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

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

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wood Duck Nest Box

I need to replace a Wood Duck house. Can you give me a little more information?
You sound like a responsible landlord. The most important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to put up a Wood Duck nest box, is maintenance. That includes cleaning out the box annually in the fall, adding new wood chips in the spring and replacing boxes as needed. Wood ducks often return to the same nests year after year.

The Wood Duck Aix sponsa is a survivor. Hunted nearly to extinction during early 20th century, careful management procedures and nest box placements have succeeded in raising the population to well over a million. [1]
Unlike other ducks, the Wood Duck nests in trees. They make their homes out of old Pileated Woodpecker nests and trees that have natural hollows. So it would seem natural, to mount nest boxes on trees, but in order to protect them from predators like raccoons it’s best to mount them on baffled poles. The females or hens readily accept these set-ups, and studies have shown they actually prefer low-mounted boxes.

The best time to put Wood Duck boxes up is now until the beginning of March. The peak nesting period is mid-March to mid-May in Michigan. Boxes put up later will be ready for the next season.

The recommended nest boxes, like the ones found at Wild Birds Unlimited, should be made of high quality wood, have a duckling ladder, an easy side clean out, ventilation, drainage, and cedar shavings for nesting material. Wood Ducks don’t bring any nesting material to the boxes other than a layer of down feathers the mother pulls from her breast and belly.

The best place for a nest is near a wooded area and close to a wetland with lots of bugs. Both the egg-laying hen and her ducklings eat lots of aquatic insects. Box entrances near water should either face the water or away from prevailing winds.

Nest boxes placed on land should be located from 30 to 150 feet away from the shoreline. Make sure the area between the nest box and the water's edge is free of obstacles such as roads or fencing since the hen must lead her ducklings to water soon after they hatch.

It is generally recommended that nest boxes should be placed at least 600 feet apart and should not be visible to one another. Always remember when placing nest boxes, to consider ease of access for monitoring purposes. [2]
The male and female will probably both visit the nest regularly for two weeks. The female will lay an egg every day until there are about 15 eggs. Then it’s left to the female alone to incubate them for about a month. They all hatch at the same time and 24 hours later leap from the nest with their mother’s encouragement and journey to the water.
The video below shows their jumping day.

Source:
1.
U.S. Department of the Interior/U.S. Geological Survey http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/woodduck/wdnbox.htm
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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is it too early to put up a birdhouse?

I was thinking of putting up a birdhouse this year so my kids can watch. When am I supposed to do that? What would birds do if we didn’t put up a birdhouse?

It's never too early or too late to put up a bird house. If you listen, you’ve probably already noticed the excitement in the air. Every day the sun is rising a little earlier and the days are getting longer. Pretty soon when I wake up in the morning, I’ll be able to watch the birds outside my window sitting on the tips of branches and breaking out in song to mark their territory. This morning I was please to wake up to the sound of a Great Horned Owl calling for a mate.

Home Tweet Home
It’s hard to believe, but a lot of the birds that winter in Michigan have already begun to scout for good nesting areas. At Wild Birds Unlimited we can help you choose a good, functional bird house that is right for where you live. Not all birds are going to use birdhouses. Depending on where you live, some birds that use houses are House sparrows, wrens, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, flickers, bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Screech Owls, American Kestrels and Wood Ducks.

Best Nest
Just like feeders, it’s best to find a house that is designed well and easy to clean. Look for homes with an easy clean out, proper ventilation, drainage holes, untreated wood, or recycled plastic houses with the proper design. Not all birdhouses are equal. Studies show the inside dimension, the shape and the diameter of the opening determine what birds it will attract.

Create Habitat
People provide bird houses or “nest boxes” because in nature most of these birds use tree hollows or old woodpeckers’ nests. But today we are quick to remove dead and decaying trees with holes because they could become dangerous and fall in storms. So we help Mother Nature by providing alternate homes.

In return the birds will do their best to decimate the bug population in your yard by stuffing their kids’ mouths. And they are also educational and entertaining to watch!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wolf Moon: If you think the Moon looks unusually big, you're right.

Wow, the clear sky Friday allowed a perfect view of the biggest full moon of 2010 and listening to the neighbors dog barking all night reminded me that the Native Americans call it a wolf moon because the hungry wolves howled at the full moon on cold winter nights.

The January 29, 2010 moon was about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than lesser full Moons of the year, according to Spaceweather.com.

As a bonus, you can see a glimpse of the bright red Mars visible to the left.
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Who was Roger Tory Peterson?

Roger Tory Peterson unlocked the world of birds for millions of people with his field guides that revolutionized birdwatching.

"The philosophy that I have worked under most of my life is that the serious study of natural history is an activity which has far-reaching effects in every aspect of a person's life. It ultimately makes people protective of the environment in a very committed way." – Roger Tory Peterson (August 28, 1908-July 28, 1996)

Related Articles:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Filling Up on Fatty Foods

In the beginning of the year many of us are thinking about how to lose some of those extra holiday pounds. Maybe we’ll commit to exercise more and promise ourselves to watch what we eat by cutting down on fatty foods. .

