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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is There a Pileated Woodpecker Nest Box?

I am so excited to have a Pileated Woodpecker in my yard this year. Do you sell a nest box for them or have plans so I can make my own? Right now they are eating from your double suet feeder I put up in the spring. Rob

I’m so happy you have a regular Pileated Woodpecker visiting. They are very impressive birds!

We do have nest boxes for a variety of birds and it just so happens that the Screech-Owl and Pileated Woodpecker can use boxes with the same dimensions. (Beware, this box is also preferred by starlings, squirrels and opossums.)

Wild Birds Unlimited also has a variety of books with designs for building your own nest boxes.

The Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus is Michigan’s largest woodpecker at sixteen and a half inches in length and a wingspan up to 30 inches. Its size, sleek black back and wings, offset by a red crest, are obvious field marks. The males have a characteristic red "mustache", which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black. Another distinct field mark is the large white area under its wing which is viewed when the bird is in flight.

Good luck! If you have any more questions feel free to stop in the stores.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace?

First century BCE Mosaic of Scene
with Egyptian Columbarium for Breeding
Pigeons found in Palestrina beside Rome
That’s a very interesting question. These gentle birds, that mate for life and take care of their young, were used as a peace symbol almost universally from the beginning of recorded history. The birds have always nested in areas close to developments with an unusual trust that they will be unharmed or even protected by humans. Egyptians were the first to record doves used in ceremonies to announce, to the people, the rise of a new pharaoh.

Central Asia also has a legend about two kings heading for war. One king calls for his armor and is told a dove has made a nest in his helmet. The king’s mother pleads with her son to leave the mother dove, a gentle bird associated with love, innocence, tenderness and purity, undisturbed.

The king agrees to leave the dove family and heads out to meet his enemy without protection. The second king sees the king without armor and calls for a parley. Both kings lay down their weapons and talk. When the second king hears about the first king’s compassion for the mother dove he wonders if he has misjudged the man he thought was a tyrant. Both kings come to an agreement to seek peace for the two kingdoms instead of war. And the dove becomes known throughout the land as a bird of peace.

In ancient Greek myth, Aphrodite, was often depicted with doves because She brought love and beauty and peace in which to enjoy the bounties of love. And the dove was the bird of Athena because it represented the renewal of life.

European superstition holds that the devil and witches can turn themselves into any bird shape except the Dove.

In Hinduism the dove is an emblem of the spirit, and the infinite capacity the spirit has for love.

Japan uses the dove with a sword as a symbol to announce the end of war.

Some Native American cultures believe that the spirit of the recently deceased take the form of a dove.

In America, perhaps the most well known depiction of the dove is from the bible. In the Old Testament a dove is released by Noah after the great flood to search for land. It returns with an olive branch to show that the Biblical flood has receded. The dove then symbolized deliverance and God's forgiveness. (Genesis 8:11).

These peaceful birds have woven themselves into histories of cultures all around the world through their gentle presence and fearlessness of humans. Their soulful calls and coos bring many people hope in a chaotic world.

Sources:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When do Canada Geese Migrate in mid-Michigan?

I’m watching the geese fly overhead each day. Are they different flocks (or wedges) migrating through or just birds flying back and forth. ~ Catherine in East Lansing, MI

Canada GooseImage via Wikipedia
Canada Goose skimming over ice.
I would say a little of both. One of the first signs of fall is the shifting flocks of Canada Geese migrating in a long, honking, irregular “V” across sky. Flying in “V” formations conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. It also allows each bird an unobstructed field of vision, so flock members can see each other and communicate while in flight.

The Canada Goose is a year round resident of mid-Michigan’s riverbanks, ponds, golf courses and farmlands. They eat aquatic vegetation, grasses and grains. If one area freezes or their source of food is depleted, they fly to more hospitable grounds.

Cypress, Moss, Geese, SnowImage by Seuss. via Flickr
Canada Geese on lake after snow
However the Canadian and Upper Peninsula geese do migrate down to the southern U.S. from September to November.

Often called the Canadian Goose, the Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is one of the most recognizable birds in Michigan. At 16-25 inches long with a wingspan of 50-68 inches, both the male and female are large long-necked geese with black bills, black heads and necks with white throat patches that extend up the cheek. The body is brown with a brownish-white breast and belly. At least 11 subspecies of Canada Goose have been recognized and as of 2004 some of the smaller subspecies were designated their own species like the Cackling Goose.

