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

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Northern Cardinals Flock in the Fall

We have a lot of bluebirds here in Charlotte however this time of year it seems we are swarmed with Cardinals. ~ Donna Charlotte/Waxhaw, NC 

I so love it when people tell me their observations about what’s going on in their yard. I'm sure many people are very jealous. Northern Cardinals are the most sought after birds in the mid-Michigan bird feeding community.

Of course what you’re seeing foreshadows a change in seasons. By late summer, nesting is over and Northern Cardinals relax their defense of their territory boundaries. The birds sing less and flocks of cardinals begin to form. The Cardinals don’t migrate but can expand their range while foraging for food.

Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and can move around together freely in search of food. Older cardinals can join these young flocks for a time but drop out once it leaves their normal range.

These ever changing flocks can consist of about four to twenty birds depending on the area, time of year, weather, and available resources.

Southern states will see larger flocks, of course, because the population is higher in the Southeast. Flock size also increases in December and January when temperatures decline or there is snow on the ground. More birds can find food easier and look out for predators.

About 40% of adult cardinals die each year. Most die during the winter in February and March when food supplies are low. Death may not be due to starvation but a weakened immune system or being forced to search for food in more open areas where birds of prey and other predators can kill them.

Cardinal populations with access to a feeding station may be in better condition and more likely to survive the winter than cardinals without access.  The Northern Cardinal is often the first bird to visit a feeder in the morning and the last to stop by and grab a bite at night.

Cardinals prefer to feed on the ground so if you can "raise the ground" by feeding cardinals on tray feeders, hopper feeders or any feeder that gives them a comfortable feeding position they'll be happy. Their favorite food is oil sunflower, nuts, safflower and fruit. WildBirds Unlimited has a wide variety of cardinal friendly feeders.

The bright red plumage of the Northern Cardinals is a magnificent sight against the snowy backdrop in winter. Winter??? Did I say winter? Yes the signs are clear that that time is near, so put out a feeder now to enjoy the beauty.

Related Articles:
Cardinal Bird Feeders Made in the USA: http://bit.ly/qXJPFM
How to Attract Cardinals: http://bit.ly/pjh7mO

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cardinal Bird Feeders Made in the USA

Do "they" make cardinal feeders the birds will use but not put 95% of the seeds (black oil sunflower) on the ground?  I attached a screen to the bottom of my feeder and now only the little birds visit - and of course empty the feeder onto the screen looking for small seeds. ~ Jon

Birds look for the very best seeds. First, fresh and heavy seeds full of oil are chosen over the dried up older seeds. Blue Jays and other birds will shuffle through the seeds until they find what they are looking for. They'll pick a seed up in their bill to test the weight. If it's not heavy enough they'll pick up another to compare the weight of the seeds. It's not worth their while to eat or cache seeds that are dried out or bad. Wild Birds Unlimited has fresh seed delivered every week.

And we also have feeders that deter seed flicking. The Hopper and Fly-thru feeders are the easiest for the birds to flick seeds from. The tube feeders are the hardest for them to toss seed around. The Droll Yankees Whipper is built so the cardinals can sit and eat comfortably but the small feeding ports limit seed scatter. Wild Birds Unlimited also has the QuickClean Big Tube with feeding ports large enough for a cardinal but with a special non-scatter bar built-in. You can also add a tray to this feeder.

Or you could go the seed block route. Our large seed cakes and seed cylinders are made from high quality, high fat seeds and stuck together with gelatin. The birds can't scatter the seed because it's pack so tight together. It lasts a long time too.

Related articles:
Time to Try Tidy Dining: http://bit.ly/ruQn5t
How to Attract Cardinals: http://bit.ly/pjh7mO
Quick Clean Big Tube: http://bit.ly/qer9uc

Thank you for your (amazingly) quick reply!

We have a tube feeder for the finches which works very well; the "Big Tube" sounds like it is worth a look.  One thing we pretty much insist upon is is the item be US made so as you might well guess, our options have been somewhat... if not limited, perhaps hidden amongst the chaff.  I had forgotten about your Coolidge Road location and looking forward to visiting. ~ Jon

All the feeders mentioned above and most of Wild Birds Unlimited feeders in the East Lansing store is made in the USA and have a lifetime guarantee. We can definitely help you in that area. Hope to see you soon. ~ Sarah
Store location:
Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823

E-mail:    bloubird@gmail.com
Website: http://lansing.wbu.com/
Blog:       http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/
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Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/lansingwbu

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunflowers Up-close: The Strange Journey of an American Plant

Native to Central America, the Sunflower was one of the first plants cultivated by humans for food, medicine, dye, and fiber for clothing and building materials. According to the National Sunflower Association the earliest known domesticated sunflowers north of Mexico were found in Tennessee, and dated to around 2300 BC. Over the generations the flowers were encouraged to produce bigger and bigger seeds.

