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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How do the small birds stay warm in the winter?

In the winter birds fluff up to trap air between their feathers and bodies to create a natural layer of insulation, and sleep with their bills under their wing feathers to breathe in warmer air. They also can grow twice as many feathers but they still have to shiver almost constantly to increase their body temperature in cold weather. This shivering process is called thermogenosis. The constant shivering produces heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature.

It also burns a lot of calories. Birds store the needed calories as fat, but they can only store enough for 16 to 24 hours. This is why you’ll see birds in a panic at your feeders right before it gets dark and at first light.
Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor).

And of course they seek shelter out of the wind and cold. Some, such as the chickadees & titmice, huddle together in natural shelters like bushes. Also nesting boxes become roosting boxes in the winter. Or there are also roosting pockets.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Roosting Pockets: Warm Shelter from Frosty Winds

Invite Birds to this Charming Village

Birds will stay nice and cozy in these delightful roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses. It offers essential protection to enable survival.

· Fill with seeds or with nesting materials
· Turn your backyard into a bird sanctuary
· Helps birds conserve energy for winter survival

Hang them from tree branches, vines or fences to provide safe, warm nooks for small birds. They add charm to the garden year-round and they may even serve as nests in the spring.

We have a wide variety of pockets to choose from at Wild Birds Unlimited in our East Lansing, MI store. This is one of the most popular gifts people give to co-workers and teachers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When do Chipmunks hibernate?

The chipmunks' manic feasting means cold weather is near.

Tamia rayé -- Eastern chipmunkImage by Gilles Gonthier via Flickr
Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers. They have two breeding seasons. The first begins in February and the second in June. They can have up to nine babies but average four.

Many people are frustrated by the amount of food they take away from bird feeding stations but chipmunks do have a purpose. They eat a lot of bugs, small rodents and stray seeds on the ground which humans can appreciate. And Mother Nature uses the chipmunks to spread plant seeds and fungi all around as well as food for birds of prey.

Eastern Chipmunk with cheeks filled of food su...Image via WikipediaEastern chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

Tamia rayé -- Eastern chipmunkImage by Gilles Gonthier via FlickrThe chipmunks’ cheek pouches also transfer food to their tunnels. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. Eastern chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate but wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

Related article: How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders?
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Bird body odor: a link to extinction?

The endemic flightless kiwi is a national iconImage via WikipediaApparently, New Zealand birds have a body odor problem. This could be a reason why so many native NZ birds are either extinct or on the threatened species list. Associate Professor Jim Briskie from the University of Canterbury has been awarded a Marsden grant to study the role of smell in the lives of NZ native birds.

The birds of New Zealand evolved for millions of years without mammalian predators such as rats, short-tailed weasels, cats and possums. Behavioral traits, such as nesting on the ground, left birds vulnerable to introduced mammals. But in other countries, birds live with mammals and seemingly behave much as our birds do. So have we been missing something?

Associate Professor Briskie suspects the missing link is smell. Kiwi have been described as smelling like mushrooms or ammonia; kakapo like “musty violin cases”. Many mammals are especially adept at detecting odors and a rat or weasel smelling a kiwi gets a “potential meal” alert.

Briskie, a Canadian, who moved to New Zealand 13 years ago, said his research could potentially lead to innovative technology, such as odor-eaters for bird nests. "Down the line if we do find some species are particularly smelly or vulnerable, perhaps I can design a deodorant for kiwis."
en: Pura, a 1-year-old Kakapo (Strigops habrop...Image via Wikipedia

Preliminary work has revealed that these odors arise from the preening waxes that birds use to maintain their feathers. Birds elsewhere seem to have less pungent odors, and they suppress the smelly waxes produced by their preen glands while nesting.

New Zealand birds and their preen gland waxes will be studied and compared with related species in Australia that evolved in the presence of mammalian predators. Associate Professor Briskie will also conduct laboratory and field trials to see whether predators use smell to more easily locate island birds than their continental cousins.

This study will, for the first time, determine whether odors are playing a previously unrecognized role in the decline of island birds.

