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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

War Pigeon Remembered

Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made in securing our Nation's freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.

As this is mainly a bird blog, I thought I would also remind people of the role of the selectively bred Rock Pigeons (Columba livia) during World War I and II. Also called the Domestic Pigeon, Homing Pigeon and Rock Dove, the United States Army Pigeon Service or Signal Pigeon Corps was a unit of the United States Army assigned to train the birds for communication.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia writes: “During WWII, the force consisted of 3,150 soldiers and 54,000 war pigeons, which were considered an undetectable method of communication. Over 90% of US Army messages sent by pigeons were received. The pigeon G.I. Joe received the Dickin Medal for gallantry that saved at least 1,000 lives.From 1917 until 1957, the US Army Pigeon Breeding and Training Center was based at Fort Monmouth, N.J. The US Army discontinued using pigeons as message carriers in 1957.”
Watch the video at: http://youtu.be/kSKrRlD7qOg

After the war GI Joe was sent to the Detroit Zoological Gardens where he died at the age of eighteen. For more information on the use of the domesticated Rock Pigeon from over 3000 years ago to today, go to Wikipedia Homing pigeon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homing_pigeon

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Ugly Duckling?

The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen portrayed a cygnet to be ugly compared to little ducklings. That's hard to believe with this little guy.
The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is native to much of Europe and Asia and was introduced to eastern North America in the mid-1800s to adorn estates and city parks.
They can be aggressive toward native species and there is a concern about the negative impact on Michigan's Common Loons and Trumpeter Swans.
The swans are generally silent or "mute". However they may hiss or make hoarse barking notes and their loud wingbeats can be heard from up to a half mile away.
The phrase swan song refers to the Mute Swan. Legends say that the bird is utterly silent until the last moment of its life, and then sings one achingly beautiful song just before dying.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Hot Cardinal!

We’ve had a couple days without rain in mid-Michigan but now it’s full sun and hot! An open mouth is one sign that a bird might be overheating and working to lower its body temperature.

Birds lack sweat glands, so they pant like dogs instead of sweat like people. By opening its mouth a bird increases the airflow and causes more moisture to evaporate and cool their body.

When the temperature is in the 90's, a bird’s body may start to overheat. Birds give off excess body heat through their unfeathered legs and can ruffle their body feathers so hot air close to the skin can escape. A bird will also pant, travel less, find a shady spot, or seek water to reduce its body temperature.

In this heat a refreshing dip in a birdbath is very effective in lowering their body temperature and rehydrating their body to beat the heat.
You will also significantly increase the number of birds visiting your yard by providing bird baths, drippers, and misters. Wild Birds Unlimited has a wide variety of baths to choose from. Birdbaths come in many shapes, sizes and materials. They can be placed on the ground, mounted on a pedestal or hung. If you have any questions come in to the store and we can help you find the best bath for your yard.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Bird Feeder Made From Human Ash.

Artist Nadine Jarvis uses human ash and bird food to make a bird feeder. The person is reincarnated through the life of the bird.

The Bird Feeders are available in two constructions: one being a solid casting of bird food, beeswax and ashes, and the other, rotationally molded with the ashes held inside.

Over time birds land on the perch (inscribed with the deceased name) and slowly eats the feeder, completing a rather disturbing circle of life.
After the feeder has completely disintegrated, the perch containing information about the deceased is the only thing left and becomes a keepsake.

More information can be found at: 16 Creative Bird Feeder Designs

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Insight into the Flight of Butterflies

This is the first model that replicates the same size, shape and weight of a butterfly exactly. Researchers discovered immediately that the veins in butterflies' wings create more lift. Recreating the flight of the butterfly will help scientists study the flight mechanisms of butterflies in more detail.

For the complete article go to NewScientist Tech: http://ning.it/bYrJMH

Hey Baby, Baby: Red Admiral Butterfly Finds a Girlfriend

Hey, I was just in your store and bought that beautiful red ceramic birdbath. Before I had a chance to fill it up this wonderful butterfly descended. Now I'm wondering if I should just leave the bath empty? What do you think? Do you know what you call these butterflies? Thanks, Connie

It looks like you have attracted a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). You can tell by the distinctive reddish orange forewing band. Red Admirals are named after the red chevrons on a naval uniform.

They are a seasonal colonist in Michigan. The population fluctuates considerably from year to year. This appears to be a good year. I've had lots of customers asking question about them.

Mature Red Admirals tend to feed on fermenting fruits, sap from trees and flower nectar. If you want to make your birdbath into a butterfly feeder you can soak a sponge in hummingbird nectar and place it in the bath.

