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.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

All-Black Penguin Is One-in-a-Zillion

An all-black penguin spotted on South Georgia Island, outside Antarctica, by National Geographic Contributing Editor Andrew Evans. (National Geographic/Andrew Evans)

Butterfly ID Help

Does anyone know what kind of butterfly this is? Thanks in advance.

The Orange Oakleaf or Dead Leaf (Kallima inachus) is a nymphalid butterfly found in in forested, lush areas like New Guinea, southern Asia, Madagascar and India.
They look brilliant when their wings lay flat, but when their wings fold up they look like leaves - sometimes green, sometimes brown, as if fallen and dead. The likeness to a dead leaf is nothing short of remarkable.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Does the Droll Yankee Flipper Really Work?

I sell a lot of Flippers and the most common complaint is that the squirrels don't try hard enough to get the food from this feeder. They just give up and leave the food for the birds.

The video of the squirrel performing acrobatic acts is very intriguing but most squirrels turn tail and run after their first encounter. I tell people there is always hope that in the spring a new potential "flipper" could be born.

THE YANKEE FLIPPER is the definitive squirrel proof bird feeder. Birds love to eat from it, but squirrels are prevented from eating from it in a way that will make you smile. The weight activated feeding perch is calibrated to react to a squirrel's weight. When a squirrel steps on the perch, a connection is made with a motor that makes the perch spin, and the squirrel is flipped off the feeder. Thus, the name YANKEE FLIPPER.

The unit comes equipped with rechargeable nicad batteries and a battery charger. Would you expect anything less of Droll Yankees? It is easy to clean, easy to fill, has a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA.
21' long, 4 ports, 4 qt. cap.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How Do Birds Sing?

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

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

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

Bird have a syrinx, a sound-producing organ, that is the equivalent of the human sound box. But it is situated much lower down, at the junction of the two bronchi or air tubes leading to the lungs.This means that the syrinx has two potential sound sources, one in each bronchus. The separate membranes on each bronchus produce separate sounds, which are then mixed to produce a far greater variety of sounds than humans.The best time to hear bird song is at dawn. One reason may be that dawn is the best time for sound to travel. Or it may be because it’s still too dark to do any successful foraging.

Bird song has two main functions: to defend a territory and to attract a mate. Male birds generally use shorter, simpler songs for territorial defense. Gaps in the song enable the singer to listen for replies, and determine where their rival is and how far off.When they are trying to attract females onto their territory, males sing longer and more complex songs.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

American Bald Eagle No Longer on Endangered List

Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus

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

General: Today, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, there are an estimated 9,789 breeding pairs of bald eagles. There are over 482 breeding pairs in Michigan. The Bald Eagle has been the symbol of the United States of America since 1782. At one time, the word “bald” (balde) meant white, not hairless, referring to the white head and upper neck of the adult Bald Eagle. They can live up to 40 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. A group of eagles has many collective nouns, including an "aerie", "convocation", "jubilee", "soar", and "tower" of eagles.
Behavior: Bald Eagles hunt mainly fish or scavenge for carrion. They don't mature until their fourth or fifth year only then receiving their characteristic white head and tail plumage. Bald Eagles generally mate for life and renew their pair bonds each year by adding new sticks and branches to their massive nests, the largest of any North American bird. Pairs perform dramatic aerial displays where a pair flies to a great height, lock talons and then tumbling perilously toward the earth. The birds brake off at the last second, just before crashing into the ground.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home is Where the Nest Is: Bird House Basics

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tomorrow We Change the World!

Dear Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan,

Earth Hour is upon us! Together, we have grown the movement in over 120 countries and all 50 states to include millions of people and thousands of communities and landmarks. Tomorrow night at 8:30pm local time, the world will unite in the largest mass action in history to call for action on climate change. We're turning off for Earth Hour because we care about our planet and our future. We are ready to create a cleaner, safer, more secure future.

You can watch a slideshow of the highlights tomorrow as Earth Hour sweeps across the globe at
EarthHour.org. More than 1200 landmarks including the Sydney Opera House, Bird’s Nest Stadium, Great Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and the Golden Gate Bridge will all be going dark with us!