Total Funding (over 3 years): $607,702

Principal researcher: Associate Professor Jim Briskie, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Source: 2010 Round Press Releases http://www.marsden.royalsociety.org.nz/

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

They Had Stars Upon Thars!

European StarlingImage via Wikipedia
The European Starling Sturnus vulgaris molts its feathers in the fall and the new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird the appearance of “stars” covering their body. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

Both sexes also have reddish brown legs, and seasonal changes in bill color (yellow in the spring, black in the fall). Males sport a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. Juvenile birds are large dull gray or black.

The European Starling is insectivorous when breeding and typically consumes insects including caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders. The starlings like to grab bugs directly from the air or plunge their beaks into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. In the winter starlings are omnivorous and can also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectar, and food scraps.

In 1890’s, 100 starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park. It is said that Eugene Schieffelin wanted all of New York to see the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare. Until that time, starlings were not native to North America and were imported from England. Scientists estimate that descendants from those original released flocks now number more than 200 million in the United States.

Now is the time when you will see huge flocks gathering to perform amazing aerial displays.

Related articles:

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

What are Some Differences in Birds' Feet?

Most birds we observe have four toes, but the exact number of toes and their arrangement, as well as their proportions, varies from family to family. The perching birds we see at the feeders in mid-Michigan usually have anisodactyl feet. That means they have three toes that point forward and one toe that points backward to make it easy to grab a perch. The woodpeckers’ feet are an exception to the birdfeeder crowd. They have zygodactyl feet meaning two toes point forward and two point backward so they can get a good grip on a tree bark.

Birds that use their feet for waiting in trees, climbing, grabbing prey, and carrying it away are equipped with sharp curved and pointed claws like hawks, eagles, and falcons. Feet that run and scratch usually have strong stout toes with blunt claws like turkeys, grouse and others. Feet for swimming may have the first three toes webbed like ducks and gulls or include a webbed back toe as well like the pelicans and cormorants. The grebes and coots just have lobed toes for swimming. And the long toes of the herons spread the bird's weight over a large surface area to facilitate walking on soft surfaces near the water's edge where wading birds like to eat.

The size and shape of the claws and the way the toes are arranged as well as the length of the toes and the degree of webbing are all dependent on what a bird uses its feet for and where it lives. Like a bird's bill its feet reveal a lot about its lifestyle and the next time you have a chance take a close-up look at the fascinating feet of birds.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Rare Super Harvest Moon

First full moon on autumnal equinox since 1991.
(Super) Harvest MoonImage by mkelly32 via Flickr
Did you see the Super Harvest Moon? ‘Super’ actually means that the harvest moon happens to fall 6 hours after the Autumnal Equinox.
Unfortunately my view was blocked by thick clouds. Oh well I only have to wait 19 years until the next Super Harvest Moon.

For more information visit Science@NASA Headline News: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/22sep_harvestmoon/

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerule...Image via WikipediaI saw a new bird in the backyard today. At first glance I thought maybe a Dark-eyed Junco...no...Red-breasted Nuthatch...no...no too early for those birds to visit our feeders in mid-Michigan anyway. I walked close to get a better look at this new bird at the suet feeder. It looks like it might be a warbler that's passing through.
Available at Wild Birds Unlimited
East Lansing, MI store
I go to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black to find its name. In the front of the book is a little reference guide with mug shots of all the birds in Michigan. And there is my bird on page 13, also known as Black-throated Blue Warbler.  

He was under the pine tree so he looked like a small black bird with a white belly and white wing spots. In the sun he might have looked more blue. Watching this dark and handsome bird was a great way to start the day!

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER. Dendroica caerule...Image via Wikipedia
Female and Male
Black-thoated Blue Warblers
Black-throated Blue Warblers nest in northern Michigan. The female which is olive brown and tan with a faint black eyebrow, looks very different in appearance from the male. They pass through mid-Michigan mid-August to late September. They are among most trusting and tame of their family. So keep your eyes open and maybe you can spot this warbler before he migrates to his winter home in the deciduous and evergreen woodlands of the Gulf coast states and the Greater Antilles.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Do Woodpeckers Drink Water from Birdbaths?