Few people realize that, at one time, the very large population of Canada Geese in the Great Lakes region was almost hunted to extinction.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

How do you choose the best bird feeder?

I want to buy the best birdfeeder as a gift. What do you suggest?

There are a lot of feeders to choose from. With over 25 years of research and experience, Wild Birds Unlimited® is proud to offer you the highest-quality birdfeeders and birdfeeding equipment on the market today.

  1. Any feeder you choose should be easy to fill and easy to clean.
  2. Look for quality. Most Wild Birds Unlimited feeders come with a Lifetime Warranty.
  3. Determine what birds you want to attract. There are certain feeders that are made for specific birds (i.e. finch feeder, hummingbird feeder).
  4. Decide where you are going to put the feeder. Is it going to hang in a tree, on an Advanced Pole System, on a window, or off a deck? The best place to put a feeder is where you can view it easily.
Some of our most popular, easy to fill and easy to clean, backed with a lifetime guarantee feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI and why:

  1. Squirrel Buster PLUS™: This is our best selling feeder. It has a large capacity and is easy to maintain. Built-to-Last Construction. Most birds are attracted to it including the cardinals. Oh and it’s SQUIRREL PROOF! Oh yes it is!
  2. WBU Recycled Hopper: Made from recycled milk jugs, these feeders are 100 times more popular than the old wooden box feeders. They look good, last forever, and all seed eating birds can use it comfortably. It’s easy to fill, it has a removable seed tray to allow for easy cleaning and dry seed, and it can be hung or pole mounted. Made in the U.S.A.
  3. WBU Dinner Bell: Fill this versatile bird feeder with seed, mealworms, or a seed cylinder and see how many different birds you can attract. The dome provides protection from bad weather. It can also be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adaptor. Made in the U.S.A.
  4. WBU Mesh Finch Feeder: The mesh tube not only lets finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but it also allows air circulation to keep your Nyjer Thistle as dry and fresh as possible, something that's very important to our picky eaters.This feeder may be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adaptor. Made in the U.S.A.
  5. WBU Recycled Plastic Tail Prop Suet Feeder: Common birds that eat suet are downy, hairy, red-bellied, chickadees, and nuthatches. The paddle simulates a tree trunk and offers birds a place to prop their tail while they feed. It won't rot, crack, fade, or warp like wood can and are easy to fill and clean. Made in the U.S.A.
  6. WBU Hummingbird Feeder: This specially designed feeder has a red cover that is highly attractive to hummingbirds, a built-in ant moat that keeps bugs out, and feeding ports that prevent rain water from diluting the nectar solution. Bees aren’t attracted to the saucer style feeder. It may be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adaptor. Made in the U.S.A. This feeder is only up from April to October in mid-Michigan. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly south for the winter.
These are just some of the best feeders to start the hobby of backyard bird feeding. I didn’t even get to the Oriole feeders, window feeders, tray feeders, ground feeders, or other specialty feeders. But don’t be overwhelmed. Wild Birds Unlimited doesn’t just sell bird feeders and bird food. We also give you accurate information about our local birds. It is our goal for you to have the best possible experience from your bird feeding hobby. Backyard bird feeding is the most relaxing, fulfilling, educational and exciting hobby that anyone can enjoy.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, we are Your Backyard Bird feeding Specialist®, here to help bring you, and nature together. Come in and we'll help you decorate your yard with birds this winter!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Stir Crazy Cats at the Store!

*
Even J.B. was demanding.
With the screen door no longer open the cats have been going stir crazy. I captured a little of their antics.

JB was tearing around the store so fast I couldn't get him on video.

I hung their stockings and told them they're going to get lumps of coal if they don't behave. Big mistake. Now Dolly and the boys are in a competition to see earns the most lumps.

*no catnip was used in the making of this film. 

Related Articles:
- My Favorite Weed: All About Catnip http://goo.gl/txqoL
- The cat-human-bird connection at Wild Birds Unlimited http://goo.gl/ZC7hdp
- Cats Indoors! http://goo.gl/B64Go
- Do You Take Your Cats Home at Night? http://goo.gl/gm8mP
- A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats http://goo.gl/iWHH

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fall Trees Reveal Their Secrets

Once the leaves drop, deciduous trees reveal some secrets. I’m looking at the apple tree in the front of the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store and I see a tiny nest. I heard the babies not too long ago and now I know they began their life not far from the front door.