When it's your turn to turn out the lights, be sure to share your experience with the world. Tag your tweets with #EarthHour and add your voice to the global call for action on climate change. You can follow the global conversation in real-time

We need your help to capture history in the making with photos and video. Once Earth Hour starts, this button will be available on earthhour.org to upload your photos. Please tag your photos with Earth Hour, Earth Hour 2010 and the name of the city and country where the photo was taken so they can be added to the global Flickr group. Any videos you take can be uploaded to YouTube and added to the Earth Hour Global group.

This will be a night worth remembering, the night the world comes together to make the switch to a low carbon economy that protects us from dangerous climate change. Tomorrow we unite to change the world.

Thank you for all your support. Meet you in the dark!
The Earth Hour US Team

Project NestWatch

Dear Wild Birds Unlimited mid-Michigan,

My name is Laura Burkholder and I’m the new leader of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch project. As you may know, collecting information about nesting birds is what NestWatch is all about.
The new season is just getting underway--and we need friends like you to help gather information from across the continent. NestWatch welcomes data for all North American birds. Participants submit data about which kinds of birds are nesting, the number of eggs laid, dates eggs were laid, and the numbers of chicks hatched and fledged. Collecting this information across the continent over long periods of time is one of the best ways we have to detect widespread changes in breeding bird biology.

I believe it’s become even more important in light of the new State of the Birds 2010 Climate Change Report just released by the Department of the Interior earlier this month. Nesting birds are vulnerable to climate change. Data show some species, like the Tree Swallow, are laying their eggs more than a week earlier than they did just a few decades ago. That could spell big trouble if hatch dates get out of sync with the availability of food.

Based on NestWatch data from 1997 to 2009, the chart shown here for the Eastern Bluebird suggests that the first eggs are being laid sooner. More long-term data are needed to clarify the impacts of environmental change and human land use on breeding birds.

In addition to its scientific value, NestWatch is fun, free, and open to all. Participation is a great way for you to connect with nature. Kindergarten students in one New York classroom collected information about bluebirds nesting on school grounds. “This was so exciting for the children and for me too,” their teacher Ruth Taylor wrote to us. “They named the male Skyboy and the female Bluebell. First we had two eggs and then four eggs in the nest. What a marvelous experience for all of us to enjoy and learn!"

The always-popular NestCams are also back in action. You can get a live peek into nests and nest boxes across the country. Live cameras for Barn Owls, Barred Owls, and Wood Ducks are online right now with Eastern Bluebirds and other species soon to follow at http://www.nestcams.org/.

Everything you need to take part in NestWatch is available online at http://www.nestwatch.org/, including directions on how you find nests, how to build and put up nest boxes, and how you monitor nests without disturbing the birds.

Use this button on websites, blogs, and in social media to link to NestWatch at http://www.nestwatch.org/. I do hope you’ll be a part of NestWatch this year and help us monitor the birds we love in this ever-changing world!

Laura Burkholder, project leader NestWatch
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

Visit the Cornell Lab’s web site at http://www.birds.cornell.edu.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology159 Sapsucker Woods Rd, Ithaca NY 14850

Call us toll-free at (800) 843-BIRD (2473)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

WBU Decorative Window Hummingbird Feeder

Hummingbirds are affectionately referred to as Nature’s Jewels because of their iridescent qualities and beauty. The new Jewel Box Window Feeder allows you to bring these beautiful birds up close for viewing.

The bright red cover will attract hummingbirds. Once there, the HighView™ perch invites them to rest comfortably as they drink from any of three feeding ports while also offering an unobstructed view of the birds. You can use this feeder with or without the ant moat to block crawling insects. Features a generous 8 oz. capacity, sturdy polycarbonate construction, a suction cup mounted bracket, and a lifetime guarantee.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is the best Hummingbird feeder?