Woodpeckers (mostly downy and hairy in East Lansing) seem to be the only birds that do not avail themselves of the water in my birdbath. How do they drink? Is there another way I can get water to them?
Most woodpeckers can get a lot of liquid through their food and do not drink at baths as often as other birds. Nice juicy bugs, berries and suet cakes aren’t as dry as seeds and require the woodpeckers to make fewer stops at the bath.
But Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers do drink water. They scoop it up with their bill from tiny pools in the branches of trees, puddles, streams, ponds and even bird baths when needed.
I’ve seen the woodpeckers going for a full body bath in my shallow stream and tiny birdbath in the backyard. I’ve also watched as a Red-bellied Woodpecker snuck a few sips from my hummingbird feeder along with the finches.
The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders especially right now! This is the time they form their winter flocks and choose their winter foraging grounds. Keep your suet or nut feeders full of fresh fatty foods to keep them happy.
And they’ll visit your birdbath when they are thirsty or need to clean their feathers. They just won’t frequent the bath as often as some other birds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How Can I Hang a Feeder?

I want to hang a feeder from a tree. Do you have a chain?

Yes, Wild Birds Unlimited has chains but we also have Tree Hooks made by the same people that developed our unique Advanced Pole System. They come 12 inches to 6 feet in length. The large end goes over a branch and the little end holds the feeder. There is no damage done to the tree.

That sounds ideal! I had my tree trimmed and I was puzzled on how to re-hang these feeders. I will come in to get a couple as soon as I measure the height to the branch. Thanks.

I'm glad I could help. We also have S hooks that are 2" to 24" long.

Related Article:
Advanced Pole System: Bird Feeding Station That Looks Great and Stays Straight!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time is Flying!

Two years ago today I started to blog. I just felt the need to answer some common questions people were asking about over the phone or in person at the Wild Birds Unlimited stores.

Recently Blogger has added a statistics page and I thought I’d share some of the numbers about the Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan blog.

-Over 800 posts in 2 years
-Over 100,000 visits to the blog
-25% of blog readers live within 50 miles of Lansing, MI
-75% live in the US, Canada, UK, Japan, India, Australia, Philippines, South Korea, Germany, and the Netherlands in that order.
-Some of my most popular posts have nothing to do with birds

My posts focus mainly on local nature and I was very surprised to look back and see what people were reading.

Ten most popular posts:
10.How many species of squirrels are in Michigan?
9.  How Can Owls Fly Silently?
7.  Types of bird bills
6.  Why do geese fly in a V formation?
5.  How can I get rid of the hawk in my yard?
4.  What birds eat apples?
3.  A Very Tiny Hummingbird (Moth)?
2.  Sounds of Summer: Michigan Cicada
1. Found! New squirrel species discovered. I still can’t understand why my little April Fools post is so popular.

Some of my favorite posts were by Guest Bloggers:
- Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Squirrels: Guest Blogger from WBU Redmond, WA
- BEWARE: If you come into the store you may catch it! (video from WBU Pleasant Hill, CA)
- One lucky duck!: Guest Blogger from WBU Springboro, OH
- Everyone Eats in My World: Gary Fortcher from WBU Oakdale, NY
- Bring Your Bird to Work Day!
- Guest Blogger Chuck: Rare Bird Sighting

My all time favorite posts are about my cats; not appropriate for a bird blog but very important to me:
- The Trials of Living in a Bird Store

Thanks for your participation in this blog and keep sending in the questions and photos.

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

Facebook: Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan http://tiny.cc/QmIv5

Do you have a question about birds, bird feeding or about the store? If your question isn't answered on our web log http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/, please e-mail us at bloubird@gmail.com.
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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Colored Like No Other Bird in Michigan

Large numbers of Bobolinks pass through in Sep...Image via WikipediaMost backyard bird watchers aren’t familiar with the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus). The female looks like a large sparrow while the male is the only American bird that is black underneath and white on the back for a showy spring breeding display. They are one of the few songbirds that undergo two complete molts each year. In the fall both the male and female have brown feathers.