If you are going on a walk look up and see what you can discover. Not all nests are abandoned or built by birds. If you see a big ball of dead leaves and twigs this might be a squirrel nest or "drey". Squirrels also will build nests, or "dens", in hollow tree cavities or in squirrel boxes like we sell at Wild Birds Unlimited.

How would you like to forage for your Thanksgiving meal? Think like a bird and see what seeds, berries, fruits and nuts are available. More importantly, enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn and let nature nurture.

Take a minute to look at the bark of trees too. I saw the lines of tiny, shallow holes the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made in the spring. You might see a Screech-Owl hiding.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Where do you place finch feeders?

Hi, We recently moved a nyjer feeder that had tons of feeding finches this summer and fall because we realized it was too close to a birdhouse and had discouraged nesters this season. We moved it to a position in our yard, attached to a hangar off a big tree in an open area. Since we moved it, there has been very sporadic feeding. Is there a place where we should NOT have these feeders? Height? Anything? Thanks so much - JE

I’ve found the goldfinches feel more comfortable with the feeder near trees but that isn’t a requirement. I have several feeders hanging from a dogwood and pear tree in the front of the house and a couple on a pole in the open in the back of the house. All the feeders have birds but I fill the front feeders twice as much.

The most important place to hang a feeder is where you can watch it easily.

Goldfinches can be some of the most particular and finicky backyard birds. Their seed has to be fresh, the feeder clean, and they don’t take it well when you move or replace a feeder.

To make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. On these cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week.)

Second, make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. In Michigan where it can be wet the seed may not get a chance to air out and begin to mold. This can be dangerous to the finches and they will avoid your feeder again. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using a WBU Weather Guard.

Third, finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. Just as you may have been taught it was polite to leave at least a little food on your plate so as not to appear gluttonous, I think the goldfinches may have the same rule. So what do you do if you have polite birds that eat only to a certain level and then stop even if there is still good, fresh seed in half of the tube? Don't just top off your feeder with fresh seed. Empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of your feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. The birds will probably eat down to that certain level again and you'll have to repeat the process.

My favorite feeder is a Mesh Finch Feeders. Several birds can feed at a time, the seed airs out, it's easy to clean, easy to fill, has a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA. They eat from top to bottom. However if you're thinking of switching feeders remember that finches don't like change and it may take several minutes to several months for Goldfinches to accept a new feeder.

Fourth, yellow attracts Goldfinches that are scouting for new feeding sites. Just like you know about the golden arches of McDonald's, the birds know yellow represents food whether it’s a sunflower or a feeder. If your feeder isn't yellow, attach a yellow ribbon to the feeder to catch a scout's eye. Once one Goldfinch finds your feeder, a flock will follow.

If you already have a few finches at the new location then you just have to be patient. They are probably upset that you moved the feeder but will return eventually.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wild Turkeys came close to extinction in the 1930s

Is a photo of a wild turkeyImage via WikipediaThe Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), the heaviest member of the Galliformes, is fairly common now. However due to habitat loss and over-hunting, turkeys were once on the way to extinction until conservation organizations were established to preserve and expand their populations. Today wild turkeys live across most of the U.S. and their numbers have risen to more than 7 million.

The average life expectancy for wild turkeys is one and a half years in the wild and 13 years in captivity. Besides hunters, the birds are prey to a variety of animals like raccoons, bobcats, foxes, eagles, owls and much more.

The turkey is covered by about 6,000 iridescence feathers of varying colors of red, green, copper, bronze and gold. The gobbler, or male turkey, is more colorful, while the hen is a duller color to camouflage her with her surroundings.


Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and eight ChicksImage via Wikipedia
Female Wild Turkey with 8 chicks
The birds don’t migrate. They can be seen grazing fields and woodlands during the day and roosting in trees at night.

According to Wikipedia there are six subspecies:
Eastern Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris)- The most common and seen by the fist pilgrims.