Outside florets in bloom
In the early 16th century the plants beauty and usefulness was not overlooked by traders who took plants from the New World back to the Old World. In the 18th century Peter the Great of Russia discovered the sunflower in Holland and took seeds back to Russia. By the mid-19th century, sunflower oil was manufactured in Russia on a large and highly lucrative commercial scale.

It is thought that Russian immigrants took these sunflower seeds with them back to the New World and by the 1880s companies were offering the ‘Mammoth Russian’ sunflowers in US and Canadian catalogs.

Black oil sunflower seeds are almost ready
It took awhile for the United States to take full advantage of the sunflower and make it a cash crop. By the 1970’s, new technology and hybridization produced sunflowers with high yields of oil content and a seed easier to hull.

Then demand for the sunflower went to an all time high a couple decades ago when cholesterol-conscience consumers demanded the healthier choice of oil. Sunflower oil is high in the essential vitamin E and low in saturated fat. Food manufacturers started to use sunflower oil in an effort to lower the levels of trans fat in mass produced foods.

The bird feeding industry was also growing. One in three Americans feeds the birds and sunflower is the best seed overall for the backyard seed eating birds. As the demand for the seed grows, we are keeping a close eye on the crop reports. Because of the reduction in planted acres, the food industries' high demand, and all the floods, fires, and droughts, next year’s crop yield is questionable. The farm area planted to sunflower in 2011 is estimated at 1.76 million acres but the amount of sunflower in bloom in North Dakota is well behind last year. The video below shows the crops progress.

Fun Sunflower Facts:
Illustration of Vogel's formula  
of the pattern of sunflower florets

-The scientific word for Sunflower is Hellianthus. Derived from helios meaning sun and anthos meaning flower.
-Mature flower heads face east typically and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers exhibit heliotropism (sun turning)
-A model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower was proposed by H. Vogel in 1979
-For 2011/12 Russia and Ukraine are the largest producers of sunflowers
-Sunflowers can be used to extract toxic ingredients from soil and were used to remove cesium-137 and strontium-90 from a nearby pond after the Chernobyl disaster, and a similar campaign was mounted in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
-A sunflower grown in the Netherlands holds the record for being the tallest sunflower in the world. It measured 25 feet, 5.4 inches.
-The largest sunflower head was grown in Canada and measured 32-1/2 inches across its widest point.
-The most sunflower heads on one sunflower was grown in Michigan and had 837 heads on one plant. (Source: 2004 Guinness World Records)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Feeding and Raising Bluebirds

Two good questions about Eastern Bluebirds in late summer:

Two beautiful bluebirds nested and raised the babies on my back porch this late spring/early summer.  After the babies were grown and sent out into the world all the bluebirds are gone from my yard…where did they go?  I thought I’d be able to watch them grow and be around all summer. Billie

We had 15 healthy bluebird babies this summer. The last 5 fledged just 9 days ago. My concern is that we may be moving within the next few months and whether or not to continue feeding mealworms. Will they begin to migrate South? Last year we only had one brood but this year we had three! Hopefully the people who will purchase our house will take care of them but who knows! We are located 30 miles east of Philadelphia. Thank you. Judi

Congratulations on your successful nesting season! Once the baby bluebirds have fledged they move around in a family group. At first they depend on the parents but soon catch on to picking out objects that might be food. This is the best time to watch them at the feeders. Birds only supplement 10 to 20 percent of their diet at feeders. Most birds prefer to forage for food and eventually the parents take the young farther and farther from the nest site.
This family vacation or training period lasts for about 3 to 4 weeks. If there is enough time, and you clean your nest box out, they may come back for a second nesting.

After nesting season has ended, Eastern Bluebirds usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. This will help increase their survival through the winter. These late summer flocks change their diet from mainly insects over to more fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruit trees, a feeder or a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

You can contact your local Wild Birds Unlimited for specific information about bluebirds in your area. As I wrote before, they are considered partial migrants. In mid-Michigan and many other states, many bluebirds are year-round residents or move further south if the weather becomes too harsh. Scientists think it’s due to genetics whether they want to fly south or winter over. Some birds are compelled to move south and others are not.

It’s more important that you tell the new owner of your house to monitor your nest boxes next spring. Bluebirds may raise 2-3 broods in one season. Some studies have shown that about 30% of adult bluebirds return to previous nesting sites the following season.