But for the birds, winter is the time when high fat foods become more critical in a bird’s diet. Every night up to three-quarters of a bird’s fat reserves are used up; reserves that must be replenished the next day. When fat reseves are depleted, protein — mostly scavenged from muscle tissue — is depleted to keep up with energy needs.

Keeping your feeders filled with high energy, high fat foods can provide your birds with the critical nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of best choices to meet this nutritional need is suet, which can be in the form of suet cakes, tubs, plugs or stackable suet doughs.

Seeds also provide fats, but in varying degrees. High on the list are peanuts, which provide 412 fat calories per 100 grams. Other high fat seeds or nuts include sunflower chips (429 fat calories per 100 grams), black oil sunflower (354 calories) and niger seed (342 fat calories).

Our most popular Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends are No Mess and Choice Blend because they are filled with many of these high fat seeds and nuts making them ideal foods, along with suet, to offer your birds this winter. And don’t worry — your birds will not need statins from eating these fatty foods.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where Should I Go to Find Bird Information Fast?

If I wanted to teach a short course about birds to beginners, where would you suggest I go to find more information?

Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a wealth of information at www.birds.cornell.edu/.
Some things the site has to offer that might interest you are:

All About Birds: a great bird guide that lets you find information about birds and birding basics. There is also a section that has suggestions for teaching others about birds at http://bit.ly/6fEaP1


Resources for Kids & Families: Fun online resources and activities for the whole family, plus information about public exhibits & special events.

Resources for Educators: Everything you need to provide a variety of learning experiences using birds as a window into nature and science.

Courses & Seminars: They offer formal and informal courses and seminars on topics from biology and natural history to birdwatching and recording wildlife sounds.

I hope this helps. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology uses the best science and technology--and inspires the widest range of people and organizations--to solve critical problems facing wildlife.

Their mission is to interpret and conserve the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

Explore their links below to learn more:
Research
Citizen Science
Education
Conservation

Am I Already Seeing Baby Squirrels?

I think I’m seeing a baby squirrel already at my feeder or maybe it’s just super small. It looks like a regular squirrel except for the small size and it’s always crying. What do you think?
Lansing, MI

Is it cute as a button but angry at the whole world and guarding all the food even from squirrels twice it size?

That’s probably an American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Known to many Michigan hunters as the "Tattle-tail of the Forest," these small tree squirrels have recently been expanding their range to include many mid-Michigan suburbs. They are easily identified by their small size of 12-15 inches from nose to tail and constant, loud vocalizations. Slightly larger than a chipmunk, their color is a solid reddish brown with a whitish underbelly.

Breeding season for the squirrels in Michigan begins at the spring thaw, from mid-January to mid-February. The female reds will mate with 4–16 males and then gestation takes a little over a month. She’ll usually have a litter of 3 or 4 pink, hairless offspring about 10 g or the weight of approximately two nickels. The babies first emerge from their natal nest constructed of branches or a tree hollow after 42 days but continue to nurse for 70 days.

Then it's important for juvenile American Red Squirrels to acquire a territory, shelter, and a pile of winter food prior to their first winter or they will not survive. On average only 22% survive one year. If they do make their first year, life expectancy increases to an average of 2.3 years and with a maximum lifespan of eight years.

Source: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Dewey, T. and E. Ellis. 2007. "Tamiasciurus hudsonicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web.
Accessed January 27, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When Do I Stop Feeding the Birds?

Hi there, my family put a bird feeder in our backyard this winter and we have enjoyed watching the birds (and squirrels) that visit. The last few days have been unseasonably warm and all of the snow has melted in our neighborhood. My husband filled the bird feeder yesterday and this sparked a good-natured disagreement about feeding our birds. Can you help?

I told my husband that because the weather was so nice, I wouldn't have put seed in the feeder. My reasoning being that without snow or rain that the bird would be able to find their own sources of food. We make food available when it is scarce naturally. (Plus, birdseed can get expensive, especially when the squirrels are raiding the feeder too!)My husband, on the other hand, thinks that the birds come to rely on our birdfeeder and we must keep it filled for them. Can you tell us which is the correct approach? Thanks so much for your time. AG

If you were ever thinking about bird feeding, January and February are actually the months that a backyard bird feeder can make a difference.

Typically, feeders serve as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard. Fruit and nut bearing bushes and trees supply a natural food source as well as native flowers, such as coneflowers, black eyed Susan’s, and cosmos that are allowed to go to seed and stand through the winter. In the last couple months of winter the natural sources have gradually become more and more scarce and birds may switch to utilizing feeders to survive from day to day.

In fact February is designated National Bird Feeding Month because it's one of the most difficult months in the U.S. for birds to survive in the wild. In mid-Michigan the plants are still dormant and haven’t begun to produce new food for the birds and the bugs are still scarce.

Also, low temperatures force birds to burn up to 10% of their body weight in stored fat each night to stay warm, and this fat must be replaced every day.