Osceola Wild Turkey or Florida Wild Turkey (M. g. osceola) There are about 80,000 birds in Florida named after the Seminole Chief Osceola in 1890. It is smaller and darker than our Eastern Wild Turkey.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey (M. g. intermedia) More of a prairie bird, this sub-species is native to the central plain states. First described in 1879, they have longer legs for running and the back feathers are a buff-very light tan color.

Merriam's Wild Turkey (M. g. merriami) A western bird with purple and bronze reflections that ranges through the Rocky Mountains and the prairies of Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota as well as much of the high mesa country of New Mexico. It was named in 1900 in honor of Clinton Hart Merriam, the first chief of the U.S. Biological Survey.

Gould's Wild Turkey (M. g. mexicana) They exist in small numbers in the U.S. but are abundant in Northwestern portions of Mexico. A small population has been established in southern Arizona. Gould's are the largest of the five sub-species. They have longer legs, larger feet, and longer tail feathers. The main colors of the body feathers are copper and greenish-gold. This subspecies is heavily protected owing to its skittish nature and threatened status.

South Mexican Wild Turkey (M. g. gallopavo) The nominate subspecies, and the only one that is not found in the United States or Canada. The Aztecs domesticated the southern Mexican sub-species, M. g. mexicana, giving rise to the domestic turkey. The Spaniards brought this tamed subspecies back to Europe with them in the mid-16th century and from Spain it spread to France and later Britain as a farmyard animal, usually becoming the centerpiece of a feast for the well-to-do. By 1620 it was common enough so that Pilgrim settlers of Massachusetts could bring turkeys with them from England, unknowing it had a larger close relative already occupying the forests of Massachusetts. It is one of the smallest subspecies and is best known in Spanish from its Aztec-derived name, guajolote. Thought to be critically endangered as of 2010.

Related articles:
What do Turkeys Eat?
Why is a Turkey Is Called a Turkey?

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fun Facts About Chickadees

- Chickadees are found across much of North America. The more common species include the Black-capped, Carolina and Mountain Chickadees.

Image via WikipediaBoreal Chickadee
- Chickadees are identified easily by their namesake call “chick-a-dee.”

- Only about 20% of the Black-capped’s daily energy intake comes from feeders, and about half of the overall winter diet is made up of such animal matter as spiders, dormant insects, and even carrion.

- Mountain Chickadees are mainly foliage gleaners, searching for spiders and larvae at the tips of branches.

- The Boreal commonly chooses cache sites on the underside of branches, perhaps because snow covers upper surfaces. They are rarely seen at feeders except in Alaska and Canada.

Black-capped Chickadee
- In early summer, Mountain Chickadees are able to find and use seeds they hid during the previous autumn.

- Chestnut-backed and Black-capped chickadees keep an eye on the food-finding success of other individuals, if one bird is doing especially well; they adapt their behavior, whereas unproductive tactics are not copied.

- The Black-capped generally sings out a “fee-bee” call while the Carolina sings “fee-bee fee-bay;” however, this song is learned and, in overlapping territories, may be learned from the “wrong” bird.

- Chickadee’s wing beats are about 27 times per second. This compares to a hummingbird’s 80 beats per second.
A Carolina Chickadee (Parus carolinensis) perc...Image via Wikipedia
Carolina Chickadee

- They are cavity nesters that usually mate for life. They will excavate their own nest site in a rotten or decaying wood, use an old woodpecker hole or use a nesting box. (Mountain chickadee may not excavate its own hole and will nest under rock in a bank or in a hole in the ground.) They add a cozy nest on a moss base.

- Usually lay 6–8 white eggs with a light reddish-brown speckling. They hatch in about 12 days and fledge about 21 days later.

- When the temperature falls below 10 degrees, research has shown that the survival rate of chickadees almost doubled when they had access to feeders, this resulted in an overall higher winter survival rate of 69% versus a 37% survival rate for populations without access to feeders.
Mountain ChickadeeImage by Len Blumin via Flickr
Mountain Chickadees

- Have you noticed how ravenously the birds eat at your bird feeders, especially first thing in the morning and just before dusk? Chickadees can gain as much as 10 percent of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.

- Chickadees are a tough little bird that does not migrate. During cold weather Chickadees have been found to need twenty times more food than they do in summer.

- Chickadees weigh less than one-half of an ounce.