Eastern Bluebirds prefer to nest in cavity holes excavated by woodpeckers with a grassy clearing nearby for hunting bugs. You probably know from the late 1800s to the 1960s, Eastern Bluebirds’ population declined almost 90% in part because of loss of habitat. However, since 1966 the population has increased 2.4% each year due to nesting boxes, better landscaping, and bird feeding practices.

It is very important to be a good landlord and monitor nest boxes so you will be alerted to any problems. And the nests should also be cleaned out after each successful nesting. By monitoring and cleaning out a nest box, you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability to disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests.

Hopefully all nestbox owners across the country will help in the ongoing effort to promote and facilitate bluebird conservation.

For more information on Eastern Bluebirds flocking and everything else bluebird, visit http://www.sialis.org/flocks.htm. It’s a great website that can answer all your bluebird questions.

Thanks so much Sarah.  This is very informative and interesting.  I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee and it is very hot and humid here until late September.  I’ll clean my nesting box and hope the bluebirds return.  Happy birding and thanks again! Billie

Thank you so much for getting back to me. I am continuing to feed the worms and will stop when they run out (just placed an order for 5000 more). I am also planning on planting some bushes with berries they prefer in the next month. We already have several in the wooded area next to our home but would prefer to have more. I am very sad to say good-bye to them but have many wonderful pictures and great memories. Here's wishing for another owner who will be interested in these wonderful, delightful birds. Keeping my fingers crossed! Take care. Judi

Related articles:
How to Attract Bluebirds: http://bit.ly/nfCq2b
When do you clean bird houses?: http://bit.ly/oiB7fu
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses: http://bit.ly/oBBA0d
How to Participate in NestWatch: http://bit.ly/opPqQ3
When is the best time to put up a bird house?: http://bit.ly/nq6z7d

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do hummingbirds migrate together?

Do Hummingbirds fly south in flocks, on the backs of bigger birds, or what? ~ Eaton Rapids, Michigan  

Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles south every fall to reach their winter homes in Mexico and Central America under their own power. They fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese.

Some think that the rumor of hummingbirds hitching a ride with geese was started by Mr. Audubon himself. But migratory geese don't fly as far south and leave much later than hummingbirds. Geese don't start migrating until mid-September and are not gone until early November while hummingbirds start migrating in mid-July and are mostly gone from Michigan by mid-October.

It's not necessary to take down feeders to force hummingbirds to leave. The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food.

Many hummingbirds migrate around the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas and northern Mexico to winter in Central America. Others will fly from Florida across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Regardless of which migration route they take it's inspirational. Individual adult males get the urge to leave first, followed soon after by the females, and then finally the juveniles. Amazingly, once the young have gained enough weight, they find their own way to the same winter habitat as their parents - someplace where they have never been, using the GPS in their head.

It’s astonishing that a bird that weighs as little as a penny with the brain the size of a BB has traveled thousands of miles all alone and ended up in the right place every fall since the last ice age.

Related articles:
Hummingbird chauffeured to Florida http://bit.ly/qSZYhK
The Best Hummingbird Feeders: http://bit.ly/qgukNI
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder?: http://bit.ly/oegnoW
How to keep bees and ants away from the hummingbird feeder: http://bit.ly/ovKwvr
How fast can a hummingbird fly?: http://bit.ly/qimFPY
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hummingbird Information on Habitat and Habits

Do hummers reuse nests? I know where an old nest is and I'd like to keep it if they're done using it. Todd in Owosso, MI

Attleson Farm: Hummingbird NestHummingbird nests are fascinating. Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds alone construct cup shaped nests with a diameter about the same size as a quarter. They start to build with bud scales and spiderwebs and then camouflage the outside with lichen. To cushion the inside of the nest they use cotton or some other plant fluff like dandelions.

Some hummingbirds do fix up their old nest and reuse it. So I would just leave the nest you found alone but check it next spring to see if you are lucky enough to have the hummer return.

Also many people do not know that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does make it illegal to collect nests of any native bird without a permit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Goldfinch Migration

I am watching the American Goldfinches tonight along with the hummingbirds feasting on the feeders outside the dining room window. One new baby goldfinch was checking the hummingbird feeder holes for seed. Round and round he went and then finally he found his nyjer seed feeder.

I saw something else unusual too. The baby goldfinches that have graduated to feeding themselves are on one finch feeder and the the adults are feeding on the second finch feeder hanging right next to it. Even though the one feeder is packed with adult birds, none want to move over to the less busy children's table.

