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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Life is a Battlefield


Hi Sarah,
Your post today (4/29/10) reminded me to send this photo of a Red-bellied Woodpecker. It was taken a couple of years ago outside our living room window.
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What can't be seen is the Blue Jay on top of the feeder antagonizing the woodpecker.
Enjoy!
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Mike Grimm
Fowlerville

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What is the Lifespan of a Red-bellied Woodpecker?

I watch red bellied woodpeckers at my feeder, and in the woods working away at a tree, & wonder how much damage their brain suffers with all that banging? Sometimes when I am having a bad day, I try to remind myself that things could be worse- I could be a woodpecker banging my head against a tree, or I could be a red tailed hawk sitting in a tree at the edge of a field in a snowstorm- Bill K

The USGS Longevity Records of North American Birds determined through bird banding that the average lifespan of a Red-bellied Woodpecker is 12.10 years in the wild. That’s pretty substantial in the bird world.

Woodpeckers are tough birds. As their name suggests, they 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.But you don’t have to worry about how much damage their brain suffers because they are well equipped!

1. FEET: They have two toes that point forward and two that point backward that allow them to cling to tree trunks. Other backyard birds have three toes forward and one in back.

2. TAIL: They have special stiff tail feathers that support their bodies as they pound. Some Wild Birds Unlimited suet feeders have tail props to make it more comfortable for the birds to feed.

3. EYE BALL: The woodpeckers close an inner eyelid a millisecond before a strike comes across the bill to prevent harm from flying debris and hold the eyeball in place.

4. NECK: Dense muscles in the neck and mouth contract just before impact, which transmits the impact past the brain and allows its whole body to help absorb the shock.

5. SKULL/BRAIN: Woodpeckers' brains sit snugly in a relatively thick skull with spongy bone to cushion the brain. There is very little cerebrospinal fluid meaning the brain won't bang around as the head moves back and forth.

6. TONGUE: The tongue is most unusual as it starts out on top of the mouth, passes through the right nostril, between the eyes, divides in two, arches over the top of the skull and around the back part of the skull passing on either side of the neck, coming forward through the lower mouth, and uniting into a single tongue with sticky barbs on the end which can extend up to 4" from the beak. The tongue is also thought to act as an additional buffer to the brain.

When they are drilling, they can peck about 15 times in a single second. All their drilling and tapping can add up to about 12,000 pecks a day. Woodpeckers have evolved to deal with pounding wood with gripping feet, "shock-absorber" head musculature, extremely long tongues, and stiff tail feathers helping them perch upright on trees. Woodpeckers are simply impressive birds.

And when they aren’t pounding their heads against wood they can be real characters and always practicing to be mighty warriors. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology writes: “Red-bellied woodpeckers have been observed playing when predators are not around. They may fly spontaneously and dodge among trees and shrubs as if evading a predator. Within-gender conflicts are common and usually involve a chase and collisions in mid-air. Red-bellied woodpeckers exhibit many threat displays, for example, raising their feathers on their neck and the crown of their head and spreading their wings and tail to appear larger to the threatening individual. In the presence of predators red-bellied woodpeckers sound alarm calls and retreat to nearby trees or shrubs.”

So maybe on your bad days you should think at least I’m not a bug on a tree with a red-belly on it.

Holy Horsefeathers!!! That sure is a great explanation about those impressive creatures. I liked ‘em before, now I will like and respect them and their super capabilities even more. Thank you again for your time & info. Bill K

Source: Eckhardt, L. and K. Kirschbaum. 2001. "Melanerpes carolinus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 26, 2010 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Melanerpes_carolinus.html

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Do Bluebirds Regurgitate their Food for Babies?

I'm wondering if the Bluebird parents pre-digest the mealworms before they give them to the baby blues? Christina ~Leslie, MI

Bluebirds are primarily insect eaters in the spring and summer. When their babies hatch bluebirds know instinctively that mealworms are too big for newly hatched babies. They start them out with tiny bugs for their young. While the parent bird may appreciate your easy mealworm breakfast during a stressful time, they will not feed regular sized mealworms to their chicks until the babies are about six days old.

So when the chicks are new and tiny, they feed them whole, fresh, soft, small, larvae and spiders. They don't regurgitate food. As the chicks grow, they gradually increase the size and toughness of the insects they offer.

The rule of thumb is to offer about 15 mealworms per bluebird once or twice a day, as a supplemental food, unless severe weather conditions limit natural sources. A hundred or so worms offered morning and evening would be adequate for a pair with a box of nestlings a week old. Offering an unlimited supply of mealworms is not recommended, as the nestlings need a varied diet.
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It's not necessary to feed birds but it's fun to watch nature up close, and you'll be amused at how quickly a relationship develops between you and the bluebirds!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Get Free When You’re Stuck and Scared

Spring has finally sprung here in mid-Michigan, but I’m not sure any of us quite believe it. There still could be frost on the grass tomorrow. Gardeners sure are feeling the excitement. I sold 2 Topsy Turvy set-ups Friday and 6 set-ups Saturday! Click HERE if you don't know what I'm talking about.

There are lots of new bird songs in the air and when I had the screen door open today at the Wild Birds Unlimited shop in East Lansing, I heard a little confused call of a bird that sounded like “hel-low?” right outside the door. It was a little male goldfinch stuck under the clear awning.

He looked right at me and then flew up, up, up trying to get free, but the window was in the way. He panicked. And I felt sick to my stomach.

The worst part was watching him make the same mistake over and over again. We had lots of customers and I’m sure they noticed I seemed distracted.