- The oldest banded Black-capped Chickadee recaptured in the wild had lived 12 years and 5 months.

- The oldest banded Carolina Chickadee recaptured in the wild had lived 10 years and 11 months.

- The oldest banded Mountain Chickadee recaptured in the wild had lived 10 years and 1 month.

For more information on chickadees go to All About Birds 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why are the Robins Attracted to Water?

Bathing Behavior of the American Robin
Why do the American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds and other birds in the thrush family all seem to frolic in the water more than other backyard birds?

They may bathe more than most birds, about twice daily, to remove excessive oil from their feathers. Fluffy feathers provide proper insulation against bitter winds. Too much oil on the feathers can cause the feathers clump and lower the body temperature to dangerous levels.

Bathing also helps keep ectoparasites off of Robins. Ectoparasites or external hitchhikers include microscopic feather mites, flat hippoboscid flies that bite, or visible ticks.

Water is a powerful attractor and will increase the number and variety of birds coming to your yard. I have a running stream that the birds like to use. However as the winter weather blows through mid-Michigan the birds will start looking for any open water. Having heated birdbaths or adding a heater to the bath you already have set up would be ideal for helping birds during the winter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Is Frozen Suet OK for Birds?

I don’t know much about birds. Did I read somewhere that birds can’t eat suet if it freezes? ~ Roosevelt

Learning about birds is so much fun. This blog was set up to answer any questions you have on bird feeding and to share stories and photos. Feel free to e-mail me or come in to any Wild Birds Unlimited stores with your questions.

You don't have to worry about frozen suet. In fact we recommend freezing suet to keep it fresh and make it easier to remove from the package.

Woodpeckers are some of the toughest birds in the backyard. As their name suggests, they frequently 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 on anything that will make a noise to send sound signals. Frozen suet wouldn’t be any challenge at all.

They can strike a tree at speeds up to 15 mph, which is enough force to create brain damage in most other birds, and certainly in our human brain. However, due to a number of adaptations, woodpeckers thrive on this heavy hitting.

First the woodpeckers' skulls are incredibly strong, yet lightweight, due to a reinforcing meshwork of bony support struts. Their brains also sit snugly in the skull with very little cerebrospinal fluid meaning the brain won't bang around as the head moves back and forth.

Second the dense muscles in their neck and mouth contract just before impact, which transmits the impact past the brain and allows its whole body to help absorb the shock.


Clipart courtesy FCIT http://etc.usf.edu/clipart
 Third the tongue 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.

Fourth there are special cells at the tip of the bill that constantly replace the lost material, keeping the bill strong and sharp.

Fifth they 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.

Sixth is the adaptation in their 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.

Seventh the woodpeckers’ pointed tail feathers are also especially strong and rigid, and their tail bones, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles are very large in comparison to other birds. These modifications allow a woodpecker's tail to serve as a sturdy prop that supports its weight while clinging to trees. Some Wild Birds Unlimited Suet feeders have tail props to make it more comfortable for the birds to feed.

So go ahead and fill the suet feeder and then watch these adaptations in action. Woodpeckers are attracted to suet as well as nuts. Simply offer these foods and you can get up close and personal to some of the toughest guys in the neighborhood.

Thanks, keep the questions coming.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Unique Gifts for You and the Birds

Do you have the edible birdseed houses? ~ Bob
Are you going to get more of the giant pinecones dipped in birdseed? ~ Ann
Have the WBU seed wreaths come in yet? I’d like to buy several. ~ Dorthea

If you come into the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI store you will see a lot of new items that will decorate your yard or make great gifts.

Bob- We have functional bird houses that are decorated with a mixture of fresh bird seed and dried flowers. Birds will flock to the sides to eat during the winter and a bird couple can use the cedar house for nesting in the spring.

Ann- Come in quick if you are planning on buying pinecones. I’ve ordered the same number of seed pinecones that I sold last year. I’m sorry but once their gone, their gone. They’re selling fast.

Dorthea- The seed wreaths have arrived and you’re in luck because they are on sale! When you buy 2 you get 1 free. So you can keep one and give away the other two.

These make perfect gifts for the hosts of all the parties you get invited to in November and December. Our pecan packed WBU Seed Wreath is a dining delight for birds, and it can add festive cheer to any yard. Use it as a decoration, or hang it near your existing feeders that are busier than ever these days. The wreaths are made out of the best seed to attract all the colorful songbirds to your yard.