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

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

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

The Best-1 Hummingbird Feeder, our second most popular feeder, has developed a strong reputation for being a durable, reliable, and effective hummingbird feeder for people in the country.What makes this hummingbird feeder so great? For one thing it is very easy to clean. Simply remove the bottle and the base comes apart in two pieces allowing you to reach both sides of the feeder ports. The glass bottle and hi-impact food grade styrene parts can even be put through the dishwasher. The high grade construction will last for years, and the design is time-tested and has been modified through the years to make it one of the best feeders available.
The bright red base will attract plenty of hummingbirds, and the new wider ports, countersunk to keep bees or other birds from stealing nectar, allow up to 8 hummingbirds to feed at once. The new double-ringed perches give the hummingbirds a place to rest while feeding. This helps them save their energy for flying and catching insects. Made in the USA, the Best-1 hummingbird feeder is preferred by customers that live in the country. It doesn’t blow around in high winds, disassembles for easy cleaning, comes in different sizes, and replacement parts can be purchased.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When do I put out my hummingbird feeder?

Are you waiting anxiously for the hummingbirds now that the weather looks like it might be getting warmer?

The most frequently asked question this month has been when to put out the hummingbird feeders?

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

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

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Month Do You Stop Feeding The Birds?

In the spring, should I stop feeding the birds so they will not depend on me for food?

Spring and Summertime is a great time to feed birds. You may see different birds at your feeders during summer than you do during winter. And many, such as finches and warblers, may sport their vibrant spring and summer plumage spreading color throughout your yard.

For much of North America summertime is a great time to see hummingbirds and other nectar-eating birds. Hummingbirds are frequent feeder visitors because they eat nearly half their weight in nectar every day!

You'll also be in for a treat when woodpeckers, bluebirds, and other nesting birds bring their babies to your feeders to teach them how to eat at the feeder. The young fledglings put on such a show!

Birds only supplement their diet up to 10 to 20 percent at feeders. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office of Bird Management states: "If you enjoy feeding the birds, there is no reason to stop feeding the birds in the summer. You can do it year round. Feeding the birds in the summer will not make them lazy or too dependant."

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists state; " Keep the restaurant open year round and offer a variety of seeds and suet."

Talk with our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists about the many ways you can enjoy feeding the birds in summer and all year long.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

When Do the Goldfinches Return?

That is a good question! The American Goldfinch is one of my favorite backyard songbirds because of its butterfly like flight and delicate song.

Many customers think that goldfinches disappear in the winter. Actually, in the fall, all the goldfinches molt into an olive brown plumage. During the winter months both male and female goldfinches look similar but continue to actively feed in Michigan.

In fact they are the only bird in North America to go through a complete molt two times a year. In the spring the male turns bright yellow with a black cap, wings, and tail, and white rump. The female keeps the duller brown color and lacks the black cap.

Right now, as the photograph shows the birds are in transition. Just as the daffodils bloom, the male goldfinches exchange their dull winter coat for their bright yellow plumage.
The males need to be bright to attract a mate and defend their territory from other males. Research also suggests that as testosterone in male birds increases, so does the level of carotenoids, the chemicals that create the bright coloring on birds' feathers, beaks, and legs. The female stays brown to blend in with the trees when she is sitting on a nest of eggs later in the summer.
Gardening Trick for Goldfinches
Habitat can be a key to attracting Goldfinches. In this case you do less work, not more. Don't worry about dandelions and don't cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers...Goldfinches love them.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Now come on! This is the First Day of Spring?

This little fellow looks forlorn. Maybe he's waiting for spring to arrive.
Mike Grimm
Fowlerville, MI
I think he must have known more about the severe spring weather ahead than we did.


Wild Birds Unlimited joins the growing list of supporting businesses that are committing to take a stand by turning the lights out on pollution and creating a cleaner, safer and more secure future.

Earth Hour, which takes place Saturday, March 27th at 8:30 p.m. local time, is an event in which millions of Americans will turn out their lights for one hour in support of action on climate change and toward creating a cleaner, safer and more secure future.

This year marks the third year of the event, which attracted an estimated 80 million participants in the U.S. last year, and nearly a billion people around the world, as lights dimmed on such global icons as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Sydney’s Opera House, the Great Pyramids of Gaza and New York’s Empire State Building.

“The significance of Earth Hour is that it demonstrates that by both working together and also taking personal responsibility for turning off lights, unplugging electrical items and making our homes more energy efficient, each of us can make a positive difference,” said Mary Wenzel, director of Environmental Affairs at Wells Fargo.