Be sure to keep your feeders filled with the high-energy, high-fat foods that provide your birds with the crucial nutrition they need to survive. Studies indicate that Black-Oil Sunflower, Fine and Medium Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types. Please don’t waste your money on cheap seed. Cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo decrease the price per pound of a mix but aren't eaten by the birds and are left to rot on the ground.
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And don't forget the Suet. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds. Our Suet is made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. Special processes remove impurities that cause low melting points and spoilage problems.

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining and educational pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults. It provides a needed stress relief and brings families together. There is no designated time to feed the birds. Most people feed year round.

They watch the birds in the winter to brighten the long, dark, dreary days, and then watch the beautiful migratory birds that come in the spring all excited for nesting. Next comes watching the baby birds at the feeders demanding food from parents and finally the large variety of birds that gather after nesting to make the long journey south or to bulk up for winter again. Currently one third of the U.S. populations feed the birds in their yards.

Consider that the average wild bird weighs less than two nickels and you’ll realize that the winter can be a very punishing time for your backyard friends. Birds that come at dusk on a cold evening are hungry, and it's nice to make sure that they always find something to eat.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amazing Video of European Starlings

How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding?

Now that the desk is by the window in the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store, I watch the massive flocks of starlings perform incredible aerial displays above the busy Lake Lansing Rd. I started to wonder why the birds never crash into each other or how the birds seem to always maintain their place despite the shifting in the flock.

Physicist Andrea Cavagna also asked those questions watching the birds overhead in his native Rome. He was so intrigued by the mystery that he organized StarFlag: Starlings in Flight, a multidisciplinary, multinational collaboration to study the birds' flocking behavior.

He found that if the flock is under attack from a predator like a Peregrine Falcon, they will spread apart. At other times, when the flock is making a directional change, they will merge much closer together.

The study concluded the birds base every movement on what their wing-mates are doing. "They always interact with six or seven birds irrespective of what is the distance of these seven birds… An interaction based upon the number of neighbors rather than their distance, implies rather complex cognitive capabilities in birds," Cavagna said in a news release.

The swoop and sweep of a murmuration of European Starlings before they settle down for the night is one of nature's most spectacular sights, and still something of a mystery to birdwatchers. It is believed that the flocking behavior allows thousands of eyes to watch for predators on the roost site. It also warms their bodies before a cold night ahead and somehow social dominance is being determined. The dominant males end up with the warmest perches for the night while the female and juvenile birds roost out further.

If you’ve never had a chance to view these amazing birds, the following video will show you a little bit of the amazing.


References:
STARFLAG: a project on collective animal behaviour
Written by Andrea Cavagna
http://bit.ly/6g1Wpm

Sunday, January 24, 2010

They Had Stars Upon Thars!

The European Starling Sturnus vulgaris molt their 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.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Trials of Living in a Bird Store

My boys are the best but let's face it, they’re 'fraidy cats. (I’m talking about my cats Jay Bird “JB” and Eli “Blue Birdie”) We occasionally get birds in the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store. This isn't because we have massive amounts of the best bird food.

The starlings were here before we opened the store a few years ago, swooping in and out via uncovered air vents on the sides of the building. We thought it was a good sign. Now I hear the tick, tick, tick as they walk across the ceiling tiles and I watch the cats' heads follow the noise above them.

The birds usually make their way out the same way they came in, but sometimes a curious fellow will drop in if he discovers a hole in the ceiling. When that happened my boys used to run to me with big eyes and alert me that there was trouble. Now with Dolly in the mix it's a little different. Dolly, here since last October, isn't afraid of these large birds.

I actually named her Darling Starling because she was black and white. Her name was later shortened to Dolly. (I found it much easier to yell “DOLLY come down, DOLLY get out of there, DOLLY leave your brothers alone, DOLLY don’t eat that spider…" than Darling.) And I have to be a little more vigilant now when I hear thump, thumping in the back room.

We had a starling in the store two times this week. The first time the tick, ticking on the ceiling was driving me crazy and I cracked open the ceiling. The bird flew down and I picked him up at the closed window and took him outside with Dolly watching my every move.

The second time I heard a thump, thump in the back and then silence. I went to investigate. Dolly had the back end of a Starling in her mouth and the boys were poised on their tippy toes, high up on the fax machine, far, far away from her!

“Yikes, Dolly what do you have?” Not quite sure what I was screaming about she dropped the bird and I grabbed him as he was trying to escape through a closed window.

Once nabbed, I put him outside and he flew away with a lesson learned, hopefully. Why are we seeing so many birds in the store right now? Well, even though there is still snow on the ground these birds were probably already scouting for appropriate nesting sights. What fun! I am envisioning the pitter pat of baby starling feet in my near future.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

It's National Squirrel Appreciation Day! Are You Ready?

Is there such a thing as a squirrel feeder? East Lansing, MI

Isn't every feeder a squirrel feeder? Sorry, yes there're feeders specifically made to feed squirrels, and thank you for such an appropriate question on National Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Origin of Squirrel Appreciation Day:
Christy Hargrove from Asheville, North Carolina started Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21, 2001. Christy is a wildlife rehabilitator in North Carolina affiliated with the Western North Carolina Nature Center. Mid-winter was chosen to celebrate squirrels because that is when food sources are scarce for wildlife.