Bobolink - femaleImage by TheMarvelousInNature.wordpress.com via Flickr

In Michigan their preferred habitats include prairies and meadows and they stay on marshes during migration where they eat mainly insects. Bobolinks are recognized for making one of the longest migrations in the western hemisphere. The trip south to the vast grasslands of southwestern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina can be over 6000 miles.

Approximate distribution of the Bobolink (Doli...Image via Wikipedia
Approximate distribution of the Bobolink 
Blue: breeding, Orange: wintering.
Each fall, they gather in large numbers in southern rice fields, where their habit of eating grain has earned them the name "ricebird." They are collected as food in Jamaica, where they are called “butter birds”--a commentary on how fat they are as they pass through on migration.

Once common as a source of food for the northern United States, their song, breeding plumage, and extraordinary migration also made the Bobolink an inspiration for the poetry like "Robert of Lincoln" by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1898), and "The Way to Know the Bobolink" by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886).
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Where did my birds go?

Dear @birdsunlimited, our bird table has suddenly stopped being used. Ideas as to why that mite be? ~ @susanbunny Clacton-on-Sea, Tendring, UK

Birds can stop coming to the feeder for several reasons. First make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The birds use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. On cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Second, make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. In Michigan where it can rain several days in a row the seed may not get a chance to air out and begin to mold. This can be dangerous to the birds and they will avoid your feeder again.

To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using something like WBU Weather Guard.

Third, birds all over the world are migrating or establishing winter grounds. During this transition time you feeder may be overwhelmed with birds one week and empty the next week.

Also look for predators like hawks or cats in the which will deter birds from feeding in your area. Finally check with local birding groups. I remember reading about the UK having problems with a parasite called Trichomonas gallinae that has caused a decline in the populations of both chaffinches and greenfinches. But if your feeder is clean and the seed is fresh, be patient and I have no doubt some birds will return.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cats Indoors!

Anna & Evan feed the cats grass with Aunt Sarah
Even the sweetest cats still have the instincts of their wild ancestors. When something flutters by, they must swat it down. Cats allowed to roam outside stalking the songbirds kill billions of birds each year, and for that reason you should never allow your kitty outside.

It’s also healthier for them to remain inside the house. The American Bird Conservancy has developed a campaign – called Cats Indoors! – to educate cat owners about the damage their pets can do to songbirds, other wildlife and themselves by freely roaming the outdoors.

This doesn't mean that they can't enjoy a neat window feeder or a nice feeder set up outside. About half of our customers begin birdwatching as a way to entertain their cats during the day.

Related articles:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Where do birds of Michigan go in the winter?

That’s a very good question and I’m sorry I can’t give you a very good answer. In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nesting in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird.

In Michigan, birds can belong to several groups:

Permanent residents or non-migrating birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Black-Capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, or House Sparrows are common year round residents.

Summer residents like the Ruby throated hummingbirds, orioles, swallows, or rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive in our northern backyards in the spring, nest during the summer and return south to winter.

Winter residents like Red Breasted Nuthatches and juncos, not seen in our area during the summer, think mid-Michigan is the perfect place to spend the winter.

Transients like the White Throated and White Crowned Sparrows are migratory species that nest farther north than our neighborhoods, but winter farther south and we see them only a few weeks during migration, as they pass through.

Male & Female Cardinal along with Black-capped Chickadee

Other bird species seen at the feeder year round may also be migratory. While we see American Goldfinch throughout the year, some of the ones we see in the winter may have nested in Canada. And Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident.

They are obligate partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. And sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by poor winter crops can lead to irruptions of bird species not normally seen in our area like the Pine Siskins or Redpoles.

It’s not easy getting every bird’s travel plans straight. For example one of my favorite birds, the Northern Cardinal, has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. During the early days of the expansion, the birds would migrate back south during the winter, but in time they became a year round resident in Michigan.

Migration isn’t an exact journey. Using published literature, bird observer reports, and observations of bird watchers it has been found that many factors like the temperature changes and land development are very likely influencing birds’ migratory patterns and will continue to alter patterns in the future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do Birds Sleep Standing Up?

I'm interested in where birds go to sleep and if they ever lay down? Cheryl~Charlotte, Michigan

sleeping birdImage by looseends via FlickrBirds always have to be alert for predators, ready to dart away at a moment's notice. Positions can vary but the best that many birds can hope for are short little bursts of sleep. .