You can tell the babies by their sleek, sharp new olive green feathers and dark bill. The parents look ragged as they molt from their bright yellow summer feathers to their drab winter wear. The babies are going to be here all winter, so if they find your feeder now you get to enjoy these sunny sounding birds during the bleak winter months.

In October the goldfinches separate into two groups based on age. Studies show that the birds hatched this year will stay in Michigan for the winter but their parents will go further south to winter. One thought is that the first year finches didn’t have to go through a molt and have more energy to survive a winter. But I've never noticed they were feeding at separate feeders.

Have you noticed the same or are my birds just doing something special tonight?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why squirrels chew

I teach grade I and have a lesson on squirrels and there is a question How does squirrels eat? I would like to know the answer to this .with its sharp teeth.  or   nibble   or  gnaw . Please reply. Thanks

Baby squirrels do not have teeth or hair. They are blind for the first six to eight weeks of life. Until the babies are about two months old, they drink only mother’s milk. After that, they learn to forage with their mother. 

Squirrels need approximately two pounds of food per week. Most squirrels are considered omnivores. They are opportunistic and will eat almost anything. 

Their diet mainly includes a variety of seeds, fruit, nuts, berries, pinecones, mushrooms, tree sap, leaves, flowers, insects, mice and eggs. To eat their food, squirrels use a combination of gnawing and grinding. 

Squirrels’ teeth are typical of rodents in their ability for gnawing. They have two incisors on the top and two on the bottom jaw that will grow continuously, but stay short due to the constant wear they receive. The incisors are sharp-edged teeth located in the front of the mouth adapted for cutting or gnawing. Squirrels’ teeth have orange-colored enamel on the outside and exposed dentine on the inside, so they self-sharpen during gnawing. 

Squirrels do not have canines, or fang teeth. Behind the incisors they have a large gap called diastema. Squirrels can suck their lips into this space and gnaw and not worry about swallowing inedible debris. Squirrels also have premolars and molars similar to humans. These cheek teeth have roots, and stop growing when they become adults. The premolars and molars in the upper and lower jaw grind up food before its swallowed.

The Red Squirrel, Eastern Gray Squirrel, and Eastern Fox Squirrel are all active year-round, but may stay in their nest several days during extreme hot or cold weather. They like to bury large amounts of nuts to feed on in the winter. And some studies show that 85% of these nuts are eventually recovered.

Related Articles:
Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels?: http://bit.ly/n5x4Wf
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food: http://bit.ly/nhAAkK
How Many Species of Squirrels are in Michigan?: http://bit.ly/ptcjzi
Teachers' Resources for Course on Birds: http://bit.ly/rlPWUO

Where can I get a real "squirrel-proof" bird feeder that actually works?

I spent good money on a feeder from Meijer that claimed it was squirrel proof. The critters spent an entire day eating your bird seed. So, is there really a squirrel proof bird feeder I can trust? What is the Best Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder? ~ Pinckney, Michigan
I like the Brome Squirrel Buster Plus and so do our customers. It is our number one selling feeder at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store. I’ve had mine for over four years now and I’ve never had a problem.

Squirrels can’t figure out how to open the feeder. It has a lock top you push down and turn to fill. The tube will hold a lot of seed and is long enough so that squirrels can’t hang upside down to reach the feeding ports. The Squirrel Buster also has a cardinal ring so cardinals can sit and eat comfortably or if you just want smaller birds, the ring can be removed.

When a squirrel tries to eat from the feeder his weight closes off the feeding ports to deny him access to the food. You can also adjust the tension to make it sensitive enough to shut down on the large starlings or blackbirds. Backyard birds average 0.3 – 2.0 ounces while blackbirds are about 4 ounces and squirrels are about a pound.

The best thing about the feeder is that it is easy to disassemble for cleaning because there are no tools required and this beautiful feeder comes with a Lifetime Factory Warranty.

You can fill the Squirrel Buster Plus with any quality seed and hang it from a pole or tree. I like to use the Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess seed blend and I have mine hanging on a tree hook. The feeder attracts a variety of pretty birds that I can watch when I come home from work and no squirrels. The poor squirrels don’t understand that the seed you put out isn’t for them.

Squirrel proof feeders are the easiest way to keep them out of your “bird” seed and the Squirrel Buster Plus is one of the best feeders guaranteed!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Angry Birds Battle through Song

Did you ever hear a bird sing in your yard and then hear a far away bird seem to sing a reply? Scientists have now concluded that their songs aren’t to fill the air with heavenly music, but more like a karaoke-style battle to see who can sing the song the best.