How to Celebrate:
Who can resist the big brown eyed, chubby cheeked squirrels? If you would like to treat them on their special day you can give them your apple cores, maybe with a little peanut butter. Or you can also pick up corn on the cob or a specially formulated Wildlife blend at Wild Birds Unlimited that's made up of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and corn. Yum!

Unique Squirrel Feeders:
Now back to your original question. Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI has a variety of squirrel feeders to choose from. There are a couple box styles that hold loose seed (Interactive Squirrel Feeder and Munch Box) and several that hold corn on the cob (Twirl-a-Squirrel, Squirrel Chair, Squirrel Bungee, and more).

I'm sure the squirrels are pretty pleased with themselves that their cuteness warranted them an appreciation day. Just don't tell them that all of February is National Birdfeeding Month.

How Many Species of Squirrels are in Michigan?

Michigan Squirrel Species
There are eight members of the squirrel family living in mid-Michigan. They are all omnivores (eating seeds, insects, fruit, and nuts) except the woodchuck which is an herbivore (eating grasses and dandelions).

1. Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger)
Usually observed in yards or traveling electric lines. They range from 18-27 inches from head to tail, and are the largest tree squirrel to be found in our Michigan neighborhoods. Their color can vary, but they are generally cinnamon colored with a tan underside.

2. Gray Squirrel (Scierus carolinensis)
This large tree squirrel measuring 16-20 inches is slightly smaller than the Fox Squirrel. Color varies from white to gray to red to black and to sometimes patchy. They are generally black in the East Lansing area. It spends most of its life in the trees of suburban yards and parks.

3. Red Squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Known to many Michigan tree-stand hunters as the "Tattle-tail of the Forest", this small tree squirrel is easily identified by to its small size of 12-15 inches from nose to tail, making them slightly larger than a chipmunk. Their size might make you think that they are a juvenile fox squirrel, but this is not the case. Their color is a solid reddish brown with a whitish underbelly.
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4. Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and
5. Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans)
The flying squirrel is rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits. Northern (7-9”) and Southern (5-7”) Flying Squirrels appear nearly identical but for their size and range. This species can be identified by its flattened tail and the excess web of skin that is between its front and rear legs. These squirrels don’t actually fly but glide from the top on one tree to the trunk of the next.

6. Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Found throughout Michigan, this small (6-8in) ground squirrel is reddish brown with a white racing stripe bordered by two black stripes down its side. Its loud “chip, chip, chip” can be heard as it forages for seeds, insects, fruit and nuts. During the winter it is a light hibernator that wakes every 2-3 weeks and eats from its stash stored in its elaborate tunnels system underground.

7. Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus)
Similar in size (6-8”) and look to an Eastern Chipmunk but has smaller ears and 13 alternating tan and dark brown stripes from nape to base of the tail. It’s also called a Federation Squirrel because the dark stripes have tan spots that resemble stars and stripes of a flag. It is a true hibernator from September to October. They like to live in pastures, meadows, prairies, and fields.

8. Woodchuck (Marmota monax)
The name Woodchuck is said to come from the Cree Indian word wuchak which means little brown animal. Common in fields, pastures, and woodlands, the woodchuck (18-28”) is the largest member of the squirrel family. The woodchuck does not like wood but eats leafy green vegetation and especially likes dandelions. It also burrows like the Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel and is a true hibernator.

Source:
Mammals of Michigan Field Guide
by Stan Tekiela

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How do Birds Survive Natural Disasters?

What do birds do to protect themselves from natural calamities, apart from migrating or so? ~ Supreetha

Like humans, birds have to contend with natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, bad weather and fire as well as manmade catastrophes like wars, oil spills and pollution. Unfortunately even with several survival strategies, mortality rate can be high.

Depending on the crises, it's safe to say most birds seek shelter. Birds can evacuate the area, settle down into hollow cavities of large trees, or go to the ground when emergencies happen. Then they only have to worry about food.

Most of a bird’s life is spent seeking food from several locations. Some birds even store or cache food for rainy days. And even though humans have made it difficult for some birds because of the destruction so much natural habitat, they have also helped a lot.

In times of crisis, people with backyard birdfeeders can make the difference between life and death. And bird rescue and research centers have also helped many birds through rehabilitation, emergency response, education, research, planning and training.

Related Articles:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Snapshot of a Red-bellied Woodpecker

I'm watching a red-bellied woodpecker bouncing around my tree like crazy. Do you think he's in distress or maybe just playing around? Holt, MI

I love to watch Red-bellied Woodpeckers. They can be real characters and always seem to be goofing around.
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But what seems like erratic bouncing around to us is how they practice their evasive maneuvers. Their acrobatics in trees and on feeders is good practice for when they need to dance away from predators. .
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Red-bellies are very clever birds and their average lifespan in the wild is over 12 years.[1]
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Monday, January 18, 2010

What is Michigan's smallest bird?

At 2.8–3.5 inches long and weighing 0.1–0.2 oz the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris is the smallest bird that nests in Michigan.