Red Admirals are considered to be people-friendly butterflies that will approach and perch on human beings. But I think it would be alright to shoo the butterfly to another perch and fill the bird bath with water.

Source: Butterflies of Michigan by Jaret C. Daniels

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fledglings Find Their Way

I was watching a baby robin running around and now it's sitting on a short fence. It looks like it's way too young to be off the nest. Is there anything I should do?

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

It sounds like your little robin is coming right along.
When American Robins first leave the nest they can't fly. They are nurtured in their nest until they are about 2 weeks old. Then their parents begin a 2 week basic training course to teach their offspring to hop, sleep on sheltered branches at night, forage for food, and learn how to fly.

Baby robins are very vulnerable before they can fly. To help ensure that the baby robins in your yard are safe, keep cats indoors and don't use unnecessary pesticides in the lawn and garden.

It's a big world out there and it’s amazing how quickly these young birds learn to be independent.

If you're not sure call for help before you do anything. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE.
Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How do I get rid of mold in my hummingbird feeder?

Yikes mold is very bad in hummingbird feeders. Remember to change the nectar in your feeder every 2-4 days, regardless of whether the nectar has been used. In this hot, humid weather you might even have to change the nectar every other day.

I find the more often I change the nectar the easier it is to maintain the feeder. You won't be battling any black mold and you'll have a lot more hummingbirds and orioles.

I usually just rinse the feeder with hot water. To clean the hard to reach places you can use a pipe cleaner or we have special little brushes for cleaning feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited.

Now that we are in the hot and humid weather, you should soak the hummingbird feeder for about 5 minutes in a Scoot, active enzyme cleaner once a week. Or use a one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean the feeders. Then rinse your feeders thoroughly.

Also make sure your nectar solution is the proper proportion.
Nectar (sugar water) recipe
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup water

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Do Cowbirds Learn to Sing?

The Brown-Headed Cowbird is common throughout North America. The male brown-headed cowbird is glossy black with a contrasting dark brown head, while the females are dull grayish brown. A female cowbird can have several mates but instead of nesting, will lay her eggs in the nests of other bird species which foster the babies.

Studies have shown that the cowbirds don’t just drop an egg and move on. The females occasionally check in on the little bundles they’ve left behind. If the egg has been removed by the bird family, the female cowbird may go in and destroy the whole nest which results in the start of another batch of eggs being laid. The cowbird can then try to slip another egg into the nest.

Brown-headed Cowbird females lay around 35 eggs in a season. They have been documented to drop eggs in the nests of at least 220 host species, including hummingbirds and raptors. Sometimes the young cowbird is fed by the host parents at the expense of their own young. Sometimes the cowbird can't survive in families that don't eat bugs like the vegetarian finches.

If the foster family is successful in raising the cowbird, they will start out with the basic baby call of “feed me, feed me”, but they inherit a basic unstructured song. Once they are old enough to forage on their own they join up with other cowbirds and complete their final songs.

Most birds raised in captivity that never hear the songs of their parents learn a different song with some inherited components. For more information National Wildlife Federation has a complete article on bird song and Nova Science Now has a short video on how birds learn to speak.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Is it too late to put up a birdhouse?

It's never too late to put up nest boxes! Bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds typically have more than one brood per season and can switch to a new site for their second or third brood.
Or if their first nesting is unsuccessful, perhaps due to predators, the birds may look for a better nest box.
You can put houses up year round, actually. Some birds will use nest boxes as roosting sites in the winter. So you may have missed the first batch, but are just in time for the second or third!

Amazing Vocals of the Barred Owl

Could you please tell me what type of owl is this? I saw it while mushroom hunting. Thanks,
--Bryon Kavanagh Lansing, MI

I’m glad you had a camera. You’ve captured a very nice picture of a Barred Owl (Strix varia). This owl resides all over the entire state of Michigan, but its numbers are declining in the Lower Peninsula due to destruction of deciduous woodlands.

The Barred Owl has big beautiful brown eyes instead of the usual yellow eyes common in other owl species. They have horizontal barring around the neck and upper breast and vertical stripes below.

You may recognize their call. It's a resounding "hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo", often phrased as "Who, cooks, for-you Who, cooks, for-you, all" with the last syllable dropping off noticeably.

The birds usually hunt at night for smaller animals like voles, mice, and shrews. A bird seen during the day may be looking for extra food for babies.

After digesting their most recent meal, owls will form a pellet of the undigested remains of their prey and regurgitate it. Made up primarily of fur, feathers and bones, it is egested approximately 13-16 hours after eating.