I kept thinking, it’s so easy! Just fly down and out into the open. But he was frantic. The ever abundant House Sparrows seem to understand what glass is and how to get around or work with man-made obstacles. They like the awning trap design because bugs go up there and get stuck too. All day long I watch the sparrows fly up grab a quick bug meal and fly down.

New birds to the area, however, like the goldfinch sometimes get stuck. I watched this goldfinch for about an hour running back and forth and flying up and up against the glass.

Then I heard this loud squawk. I looked outside and saw two sparrows trying to grab the goldfinch by its neck. Feathers were flying. They finally got a good grip and tossed him down toward the ground. The goldfinch thought about flying toward the window again but the dirty look the sparrows gave him convinced him to fly down and finally OUT! Hurray for the Super Sparrows!

Whether they were offering a helping wing or just shooing away a stranger from their territory, I was glad the goldfinch was finally free. I couldn’t help but think of the millions of other birds that find themselves in similar situations during migration and don’t make it.

One estimate is that about 50% of the migrating population won’t make the trip back safely to their original birthplace.

The National Wind Coordinating Committee came up with the following bird fatality statistics in the United States:
•98 million to 980 million fatal collisions with buildings and windows
•130 million to over a billion fatal collisions with high-tension lines
•60 million to 80 million deaths caused by automobiles
•4 million to 50 million fatal encounters with communications towers
•72 million birds each year are killed by toxic chemicals, including pesticides
•100s of millions of birds are killed by domestic cats
•15 million birds a year in North America are killed in managed annual waterfowl hunt kills
•20,000 to 37,000 fatal collisions with wind turbines

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is the Best Seed to Feed Birds in the Summer?

Best Bird SeedFor seed eating birds in Michigan 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. At the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ and birds’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend.

No-Mess BenefitsOur unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds means no hulls on the ground and the seed won’t sprout either.

Price of No-Mess
Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything. One 20# bag of No-Mess contains at least twice as much seed as a bag with shells.

Unique Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Blends
Besides the No-mess we have several other blends that are regionally formulated to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix and aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

Seed Freshness
Seed comes in every Tuesday. If you come early enough you can watch me load tons of seed into the store. And if you want to buy bags of seed right off the pallets, you are very welcome.

How do Birds See to Fly in the Rain?

When birds fly in the rain- are their eyes open? Do they have a “rain shield” over the eyeball? It is raining here today, and the birds have been busy at the feeder, so my inquiring mind came up with that wondering. Bill K

Oooh, good question. Seed eating birds don’t depend on birdfeeders to survive and experts estimate that only 10-20 percent of their diet comes from feeders. But boy as you noticed, they do appreciate a known source of food in bad weather. They can visit your feeder, fill up and then go find some shelter to wait out the storm. It takes a lot more energy to fly in rainy conditions.

Besides upper and lower eyelids, birds also have a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane which sweeps sideways across the eye. Birds can blink repeatedly with the nictitating membrane to clean the eye’s surface and spread moisture across the eye.

And yes they do draw this “rain shield” or a translucent membrane across to protect their eyes from rain.

It can also help prevent the eye from drying out when migrating long distances and hold woodpeckers eyes in place and protect them from flying debris as they peck a tree. Or in some aquatic birds like the Hooded Merganser the nictitating membrane is clear and acts like a pair of goggles to help the birds locate prey underwater.

I’m glad your feeders were full and ready for the birds during the bad weather. Thank you for the very interesting question.
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Wow Sarah- Thank you for this interesting answer. I appreciate your time. Bill K

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting to Know the Chipping Sparrow

We have the door open today at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing and I'm listening to a lot of beautiful songs. Today the star performer seems to be the Chipping Sparrow. Now I can hear some of you saying "all sparrows are alike." But the Chipping Sparrow is so cute I insist you get to know him!

The Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina is a very tiny, clean, crisp, energetic, sparrow about five inches long and weighing only a half ounce. It has a chestnut cap and a white stripe above the eye, and a black stripe through the eye. The female is the same but slightly duller.

Chipping Sparrows are well adapted to the presence of people and don’t mind if you are nearby watering flowers or filling the feeder. They live and nest in a very wide variety of habitats, including the suburbs.
Arriving in April and May to the Michigan area from its winter home in Mexico, Central America or the southern United States, they perch high in a tree and sing a song to mark their territory. The loud, trilling songs of a chipping sparrow are one of the most common sounds of spring and easily identifiable. The song is often described as the sound of an electric sewing machine. To hear the chipping sparrow’s song, visit HERE.
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The males arrive a week or so before the females and once paired, they share nesting, hatching and feeding-the-chicks duties. You may see them picking up any stray seeds from your birdfeeder or feeding on a ground feeder. Their appetite for insects and the seeds of many weeds and grasses make them true allies in any yard. One of their choice foods are the seeds of crabgrass…help yourself little guys!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Bird Sighted: Hooded Merganser

Hi Sarah!

I’m not sure if you’re very familiar with types of ducks, but since a duck is a type of bird I thought I would check with you. I saw this duck at the golf course the other day and am unable to find it on the internet. I thought at first it was a young duckling since it had down on its head, but it was bigger than all the babies and so I think it was the mother. Do you have any idea what kind of duck this is?
Since it’s getting warm in NC now, I don’t have as many birds at my feeders out back. Right now I’m having a high number of goldfinches. Is that normal for this time of year in the south? I occasionally see a cardinal or titmouse at the feeder, but for the most part they have stopped coming up.