What is North America's smallest bird?
At 3 inches long and weighing 0.1 oz, the Calliope Hummingbird Stellula calliope is North America's smallest bird. It nests in mountain areas of the northwestern United States and winters in Mexico.

What is the smallest bird in the world?
The Bee Hummingbird Mellisuga helenae lives in Cuba and Isla de la Juventud and with a length of 2 inches and a weight of 0.063 oz it is the smallest living bird in the world.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Live at Fenner: An Animal Experience with Preuss

A program for all ages at Fenner Nature Center.
Saturday, January 23, 2010 1-3 pm

Madagascar hissing cockroaches, tarantulas, bearded dragons, monitors, and hedgehogs!

Learn about their habits, where they live, what they eat, and how they survive in their environment.

$5/person, $15 family
Special rate for FOFNC members: $4/person, $12/family

For more information:
517-483-4224

Camouflaged Titmouse Fits Right In

The Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor is an attractive bird with big black eyes. Its feathers are gray above, white below, with red/brown side flanks. This makes perfect camouflage. The adults also have a black area above the bill that the juveniles lack.

Breeding pairs like to remain close together year round, even when they join small multi species flocks for winter survival. They do not migrate.

In the spring when nesting season begins, place bunches of pet hair or your own hair from brushes inside a suet cage. If you’re fortunate enough to have titmice in the area, they would love to incorporate your offerings into the lining of their nest. They've even been known to help themselves to horse hair and dog hair while it’s still attached to the animal.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Anything New or Interesting at the Store?

Last month we sold a lot of these brand new No/No feeders. They are cute, little mesh sunflower seed feeders that are good for beginning birdwatchers or for people that need a good small feeder.

Advantages of the NO/NO Seed Ball Wild Bird Feeder
• NO Wood and NO Plastic: high-quality metal construction
• Holds 1.25lbs of black oil sunflower seeds, the favorite of most seed eating birds
• Feeds lots of birds at once
• Attracts chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, goldfinches, and more
• Easy to hang and fill and clean
• 6-inch round shape in green finish
• Makes a great gift or starter feeder
• Lasts for years
• Is really, really cute!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Terrified Geese Have Eyes on the Sky

I was walking my dog along the Grand River in Lansing, MI when all of a sudden the geese started hugging the side of the river looking terrified. A huge shadow passed over and when I looked up I was surprised to see a Bald Eagle flying above me. Is that normal to have eagles in the area? Lansing, MI

Wow, what a sighting! During the winter, Bald Eagles can be found throughout Michigan (almost all counties). Michigan's eagles don't really migrate, but once lakes start to freeze up north, they move south to find open water for hunting. Curious immature birds may even venture further south.

Starting mid-February to mid-March the birds will once again move north to nest mainly in the Upper Peninsula and the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula.[1] Until then, keep your eyes to the sky on your walks.
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References:
1. Michigan DNR, http://bit.ly/92cOXn

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Please Help Us Identify This Bird!

Hi, I am a WBU customer and love watching our birds. Since August we have been delighted to see this wonderful bird I think is a female cardinal. Some friends have said it is a cedar wax wing. What do you think? It is in the company of cardinals, eats from a platform or perched on a feeder. Thanks! Haslett, MI

I love questions with good photos.

It is a female cardinal with leucism. Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals.
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Right now scientist describe two kinds of Leucistic birds, pale and pied. Pale leucistic birds will have the same markings, but extremely pale. Pied Leucistic birds, like the one in your photo, have patches of white. Leucistic birds are relatively unusual but much more common than albino birds which are completely white with pink eyes, legs and bill.

Unfortunately they usually don't have as long a life span. It doesn't effect their health but they are easier for prey to spot and have a harder time attracting mates. So consider yourself lucky!

Thanks for the great question.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How Not to Kill a Mockingbird Guarding Your Feeders Too Aggressively

This question came to me via Twitter:

To me: @birdsunlimited Any suggestions for a territorial mockingbird that won't allow other birds near feeder in this freezing weather in Atlanta? Thks!

My reply: Can you describe the feeder? Is it a mealworm feeder? Are they eating their fill and moving on or guarding it all day?
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To me again: @birdsunlimited It's a squirrel twirler and the mockingbird is guarding it all day long! Any bird that comes close is attacked...thks!

Northern Mockingbirds are a rare winter resident here in Michigan, but in the spring people do tell me about how they were dive bombed when they got too close to a nest. This aggressive behavior in defending their home is very common. They mark their borders twice a year; once in the spring for nesting season and then again in the fall to protect winter food sources.

Mockingbirds can be quite determined when defending what they view as their territory. And I think you have placed the feeder within his borders unknowingly. Now he sees it as his duty to guard the feeder as well as other food sources in this area against all other invading birds.

As frustrating as the situation is, we have to remember mockingbirds are natural pest controllers and seed dispersers. They eat lots of bugs like beetles, ants, wasps, and grasshoppers in the summer and a wide variety of fruits and berries during the winter.

Mockingbirds may visit our feeding stations for suet, raisins, fruit, mealworms or nuts. Make sure you’re not feeding anything that is attractive to the mockingbirds.