So when you’re mushroom hunting keep an eye open for owl pellets. They are found in different locations, depending on the species but in general, it’s near their nesting sites.

You can also go to http://www.wbu.com/feedercam_home.html to watch the Wild Birds Unlimited owl box cam. Thanks for writing.

Yes I figured it was out hunting for young because I know owls are primarily nocturnal, later we found the nest w chicks a few 100 meters away. Here are some pics. This was near Kalkaska/Grayling area.

Wow, thanks for the update! They are just too cute. I'm glad you shared your photos.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Common Bird House Problems

How to Keep Sparrows out of my Wren/Chickadee House

House Sparrows prefer a 1 ½ inch entrance hole. If you purchased a house with a larger hole or it has been expanded by squirrels or other birds, we have metal portal protectors. Wild Birds Unlimited’s round 1-1/8" and 1-1/4" metal portals are suitable for the chickadee and wren houses and prevents sparrows from entering the house.

How to Keep Raccoons from your Birdhouse

If your bird house is on a pole, we have raccoon baffles that you can put around metal poles or 4”x4” wooden posts. This will stop all squirrels and raccoons from climbing to the house. It won’t stop them from dropping down from a nearby tree.

To protect the birdhouse itself from unwanted predators reaching in and stealing eggs, attach the Screw Mount Birdhouse Guardian. These will prevent squirrels, raccoons, opossum and cats from bending their arms to reach the resident birds. Crows, Blue Jays and grackles can't get their bodies through the guardian and are also deterred. I have the decorative version on a house that was being raided by the neighbor’s cat. So far it has stopped the cat from reaching in and destroying the nest.

How to Deter Sparrows from your Bluebird Box

This is the most frequently asked question in the spring. House Sparrows are very clever and very persistent. You must repeatedly remove any nests that sparrows have built and leave the clean out door of the house open until the sparrows give up guarding the house.

If a bluebird family has already started to make a house and sparrows are harassing them put up a sparrow spooker. Basically once the bluebirds are committed to a nesting site you can hang shiny flutter ribbon above the birdhouse (you can find this "scare tape" at our stores). Studies have shown that certain bird species, including house sparrows, will not fly under the ribbon. For more detailed plans to make your own sparrow spooker, click HERE to visit the very informative Sialis.org website.

Another possibility is to put two bluebird boxes back to back or within a few feet of each other. Bluebirds defend large feeding territories around their nests from other bluebirds. Experts recommend that bluebird boxes be spaced at least 300' apart. However when you pair bluebird houses close together, it is possible to get a bluebird in one and a Tree Swallow in the other. Together the birds can coexist and battle any predators or interloping sparrows. More information on this technique can be found HERE.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Photo of a Great Blue Heron

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest heron in North America.
In flight the Great Blue folds its neck back over its shoulders in an S-shape, unlike cranes' which stretch out their neck.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

There are Ducks Nesting in My Tree!

Hello, I have a large old maple in front of my apartment. I have seen a duck enter what must be a hollow about 10 feet above street level. I found it is a wood duck. Now I’m wondering how these little lives will climb out of this nest? The ground is all cement, and the street is very busy is on the south of tree. How will they make it to the river? What are your thoughts if any? I saw your film on the wood box nest. Thank you for your time, Sandy

I appreciate that you are concerned for the baby birds but wood ducks are perching ducks that always make their nests in tree cavities or nest boxes high off the ground.

They are typically found in wooded areas with swamps, ponds or smaller lakes nearby. The mating period is usually between February and April depending on where you live. The female normally lays 9 to 12 ivory colored eggs and the incubation period is around 30 days with the young climbing out of the nest usually within 24 hours of hatching.

Nesting locations can be quite high but the young are rarely injured as they fall to the ground. Later the young begin to fly at 8 to 10 weeks of age.

A lot of ducks and geese will nest close to humans because they feel protected. The video below shows a mallard duck that nested 10 feet above the sidewalk in the middle of the city and how one man helped them survive.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Basic Instinct: Cardinal Feeds Goldfish

My nephew asked why the Robins throw worms in the pond. I know the fish enjoy them and it did remind me of the old photo by Paul Lemmons.

Birds' parental instincts kick in at the sight of small open mouths eliciting an inborn response to feed. The photo shows a Northern Cardinal delivering worms to a goldfish at the edge of a garden pond. The gaping mouths of the fish stimulated the bird. The goldfish, accustomed to being fed at the surface, didn't care who was doing the feeding.