We’d like to encourage you to join us in this important effort. Participation is free and easy:

  • Sign up at EarthHour.org- Show your support, find out what Earth Hour events are happening near you and get tips on organizing fun events in your community.
  • Spread the Word- Invite your friends and family to join the movement, become a fan on Facebook and post a link to EarthHour.org on your profile page.
  • Turn off the Lights- Turn off your non-essential lighting at 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, March 27.

Friday, March 19, 2010

'Michigan Meatout Day'

Proclamation by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm
Whereas, A wholesome diet of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains promotes good health and reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, which take the lives of approximately 1.3 million Americans each year; and,
Whereas, The number of those who choose to live the lifestyle of a vegan or vegetarian has increased and so has the availability and selection of meat and dairy alternatives in mainstream grocery stores, restaurants, and catering operations; and,
Whereas, Reducing the consumption of meat or not eating meat at all can significantly decrease the exposure to infectious pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter, which take the lives of several thousand Americans and sicken millions more each year; and,
Whereas, The benefits of a plant-based diet can consist of increased energy levels, lower food budget costs, and simplified food preparation and cleanup; and,
Whereas, It is encouraged that the residents of this state get into the habit of healthy living by consuming a diet that is rich with vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, and by staying active;
Now, Therefore, be it Resolved, That I, Jennifer M. Granholm, governor of the state of Michigan, do hereby proclaim March 20, 2010, Michigan Meatout Day in Michigan.
In observance of this day, I encourage the residents of this state to choose not to eat meat. Eating a healthy diet can be fun. Explore the different recipes that can be created by using fresh ingredients and by having a sense of adventure.

Everyone Eats in My World

Gary Fortcher: Guest Blogger from WBU Oakdale, NY

There is a Pigeon population around our center. Pigeons and sparrows. That's all I have (not to mention the Long Island bird - the seagull).
And I feed them with a small hopper feeder just to draw attention to the store. No one has complained so far. I tell people I'm just trying to help them out by keeping the pigeons away from their house.

They recognize me. When I pull up in the morning they start doing their "feed me" dance. It's quite funny. When the feeder is empty they all swarm me (they fly directly at me and then around me like a living tornado) whenever I walk out the door.

Customers get a kick out of it. And no, I have never been pooped upon yet. Today, a pigeon walked right into the store as we were bringing our seed delivery in. Looking for the mother lode. Reminded me of the utube video of the seagull that was stealing small bags of potato chips off the rack.

My solution to keeping birds off the roof is - feed them. Everyone eats in my world.
Gary Fortcher
Wild Birds Unlimited
911 Montauk Highway
Oakdale, NY 11769

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Preparing Your Yard For Wild Birds in the Spring

I hope everyone has caught up with the spring forward we did last weekend. Spring is just around the corner. Are you ready? If you haven’t already prepared your yard, I made a spring cleaning checklist to help.

Preparing Your Yard for the Spring:
1. Provide Nesting Spots- Place nest boxes and nesting material out for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might breed in mid-Michigan. Clean out and repair old nestboxes to allow birds the opportunity to nest in a warm, clean house. You can also plant natural shelters like trees or bushes.
2. Prepare Bird Baths- Scrub the bath with a good brush and change your water. There are also two different products available at Wild Birds Unlimited to help maintain the quality of the water. The first is a liquid you add each time you change the water or there is a tablet you leave in the water for a month.
Birdbath Cleaning Brush: This 8" brush is well suited for cleaning birdbaths, as well as for many other household uses. It has stiff, tough polypropylene bristles that will do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.
Microbe-Lift BirdBath Clear is a bio-enzymatic product specially formulated for birdbaths to prevent organic contaminants from forming including white scale deposits, iron, copper and hard water stains. It uses two unique proprietary technologies; one system helps to prevent the buildup of stains and mineral deposits on the birdbath surfaces, while the second system keeps water clear and free from the organic debris that can make the water cloudy.
Healthy Ponds Birdbath Dispenser treats birdbaths up to 7 gallons. Delivered with two disposable, floating plastic dispensers; each refill is effective for up to 30 days.
3. Clean Feeders - Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI- will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.
4. Feeder/Hardware Maintenance- Check your feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill. Find where you've stored your hummingbird and oriole feeders and give them a good cleaning.
If you are going to need a new Advanced Pole System to hang your feeders, now is a good time to come in to Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI and get help designing a new feeding station.
5. Fill Feeders- Wild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will nest in this season. Natural food sources are scarce right now and birds are definitely taking note of which yards have food available.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amazing moment bald eagle chases down and catches a starling in mid-air

By Mail Foreign Service 17th March 2010

This tiny starling didn't stand a chance after a hungry bald eagle chose it as a mid-air snack. These incredible pictures are from Photographer Rob.Palmer in Littleton, Colorado.