Is the feeder near a fruit tree or berry bush that he likes? If the food in the feeder isn’t attractive to the mockingbird it has to be the location. To stop the attack on other birds you’ll probably have to move the feeder you have to a new location or place a second feeder in a different location out of his sight.

For the best answers to questions about local birds you can always contact your closest Wild Birds Unlimited store for more help. Does anyone else have any better solutions?

Who is Jack Frost?

Jack Frost is an elf from Scandinavian legend that was named Jokul Frosti, meaning Icicle Frost by the Norse Vikings. The son of the Nordic wind god Kari, he became Jack Frost after his story arrived in England. He is renowned for his artistic talents of painting beautiful frost designs on windows and plants late at night.

Other cultures have their own folklore. Japanese legends name Frostman and brother Mistman as keepers of the frost and dew. In Finland Frostman and Frostwoman control the weather and must be placated with sacrifices. Then Russian legends identify frost as Father Frost, a blacksmith who binds the earth with his chains of ice. While German folklore tells of Old Mother Frost who shakes feathers from her bed that become frost as they float to earth.

Scientifically, frost can be defined as the ice crystals that form when water vapor adheres to freezing surfaces. The fancy frost that decorates our windows is called fern frost and forms when a glass pane is exposed to very cold air on the outside and moderately moist air on the inside. Water vapor condenses on the glass and as it freezes ice crystals grow forming feathery, lacy, patterns on our windows.

Hoar frost or white frost is the white ice crystals that loosely cover everything outside when temperatures dip below freezing and there is an ample source of water vapor.

Another less common form of frost is called rime frost. Rime frost appears as needles or spikes. It can develop more quickly than hoar frost, especially during windy conditions when liquid water droplets come into contact with freezing surfaces. Rime frost is the white extensions that you see on the crabapples pictured. It doesn't have a crystalline structure, and is more matte and less sparkling than hoar frost.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is there a bird without feathers?

No, the biggest difference between birds and other animals is that birds have feathers. Every bird has feathers and every animal that has feathers is a bird. A Whistling Swan, in winter has the most with about 20,000 individual feathers. And the what bird has the fewest feathers? That distinction goes to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird with about 940.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How Can a Woodpecker Eat Frozen Suet?

I'd like to attract woodpeckers, but if I put out suet how are the birds supposed eat it when it freezes so hard in the winter? Williamston, MI
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I think your answer lies in the birds name. Woodpeckers, as their name suggests, peck on the wood of trees to look for or hide tasty treats, and to build nests. In addition to drilling holes, woodpeckers will knock their heads to send sound signals.

Their bill is composed of a number of separate horny plates called rhamphotheca which are made of a tough protein called keratin (the same protein that makes our fingernails).

It does wear down, but special cells on the end of the bill are constantly replacing the lost material. This keeps the chisel-pointed bill strong and resilient, while actually allowing it to be sharpened with every blow.

So you don't have to worry about frozen suet. Woodpeckers' many adaptations allow them to forage for bugs hidden under tree bark or suet or nuts offered from a feeder.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer

Chickadees may be the most beloved birds that visit our backyards, but their seemlessly neverending energy and inquisitive nature are only part of what makes these birds fun to watch.

Chickadees:
• are easily identified by their namesake call “chick-a-dee.”
• weigh less than half an ounce.
• are generally monogamous and stay with the same mate for life.
• are cavity nesters and will excavate their own nest site in a rotten tree or use an old woodpecker hole or birdhouse.
• are regular visitors to feeders, but over 75% of their winter food supply still comes from natural sources.
• cache foods and remember where its hidden.
• increase their survival rate almost twice as much when the temperature falls below 10º F if they have access to feeders.
• can gain as much as 10% of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.

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

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Help Birds Beat Their Winter Woes

While birds are equipped to withstand most winter weather, they obviously can't turn up the thermostat, throw on an extra blanket or whip up a warm cup of cocoa. However, there are a number of ways you can help make survival easier by providing food, an open source of water and protection from the elements.

The Importance of Keeping Your Feeders Full
Food is the most essential element, providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need. To stay warm, birds will expend energy very quickly, some losing up to 10% of their body weight on extremely cold nights, and this fat must be replaced every day.

Normally, birds that come to feeders obtain only about 20% of their daily calories from food offered in feeders; the rest come from natural food sources. In contrast, during periods of cold weather, your birds may use your feeders to load up on calories as a means of survival.

The Importance of a Reliable, Open Source of Water
Birds continue to need a source of water for drinking to maintain their metabolism during dry, cold weather. Clean feathers help birds stay warm, and a bird bath is often the only way for some birds to drink and keep their feathers in top condition when it’s cold.

Most birds adjust their feathers to create air pockets, which help them keep warm. The soft, fluffy down feathers are puffed up with air to create a warm blanket around the bird. The body feathers lie on top of each other, overlapping like shingles on a roof. Small interlocking barbules, or “hairs,” zip their feathers together to create an airtight windbreaker. Also, most birds preen their feathers with the oil produced by a gland on their backs near their tails to create a waterpoof rain coat. Research has shown that a chickadee with well-maintained feathers can create a 70° (F) layer of insulation between the outside air and its skin.