"Song-sharing, where birds sing a smaller number of their species' greatest hits, is a more aggressive and attention-seeking behaviour. It's also a behaviour most often displayed by belligerent older males," explains Janet Lapierre, a visiting biologist from the University of Western Ontario (UWO).

Research conducted at Queen's University Biological Station (QUBS) suggests that song-sharing amongst song sparrow populations is actually an aggressive behavior, akin to flinging insults back and forth.

Older male sparrows were the most likely to engage in more aggressive or attention-seeking song-sharing bouts, suggesting that older males may be more willing or able to risk conflict and may also have more experience in which songs are effective signals in their local area.

“The novelty of this study was that we looked at how birds use songs rather than just examining the content of their repertoires,” says Dr. MacDougall-Shackleton, a biology professor from the University of Western Ontario and a regular QUBS researcher. 

These findings were recently published in Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology.

The above story is reprinted with editorial adaptations from materials provided by Queen's University.
Journal Reference:
Janet M. Lapierre, Daniel J. Mennill, Elizabeth A. MacDougall-Shackleton. Spatial and age-related variation in use of locally common song elements in dawn singing of song sparrows Melospiza melodia: old males sing the hits. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2011; DOI: 10.1007/s00265-011-1223-1

How to find help in identifying birds

Hi, Sarah -- My name is Lynn.  I want to get an ID on a couple of photos I took yesterday, and was referred to you.

The first I suspect may be one of the flycatchers, Willow or Alder.  Territory was swamp/lowlands and creek.  Note the longish beak, and especially the two-toned effect.  Also, not wholly visible on this pic are, I believe, two wing bars.  No "smudges" under the tail that I could discern on this or any of the other pics (not much difference between the pics):
This second pic I don't have a clue about.  It was taken in the same area as the first.  This bird does not have the two-toning that the first one does on it's beak, but it's still pointy, not finch or sparrow-like.  Both seem to have exceptionally black feet. I'm baffled. I'm curious what you think they may be? Thanks --Lynn

Hi Lynn, Empidonax flycatchers are hard to ID even for some experienced field ornithologists. These small greenish-gray birds with eye-rings and wing bars are very similar in appearance and can best be identified positively by song or a series up-close measurements.

The first looks like a Willow Flycatcher, almost identical to the Adler but with the less defined eye ring but I'm not positive. The second looks like an Eastern Phoebe.

Fall can be a hard time to identify birds with all the juvenile and molting birds too. --Sarah
I took this pic today (Clinton County, MI):
I realize this is a little too far south, but I'm thinking Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher.  It has a distinct eye ring, black legs, a bi-colored beak, whiskers, and a bit of a crest (not clearly visible in this shot).  Sorry, this is the only angle I saw.  What do you think? Thanks for your help --Lynn

It could be a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. They migrate through Michigan mid-June through August.
Do you want me to post your photos on Sunday's blog and see if we can get an expert birders opinion on the identification? --Sarah
Sure, that would be great!  I started officially taking these photos last December, and next December I plan to put them into book form (just for myself, because with upwards of 50 - 8½ x 11's, my photo book is starting to fall apart), and I'd really like to know how to label them.  ......Or I could just go with a "?". Thanks, Sarah!
Your welcome! The photos are fantastic, by the way, thanks for sending them. Another good resource to help identify birds is WeLoveBirds.com. It's a fun, free website full of information. I submitted your photos to their birding forum and the consensus was #1 is a Willow Flycatcher, #2 is an Eastern Phoebe and #3 is a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.
One comment in the forum discussion was "It's good to talk these (bird IDs) out and share our reasoning, helps us get better!  :)" And I agree. You can view all their comments at http://www.welovebirds.org/forum/topics/phoebe-flycatcher-id-help --Sarah

Friday, August 19, 2011

Bird Nest Basics

Hi folks, my wife recently saw, while driving through the neighborhood, a bird nest on a south-facing windowsill, in a spot very exposed to rain and sun.  It appeared to be populated by sparrows (likely House Sparrows), one of which was doing the flutter-the-wings-and-get-fed thing.

Her question to me was, "Why would sparrows locate their nest in such an exposed spot?"  We both think it must get soaked by the rain and baked by the sun. Do you have a better answer than my "Beats me"? I enjoy the heck out of the WBU blog, by the way. ~ Sid in Lansing, Michigan

Nests keep eggs and nestlings warm and safe from predators and bad weather. But sometimes you look at the crazy places birds build nests and ask, why? The answer may be as easy as they’re young.

House Sparrows are one of the most successful breeding birds around the world. If nesting on the window sill has a favorable outcome, you can expect him to try and nest there again. If his nest fails, he'll move on to another location.