Thanks so much!-Angie

Hello!
It's good to hear from you again. This bird looks like a Hooded Merganser Lophodytes cucullatus. They are a small duck about 16-19" with a pointed bill. The female has a dusky brown body, with a reddish brown crest. Both sexes show a white wing patch in flight. The male has a black back and head with a bold white crest outlined in black. Most of the time the male holds his crest flat to his head, but when threatened or aroused he’ll unfold his brilliant crest.

They are extremely agile swimmers and divers and among the fastest-flying of ducks, but awkward on land. All mergansers have thin bills with tooth like serrations to help them eat small fish, small frogs, newts, tadpoles, and aquatic insects.

Males perform an extensive courtship display which includes head pumping and serenading the female with a song described as a croaking frog. Once mated the female nests in tree cavities like the Wood Duck or in man made nest boxes.

More information on Hooded Mergansers can be found at: http://ning.it/dvaTfB and http://ning.it/bqTDK2.

Next, according to Wikipedia, the state of North Carolina has 467 species of birds recorded (http://ning.it/b8Ry5l). The WBU in New Bern, NC posted a list of what to birds to look for in the spring at http://newbern.wbu.com/: Spring migration brings the Hummingbirds, Whip-poor-wills, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo early in the month and the Yellow Warbler, Rose-breasted, Painted Buntings, and Blue Grosbeak later.

And it's not unusual to see lots of goldfinch flocking at this time of year. They are a social bird, and will gather in large flocks while feeding and migrating. Their flocking will decrease during breeding season beginning in late July.

I hope that helps. Thanks for writing again.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The House Finch Family Celebrates Mother’s Day Early This Year

Hi Everyone,

I’m sure you’ve all been waiting anxiously to hear about our house guests. We had a really busy weekend. Saturday, I started watching the webcam around 11:00 a.m. and noticed that the momma House Finch kept putting her head down into the nest. At 11:22, I saw why; the first baby was born. After getting the chick out of the egg, the mother carried the egg shell off and notified the proud papa of their first born. Momma and papa returned to the nest and began the feeding process. The papa feeds the momma and the momma feeds the chick. While the momma tends to the chick, papa flies off to find more food and they start the whole process over again.

The second baby arrived sometime before 1:48 p.m. I’m not sure how I missed it but when I looked at the webcam there it was with the shell removed. No more babies were born but a whole lot of action with momma moving things around and feeding the chicks.

When I got up on Sunday and looked at the webcam (8:09 a.m.), I was so surprised to see all five babies. Momma had an early morning and a very busy one at that! Momma and papa are very very busy with 5 mouths to feed! I can’t believe I’m watching the whole thing unfold. It truly is amazing.

When I went home today, I was able to see the papa feeding the chicks while the momma was off getting some much needed alone time!!

I’ve attached photos of the events and if anyone is interested, I uploaded some videos onto YouTube that you can watch. If you go to YouTube and search
http://www.youtube.com/user/sagerk0722, you should be able to view different videos.

Take care. Will send updated photos as they become available.
Kim


Thank you for the continued updates! I think that baby fuzz is unbelievably cute. The cats loved the (beep, cheep) videos.

I can’t wait to hear from you again,
Sarah

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Celebrate the Earth!: Nature Camp for Kids

Earth Day, April 22, is the annual U.S. celebration of the environment and a time to assess the work still needed to protect the natural gifts of our planet. In that spirit I’ve compiled a few of the upcoming programs for children to explore nature.
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Harris Nature Center Summer Camp 2010 Programs
Harris Nature Center, 3998 Van Atta Road, urges youngsters to "Make the Nature Connection" this summer through a variety of camps for toddlers through fifth graders beginning June 15 and running through Aug. 6. Students going into eighth grade and above are invited to volunteer as assistant camp counselors. This year, there will be one-day camps and four-day camps. For general information about programs offered at the Harris Nature Center, call Kit Rich at (517) 349-3866

This summer Woldumar’s camps will have several discovery camps. Woldumar strives to provide fun, educational, and safe experiences for all summer campers. For general information about programs offered at the Woldumar Nature Center, 5739 Old Lansing Rd., contact Lena Swehla directly at lena@woldumar.org or (517) 322-0030. Or visit woldumar.org
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Go to the Michigan 4-H Children's Garden website to see all the family programs available to provide fun learning experiences that encourage the imagination to grow. Register at http://4hgarden.msu.edu/calendar or call 517-355-5191, ext 1-327

Summer Camps 2010 is unique summer day camp experience at Fenner. Scholarships are available for Lansing residents who meet the qualifications. For general information about programs offered at Fenner, 2020 East Mt. Hope, call (517) 483-4224 or email fncdirectors@gmail.com. Or click HERE to download a flyer.
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All of the classes now run Monday through Friday. Zookambi kids can attend a morning class, an afternoon class, or both. Potter Park looks forward to making this summer full of fun, discovery and learning about the animal kingdom with your child. To read about the Zookambi Class Details go to http://ingham.org/ppz/summerclasses.htm.

Campers will explore Burchfield Park's 540 acres - from woods to wetlands and participate in hands-on activities that will help them learn more about the natural world surrounding them. Activities, crafts and games are planned to provide recreational enjoyment while challenging young minds to nurture and support nature. Click HERE to view a 2010 Day Camp Brochure.

If you know of any other nature programs e-mail me at bloubird@gmail.com,

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Common Nests in Michigan yards

Click on the photos to view some to the common nests found in mid-Michigan yards up close.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Where Did My Bluebirds/Chickadees Go?: How Do You Know When a Nest is Abandoned?