Everybody- We also have a lot of pre-wrapped gifts at various price points. I like the seed balls and seed bells (~ $5-$10). The Seed Snowman is also unique and the Seed Angels are adorable this year (~ $15).

If you have an extra minute browse the store and look at all the wonderful new stuff that is appearing on our shelves. I just unpacked a shipment of gorgeous wind chimes.

Thank you for all your questions about the products at our Wild Birds Unlimited stores. I hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Odd Phrases That Involve Birds

Bird is the word:

We get a lot of odd ducks shopping at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI. But before anyone gets flighty and gives me the bird, let me make it clear that you are all good eggs.

The English language is full of odd phrases and idioms. I compiled just a few of the birdy variety for you to ponder.
  • Odd Duck: someone with a touch of eccentricity.
  • Good Egg: someone that is good inside and out.
  • Jay walker: to cross a street in a reckless manner.
  • Flip someone the bird: raising the middle finger as a rude sign.
  • Little bird told me: not revealing who told you something.
  • Bird's-eye view: view seen from high above or a hasty look at something.
  • Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: Having something for certain is better than the possibility of getting something better.
  • Birds of a feather flock together: Similar people tend to associate with each other.
  • The early bird catches the worm: If you get to work early, you will succeed.
  • Free as a bird: unhindered
  • Happy as a lark: very cheerful
  • Naked as a jaybird: nude
  • Proud as a peacock: very haughty
  • Silly as a goose: very foolish
  • Cold turkey: to stop a bad habit without medical aid
  • Feather one’s nest: to look after one`s own financial interests
  • Lame duck: a politician who has little time left in office and little power
  • Ruffle someone's feathers: to upset or annoy someone
  • Spread one's wings: to begin to be independent and try new things
  • Take under their wing: to be under the care of someone
  • Watch you like a hawk: to watch someone very carefully
  • Wild goose chase: a chase that is futile or worthless
  • Wing it: to do the best in a situation that one is not prepared
  • As the crow flies: a straight line between two places
  • Get one's ducks in a row: to put one's affairs or something in order
  • Like water off a duck’s back: without any effect, easily
  • Ugly duckling: an ugly or plain child who grows up to be pretty
  • Night owl: someone who likes to stay up very late at night
  • Swan song: the last work or performance by an artist
  • Twitter: social networking service that users to send and read messages known as tweets

Monday, November 15, 2010

Birds Move Trees

I was loading seed into a car at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store and a ginko leaf blew across my shoe. Now where did that come from? I haven’t noticed any Ginko trees in the area. It may have blown miles.

Leaves are carried easily by the winds, but how can the seed of a tree like an acorn move away from its parent plant to germinate. These tree seeds need a little help to take flight and travel.


Blue Jay storing seeds in his esophagus

A single blue jay can cache or hide as many as 5,000 acorns up to 2.5 miles from their original source and retrieve them when needed. They can do this by carrying several nuts at one time in their esophagus.

The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth and the stomach. It can also help store food for a short time through a temporary distension for certain birds like the nut eating Blue Jays, fruit eating Cedar Waxwings, fish-eating species and birds of prey.

Wild Birds Unlimied Whole Peanut Wreath
Blue Jays eat fruit, nuts, berries, seeds, and suet. At the feeder their first choice would be peanuts in the shell. In the wild, blue jays eat lots of different foods. Though they are primarily vegetarian they also will eat caterpillars, beetles and other small bugs. Rarely do they eat eggs and nestlings.

This behavior of burying seeds has greatly helped with the range expansion of many oak species. The rapid northward dispersal of oaks after the ice age may have resulted from the northern transport of acorns by Jays.

In one research study, 50 Blue Jays were observed selecting and caching 150,000 acorns over a period of 28 days. Each bird cached a total of 3,000 acorns by selecting and hiding an average of 107 acorns per day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Why are they called Blue "Jays"?

A Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) eating peanut...
Image via Wikipedia
Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Crows and Jays (Corvidae)

Description
Blue jays are bright blue birds with blue head crests, black wing markings and black necklaces. They are a large songbird about 10-12 inches and weigh about 3 ounces

Behavior
Bright and bold, blue jays often travel in noisy family groups in late summer and fall. Their discovery of good feeding sight is announced to the whole community of birds. They also are very good at giving early warnings of hawk, cats, or other predators in the area.