Research has found that the basics in nest construction are primarily instinctive, but birds’ nesting skills improve through trial and error.

Thanks for the nice feedback!

Thank you Sarah - inexperience isn't something I'd considered.  This particular nest does seem to be "working" though, which tells me that these sparrows are, like I think all creatures are, as smart as they need to be.  Thanks! Sid

Trumpeter Swans

These Trumpeters hang out....we were told not to feed them by the condo association....so we stopped...but they still come and hang out in the shade of the Sycamore tree and play in the bird bath.
We are constantly amazed by their presence.
Thanks, Susan

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Large brown sparrow-like bird

I’m sure you hear this all the time but love to read your blog. I just happened upon it when I was looking to identify a bird I saw in the yard one day. You really discuss so many things in all your articles about the birds, I kind of got more interested. So after a little research I bought my first bird feeder last month at the local Wild Birds Unlimited. I chose to buy the seed cylinder feeder that you wrote about. It worked out perfect and attracts a lot of birds. We needed to wait a few weeks but now we have lots of new birds! Can you identify these for me? I think the next purchase is going to be a bird book. I didn’t know there were so many birds in my yard. Thank you so much for your help. ~ Bib

Thank you. I’m glad your fist bird feeder was a success. The Wild Birds Unlimited Dinner Bell feeder is still one of my favorite feeders because it’s so easy to clean and as you found out, attracts such neat birds!

The big brown bird with a boldly striped head, spotted wing bars, and creamy breast streaked with brown looks like a female Rose-breastedGrosbeak. The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has a black hood and back with small white patches on the wings and a white belly with a red bib.

The name “grosbeak” is from the French word grosbec and means “large beak.” They are very common feeder birds at the beginning of spring and late summer, preferring sunflower, safflower, suet, fruit, and nuts. They love seed cylinders.

The little gray bird with a creamy white belly and big, black beady eye looks like a Tufted Titmouse. The Tufted Titmouse is one of my favorite visitors to the cylinder feeder. They are attracted mainly to feeders that offer nuts or sunflower seeds. They also love seed cylinders.

Titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and hanging upside down while searching beneath twigs for insects. Their loud, clear song is why I like to have them around.

Wow, thank you for responding so fast. It’s funny because the male red breasted grosbeak is the bird I saw in the spring that got me hooked on your blog! Now I have the female. Male must be nearby. I’ll keep watching the feeder.

Can I ask one more time? Do you recognize this little brown bird? 

It looks like a Carolina Wren. The size of a sparrow, the Carolina Wren is a relatively large member of the wren family. Male and females look alike, but males are slightly heavier and have longer bills, wings, and tails. The back is dark rusty brown, but the rump is bright rust. The throat and chin are white, and there is a prominent white eye stripe.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The most common mosquitoes in Michigan.

Psorophora ciliataImage by smccann via Flickr
It was nice to have the rains but now the mosquitoes are out in full force. Michigan State University Entomologist Ned Walker reported to several news agencies that he believes this is the highest mosquito population we've seen in about 20 years.

There are about 60 species of mosquitoes buzzing around Michigan. We have 3 major types of Mosquitoes: Permanent Water Mosquitoes, Floodwater Mosquitoes, and Artificial Container/ Tree Hole Mosquitoes.

The types of mosquitoes in the Summer Floodwater Mosquitoes group have the fastest breeding cycle and are the most common in Michigan. Larvae can hatch, after summer storms that produce as little as 1 inch of water, from eggs that may have rested in the ground for years.

The Psorophora ciliata (Gallinipper Mosquito) is the largest mosquito in Michigan. This 1/2 inch long, ­yellow/brown, floodwater mosquito has shaggy striped legs and is a vicious biter attacking during the daytime as well as evening. I haven't seen it but I do have the creepy crawlies now. 

Related Articles:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bird Feeders that attract the most birds

A Bird Feeding Classic Updated for the Future

Wild Birds Unlimited is the leader in research and design in the bird feeding industry. We have developed and brought to market the best feeders in the last 30 years to make the bird feeding hobby more enjoyable for you and your birds.

When you buy a product with our name on it, you should know that we have thought about how you and your birds will use it.

Many people know that the classic wooden hopper feeder can attract a wide variety of birds. Wild Birds Unlimited also makes a wood-free hopper bird feeder that still looks like wood only it's a hundred times better! Our EcoTough™ hopper feeders won't crack, fade or rot and have a lifetime guarantee. EcoTough feeders are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs. These feeders prevent used milk jugs from making their way into our landfills and make a great feeder.