  • Dear Wild Bird Unlimited,
    I bought three of the Wild Birds Unlimited ultimate bluebird houses. I thought everything was going good but now I’m not sure. I was so happy that all the houses looked like they were going to be used. Bluebirds were at the houses every morning. They even built nests. I have one pair that is actively nesting but the other birds have disappeared. Do I clean out these partial nests to let other bluebirds make their own nest? Joe~ DeWitt, MI

  • Hello, I have a question about my chickadees. They were actively building a nest and then stopped coming around. I check inside the birdhouse and saw three eggs. Do you think something happened to the birds? Barbara~ East Lansing, MI

We started to have an early spring and then wham! a cold front comes through mid-Michigan to remind us not to take Mother Nature for granted.

Birds seem to understand this. The one pair of bluebirds that nested early was probably an experienced, older pair that knows the area well and knows where all the food sources are located. The others were probably newly mated and trying out different nesting sites.

If they started building a nest they’ll probably be back when the weather turns nicer. New pairs might start later because they want to be sure that when the babies are born there’ll be lots of food available to feed the many mouths.

Once the weather is right and the best nest is chosen, songbirds like chickadees will lay one egg a day. They don't start sitting on the nest immediately. The bird will begin to incubate the eggs after her clutch is complete. That way the babies are born on the same day and there isn’t competition between older and younger babies. So you may not see your chickadee because she is out foraging and taking advantage of her last moments of freedom before her confinement to the nest.

It’s better to be safe than sorry and leave all the bird nests alone. I’m happy so many people are involved in their birds' nesting. Keep us updated.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Closer look at Dandelions

"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


I know many people dislike dandelions but they make me happy. Growing up, the rule in our household was if you could present Mom with 12 dandelions you were allowed to go barefoot no matter what the temperature. After months of bundling up for cold weather, being barefoot was freedom!

What’s in a Name
The Dandelion leaves are shaped like lion’s teeth so the common name may come from the Greek leontodon, the Latin dens leonis or the old French Dent-de-lion which all mean tooth of the lion.

I’m Not the Only One that Like Dandelions
Dandelions are one of the first blooming flowers and are an important source of nectar and pollen early in the season. When the soil is warm enough for dandelions to bloom, we know the soil is warming up everywhere, and that soon we will see other spring flowers.

Not a Native Species
Dandelions are well known to ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for over a thousand years. They were brought to the new world by early settlers intentionally to use for food, medicine, and flower gardens. The whole plant is edible and the abundant amounts of vitamins and minerals helped people stay healthy.

Dandelion Lore
It is said:
-If you rub a blooming dandelion under your chin and your skin turns yellow, you like butter.
-If you can use one breath to blow all the seeds off a dandelion your wish will come true.

Legend says the elves and gnomes could hide behind rocks and mushrooms to get out of the way of the human feet but the sun fairies decided to turn themselves into bright yellow dandelion flowers. And now even if we step on a dandelion unknowingly they are able to spring back up. This old legend accounts for the dandelion’s almost supernatural survival powers. The story also says that when we blow their seeds we are transporting the fairies and in return they may grant us a wish.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fascinating Nuthatch Nesting Behavior: Bill-Sweeping & Wing Fanning

Hi all - I've got a question about my newly nesting Nuthatches and I need your expertise.

After adding to their nest with strips of bark, they will take a piece and 'sweep' both the top and sides of the nesting box. This goes on for at least 5 minutes. I've also seen them do it with an empty beak and while holding a piece of fluff.

Another interesting behavior is when a squirrel approached, they would 'fan' their wings and sway back and forth. It works, because that poor squirrel found an alternate route. (Poor guys - between the nuthatches and bluebirds - they're avoiding the fence.) It was a great way to spend Easter Sunday, although I didn't get a lot of gardening work done because of them.

Any clues as to what they're doing? Sweeping for insects or?
Thanks and hope you're all getting a chance to enjoy the wonders of nature.

The fanning of the wings and swaying by the nuthatches is thought to act as deterrent to anyone moving too close to their nest. Nuthatches compete with squirrels to nest in tree cavities so I’m glad your squirrel moved on and took the hint that there was no vacancy.

The bill-sweeping behavior you described is still a mystery to scientists. One theory is that rubbing objects around the entrance masks the bird’s own scent from the nest and prevents detection from predators. Another theory is that it is another distraction display. You may also see the nuthatches rubbing the house with bugs. Certain insects excrete strong smelling chemicals when crushed to warn predators away or again mask scent.

Anyway, whether we understand bill-sweeping or not, the nuthatches are still fun birds to observe. The White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis is a common bird of deciduous forests and wooded urban areas. Known as the “upside down” bird, it is often observed creeping headfirst down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insect food. The name Nuthatch probably results from the corruption of the word “nuthack” which refers to its habit of hacking away at a seed with its beak until it opens. At backyard feeders you may see them eating suet, nuts, or sunflower seeds. They feast on seeds and insects, and many times will hide food in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning.

Nuthatches are monogamous and defend a territory throughout the year. The female White-breasted Nuthatch rarely strays far from her mate and stays in constant vocal contact when they are more than a few yards apart playing the dominate role as “watchdog”, leaving the male more time to concentrate on hunting for food. They are feisty birds, and pairs generally defend a territory of 10 to 30 acres.

You are lucky to have an up-close look at the nuthatches performing their nest site rituals. I love to hear people talk about what they observe in their own backyard.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology
http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/054/articles/breeding

Saturday, April 17, 2010

40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Don't forget to check out the Harris Nature Center's page on ww.twp.meridian.mi.us for a complete list of programs offered!