The 56-year-old said: "I noticed a group of eagles sitting in the trees and then I spotted they were catching the starlings and blackbirds. Over ten days I saw at least 50 starlings getting caught and eaten by various eagles. It would happen anywhere from 100 to 500ft in the air."

The bald eagle, native to North America, can grow up to 3ft long and has a wingspan of 8ft. The bird of prey eats mostly fish, but is known to be an opportunistic feeder - eating anything from small mammals like rabbits to larger prey like the Great Blue Heron. Bald eagles can reach speeds of up to 43 miles per hour and are able to dive for fish at an incredible 99 miles per hour.

Should I Clean Out My Birdhouse?

I have a couple of bird houses that wrens nested in last year. Will they come back to nest in the same place and is now a good time to clean out the old nest?

If you haven’t already cleaned out your birdhouses, that should be done as soon as possible. To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest and just sweep everything in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

Whether the same bird comes back to your nest is determined by several factors. Is the nest box clean and still in good condition, did they have a successful breeding season last year, and did they get there early enough to claim the nesting sight again and defend the territory? It’s possible to have the same wren family move in the same house year after year or a wily chickadee or sparrow may spot the house and try to claim it first.

Please remove all winter wreaths from your doors. We get calls every spring about birds making their nests in holiday wreaths. Anyone who places hanging plants on a covered porch in the spring or leaves a holiday wreath hanging on the door may find that by April a female House Finch has begun to build a nest in it.

Once a House Finch pair has built a nest in a hanging plant, on a wreath, or over a light fixture, etc., there is little to do but enjoy the experience and wait for the young to fledge (three to four weeks). You can continue to use the door or water the plants but the nest should not be relocated.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Invite New Birds to Your Yard

As you might imagine, migration takes a toll on the birds. It is not uncommon for birds to lose one-fourth to one-half of their body weight as they migrate thousands of miles. Before the journey north to their breeding grounds birds accumulate fat to help maintain their energy reserves. Sometimes, however, reserves are not enough. That’s where you can help by creating “stopover sites” in your yard with plenty of food, water and shelter.

At this time of year the numbers and variety of birds appearing in your yard can actually change every morning as many small songbirds migrate through the night. Species such as warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, buntings and sparrows all migrate overnight.
Some reasons are to avoid the heat of the day, windy conditions, and predators. Many species use the stars in the night sky to guide them, and there is some evidence that, perhaps, magnetic fields at the poles help guide them.

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

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

Monday, March 15, 2010

State of the Birds 2010

The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, follows a comprehensive report released a year ago showing that that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline.

“For well over a century, migratory birds have faced stresses such as commercial hunting, loss of forests, the use of DDT and other pesticides, a loss of wetlands and other key habitat, the introduction of invasive species, and other impacts of human development,” Salazar said. “Now they are facing a new threat--climate change--that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply and push many species towards extinction.”

The report, a collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and experts from the nation’s leading conservation organizations, shows that climate changes will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats, with oceanic and Hawaiian birds in greatest peril.
In releasing the report, Salazar cited the unprecedented efforts by the Obama Administration and the Department of the Interior to address climate change.

To read a summary of the report go to: http://www.stateofthebirds.org/summary

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What do Red-Winged Blackbirds Eat?

I just saw my first Red-Winged Blackbird of the year! What should I be feeding him? Bath, MI

I’m so glad you are appreciating your Red-Winged Blackbirds! People usually ask me how to get rid of blackbirds.

Winter is my favorite season but we all know February feels like the longest month and by March you’re anxious for any harbinger of spring. .