The Classic has curved ends so you can see birds feeding on both sides at the same time. It comes with a removable seed tray for easy cleaning, and angled perches to let empty seed hulls be blown away by the wind.

It's easy to clean, easy to fill, and made in the USA. It is the goal of Wild Birds Unlimited for you to have the best possible experience from your bird feeding hobby.

Visit us soon to see the latest innovations in bird feeding. Because no matter what the future brings, rest assured that we’ll continue to develop and offer products and information that help you enjoy your birds up close.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Why do hummingbirds hum?

The wings of the smallest hummingbirds can reach 100 beats per second during courtship displays. As their wings slice through the air, it produces a hum. The hummingbird gets its name from this sound.

But hummingbirds can do more than just hum. Most like Michigan’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird also have a chip call.

Then there is the Anna's Hummingbird, a medium-sized hummingbird that is common in the far western United States. It is North America's only singing hummingbird. Their song during breeding season is a series of buzzy, scratchy, squeaking phrases along with some chip notes.

And if that isn't impressive enough they also fly 30 meters up in the air to complete a dive in front of females. The dive is so fast that it ends with an explosive chirp made by their tail feathers.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Can You Scare a Hawk Away?

I was watching the birds last night when WHAM!, a mourning dove bounces off the window. After I make sure the dove has flown away, I look up and see a beautiful Cooper's Hawk sitting on top of my fly-through feeder. He was a little perturbed that the Mourning Dove escaped him but not too worried. There is a lot of wildlife to choose from in our yard. I watched him straighten his feathers, look around, (silence in the yard), and then fly off. I'm sure it had nothing to do with me smashed against the window yelling, "LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!"

There are a lot of new first year hawks in the area and starting in August there is also some shifting in territories as some hawks migrate south.

If you feed birds long enough, a Hawk will likely show up sooner or later. Sometimes the hawk perches for a while. It is on those occasions that the phone at Wild Birds Unlimited starts ringing: "How can I get rid of this thing? It's killing my birds!" Of course that is what certain kinds of hawks do.

The most common neighborhood hawks in mid-Michigan are the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more sitings have been reported at well-stocked feeding stations. Hawks have to eat too, and whether they are hunting around your feeder or off in the woods, they are going to catch about the same amount of prey each day. Consider yourself lucky that you have a front row seat to one of nature's more dramatic dances.

However, most people do not put up feeders with the intention of attracting hawks. They want Cardinals and Chickadees and Goldfinches. Having a hawk blast through, scattering the birds and perhaps carting one off, is not the experience most bird watchers want.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flys away. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties.
  • Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by Hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Bird Feeding Tips

Though this month marks the beginning of the end of summer, there are still plenty of opportunities to help birds and maximize your backyard enjoyment.

Hummingbird Migration
Millions of hummingbirds are preparing to fly back to their winter ranges. Hummingbirds have been migrating between North and Central America for hundreds of years, some traveling thousands of miles each way.
A high-calorie diet is important to build fat reserves for their trip, so be sure to have your hummingbird feeders ready.

Studies show that most of the hummingbirds you see at your feeders in the fall, are replaced by a new wave of migrants within 24 hours.

Offering Water
Male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) at a lo...Whether they are feeder visitors or not, birds need water for drinking, bathing and preening. Offering a dependable source of water is the simplest and most important step you can take to increase the variety of birds in your yard.
Birds must be ready to fly at all times, especially during migration. Bathing is a critical part of keeping their feathers in top-flight condition.

Deter Unwanted Visitors 
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in still water, so open sources of water can cause a potential mosquito problem. Use a Water Wiggler™ to create ripples and prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs in your bird baths. Water in motion is also more attractive to birds.

Nectar Feeding Solutions
Easy to clean and fill, the saucer style hummingbird feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited are the most popular. They have a lifetime guarantee, built in ant moat and don't leak. Bees usually leave these feeders alone but bee guards can be added to the ports to prevent bees, wasps and ants from becoming a nuisance.

Aggressive male hummingbirds can bully others from visiting a feeder. By hanging multiple hummingbird feeders around your yard, you make it difficult for a territorial male to defend the area, allowing other birds to visit the feeders.
Offer safflower, and keep starlings and grackles from eating all your bird food and crowding your feeders. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Most song birds eat safflower, however, starlings, grackles and squirrels typically do not.
There are many ways to keep squirrels away from your existing set up. Using squirrel proof feeders, safflower seed and baffles can prevent squirrels from eating your bird food.
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited soon because have everything you and your birds need to make the most of late summer.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Hummingbirds in pine trees

I know you’re going to think I’m crazy but I think I saw a hummingbird in the pine tree. Could that be right? ~ Hobart, Indiana 

Sure. Hummingbirds can fly anywhere they want. Pine trees can provide a good shelter or a good place to hunt for a bug dinner. 