General
Their name “Jay” has its origins from the Latin “gaius” meaning “gay or merry.” The species name cristata originates from the Latin word crista, meaning “crested.” The longevity record for banded Blue Jays in the wild is over 17 years, the longest of any of the jays.
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Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Do The Cats Like To Drink Out Of My Mug?


I'm always guarding my mugs from rough-tongued thieves during the day. Even when I bring out two mugs, the cats want mine.


Dolly drinks while J.B. sleeps in my desk drawer (back right)
 Have you ever watched a cat drink? NPR had a really good story yesterday called Pet Physics: The Uncanny Lapping Of Cats.

Geoff Brumfiel reports that "Watching in slow motion reveals that cats of all sizes, from tabbies to tigers, have a very elaborate way of drinking. First, they move the tip of their tongue onto the surface of the water to flick the water up so that a little jet of liquid flies into the air. Then, in a flash, they catch the jet in their mouth." Click HERE to listen to the full story.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Can I make my own suet?

If you have never fed Suet, you may have missed some great birds. Suet is one of the top three foods to feed wild birds. Birds have high metabolic rates. It is not unusual for birds to consume 1/4 to 1/3 their body weight worth of food a day! Offering suet cakes provides a high caloric energy source.

Common birds that eat suet are downy, hairy, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers. Chickadees, northern flickers, nuthatches, and starlings are also avid suet eaters. By adding Suet to your wild bird's menu, you will also attract wrens, warblers, thrushes, brown creepers, blue jays and even bluebirds if they are in your area.

Suet is raw beef or mutton fat found around the loins and kidneys. You can trim the fat from the meat you buy or just purchase straight suet to render for the birds.

If it’s cold enough for snow you don’t need to render the suet. You can just put the suet in a feeder or onion bag and let the birds peck at it. In the wild, birds will munch on the fat from dead animals like deer or road kill to get the high calories they require to survive cold weather. But they won’t eat it if it goes rancid.

That’s why most people buy the prepared suet cakes we sell at Wild Birds Unlimited. Our suet cakes are made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. Special processes remove impurities that cause low melting points and spoilage problems. Or you can render suet yourself.

image via Wikipedia
How to Render Suet:

1. Chop the fat.
2. Melt the fat on the stove over a low heat
3. Strain melted suet through a fine cheesecloth.
4. Let cool and harden.
5. Repeat steps 2-3. If the fat is not rendered twice, the suet will not harden properly.
6. Pour into a bread pan
7. Slice and serve after suet is hard

You can add peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts or seeds to make a variety of suets.

Other Suet Recipes: http://www.sialis.org/suet.htm

FYI
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “bacon drippings are also animal fat and many birds love the taste. But bacon virtually always has detectable amounts of nitrosamines, carcinogenic compounds formed from some of the preservatives used in bacon. In particular, the very high cooking temperatures used to fry bacon are conducive to nitrosamine formation. So despite the fact that birds love it, bacon and bacon fat pose too much of a risk to the long-term health of birds to warrant using it.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is Indian Summer?

Haven’t the last couple of days have been beautiful?  The squirrels and birds have certainly been taking advantage of the nice weather to fatten up at feeders.

According to Wikipedia: “An Indian summer is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs in autumn, in the Northern Hemisphere. It is characterized by a period of sunny, warm weather, after the leaves have turned following an onset of frost, but before the first snowfall.”

Why Indian? Well, no one knows. It first shows up in writing in 1778, in a letter from French-American farmer named St. John de Crevecoeur who wrote:

“Sometimes the rain is followed by an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer; its characteristics are a tranquil atmosphere and general smokiness.”

Chances are we will never know the origin of the phrase but some theories are:

• When European settlers first came, Native Americans were the first point out the pattern.
• The haziness of the Indian Summer weather was caused by prairie fires deliberately set by Native American tribes.
• It was the period when Native American peoples harvested their crops.
• The phenomenon was more common in what were then North American Indian territories.
• In a parallel with other 'Indian' terms it implied a belief in false promise by an Indian and that an Indian summer was a false copy of the real summer.
• It relates to the marine shipping trade in the Indian Ocean; trading ships used this good weather period to travel to the Indian Ocean. Several ships actually had an "I.S." mark on their hulls at the load level thought safe during the Indian Summer.

