory Peterson

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pet Turkey?

Hi, I am writing because there is an abandoned domesticated turkey living on the grounds of my mom's employer, and she wants to take care of him. She has a few questions and I am hoping that you can help as I can not find answers anywhere else. What kind of shelter does Mr. Turkey need? What should we feed him so he is healthy? And lastly are they social birds that need companions? I hope that you can help as I am sure Mr. Turkey does too.

Thanks, RD

Your mom sounds like a real sweetheart. I’m sorry I can't be of much help. You need to consult a feed store for proper nutrition.

The domestic turkey is a descendant of the Wild Turkey and is usually raised as a source of food for humans. Through selective breeding, the birds weigh twice as big as their wild relatives and the feathers are white.

I did do a little research and found that domestic turkeys can't fly and if you want to keep the bird as a pet it can be kept inside a fenced yard. The bird should have a shelter to shield him from the weather. It's best if the shelter floor is dirt. Cement can be hard on turkey’s feet but these floors can be covered with hay or sand.

The diet of a domestic turkey consists mainly of fowl pellets that you can purchase at farm and pet stores. In addition to the pellets they like fruits, vegetables, crickets, mealworms, salads, weeds, nuts, acorns, grass, grapes, kale, and all berries that humans eat.

And of course fresh water should always be provided in a bowl or poultry water dispenser which can be also be purchased at a farm store.

Wild Turkeys travel in small flocks. For most of the year, they are single-sex flocks. Females are with females, males with males. Young turkeys follow their mothers. I assume domestic turkeys like company too. I'm not sure if it has to be another turkey.

Sorry I can't be more help. You should also contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian. And check with local laws to see if it's legal to care for livestock in your area. Good luck in your rescue. If anyone else can help, feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Recommendations for Michigan Birdwatchers

So now that I've convinced you to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) the third weekend in February, let me recommend a couple books:

Birds of MichiganBy Ted Black and Greg Kennedy
360 pages, 5.50" x 8.50", paperback
This is a wonderful book for beginning or advanced bird watchers in Michigan. It has detailed illustrations of 302 bird species with specifications of their size and any unique markings. It includes descriptions of the birds’ habitat, nesting, feeding, and voice. The birds are also grouped and color coded for quick identification by species.
One of my favorite features is a very handy quick find reference of all of the birds at the beginning of the book. It also lists Michigan birding groups and which local nature center or park will have a particular species of bird.
This is a very handy book to have around even if you don't plan on doing more than watching the birds at your feeder.
If you like photographs, I recommend Stan Tekiela Birds of Michigan book. There is also CD available if you want to hear their songs.
Both books will help when you need to name a bird for the GBBC.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Did I Mention the Free Poster & Prizes?

How Did Michigan Rank in GBBC Last Year?
We did good but I know we can do better. Last year Michigan ranked 10th in the number of checklists submitted. Come on Michigan; I want bragging rights!
States Submitting the Most Checklists:
1 -Pennsylvania -5,519
2 -New York -5,478
3 -North Carolina -4,764
4 -California -4,340
5 -Ohio -4,049
6 -Virginia -3,953
7 -Texas -3,805
8 -Georgia -3,763
9 -Florida -3,402
10-Michigan -3,098
Why I should submit a checklist?
Your counts can help us answer many questions:
  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Why certain species appear in large numbers some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • Is there a global warming effect?
  • Are birds sending warning signals about the environment?
Other Than Helping Out in Environmental Conservation What Do I Get?
  1. Anyone that comes in to the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store and promises to submit a checklist will receive a poster of common backyard birds while supplies last.
  2. You can also enter a Photo Contest for a chance to win great prizes!
  3. Finally all GBBC participants are entered into the general prize drawing.
How Do I Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count?It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!
  1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. You can count each day or just some of the days and you can count in different places.
  2. For each type of bird you see, count the most you see at any one time. For example, maybe you see two chickadees when you start watching, then five chickadees a few minutes later. The number you put on your list for chickadees is five. Do not add two plus five. (This way way you don't accidentally count the same bird twice.)
  3. Enter your results on the Great Backyard Bird Count web site! Then watch the maps as more and more people enter their reports.
    That's it!
Now get ready to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count! It's fun, educational, and a very important project that gathers huge amounts of data from volunteers across the nation and Canada.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada and sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Round III of Who's That Bird

Thank you so much for your response and advice. If you have time, I could use your help again. I am attaching a couple of photos of birds I can’t identify. I’ve looked on the internet but not sure what these are.