Sleeping habits can also change with the seasons. Birds tend to sleep in the same areas they inhabit during the day. For instance, territorial birds often sleep on their nests, during the breeding season but now in the fall might sleep communally in large roosts. Water birds will sleep sitting or standing on the shore, or in the water or on predator-free islands. Tree-dwellers prefer to sleep in trees or dense shrubs out of a predator’s reach.

I have a lot of backyard birds that like to sleep in the pine trees near the feeding stations. As dusk approaches there is a feeding frenzy. The goldfinches at my house sometimes stay too long. I watch them feeding furiously and then see them look up and notice sun went down. Some find shelter quickly in nearby bushes while others have been known to spend the night on a feeder or if it's windy, huddled in a corner close to the house.

When birds are tired, they scrunch down to sleep because that automatically makes the toes grip their perch and stay locked. In the legs of tree-dwelling birds, the tendons from certain muscles extend down the leg behind the ankle to attach to the tips of the toes and when their knees bend, the tendons are pulled taut, making the toes on their feet clench.

Sleeping ducksImage via WikipediaSome birds can also sleep with only half a brain and one eye open, always on the lookout for danger. Keeping one half of the brain at rest is called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS).

Along with finding a safe place from predators to catch a few winks, birds also need protection from the weather. Birds fluff their feathers to create many tiny air spaces that drastically reduce heat loss (the same principle that makes down jackets so warm in winter) and bury naked body parts into their feathers. This is why many birds pillow their head on their shoulder with their bill tucked among downy back plumage and have one leg held tightly up against the body.

Birds can also begin a constant shivering called thermogenosis to produce heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature. Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go even one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor.)

So remember, when you snuggle safely under the covers tonight, it might not be as easy as you thought to be free as a bird.

1. Half-awake to the risk of predation
2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology
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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Prevent Window Strikes During Migration

Right now there are first year birds and new birds migrating throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Birds also strike windows as they quickly try to escape predators, hitting glass in a moment of panic. Window strikes are hard to totally eliminate, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity:

  • Locate feeders and birdbaths about 20-30 feet from windows so birds have time to change direction or within 1-2 feet of them so they can't gather enough speed to cause significant injury.
  • Window screens will reduce injury even if a bird flies into it. Use them where practical.
  • Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds. It takes multiple decals on the window surface; one stuck in the middle won't make a difference.
  • Mylar reflective strips hanging loose in front of the window will move in the breeze and alert birds flying too close to a window.
  • Use a yellow highlighter to draw X's on the inside of a window. The fluorescent highlighter is visible to birds, because the fluorescent ink will simultaneously absorb UV and release visible light. However it works best in sunlight, and worst in low light or on overcast days. This last suggestion comes from an experiment conducted by David Sibley, author of the Sibley Guide to Birds. http://sibleyguides.blogspot.com/2007/11/simple-method-for-bird-proofing-windows.html
It is estimated that between 100 million and one billion birds are killed every year in the United States when they crash into glass windows. And even one billion deaths might be a conservative estimate, says ornithologist Daniel Klem Jr. of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

Dr. Klem actually studied window collisions by conducting several experiments in which he hung clear panes of glass, mirrors, and picture windows adjacent to one another in a woody thicket facing an old field habitat. A strike was registered when a specimen was found beneath a window or a feather, body smudge or blood smear was found on the glass.

If you do have a window strike and the bird is injured CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

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Monday, September 13, 2010

What Do Black-Capped Chickadees Eat?

In yesterday's post about chickadees you wrote “75% of their winter food supply still comes from natural sources.” What are these natural sources? My chickadees are going crazy for the peanut feeder I bought at your store. So are the other birds. When the weather is cold the birds are ravenous! Nancy ~Sunfield, MI

From sunrise to sunset, the chickadee spends most of its time feeding. The natural diet of the Black-capped Chickadee consists of 50% insects, insect eggs, larvae and pupae, as well as spiders, and 50% seeds and berries in the winter. During the summer it is 70% bugs and 30% plants.