The video below is one I shot last year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Red-winged Blackbird facts

I hope this is not a bother, but you seem to be somewhat of an expert on Red-winged blackbirds through a blog I was reading and I wanted to share a story and ask a couple of questions. 

I live in far-northern Illinois (just south of Lake Geneva, WI) and my wife and I have developed somewhat of a relationship with a specific red-winged blackbird over the past 2 years.  At least we think it's the same one.....

Last year (2010) was our first year living here and I noticed a certain RW blackbird hanging out on our deck quite a bit starting in late-March, 2010.  Every time we would go out, he would caw at us from about 10 feet.  About mid-July, we started setting out food in a biredfeeder placed right next to my deck.  He would eat it all of the time (along with a number of mourning doves and one annoying chipmunk). I noticed he disappeared around the middle of August last year.  

This year, he can back again on March 19.  I am convinced he was the same RW blackbird because his caw was exact and his mannerisms were the exact. He was not afraid of humans and allowed us to approach him up to a few feet. Is this even possible that the same bird would remember to migrate to the exact same place in consecutive years. 

As the summer went on, the bird actually learned to sit outside of our window every morning between 5am and 5:30am when the birdfeeder was empty and caw until we woke up and refilled it.  We intentionally started not refilling the birdfeeder at night because my wife and I found this 'relationship' we had developed with the bird very amusing.  Every morning since mid-April, when I would refill the birdfeeder every morning, he would hover over my head until I was finished.  He even touched my head on a couple of occasions. As soon as I was done, I would take one step back and he would be right there eating, within arms length.

I even noticed, on a couple of occasions, him feeding another bird that appeared to have a physical ailment after visiting the birdfeeder. I am assuming it was one of his offspring. 

It's currently August 8 and our RW blackbird has been gone since about mid-July. It seemed a little early in the year for him to leave, compared to last year, but perhaps this is normal? Other RW blackbirds still come around occasionally, but they don't look or have the same reactions. If he is still alive, what are the chances he comes back for the 3rd consecutive year, next year? 

Hopefully this wasn't too much of a bore to read.  I just have never viewed birds as the type of animal that you could communicate with, until now, even if it is a little primitive.  I have been fascinated with the whole experience. Thanks.

Lots of people enjoy a relationship with their outdoor “pet” birds, me included. The best part of working at Wild Birds Unlimited is talking with people that are fascinated by nature. And you had some very good observations and questions.

Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most studied birds in North America. They can potentially be a “pest” to farmers, so studies of their movements throughout the year are very important.

In the north eastern and mid-western states the annual cycle of the Red-wing was divided into five seasonal periods:
1. Reproductive (~May-Aug),
2. Post-reproductive (~August-mid-Oct.),
3. Fall migration (~mid-Oct.-Dec.),
4. Winter roost (~Dec-Feb), and
5. Spring migration (~Feb.-Apr.).

Red-winged Blackbird female
There is limited movement during the reproductive period and so the same male could have been feeding at your table. Males can have several mates in a territory that is approximately 2,000 square meters. Strong female mates do most of the nesting and child rearing by themselves. If the female is killed or inexperienced the male can take on more of the duties.

Red-wings do return to breed at or near the same hatching or nesting site every year. Then once they are done nesting, they begin to wander and form large flocks in preparation for migration.

In the wild, a Red-winged Blackbird's lifespan averages 2.14 years, but the oldest red-winged recorded was 15 years 9 months old. I hope your clever bird lives a long, healthy life.

Thanks for writing. More information can be found at the sources below.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Warblers in Michigan

I know it seems early, but now is the time that a lot of Michigan warblers begin migrating.

Tennessee Warbler
The Tennessee Warbler nests in Upper Peninsula and Canada, but migrates through mid-Michigan from mid-August to October on its way south. They like to winter in open second growth forests and agricultural habitats, like shade grown coffee plantations in Mexico to Venezuela.

Tennessee Warblers have muted olive/yellow upper feathers, yellow eyebrows and dark eye-stripes, and all pale yellow under feathers except for white under tail coverts. But their voice is very loud and difficult to miss. Alexander Wilson named the bird after spotting it along the Cumberland River in Tennessee but it was discovered later it only passes through that state during migration.

The birds eat a lot of bugs and berries and at your feeder might enjoy suet and fruit. For more in-depth information on this mysterious bird click HERE to visit the Migratory Bird Center Website.