To read more go to Birdscope.
Watch a video: https://youtu.be/qtWcb7TwClo

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What Bird Feeders Do You Have?

Oh, I have a lot of feeders. Too many to list. I love the birds and as birdwatchers know, this is one of the busiest times at the feeders! Momma birds are trying to feed their babies as well as themselves while staying warm and dry.

It's almost impossible for me to keep my feeders full in the spring. That’s why my favorite feeder right now is the seed cylinder feeder. I used to call it my “Lazy Man feeder” because I only have to fill it once a month. But for some reason people don’t like the term lazy. Now I call it the feeder formally known as the Lazy Man Feeder.

I actually have a couple different styles of seed cylinder feeders in my yard. There are several to choose from as well as different kinds of seed cylinders.

I prefer the Cranberry or Supreme Fare cylinder. Pecans are the first ingredient in 3 of the cylinder varieties we sell at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI. After I slip on one of these pecan rolls, I like sit back and watch the action. Why pecans? Pecans are a very high energy food and the birds appreciate a good meal during this stressful time.

If you don't have a baffled Wild Birds Unlimited Advanced Pole System and worry about the squirrels, you can choose to use the Safflower cylinder to keep squirrels and blackbirds away.

I can tell you that Seed Cylinder feeders are undemanding. They are easy to clean, easy to fill, leave very little mess and attract a wide variety of birds. The feeders are popular with beginners and for people like me who have been feeding birds for almost 40 years.

Well that describes a couple feeders in my yard. Some of the other feeders I use are described in an earlier post called What is the best bird feeder? Click here to read more.

Thanks for the question. What is your favorite feeder?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Why are Baby Birds Bigger than Parent Birds?

I know the statistics show Americans have become larger over the years. So as I watch the Starlings feeding huge babies, I’m wondering if birds are getting bigger too?

What a good question? As most dinosaurs would tell us (if they weren’t extinct), there is evidence that being big can be bad for surviving. Being small has long been thought to help things survive extinction by having larger populations, greater genetic variation, shorter time to maturity, and fewer resources to suvive.
In a study done by paleontologists on a collection of bird ancestor bones approximately 65.5 million years old, it was found that there was a general increase in size for the birds in three of the four families. The big point of interest is the Ornithuromorpha, the last of these four families, got smaller over time and is the only family of birds who have members that managed to survive the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event.

So as Americans get bigger and stronger, I believe birds find their best chance at survival is if they stay small.

I couldn’t find any recent study on the size of birds, but based on observations of birds from the 1800’s to the present there is no obvious change in birds’ size unless helped along by farming practices.

Keep the questions coming and I’ll answer them as best I can. You can also chime in if I get something wrong.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Do I Feed Baby Killdeer?

I have baby Killdeer in my yard. What do they eat? The parents are scrabbling around in the grass. Is there anything I can give them to feed the babies?
Killdeer Charadrius vociferous are ground-nesting birds that are famous for hiding their nests right out in the open with no nesting materials. They rely on “help my wing is broken” distraction displays to lead predators away from their nests.

You can feed Killdeer the mealworms we sell at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, but honestly they are fine on their own foraging for insects, spiders, snails, worms, and crayfish.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Have you seen this bird?

Barry County is one of the few refuges that remain for the Cerulean Warbler. These birds require connected forests greater than 2,000 acres in size. Lack of suitable habitat is the reason the Cerulean Warbler is the fastest-declining songbird species in North America. Only about 1,000 birds are found in Michigan each year.

Cerulean Warbler Weekend (June 4-6) is an opportunity to learn more about the bird and what we can do to protect it. Workshops and guided nature experiences will teach how to identify the habitat and song of the Cerulean Warbler.

For additional details please click HERE or go to http://michiganaudubon.org/!

For more information about 2010 Cerulean Warbler tours, contact:
Wendy Tatar, Program Coordinator email:wendy@michiganaudubon or call 517-886-9144

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spring Fairy Hunt

"When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.
And now when every new baby is born its first laugh becomes a fairy. So there ought to be one fairy for every boy or girl."
~James Matthew Barrie (Peter, in Peter Pan, act 1)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Help! My Bluebirds Left

Bluebird had been coming to eat (mealworms) I was gone for a couple of days and after returning I began putting the worms out again, but haven't seen a bluebird since. The Eastern Towhee and Carolina Wren, also mocking birds have been trying to get to the worms, but I have chased them away whenever I see them. I try to put the worms out at certain times that I have seen them previously and watch very carefully---But no Bluebirds. Could it be because the eggs have hatched and 'I am too far away from nest??? I have no idea where nest is. Chickadees built before Bluebirds got a chance. Help. ~Rose
There may be several reasons the bluebirds didn't come right back. Your theory about them being new parents is possible.