Protection from the Elements
Birds need a place to escape the elements. Installing roosting and nesting boxes in your backyard can give birds a warm, dry place to stay overnight. Shelter is also necessary for protection against natural predators, such as birds of prey and cats.
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Source: WBU Nature News http://www.wbu.com/news/naturenews.html

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cardinal Chilling


Beautiful feathery flakes of snow
Over the woodland and field they go
Making a blanket so warm and deep
Over the flowers that lie asleep
~Mary Louise Allen

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Do opossums hibernate during winter?

I usually see an opossum at night time but this one was coming out underneath my back deck in the morning. Is that normal? Clare, MI

The Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginian) is generally nocturnal, foraging throughout the night. But in the winter months many opossums change their foraging habits from night to day in order to try to take advantage of the warmer weather during sunlight hours.

What do opossums eat? Opossums are not picky eaters. Their normal diet consists of carrion, rodents, insects, frogs, and plants including fruits and grains. They do seem to have a particular fondness for cat food, however, especially the tinned varieties.

How big can an opossum get?
Most are about the size of a large house cat, from 15 to 20 inches long. They generally weigh 10 to 13 pounds.

Are opossums dangerous to pets? Opossums will sometimes eat small critters such as mice, reptiles, amphibians. They will leave larger animals alone and, in fact, are more likely to be harmed by a dog or full-grown cat than they are to inflict injury on them. They will rarely fight, despite putting up a fearsome display if threatened, and most likely will simply attempt to flee or play dead. The only animals that should avoid exposure to opossums are horses. Strange as that may sound, if these animals ingest opossum feces they are at high risk of contracting a deadly disease known as sarcocystosis.

Do opossums carry rabies? Unlike most wild animals, opossums are highly resistant to rabies.

What kinds of noises does an opossum make? Opossums are very quiet creatures. When threatened they often will hiss, like a cat, and can make a low growling sound.

How many babies does an opossum have in each litter? Opposums are marsuipial so mothers carry their young in pouches on their bellies after a 13 day pregnancy. At birth, newborn opossums are so tiny that an entire litter, consisting of 6 to 9 babies, can fit into a single teaspoon. They are so undeveloped that it's impossible for them to survive outside the mother's pouch.

How do I get rid of a bothersome opossum? It is generally not necessary because opossums are transient animal with a territory ranging from 10 to 50 acres. They usually stay in a particular area only a few days at a time and then move on. The best way to avoid being “bothered” by an opossum is simply to make sure no food is available to them. Don’t leave out pet food or table scraps and make sure your trash cans are fully closed. With no food available in your yard, they will simply go search elsewhere.

Do opossums hibernate during winter? Opossums do not hibernate. Their greatest challenge during winter, especially in colder climates, is simply to survive. It is not uncommon for opossums in northern regions to suffer frostbite during extremely cold periods. Their tails are particularly susceptible to frostbite as they have no fur covering to protect them.

These questions were answered by http://opossum.craton.net/

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Deterring Deer at the Bird Feeders

I have a Squirrel Buster Plus II feeder and I love it. The birds seem to love it too. The squirrels tried to figure it out the first couple of days that we had it up and failed. Since that time, we haven't seen any squirrels attempt to get into that feeder.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood deer seem to be emptying it each night. I'm assuming it's deer because if the feeder is empty in the morning, I see deer and rabbit tracks in the snow. Over the 15 years I've lived in my home, I've seen the deer in my suburban yard at night all four seasons of the year, well before I recently began feeding birds.

So far, my solution has been to take in the Squirrel Buster feeder each night. The deer don't get into the whole peanut, halved peanut, or finch feeders, so I leave those out. If I buy an extension pole for my Advanced Pole System to get it up higher, I won't be able to see the feeder as well from my window, and it'll be above the small Hemlock pines that the birds like to line up in before they come to my feeders. Are there any solutions, outside of fencing my yard, that have worked with keeping deer out of feeders?
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Thank you, Rockford, Michigan

How to Stop Deer from Raiding Your Birdfeeder
Deer control is very difficult! And any solution that works initially, the deer eventually get around if they are hungry enough.

Deterrents
Some of the oldies but goodies are hanging human hair, Irish Spring soap, noisy chimes, or aluminum pie plates around the feeders, or sprinkling hot pepper or coyote urine granules. It’s suggested that all deterrents should be cycled so that when the deer have become indifferent to the one in current use, you switch to another repellent.

I don’t have deer in my backyard but I have always suggested what you do already; take in your feeders at night. The Advanced Pole System® (APS) is nice because you can extend the feeder up out of deer’s reach but if you can’t see the feeder that isn’t a good solution.

My next answer is use straight safflower seed. That seed has a bitter taste that most mammals avoid and all the birds except blackbirds and starlings will eat.

Does anyone out there have any better solutions? Press the comments button below and tell us your experience with deer.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why Don't Birds Feet Freeze?

My dad insisted the bird feeder I bought couldn't have metal perches because he didn't want the birds to get stuck to them during the winter. You explained it to me in the store why that wouldn't happen. Can you explain it again so I can show my dad?