I think the one I named “brownbird” may be a Carolina wren or a winter wren, but can’t tell for sure. I only have one of these who flits on and off the feeder pretty fast so it’s hard to catch a good shot of him/her. He has a long beak that points downward and his tail sticks up in the air when he’s hopping. Very beautiful brown coloring.

My hubby thinks that the ones in the photo named “gray birds” are blackbirds, but they’re not really black, just a dark gray color. We also have some smaller ones that look similar and he thinks maybe they’re baby blackbirds. Do you know what these are?

As you can also see in the pics, we have changed over to a better mix of bird food based on your advice. This one has sunflower seeds and what looks like corn. We also had some with sunflower and peanuts for a while and they really loved that. They would grab a huge peanut and fly off with their treasure. ;)

We had an ice storm last weekend and it was such a joy to watch the birds flock to the feeder. It’s so heartwarming to provide them with food, especially when the weather is bad and it’s hard for them to find food on their own. We have lots of cardinals, chickadees, titmouse (or is it titmice? ;-), chipping sparrows, house finches, and goldfinches.

I appreciate your response when and if you have time, and I hope you have a wonderful week! Thanks, Angie~North Carolina

Once again thank you for providing me with great photos. Your “brown bird” is indeed the energetic and cheerful Carolina Wren. Only a few lucky residents see them in mid-Michigan during the winter. These birds are very susceptible to frigid weather with ice and snow. An otherwise healthy Carolina Wren population can be hit hard by storms and survival might depend on feeders.

For more info on the wren go to: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology-Carolina Wren or Wild Birds Unlimited: What to Feed Wrens

And your hubby is right. The “gray birds” are blackbirds. They look like female Brown-headed Cowbirds. These birds can join huge roosts with several different blackbird species in the winter, so I’m not sure if the smaller ones you described are more females or a different species. This is another bird we won’t see here in mid-Michigan during the winter.

Male Brown-headed Cowbirds have glossy black plumage and a chocolate brown head and females are plain gray/brown birds, with fine streaking on the belly, and a dark eye and bill. The juvenile looks similar to the female from June to September.

More on cowbirds can be found at: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology-Brown-headed Cowbird and Wild Birds Unlimited: How Cowbirds Learn to Sing or Wild Birds Unlimited: Cowbird Behavior

I’m glad you switched your seed to something with more sunflowers and let me compliment you on how clean your feeders look! That’s very important, especially when you have large numbers of birds flocking. Immunity is low during stressful times, and birds are bound to catch diseases from each other as they crowd to feeders. It’s important to clean your feeders at least once a month and even more frequently when migration begins.

For more on cleaning your feeder go to Wild Birds Unlimited: When I Should Clean My Feeders
Thanks for writing. Feel free to contact me at any time with your questions.

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.
Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823
ph. (517) 337-9920

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Fun Day at the MSU Museum: Darwin Discovery Day!

MSU Darwin Discovery Day set for Feb. 14, 2010
MSU Museum to host “Avelution” exhibit

Michigan State University will mark the 201st anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin with a variety of events, including a new exhibition at the MSU Museum that looks at the role birds played in the development of Darwin’s theories. MSU Museum's annual Darwin Discovery Day, is hands-on science and discovery for the whole family, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, 1-5 p.m., presented free of charge.
Some of the scheduled events are:

  • Museum curators, MSU graduate students and specialists can help you identify backyard curiosities. Bring in a rock, bone, fossil, tooth or other natural object. (Note: The MSU Museum cannot provide estimates on the commercial value of any specimen nor provide expertise on human-made artifacts at this program)
  • Live critters with the Michigan Society of Herpetologists and MSU Museum's naturalist, Jim Harding the Critterguy
  • Live chickens and pigeons -- showing special breeds
  • Bird skeletons from MSU Museum's Vertebrate Natural History collections, as well as other interesting and unusual museum specimens Museum research collections
  • Tours of the MSU Museum's "Bug Room," featuring beetles that help prepare animal skeletons for inclusion in the collections as they clean away flesh from tiny crevices in bone that human hands and tools can never reach
  • Tours of Habitat Hall, Hall of Evolution and a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse at MSU
  • Dinosaur casts in Habitat Hall, showing recent finds from museum fieldwork and research in Tanzania
  • Darwin's Study -- a recreation of Charles Darwin's office with specimens, books, furnishings and a live Darwin re-enactor.
  • Meet the Scientist: MSU Museum Assistant Curator of Mammalogy and Ornithology Pamela Rasmussen

There also will be hands-on activities for children, a birthday cake and refreshments, and books and education resources at the Museum Store. To learn more, visit http://museum.msu.edu/Events/NaturalHistoryIDDay/.

The Michigan State University Museum joined natural history museums and science centers around the world in observing naturalist Charles Darwin's birthday with these special programs. Science institutions worldwide have created special programs around Darwin's birthday that help promote an appreciation for the benefits of scientific knowledge acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity. Learn more at http://darwinday.org/.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Just Thought I'd Share Some of the Fun We Have in Our Yard.

When I was in WBU on Saturday, I mentioned we had seen a female Red-bellied Woodpecker. The picture attached is one I took of it in December.

A couple of years ago, I couldn't figure out why the bird seed wasn't being eaten during the winter. It seemed like winter would be an important time for them to visit feeders. I didn't understand where all the birds were and thought maybe I was doing something wrong.

Well, turns out the bird seed doesn't get eaten as fast in the winter in our yard because we have both juvenile and mature Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks hanging around. Below is a picture I took in December of one of this year's juvenile hawks. (I believe there are two juveniles this year.)

When we returned from shopping on Saturday, an adult Cooper's Hawk was sitting on the branch that is visible behind the feeder in the picture with the Red-bellied Woodpecker. The birds have a tendency to scatter when the hawks are hanging out ;-) I like to think it was probably one of the juveniles I've seen in past winters.

The last picture shows how oblivious--or unconcerned--a squirrel can be. If you look you directly above and slightly to the left of the feeder with the black squirrel (in the area where there is a break in branches), a young hawk is perched on the branch. Its white breast is contrasted against the pine tree. It's the same one from above, he/she just decided to make a slight change of scenery.

Just thought I'd share some of the fun we have in our yard.

East Lansing

Great shots, especially the cat's-eye-view! Thank you for letting me use your email on our blog for Photo Friday.

Glad you liked the pictures.
BTW: The cat is Zoey. Our "youngest" and self-proclaimed princess.
You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge the view.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ultimate Bluebird House

Serious birders will appreciate the special features of this ULTIMATE Bluebird House!

It's has all the great features of our Wild Birds Unlimited basic bluebird box and then some. One side opens for easy clean out, of course, but the right side has a clear plastic window inside the wood door, so you can peak in to see the nest without disturbing the inhabitants.

This cedar house is built right and tight, and has a generous-sized roof to offer more protection from the elements. It not only has a predator guard to keep racoons and squirrel from reaching in to raid a nest, that guard is lined with copper to prevent critters from chewing the hole larger. The inside of the bluebird house is also grooved for helping the fledgelings leave the nest. Brass hinges and zinc chromate screws seal the deal to make this the ultimate bluebird house.

House Dimensions: 14.5" x 9" x 6.5"
Hole Diameter: 1.5"
• All cedar construction
• Opens from both sides
• Plexiglas partition for viewing
• Reinforced predator guard with copper inset
• Grooved, Inside front panel for fledglings
• Extra large overhanging roof
• Ventilation and drainage
• Appropriate for bluebird, wren, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white breasted nuthatch, & tree swallow
• Outside coated with wood protector
• Hand crafted in Yes! Michigan

Stovall products promote environmentally green practices by using hand sorted discarded cedar pieces. The Shop is heated with scrap wood, cooled with natural shade, nestled in a glen of 25+ acres of beech/maple/oak forest in Michigan. Rumored staffing of woodland gnomes with a payroll of nuts and berries is still not verified.
Wild Birds Unlimited has the best selection of functional bird houses around. More houses are coming in every day now that there is only 6 weeks until spring! Click HERE to see another great house I featured on the blog or come in our stores to see the wide selection available.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Eastern Bluebird: Carrier of the Sky

"The Bluebird carries the sky on its back" -- Henry David Thoreau

It would be hard to find anything as dazzling as a Bluebird standing on a fence post in the early morning sun. Its brilliant blue plumage might even be said to rival the sky itself. Too bad it's just one big illusion! It's true! Bluebirds aren't really blue . . . they just look like they are!