The melting snow, the cleansing rains and the sweet smell of spring in the air followed by the garden waking up, the buds popping and the faces of old friends flying home to nest is always exciting. When you hear the loud konk-a-ree or ogle-reeeeeee you know it’s mid-March and the male Red-winged Blackbirds have arrived in mid-Michigan. The females will arrive a little later.

The male Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus is an all black bird with red shoulder patches edged in yellow. The female and juvenile have heavily streaked underparts and mottled brown upperparts.

They most often settle in marshes and brushy meadows during the breeding season and feast on insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, butterflies and moths mostly. They often use a feeding technique known as gaping. They expose insects that are hiding under sticks and stones or in the bases of leaves by forcibly spreading open their bills. If no bugs are available in early spring they may initially frequent your feeder where they will look for suet, mealworms, nuts, or sunflower seeds.

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

Meanwhile the female Red-winged Blackbirds start building a nest among cattails in four stages. Initially they weave together several supporting pieces of vegetation and then intertwine the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is then lined with mud, and the final step is to line the nest with a layer of fine grasses.
Thank for the question. I'm glad you are enjoying your blackbirds. Next up hummingbirds!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fenner Nature Center's Maple Syrup Festival

Celebrate Spring’s Return at Fenner Nature Center’s
Saturday & Sun March 20 & 21, 11am to 4pm

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

~Maple syrup demonstrations
~Guided bird walks
~Nesting box exhibit
~Wildlife artists and crafters
~Face-painting and kids’ crafts
~More food and drink, including maple sugar products, for sale

Bring your family and friends, and don’t forget the camera!

For more information go to Friends of Fenner Nature Center’s website, http://fenner.homestead.com/events/maple_syrup.html, call (517) 483-4224 or email mailto:fncdirectors@gmail.com.

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

Sharing The Joy of Bird Feeding

The delight of seeing so many active and energetic birds at your feeders makes feeding the birds a real joy during this time of the year.

That joy is available to everyone. By providing just a few simple things, such as fresh foods, clean water and shelter, the birds in your yard will bring you many hours of happiness and fulfillment.

Spring is a great time to watch the different types of birds at your feeders. Woodpeckers are busy eating mouthfuls of suet. Juncos hurriedly scour the ground for millet. Finches squabble at the finch feeder. Jays raucously steal peanuts and nuthatches industriously horde sunflower seeds. New faces pop up every day. Some staying for the summer nesting and some just taking a much needed break on the way to their final stop.

Bird feeding is a fun and educational hobby, and this is the season to share it with everyone. With Easter and Mother's Day fast approaching you should stop by the Wild Birds Unlimited store for the best seed and answers to any wild bird questions. You'll also see the newest baths, feeders, and nature gifts available to help introduce this wonderful hobby to your friends and family.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Crocus Have Peeped Out

I think Spring might be springing here. The snow melted next to the front of the house and the Crocus woke up to sing Hello. It makes me feel so happy to see the plants come back.
P.Z. in Lansing, MI

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Choosing the Right Purple Martin House

Purple Martin Progne subis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Swallows (Hirundinidae)
The largest of the North American swallows, Purple Martins have glossy, purple-black plumage. Adult females are less colorful, with gray necks, foreheads, and underparts, but nearly as purple on their backs as adult males. A group of purple martins are collectively known as a "colony" of martins. Native Americans hung up empty gourds for these birds to nest in before Europeans arrived in North America and now Martins nest almost exclusively in birdhouses.

The most successful occupancy occurs when the houses are placed within 100’ of human houses and at least 40’ away from tree lines, in full sun most of the day, and usually near water. A height of 12’ to 20’ for mounting a purple martin house is recommended so the birds can make a grand swooping entrance and exit from their house.
When choosing a Purple Martin house, be sure that it has the following features:
• Easy access for monitoring and cleaning.
• A light color exterior.
• Starling resistant entrance hole with height dimension 1 & 3/16"
• A compartment size of at least 6” x 6” x 6.”
• Pole that allows the house to be raised and lowered.
• Adequate ventilation and drainage.
• Made from rainproof and durable materials.