Read more in the article: Just What Is Indian Summer And Did Indians Really Have Anything To Do With It?  by William Deedler -National Weather Service Detroit office.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lots of Neat New Items Coming into the Store!

Last year the No/No seed ball feeders were a big hit! These cute, little mesh sunflower seed feeders are good for beginning birdwatchers or for people that need a good small feeder.

Now this year the No/No brand has come up with a darling new feeder that looks like a snowman! We just received the first shipment and they are flying off the shelves.

It's 15" high including top hat lid and features No/No's usual high-quality metal construction and patented mesh feeding system. This feeder is rigid and does not collapse like other No/No bird feeders. Three round white mesh seed baskets with cute Snow Man design, buttons, eyes, carrot nose and top hat. Easy to fill and keep clean. Simply remove top hat and add black oil sunflower seed.

Advantages of the NO/NO Seed Balls Wild Bird Feeder:

• NO Wood and NO Plastic: high-quality metal construction
• Holds 1.25-2lbs 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
• Makes a great gift or starter feeder
• Lasts for years
• They're really, really cute!

Come on in to the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, MI to see all the new inventory. We have several prewrapped items that will make great hostess or office gifts. But hurry because I ordered only a limited quantity of the holiday stuff and when it's gone, it's gone.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How do you Rejuvenate Suction Cups?

Now that the windows are closed I'm putting up my window feeder. I've heard you're a birdfeeding guru and I was wondering if you knew how to rejuvenate the suction cups on my feeder.

Window feeders are super fun and make it easy to observe birds up close, but feeders popping off the window can be very irritating. I do know a couple tricks to make your feeders stick and stay stuck to the window.

You can return some elasticity to the suction cups on your window feeder by placing them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. This will help “reset” the plastic and make it more flexible.

Once your suction cups are ready, wash your window. Any grit on the suction cup or window will interfere with the seal. Now is a good time to put up window feeders. Suction cups adhere better to warm windows. As the weather turns colder you will have to wait until the sun hits the window or use a hair drier to warm the glass.

Then rub a little finger oil or vegetable oil over the suction cup. Don't use water to stick the feeder to the window. It will just pop off when the water freezes and thaws. Push the suction cups against the window and force out any air bubbles behind the cup. Now you should be set until you want to wash the window again.

Fill your window feeder with the food that will attract the birds you want to see up close. I usually use our popular No-mess blend or sunflower chips. There are no shells and therefore no mess under the feeder and it attracts a variety of birds. Wild Birds Unlimited sells these seeds in large or small quantities.  

I don't know if I'm a bird feeding guru, but I hope these tips work. Below is a video of one of the window feeders sold at our East Lansing store.
 
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Little about the Common Redpoll

Carduelis flammea Common RedpollImage via WikipediaCommon Redpoll Carduelis flammea
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Finches (Fringillidae)

Description
The Common Redpoll is a small bird of only 5" in length with a wingspan around 8". The male and female resemble each other except the male has a pinkish breast. Both sexes have a brownish red crown on the forehead, short yellow bill, blackish-brown feet, brownish-black throat, and a side belly streaked up and down with blackish-brown feathers.

General
A group of redpolls are collectively known as a "gallup" of redpolls. They are an abundant breeding bird in northern Canada during the summer, and are seen in Michigan primarily in the winter. Even then, it generally occurs during irruptions, typically every other year.

Behavior
Like the Goldfinch the Common Redpolls are busy, acrobatic, and fly in large flocks in the winter. They also have the undulating flight pattern, feed at the very tips of small branches, hang upside-down, and use their feet to hold food. Redpolls have a pouch in their throat that allows them to gather large amounts of food quickly, and then retreat to a safe place to process the food. They are quite vocal, making constant contact calls within their flocks, and are often located by their flight calls. In the winter they can sleep in snow tunnels to preserve body heat. A frequent visitor to backyard feeders, this lively bird is extremely social and constantly moving. Even when resting at night, members of the flock fidget and twitter.

Other Names
Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Holboell's Redpoll and Greater Redpoll

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