Celebrate Earth Week by coming to the Earth Day Birthday Campfire program on Friday, April 23rd at 7 pm. Enjoy a campfire, stories, roasting marshmallows and a guided night walk. The fee for this program is $2/person or $5/family.

If you have any questions or would like more information on these or any of our programs, please email at kadams@meridian.mi.us or call at 517-349-3866.

Fenner Nature Center also has Earth Day Activities Sunday, April 18th 12:00 to 4:00pm
Join the Fenner staff, MSU Forestry Club and Fisheries and Wildlife Club take us on hikes throughout the afternoon to learn about all the animals and plants at Fenner.

12:30pm – Aquatic Sampling: Join an MSU Fish and Wildlife student investigating Fenner’s 3 ponds.
1:00pm – Fenner’s Invasives: Take a walk through the Fenner property to find out how several invasive species are making an impact on the native species of the park.
2:00pm – Herp Hike Hiking with someone with a trained eye, for reptiles and amphibians, you will learn what kind of habitats these animals like and where we can find them on a spring day.
2:30pm – Tree ID Join in this walk and learn about the trees at Fenner and how to identify based on leaves, bark, buds and more!
3:00pm – Birding: Find out about the lifestyle of birds and how they depend on the habitats at Fenner. Event is free with no need to register.

Fenner Nature Center
2020 E Mt Hope, Lansing, Mi
517-483-4224
www.fofnc.org
Earth Day, April 22, is the annual U.S. celebration of the environment and a time to assess the work still needed to protect the natural gifts of our planet.
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EcoTough®: Good for the Birds. Great for the Earth.
You can make a world of difference by staying close to home and creating a habitat in your yard that allows wildlife to thrive.

Our EcoTough feeders and houses are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs. These feeders and houses prevent used milk jugs from making their way into our landfills.

video
Recycled Plastic Hopper Feeders are our most popular box style feeders. These feeders have the classic look of wood but they won't crack, fade or rot and have a lifetime guarantee.
The unique curved design on the side of our WBU hopper feeders is for an easy view of the birds and has been standard for over 17 years.
.Other features include:
-Easy to fill by lifting the roof and pouring the seed
-It can be hung or pole mounted.
-A removable seed tray allows for easy cleaning and dry seed
-Made from recycled milk jugs
-Popular with a variety of seed eating birds especially cardinals
-Lifetime Guarantee
-Made in the USA
To find the best bird food, bird feeders or other bird feeding products visit us at Wild Birds Unlimited.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Male House Finch Feeds Female on the Nest

Sarah,
Here are the pictures of the male House Finch coming to feed the female.

Kim
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I'm glad he came back. I'm sure momma-to-be was glad too.

House Finch Revisited

Hi Everyone,

As some of you know, we have a new house guest that I’m really excited about! I happened upon a nest and four eggs in the wreath on our front door on Sunday, April 4. On Monday, momma laid another egg bringing the total to five. Everyday I would go home and sit in my car with binoculars watching our front door hoping to see what type of bird had made our home their home. On Tuesday, I saw both the papa and momma. After looking through my bird books and talking with Sarah, Wild Birds Unlimited, I’m confident that we have a House Finch as our guest.

When Mark arrived home from Florida, I asked him if there was some way to setup a webcam so we could view the nest. I was becoming a little paranoid that one of our neighbors or someone passing by might call the police on the strange woman sitting in her car with binoculars watching the house! As you can see, my wonderful husband humored me by setting up a webcam. Actually, the one that we had was very blurry so he surprised me by purchasing an updated one. Now we can go home and watch her anytime we want from the comfort of our office!!

It truly is amazing to watch. Frequently, momma will move the eggs around with her beak and then she does this little wiggle to move them around just right. She sits there for hours! When she leaves the nest, it’s not for long (maybe a few minutes). When I was watching from the car, I saw the papa once. I’m pretty sure he was bringing her food. He kept dipping his head down. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen him since setting up the webcam but I’m hoping to capture him at some point.

I’m expecting babies around April 19th. Will keep you posted. Kim

Thank you so much for the update! For those of you who don’t know, the House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus is a 6″ talkative little bird that gets their name from their habit of hanging around houses. Originally from California, these birds were sent to New York illegally as "Hollywood Finches" in 1940. Afraid of prosecution, the pet dealers released the birds which have been expanding their territory successfully across the US ever since.

House Finches build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, old nests of other birds or in tiny cavities. The female builds the little cup shaped nest made of twigs, grasses, and leaves and then lays 2 to 6 pale bluish green eggs with fine speckling. The female alone will incubate the eggs for two weeks and then the young will leave the nest about two weeks after hatching.

The male spends his time nearby hunting for seeds to feed the female and protecting the nest. He continues to feed the female who in turn feeds the babies for about a week after the babies have hatched. The female then joins the male in bringing food to the young.

Once the babies have fledged from the nest the male takes over in the young’s basic training while the female may start to raise another brood.