Purple Martins live in colonies, and their social antics can result in an endlessly entertaining summer. They often will dive and swirl around in the sky as they feed in flight upon flying insects such as wasps, moths, flies, grasshoppers, and bees. They also eat mosquitoes but perhaps not as many as rumored. In late spring adult males will perform the "Dawn Song" singing loudly while soaring high above the colony to attract other birds.

To track the Purple Martins as they migrate from South America to Michigan go to purplemartin.org.
Or for more information visit:
http://www.michiganmartins.com/ or
The Purple Martin Conservation Association (PMCA) -http://www.purplemartin.org/index.html

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Do I Attract Purple Martins?

Ten Reasons Why People Fail to Attract Purple Martins

by James R. Hill, III, Purple Martin Conservation Association

Over one million North Americans maintain housing for Purple Martins. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these folks successfully attract breeding martins. Below is a list of the top ten reasons why so many people fail.

  1. House placed too close to tall trees or in yards that are too enclosed. The Martin house must have the correct habitat and be placed in the proper place. There should be no trees taller than the martin housing within 40 Feet of it, preferably 60 feet. The farther the martin housing is placed from trees the better.
  2. Landlord allows other bird species to claim the housing first. If any other species is allowed to settle into a martin house before martins at unestablished sites, those houses will rarely attract nesting martins. To attract martins to unestablished sites monitor the house and remove the nest of any bird other than the Purple Martin.
  3. Housing placed too far from human housing. Research has shown that martin housing placed more than 120 feet from human housing has a lower chance of being occupied. This is because martins have “learned,” that the closer they nest to man, the safer they are from predators.
  4. Housing not painted white. Although martins have been known to nest in houses and gourds painted other colors, white housing seems to attract them best.
  5. Housing opened up too early. Most ‘would-be’ martin landlords rush to get their martin housing opened up so as not to miss the arrival of martin “scouts” in their particular area. This is 4-5 weeks too early for unestablished breeding sites!!! Opening a martin house too early (or leaving it open all winter) just results in instant occupancy by other birds. Prospective martin landlords should not open their housing until about four weeks after the first martins are scheduled to return to their area!
  6. Failure to open the martin housing. In an effort to keep undesirable birds out of their martin housing, many ‘would-be’ martin enthusiasts leave all their entrance holes plugged ‘until the martins come around.’ This is a disastrous mistake at unestablished sites.
  7. Vines and shrubs are allowed to grow up under the housing. Unoccupied martin housing that has tall bushes and shrubs around the base of the pole, or has vines growing up the pole, will rarely, if ever, attract breeding martins because it is much more accessible to predators, such as cats, raccoons, snakes, and squirrels.
  8. Housing not really ‘built to specifications. A martin house must have compartments whose floor dimensions measure at least 6" x 6," but compartments measuring 7" x 12" are far superior. The entrance hole should be placed about 1" above the floor and have a diameter in the range of 2" to 2-1/4," although martins are known to use holes as small as 1-3/4."
  9. Housing attached to wires, or placed too close to wires. Martins love to perch on wires, but they tend to avoid houses that are attached to wires or are placed within leaping distance of them.
  10. Landlords buy or build housing that can’t be easily managed. Most people rush into the hobby not realizing that to properly manage for martins, they’ll need housing that allows for easy raising and lowering, and nest compartment access. Landlords need to vertically lower their housing often (sometimes daily) to evict nest-site competitors and to check on martin nestlings. Martin housing should be mounted on poles that telescope up and down.

Written by James R. Hill, III
Founder and Executive Director Emeritus
Purple Martin Conservation Association
For further information on Purple Martins please contact:
Purple Martin Conservation Association
301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 6
Erie, PA 16505

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders?

Here are four ways to keep squirrels off your bird feeder:
  1. Squirrel resistant feeders- The easiest way to feed the birds and not the squirrels is to have a squirrel resistant feeder. Now I know people come in to Wild Birds Unlimited all the time and say they don’t work, but ours do and most come with a lifetime guarantee! They are going to cost more than the cheap, “pretty” feeders the critters destroy every year, but they are easy to clean, easy to fill, backed by a lifetime guarantee, and the birds love them.