By the way I eventually bought the tube feeder with the clear rubber covers and the easy clean bottom that had that forever guarantee and my dad said I did good. Thank you very much. Portland, MI

Unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze to metal in the winter. Heat and moisture are accumulated in sacs, transferred to the lungs and eliminated through the mouth.

But the feet are still vulnerable to the cold and they actually use several tricks to keep their legs from freezing. First they can stand on one leg and pull the other up under their feathers when one leg starts getting too cold. And if it gets really cold, they can squat to cover both legs with breast feathers. If you see a bird doing this, they may be getting uncomfortably cold legs.

Also birds’ feet are mostly bone and tendons, so unlike mammals, they have a limited supply of nerves, blood vessels or muscles to freeze. And their feet are covered with scales which isn’t a living tissue and less susceptible to freezing.

I'm glad your dad approved of the feeder. Tell him I said he has good taste. That was the new Wild Birds Unlimited Quick-Clean™ Seed Tube Feeder. A quick press of two buttons and the base pops off for easy cleaning. The feeder attracts a variety of birds such as finches, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice. It comes with a lifetime guarantee that includes raccoon and squirrel damage which is a testament to the feeder's quality. The tube is made from a UV-stabilized, clear polycarbonate that protects the food from the sun's rays and won't yellow with age. Also as with most of the Wild Birds Unlimited products it’s made in the USA!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What in the World are the Robins Still Doing Here?

Why am I seeing robins lately (over the last week) right after we had our big 18 inch snowfall (very unusual for Maryland). I thought they had all gone South for the winter. I hadn't seen any for weeks, and then all of a sudden I saw several of them over a week's time. A few years ago I also saw a bunch of robins after a snowfall - I guessed they were migrating, but I thought they had already left a long time ago. And what can they eat when the ground is covered in snow? Thanks! Greenbelt, MD

The America Robin (Turdus migratorius) does migrate but the birds that summer in Canada may migrate to parts of Maryland and mid-Michigan (where I live) and think that’s far enough. If you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of Robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common.

After nesting season has ended, they usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts. They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about birds, but there is a way to help personally. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event in February that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent and in Hawaii.[1] Anyone can participate and I’ll be posting more information on our Wild Birds Unlimited website and blog in the future.

From the past bird counts, researchers at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology have an unprecedented wealth of data to create a snapshot of bird distribution and the effects of weather. BirdScope magazine wrote “food availability may be the primary factor influencing some species’ winter ranges, but snow cover may also play a role. Results from the GBBC and other continent-wide monitoring projects show that American Robins overwinter across North America in a patchy mosaic, primarily reflecting their opportunity to forage on fruits and berries. When snow cover is high and food is difficult to find, American Robins move farther south. When snow cover is low and food is more readily available, they seem to overwinter in northern locales in higher numbers.” [2]

I hope that helped. Write back any time. You can send questions to my e-mail at bloubird@gmail.com, visit our web page at http://lansing.wbu.com/, check out our daily blog at http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/, keep up with what I'm doing from twitter at http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited, and become a fan of our Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan Facebook page at http://tiny.cc/QmIv5. There is also a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Gambrills, Maryland if you need some more personal help with your backyard bird feeding. In the mean time, stay warm!

References:
1. Wild Birds Unlimited helps sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Where Am I Supposed to Put This New Feeder?

Are there rules on where I'm supposed to put a bird feeder. I got a feeder for Christmas but there weren't any directions on placement. Should it be in the open where they can see it? How are the birds going to find this feeder? Should I move it around the yard until the birds come? Haslett, MI

Wow! Those are excellent questions.

Where to Place Feeders
Feeders can be placed throughout the yard at different levels to attract a variety of birds. Just remember the number one rule in feeder location is to place it where you can watch the birds easily.

Try to find a place that's sheltered from the wind and away from cats and other predators. And the closer your feeder is to the window, the less likely birds will be hurt if they mistake the clear glass as a fly through.

How Birds Find The Feeder
Birds are amazing creatures and can find new feeders several different ways just like humans find restaurants. Everyone has a friend that likes to tell you about the new "hot spot." Some birds fly in flocks and may send out a scout bird to forage for new feeding sites.

Or if you see a line around the block for a restaurant, you may get in line yourself to check out the food. Some solitary birds see a lot of birds at a feeder and go see what all the fuss is about.

What if you see the "Golden Arches" on the way home from work? You know what's inside. Most birds find their food by sight. Some birds already eat at the neighbor's house and may see your familiar feeders on the way home.

How Long Does It Take
It may be a matter of hours before birds discover new feeders or a matter of weeks. The variation depends on habitat, number of nearby feeders, and the kinds of birds in the area. Chickadees, and House Sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders. Also if you switch feeders the birds may be cautious to try that feeder. To encourage the birds to use new feeders tempt them with scattered seeds on the ground.
Good luck and enjoy the new feeder!

Friday, January 1, 2010

"Each moment of the year has its own beauty." - Ralph Waldo Emerson




“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”
~ George Santayana