Bluebirds know instinctively that mealworms are too big for newly hatched babies. They start their young out on tiny bugs like small larvae and spiders. As the chicks grow, so does their appetite and they can begin to feed on mealworms at about six days old.

The birds also may have found a more reliable source of food. I think you just have to be patient and try to re-establish a routine. I'm sure they'll come back. Try to put a spoonful of mealworms out every morning or evening at the same time and whistle a call to alert the bluebirds they are being served.

To keep the other birds away from your mealworms, try the enclosed bluebird feeders like we sell at our Wild Birds Unlimited stores that exclude larger birds.
Good luck!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Too Many Blackbirds at the Feeders!

I'm overrun with grackles and blackbirds. I know about the "safflower solution". Is there anything else I can do to rid my yard of these menaces? Roger

For those of you that don't know about Wild Birds Unlimited's ever popular Safflower Solution to get rid of squirrels and blackbirds, click HERE to read more.
The arrival of hungry blackbirds in the spring can be overwhelming for some people. You just have to remember that after these heavy rains that mid-Michigan is experiencing, the weather will warm up and the bugs will start hatching. That is when you'll be thankful that these menacing birds are patrolling your lawn for a variety of creepy crawlies and flying insects.
In the meantime I've made a checklist of some ways to reduce the numbers of blackbirds from your feeders:
1)Change seed: Take away cracked corn or food scraps, their favorite foods. Switch to an all safflower seed diet for a few weeks. Squirrels, blackbirds, starlings, and crows don’t like safflower. It may take awhile for the other songbirds to accept the change but it is a favorite with cardinals and chickadees. And gradually the rest of the songbirds will switch over to safflower.

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

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

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

Also be aware that the abundance of blackbirds makes them an important prey base for many small predators. Thanks for the question.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't Forget The Water: Tips to Maintain a Birdbath

I'm sure it's going to get warm sometime soon and that's when you pull out the misters.

In nature, hummingbirds prefer fine sprays of water in order to clean their feathers. Providing water in a shallow bird bath or through a mister or dripper, available at Wild Birds Unlimited, will help to attract hummers — and other birds too.

They help birds keep their feathers in top condition by providing a water source for washing and preening. Our Mini-Mister™ attaches easily to any garden hose to produce a fine water spray. Place it near vines or bushes so birds, such as hummingbirds, can flutter against the wet leaves for a refreshing bath or a much needed drink.

Wild Birds Unlimited also has good brushes well suited for cleaning birdbaths, as well as for many other household uses. Stiff, tough polypropylene bristles do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.

And if you have an ongoing problem with staining, mineral deposits or organic build up in your birdbath make sure to try Healthy Ponds Birdbath Cleaner. Its patented all-natural beneficial bacteria and enzymes is safe for birds and animals and keeps your bath clear for 30 days.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How Do I Get More Colorful Birds to the Feeder?

I’ve heard this question several times over the last few weeks. People want to know if we sell some magic seed to draw in the brightest colored birds.

Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Blend is our best selling blend. You wouldn’t believe the number of birds our special mid-Michigan formula draws in for up-close viewing. For more info on our unique No-Mess Blend bird seed which features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left, click HERE.

Now along with these “colorful birds”, the duller colored female birds as well as the birds people love to hate, the blackbirds and starlings are also attracted to our best blend. So there really isn’t a seed just for the prettiest birds.

Wild Birds Unlimited also sells 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. It is not as popular as No-Mess but will attract popular backyard birds including Cardinals, Chickadees, Blue Jays, House Finches, Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and Nuthatches.

You can also feed Nyjer® (thistle) bird seed and attract mainly goldfinches or “yellow birds”. I love the happy, warm, song of the American Goldfinch and the huge flocks of finches that flutter down from the tops of trees as they take their turn at the feeder. But in our area Nyjer® generally attracts only the bright yellow male goldfinch and the duller olive green/brown female.

Whatever seed you choose we guarantee it will be fresh. If you are over by the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI Tuesday morning you can help me load in a couple tons of seed or I can help you carry it out to your car.

Keep your questions coming. If you’re wondering about something, chances are several other people are wondering too.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A salute to all mothers!

I was swamped with customers Saturday at the East Lansing store. I hope everyone found what they needed.
I wish all the moms out there a
Happy Mother's Day!