I can’t wait for the next chapter in your story.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Dinner Bell is Calling All Birds

One of the most popular feeders in my yard is the WBU Dinner Bell. You can invite a variety of birds to a delicious meal with this versatile feeder. It can be filled with seed, suet snacks, seed cylinders, fruit or mealworms.
The Dinner Bell's dome raises and lowers, allowing you to feed only the birds you want. The dome also provides protection from bad weather. It's made in the USA, easy to fill and clean and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
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Wild Birds Unlimited Products
Birdfeeding is more than a hobby; it’s a way to connect with the outdoors and help the natural environment around you. Birds are essential to a healthy eco-system, and birds’ population growth, decline and migration are key indicators of nature’s balance.
Knowing this, Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering the best bird supplies including bird seed, bird feeders, and hobby accessories. Although the birds are the main attraction, we wanted our feeders to be pleasing to the eye and the highest quality.
Visit your local Wild Birds Unlimited Store to see and learn more about the best bird feeding products.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's the Best Way to Attract Orioles

@birdsunlimited What's the best way to attract Orioles in SW Ontario? Any good links that you know of for education on them?

You probably won’t see any of the Baltimore Orioles in Canada until May. The Journey North website studies migration patterns of the Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and other birds and mammals. You can look at the past seasons to predict upcoming visits or watch the Spring 2010 maps as people report their sightings of birds on the way north.
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Most Baltimore orioles winter in Central and South America and begin the journey north to their breeding grounds in April. They prefer to nest in open forests such as those along rivers, small woodlots, fruit orchards, or even large yards with lots of flowering fruit and nut trees.

Orioles eat a variety of fruits, nectar, bugs, and nuts. The best way to attract orioles to your yard is with feeders that offer suet, nuts, mealworms, nectar, grape jelly, or fruit (oranges, grapes, apples).
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If you have an extra suet feeder, I thought Droll Yankees was clever to suggest it could be used as fruit holder.

I also recommend two other feeders made by Bird's Choice. My favorite oriole feeder and the one we sell the most of in our mid-Michigan Wild Birds Unlimited stores offers three ways in to attract orioles: nectar, oranges, and jelly. The sugar water is in the saucer (orioles like the same 4 parts water to one part sugar recipe as the hummingbirds), the jelly goes into little jelly troughs built into the cover and the orange goes down the middle hook of the feeder. It's easy to clean, easy to fill and attracts lots of orioles. The weather guard that is pictured with this feeder on the right is sold separately.

The second feeder I recommend is the Poly-lumber feeder made from recycled milk jugs. It has lifetime guarantee to never crack, split or fade, stainless steel screws, thick, heavy-duty acrylic roof to allow Orioles to see the food and protects it from rain, and two removable cups to dispense grape jelly (Orioles’ favorite jelly flavor) and two pegs for orange halves. Cups also may be used to feed mealworms, peanuts, chopped fruit, suet nuggets, and a variety of other foods.
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And don’t forget the water. Having water available is a good way to attract a variety of birds to your yard. If you combine water with the appropriate food and habitat your opportunity to attract wild birds will be enhanced greatly.
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Two websites I found with further information on orioles are: Journey North Oriole info and All About Birds. If anyone has any other suggestions, post them below on the comments. Wild Birds Unlimited also has a store in Guelph, Ontario. Their website shows a variety of fruit feeders. I hope that helps. You have to be patient and change the food or nectar frequently even if it hasn't been touched. Good luck.

Does Wild Birds Unlimited Sell Mealworms?

Mealworms-Another treat to attract wild birds.

Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI do sell live and dried mealworms. Feeding live mealworms (Tenebrio monitor) as a special treat has become a very popular way to attract a different variety of wild birds.

If you haven't used mealworms before, they are the larvae of a beetle with a high protein level. Many birders believe the mealworms are used solely for attracting Bluebirds. This is definitely not the case as many other species enjoy these little treats. Some birds attracted to mealworms include: wrens, robins, bluebirds, jays, sparrows, cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, titmice, chickadees, and even Purple Martins.

Mealworms can be offered from just about any bowl, and there are some feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited specifically for feeding mealworms. The WBU Dinner Bell feeder (in side picture) is one of our most popular feeders.

How to feed birds mealworms:
Most people “train” the birds to come at the same time, same place every day. Some people whistle or wear a bright hat to signal the birds you are about to feed. Our experience has shown that the early birds like to get the worms. Birds are hungry in the morning and it’s always nice to start the day with a good breakfast. You can also feed them in the evening before they roost.

Start out by placing a teaspoon of worms in a feeder near where you see the bird perching. Sometimes I like to put them out with an apple slice. The worms can have a yummy last meal and the birds enjoy the juicy worms and may even enjoy the apple as dessert. As you get more birds trained to come you can increase the amount of worms to about a teaspoon of worms per bird per day. Once the birds have figured out where you are feeding, you can move the feeder short distances every day or so until it's located where you can view them comfortably.

Care of mealworms:
Our Wild Birds Unlimited 500 count medium mealworms come in a mixture of bran and can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator if they are fed. To feed your mealworms remove them from the refrigerator once every 2 weeks and feed them an apple for 24 hours at room temperature. This is how they get their drink of water and will stay fresh and plump. Then remove any uneaten apple, add about one inch of bran, or crushed Wheaties to the container and place back in the refrigerator.
REMEMBER: To maintain mealworms keep them dry and well ventilated.
NOT TOO DEEP! -Maximum depth of worms and bran no more than 1 inch deep.
KEEP COOL! Ideally mealworms should be stored at 45 degrees, so store them somewhere cool.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Is it ok to use treated lumber to build a birdhouse?

We have some leftover Pressure Treated lumber still sitting in the garage from the deck we built last summer. Is it ok to use treated lumber to build a birdhouse? Can we paint or stain the house when it's complete? Thanks, DD ~Mason, MI

Treated lumber is not recommended to build bird houses. The toxic chemicals used to prevent wood rot or insect problems are harmful to baby birds. Wild Birds Unlimited sells bird house kits or you can purchase decay-resistant wood like cedar to build nest boxes. It's okay to use lead free paint or stain on the outside but leave the inside untouched.