Chickadees eat lots of weed seeds like milkweed, goldenrods and ragweeds. Seeds that remain uncovered in the winter snows like rushes, conifer seeds, and cattails can also be very important to survival. Some of their favorite berries include poison ivy and bayberry.
Suet or animal fat also provides lots of calories to produce energy in cold weather. You can offer suet that is rendered into suet cakes but chickadees can also find suet naturally from a dead deer or any other animal that has been opened up by scavengers.

Black-capped ChickadeeImage by qmnonic via FlickrAnd bugs aren’t gone in the winter either. Chickadees can find many bugs that hide in the barks of trees and overwintering larvae that are hidden under branches.

Mid-Michigan's chickadees are non-migratory and will be around all winter. New fall and winter flocks have been forming for awhile. Flocks can consist of 2 to 18 birds. Normal suburban flocks range from 6 to 10 birds over a territory of 20 to 50 acres.

Young chickadees leave their parents about a month after they’ve hatched. They leave their natal territory and individually take up residence with other non-related chickadees several miles away. These first year chickadees have the lowest status in the group and try to pair up with a mate they can be with next breeding season and move up in rank as dominant birds die.

The average lifespan of a chickadee in the wild is 2.5 years. Keeping their little half ounce body working efficiently requires a lot of fuel. And the worse the conditions the more the chickadees need to eat.

Inquisitive, energetic, and strikingly marked, the Black-capped Chickadee is regular visitor to Michigan feeders especially in the fall. They may seem to be in a little bit of a frenzy. Attracted to sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suets at a bird feeding station, they are collecting food and hiding it for later just like squirrels. Click HERE to read more on how chickadees cache their food.

References and More Information:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer

Chickadees are a favorite backyard bird at Michigan feeders. These petite black, white and gray birds flit from place to place and seem very bright and cheery.

• Chickadees tend to feed one at a time because there is a hierarchy that allows the most dominant bird to feed first. Generally, chickadees take one seed from the feeder – sometimes choosing with care to get the heaviest seed – and then fly away to eat it and return for more. Their favorite food is oil sunflower seed, but they also eat striped sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet.

• Chickadees are inquisitive and found in wooded areas across much of North America. The more common species include the Black-capped, Carolina and Mountain Chickadees.
• Chickadees weigh less than half an ounce and are identified easily by their namesake call “chick-a-dee.”
• Chickadees are generally monogamous and stay with the same mate for life. They will excavate their own nest site in rotten or decaying wood or use an old woodpecker hole or use a nesting box.
 • Chickadees watch other birds’ foraging habits to see if they should adapt their behavior to be more successful. Though chickadees are regular visitors to feeders, over 75% of their winter food supply still comes from natural sources.
Black-capped ChickadeeImage by jackanapes via Flickr• Chickadees do not migrate and are equipped to survive harsh winter weather. They cache foods and remember where they are hidden, have dense winter coats, diligently find excellent, well-insulated roosting cavities and can perform a regulated hypothermia to conserve energy overnight.
• When the temperature falls below 10º F, research has shown that the survival rate of chickadees almost doubled when they had access to feeders.
• Chickadees can gain as much as 10% of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.
Source: WBU BOTM

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to Feed Hummingbirds After Labor Day

We had lots of questions on feeding hummingbirds this week: ..

Am I supposed to take down my feeder on Labor Day?
Male Ruby-Throated hummingbird (Archilochus co...Image via WikipediaI would leave hummingbird feeders up until at least the end of September. In mid-Michigan, you can leave your feeder up until mid-October weather permitting.
The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us whether there is a feeder up or not.
Do I make the nectar recipe stronger to give them more energy?
It's not necessary to make your sugar solution stronger. The 4:1 ratio is the closest to the favorite flowers that hummingbirds visit. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar.
Male Ruby-throated HummingbirdImage by VonShawn via FlickrDo I make the sugar solution weaker to encourage them to leave?
I would continue to feed the hummingbirds the same nectar solution until they are fat enough to move further south. Don't rush them. Let them leave when they have enough energy and the weather is favorable.
Where do they spend the winters?
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. A few remain along the Gulf coast and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
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