  2. Seed selection- If you don’t want to invest in a new feeder, the next solution is to switch your seed to straight safflower seed. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. The shape of the shell and the bitter taste makes this seed unattractive to starlings, blackbirds, and squirrels. While popular backyard birds including Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, House Finches, Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Nuthatches, savor safflower. Squirrels also avoid Nyger Thistle feeders which feed the Goldfinches.
  3. Baffles- Squirrels can jump 4-5 feet high and across 5-10 feet. A baffle will make it harder for the squirrels to reach the seed. There are several types of baffles that you can use too. You can put a baffle around a pole to stop them from reaching your feeder. Or you can buy a baffle that goes over your feeder that protects it from squirrels dropping down from the trees.
  4. Hot pepper-I don't usually recommend this product. Mammals have receptors on their tongues that send messages (too hot!) when they eat hot peppers, but these receptors are missing in birds. “Squirrel Away™” is made from Capsicum peppers, known colloquially where they are grown as “bird peppers.” With “Squirrel Away™” treated bird seed in your bird feeders, a squirrel quickly learns not to visit and continues to find a new source of food. But you have to be careful because you are a mammal too and there is a caution on every bag about wearing gloves to protect yourself.

Monday, March 8, 2010

When Do Birds Migrate North?

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

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

You can also click here to view an earlier blog with informative websites. Below is a list of the most frequently asked about birds and their migratory arrivals and departures:

Bluebirds are year round in mid-Michigan and can begin scouting out possible nesting sites as early as January.
Robins are year round in mid-Michigan but you’ll see them more frequently in your yard~mid-February
Red Winged Blackbirds ~ Beginning of March
Sandhill Crane ~ March
Turkey Vulture ~ late March
Ruby-throated Hummingbird ~ April 15 (tax time)
Purple Martin ~ Mid April
White-crowned Sparrow & White-throated Sparrow~ pass through mid-Michigan from mid-April to late May. White-crowned is usually a week behind the White-Throated.
House wren ~ end of April
Baltimore Oriole ~ beginning in May
Warblers ~mid-May
Canada Goose ~ are year round in mid-Michigan shifting to nesting grounds March to May
Wood Duck ~ Mid-March
Tundra Swan ~ Not a Michigan resident. Migrates through late Feb. to mid-April.
Dark eyed Junco ~ leaves mid-MI end of May
Red-breasted Nuthatch ~ leaves mid-MI in May

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Are Cardinals Yoopers?: Michigan Upper Peninsula Residents

We are opening up our house in Northern Michigan and I was wondering why I don’t see as many cardinals up there. Our house in Lansing has lots of cardinals.

Even though the Northern Cardinal has northern attached to its name, it’s really a southern bird. However scientists have noted that their breeding range has been expanding up and out west gradually from the 1800s. This could be due to the milder winters or greater food availability (bird feeding stations). The increase of distribution range of the cardinal is also associated with man changing the landscape. Cardinals prefer the edges of forests and suburban areas, both types of habitat associated with increasing land development.

First recorded in south east Michigan in 1884, the cardinal was more frequently spotted in the early 1900’s across the lower and middle parts of the state. By 1960s they were colonizing further north and in the early 1990’s they were making their way to the Upper Peninsula. They’re still not as common up north as they are further south but just give them time.

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Northern cardinals are medium-sized songbirds (8-9 in). The adult male is bright red with a black face and red bill. The adult female is buff-brown with a red tinge to the crest, wings and tail. Like the male, the face is black and the bill orange.

Backyard bird enthusiasts almost always want to attract the bright red Northern Cardinal. To landscape for cardinals plant evergreens, berry bushes, and fruit trees as part of the habitat. Cardinals nest from 4 to 8 feet off the ground in evergreens and dense shrubs and use fruit trees to provide food and shelter.

Cardinals will eat beetles, cicadas, grasshoppers, and snails, but prefer wild fruit and berries, sunflower seeds, safflower, and nuts. They will feed on the ground or perch at hopper feeders, platform or tray feeders, and some tube feeders. Cardinals are often the first to visit a feeder in the morning and the last to stop by and grab a bite at night.
In winter cardinals generally flock together but by spring they pair up for nesting season. They are famous for their display of courtship feeding. The male picks up a bit of food and takes it over and places it on the female’s bill. Also as spring approaches you may hear the male sing several different songs to attract a mate and establish and defend his territory.