Wild Birds Unlimited also has several birdhouse building books available too. They explain the possible wood choices and how the ideal thickness should be no less than ¾” to keep birds safe from heat build up.

I also discussed recommended requirements of a safe and secure bird house in an earlier post that you might find helpful at Bird House Basics.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Are the birds “bathing” in the dust?

I recently saw a series of mysterious divots appearing in my garden evenly spaced, two inches deep, and in a row near the house. I couldn't figure out what was happening until I saw a House Sparrow dusting himself. Why are they doing this? DZ ~ East Lansing, MI

Dust bathing is not as common as water bathing but it can reduce moisture and oil, align feather barbs and remove external parasites. So the birds at the end of your driveway probably are taking a dust bath. Some common species that you’ll see dust bathing are sparrows, flickers and thrashers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

That’s Not a Mourning Dove!

I’m trying to find out the name of a bird that was eating on the ground like Mourning Dove but looked more speckled and looked like it was wearing a red handkerchief on its head. I can’t find it in any book. Robert~ East Lansing, MI

You need a new book! At our Wild Birds Unlimited stores we recommend the field guide Birds of Michigan by Ted Black.

What your describing sounds like a Northern Flicker which unlike other woodpeckers, spends about 75% of his time foraging on the ground in search of ants. Flickers in mid-Michigan are grayish brown with black polka dots on the belly and black bars on the wings. There is a black bib under their long bill and the males also have a black “mustache.” As you observed the birds have a gray crown with a red chevron on the back of the head (or red handkerchief) and have yellow underwings and undertail.

These big woodpeckers eat lots of bugs and are fun to watch. As the season progresses you might observe these birds taking dust baths to remove oil from their feathers or preening with crushed ants. Ants contain formic acid that the flickers can use on their skin and feathers to kill small parasites.

April is a busy time for flickers. They are looking actively for nesting sites. Both the male and female look for dead or dying deciduous trees to excavate a cavity. If you want to provide good habitat for woodpeckers, consider leaving dead tree snags in and around your yard. You can also simulate a dead tree by placing man made nesting boxes that you can purchase at our stores in trees and stuffing it with woodchips for them to excavate.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Eagle Perched


The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.
~Author Unknown
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Photo by MatthewJHull
Connecticut, USA

Friday, April 9, 2010

Scheduled Birdwalks in Lansing

Walk the trails of Fenner Nature Center Saturday mornings to observe the spring migration through Lansing.

Saturday walks are led by Capital Area Audubon Society volunteers. All walks are free and no registration is required.

Some of the scheduled 2010 walks are:
April 10, 17, 24 at 9 am
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May 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 at 8 am
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For more information contact:
Fenner Nature Center
2020 E. Mt Hope, Lansing, MI
517-483-4224 or http://www.fofnc.org/

Nest With Eggs on Front Door Wreath


The birds aren't stopping their nesting even though the weather has turned frigid again.
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Kim in East Lansing, MI sent me a photo of a House Finch nest with five eggs on her front door wreath.
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Thanks for the photo. Keep us updated on their progress!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Warm Thoughts


I think we all need to think warm, sunny thoughts... because it's freezing outside!


This photo was taken on a trip to Galveston in April 2007.
Enjoy!
Mike Grimm

Are There Bat Houses?

Bats are finally being given their proper recognition as valuable to mankind in the ecological system. Their immediate appeal to people is their enormous capacity for consuming insects. One bat can consume half its weight in a night or as many as 600 or more insects an hour.

In Michigan the Little Brown Bat and the Big Brown Bat are the most likely to use Wild Birds Unlimited bat houses which meet the specifications determined by Bat Conservation International and the Organization for Bat Conservation. Bats find the bat houses just like birds find bird houses. If a house is in the proper location, meets the bats’ requirements and is needed, bats will move in on their own.
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Bats like it high and hot so you should place the house at least 15' above ground for the best chance of occupancy. Houses should have an open area below because bats like to "fall" out of their box at night and "swoop" back to the box in the morning.Bats like to get at least four hours of direct sunlight in the morning. If you don't have a place with enough direct light you can paint/stain your bat house a darker color to help it absorb more heat. Please note that these suggestions are for Michigan bat nesting boxes.

Bat houses are often placed on the side of a house, garage, or barn. Dead trees can also work, but live trees are usually too shaded. If the bats don't seem to like the placement of your box within a couple full summers, it's time to try a different spot. Sometimes we feel that we have the perfect place, but the critters just don't respond. Experimenting is the hallmark of wildlife attracting. Just remember, think like a bat.

A portion of Wild Birds Unlimited proceeds goes to the Organization for Bat Conservation to support research, rescue, conservation, and education projects. If you want to try making your own bat house, plans can be found at BatConservation.org.

What Bats Live in Michigan?

Bats comprise one-fourth of the world's 4,000 species of mammals. Fruit-eating bats are nature's most important seed-dispersing animals. Nectar bats pollinate many rain-forest trees, shrubs, and flowers and without their help the forest would be less diverse. The ability of insect-eating bats is phenomenal--one little brown bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Over-sized ears and nostrils help bats to use a sonar system that experts believe is a thousand times more sophisticated than the best airport radar invented to date.
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Of the 43 species of bats that live in the U.S., nine insect-eating species of bats live in Michigan. All are nocturnal (active at night), and feed nearly exclusively on flying insects, including moths, beetles, and mosquitoes.