Most bird colorations are due to pigments deposited in their feathers. A Northern Cardinal is red because of the red pigment called carotenoids. Crows are black because their feathers contain a dark pigment called melanin. In contrast, Bluebirds do not have a single molecule of blue pigment in any of their feathers. So where does that brilliant blue color come from?

The answer is that the color is not produced by a pigment, but by the structure of the feather. The top transparent layer of each blue feather is filled with minuscule pockets of air. When sunlight strikes these pockets, all of the other visible wavelengths of light are absorbed. Only blue escapes and it is scattered in all directions. This same scattering process, created by atmospheric dust particles, is also what makes the sky appear blue.

So Thoreau was right . . . Bluebirds literally do carry the sky on their backs.
Source: WBU Bird of the month: http://www.wbu.com/botm/botm_0308.html

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's the Difference Between a Groundhog & Woodchuck?

Woodchuck and groundhog are common terms for the same animal, the rodent with the scientific name of Marmota monax. Most closely related to squirrels, woodchucks actually can climb trees and also swim.
What's so special about Feb. 2?
Celestially speaking, Groundhog Day on Feb. 2 is a "cross-quarter" day, about halfway between the winter solstice in December and the vernal equinox in March, and is celebrated in some cultures as the midpoint of winter. It's not far from the time many groundhogs end their hibernation anyway, around the second week of February.
What's going on in that burrow?
In the winter, not much. Groundhogs go into profound hibernation, greatly reducing their metabolic rate, and their body temperature drops to just a few degrees above ambient temperature. Because their hibernaculum, the deepest portion of the burrow where they hibernate, is below frost line, that produces a body temperature as low as 39-40 degrees F.
What's the wake-up call?
The groundhog's internal clock is believed to be affected by annual changes in the amount of daylight. Hormonal responses to cyclic changes in production of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, are thought by some to be the signal to wake up.
What's for dinner?
Groundhogs in the wild eat succulent green plants, such as dandelion greens, clover, plantain and grasses. They also are tempted by nearby garden vegetables. Woodchucks binge and purposefully put on weight in the summer, reaching their maximum mass in late August. They become lethargic and prepare for hibernation in October. By February, hibernating woodchucks have lost as much as half their body weight.
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
About 700 pounds. Compared to beavers, groundhogs/woodchucks are not adept at moving timber, although some will chew wood. A wildlife biologist once measured the inside volume of a typical woodchuck burrow and estimated that -- if wood filled the hole instead of dirt -- the industrious animal would have chucked about 700 pounds' worth.
Sources: College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Mammals of the Eastern United States, Second Edi tion, William J. Hamilton Jr. and John O. Whitaker

Monday, February 1, 2010

Counting on Birds

The Great Backyard Bird Count gears up for its annual event.

Wild Birds Unlimited is proud to be a major sponsor of the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) which takes place the third weekend in February. This is a joint project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at http://www.birdcount.org/.

Bird populations are always shifting and changing. For example, 2009 GBBC data highlighted a huge southern invasion of Pine Siskins across much of the eastern United States. We learned that a failure of seed crops farther north caused the siskins to move south to find their favorite food.

The GBBC also provides an amazing amount of information about the locations and numbers of birds. This includes the spring migratory routes of Sandhill Cranes, records of lingering migrants such as Orange-crowned Warblers and Tree Swallows, the expansion of range for introduced species like the Eurasian Collared-Doves, or the decline in numbers of some species and increases in others. For more examples, visit the “Science Stories” section of the web site.

On the http://www.birdcount.org/ website, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count. The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs, and many other great birding products.

For more information about the GBBC, visit the website at http://www.birdcount.org/.