Bats in Michigan
  1. The little brown bat is the most common and gentle bat found throughout Michigan and is the most seen species. A light brown bat with a wingspan of 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches, small ears, and large feet. In summer, colonies of the species live in hot attics and under shingles and siding or in manmade bat houses; in winter, they hibernate in caves, crevices, houses, hollow trees, or mines. Females form nursery colonies away from the males. Little brown bats like to feed on aquatic insects and are frequently seen dipping and diving over water but will also forage over lawns and pastures, among trees, and under street lights.
  2. The big brown bat has a large nose, is reddish to dark brown in color, and sports a wingspan ranging from 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 inches. Its slow, steady flight, and large size make it fairly easy to identify. Beetles, wasps, mosquitoes and flies from pastures, lawns and vacant lots in the city make up its diet. They are late-dusk fliers that often swoop low to the ground. A colonizing species, big browns roost in buildings and under bridges in summer and hibernate in caves, mines, houses, hollow trees, and even storm sewers in winter. Efficient feeders, the species often roosts for a short nap after gorging itself. Porches, garages, and breezeways are good places to find them. The female gives birth to only one pup per year.
  3. The hoary bat is Michigan’s largest with a wingspan of up to 15 inches and lives in the forest. It’s rarely encountered by people and migrates south in winter.
  4. The red bat also migrates south and is a solitary bat of forests near water. Its long, pointed wings may stretch 12 inches, and it has short, rounded ears, and a furred tail. Color varies from a bright orange to a yellow-brown.
  5. The silver-haired bat, considered scarce, lives in forested areas near streams and lakes. Similar in size to the red bat, it is black or dark brown with silver on the tips of its hairs.
  6. The eastern pipistrelle bat does not migrate but hibernates in caves or abandoned mines through winter in the western Upper Peninsula year-round. A golden brown to reddish brown tiny bat with a wingspan of 10 inches or less.
  7. The northern long-eared bat has very large ears make these bats easy to identify at close range. A brown bat with wings that stretch 12 inches, it typically roosts alone in buildings and under tree bark in the summer, small numbers hibernate together in caves, often with big brown bats.
  8. The evening bat lives in extreme southern Michigan and is easily confused with the little brown bat except the evening bat has a curved, rounded fleshy protrusion (tragus) on the ear instead of a pointed tragus. Their wings span 10 to 11 inches. The evening bat flies low to the ground and is sometimes seen swarming around caves, which it rarely enters.
  9. The Federally endangered Indiana bat in southern Michigan closely resembles the little brown bat.

Concerns: Scientific surveys of wild bats typically report rabies in less than 0.5% for most North American bat species. In addition, bats are not “carriers” of rabies; when a bat gets the disease it will die. Bats also tend to become paralyzed with the disease, often avoiding the aggressive form of rabies.

Bats prefer to live in dead trees during the summer. Without natural habitat, brown bats will take up residence in human-made buildings. Rather than killing these beneficial mammals, prevent entry into your home by locating and plugging potential entrance holes after sunset when they leave. Putting up a bat house nearby may discourage them from entering your home while keeping them in the area.

Original article: michigandnr.com Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. 297pp.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How Do You Make Hummingbird Nectar?

Hummingbirds like nectar from flowers, sap from trees, small insects and spiders. If you throw your old banana peels in the garden it will attract fruit flies for the hummingbirds and make your plants green. Of course you can also attract hummingbirds by putting out a hummingbird feeder filled with homemade nectar.
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To make nectar that is a little bit stronger than flower nectar, use a ratio of 4:1. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. You may be tempted to use honey, turbinado sugar, drink mixes or brown sugar, but this is not a good idea. These sugars contain too many minerals for the hummingbird's system and can cause illness or death.

Powdered or confectioners sugar should not be used either. Powdered sugar has cornstarch added to it and that will cause the nectar to ferment.

Color isn’t required. There have never been any scientific studies done to prove red dye harms hummingbirds, but they come to clear nectar (sugar water) so leave it clear just in case the red is bad for the birds.

Nectar (sugar water) recipe
1 cup granulated sugar
4 cups water

1. Bring the water to a boil and then add the white sugar.
2. Stir the mixture and let it boil for 2 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and let it cool.
4. Fill your hummingbird feeder and refrigerate any unused nectar for up to 2 weeks.
5. If the hummingbirds do not come to the feeder within a few days, you can try moving it to another location near plants that have brightly colored flowers.
6. Be sure to replace the nectar and clean the feeder thoroughly once every three to four days. If you leave it out longer the sugar water could go bad and kill hummingbirds.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Have You Seen Any Hummingbirds?

Yikes, did I blink? I checked hummingbirds.net this morning to discover people are reporting that the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is now in mid-Michigan!

Dust off your feeders and put them out ASAP!

Ooh, ooh! I was just looking out the window and saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. They're not common in mid-Michigan and I'm sure it's on its way up north for nesting.

I'm mentioning this in the same post as the hummingbirds because hummingbirds follow the sapsuckers during migration.

The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius drills parallel "wells" in the bark of trees and laps up the sap that oozes out from the tree. Hummingbirds, waxwings, and warblers take advantage of these predrilled sweet sap sources for a quick bite while traveling.

I scared him with the camera but I see he just came back. Now Eli (my cat) is on my lap and my camera seems to be acting funny. I'll post a stock photo of the sapsucker, but know they're in the area and keep your eyes open for new birds every day. Keep your ears open too. The sapsucker is known for its irregular drumming rhythm. People describe it like a Morse code rhythm.