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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

What birds drink nectar?

It's a Sweet Month to Feed the Birds

Spring migration is underway, and a countless number of birds are heading north to their nesting territories.

Fortunately, two of the hobby's favorite birds, hummingbirds and orioles, can be immediately attracted to feeders with nectar (and fruit and jelly for orioles), making it a sweet month to feed the birds.

Only 5% of all avian families include nectar as an important part of their diet, making hummingbirds and orioles part of a very exclusive dining club.

It only takes between 30 to 50 minutes for nectar to be digested, so hummingbirds must eat a lot and often. In fact, hummingbirds eat about every ten minutes and can drink up to twice their body weight in nectar every day.

However, no bird's diet is made up entirely of nectar. Nectar-eaters must also include other foods, usually insects, to obtain essential amino acids and other nutrients.

When orioles are not feeding on nectar or fruit, they forage for spiders, caterpillars and other insects. Hummingbirds spend more than 25% of their time foraging for arthropods, such as spiders.

You can attract hummingbirds and orioles to your feeders using slightly varying methods. Hummingbirds and Orioles enjoy a nectar solution of four parts water to one part white sugar.  Orioles also like fresh orange slices, grape jelly, suet and mealworms.

Watch Northern Migrations Online
Visit www.learner.org/jnorth/humm to monitor the northward migration of hummingbirds and www.learner.org/jnorth/oriole for an oriole migration map.

Source: http://www.wbu.com/education/

Friday, April 29, 2011

Adopt the pace of nature: Her secret is patience. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson






A rhododendron bud lavender-tipped.
Soon a glory of blooms to clash
with the cardinals and gladden the hummingbirds!
 ~Dave Beard

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New Black and White Bird

Hi Sarah! I saw where you reposted on your Facebook page a link to my sighting of the merganser duck and ducklings. It was a strange coincidence that it was exactly one year ago when I first saw them and I saw them again this past Saturday. The mother has 6 babies which are growing up and getting pretty big. I’m attaching a photo that I took of them when I saw them again today.

I also saw a new bird today that I don’t know the name of. It’s very pretty, black with a white belly. Can you please take a look and let me know what kind it is?

Thanks, and hope you’re having a great spring! -Angie in Monroe, NC

Hey, I'm so glad you wrote. A lot of people keep birding journals to help them remember what happens when. It seems funny but I like to look back to see what's coming.

The Merganser family looks like their doing well. Great family photo!

Tree SwallowImage via Wikipedia
With the short beak, white belly, and black back, your new bird looks like a Tree Swallow. In bright spring sunshine, the iridescent back of the Tree Swallow appears dark blue and by fall migration it looks will turn dark green.

At the first signs of spring, they migrate from their wintering grounds in the southern states, Cuba and Guatemala to their breeding grounds from the middle and northern states in America to much of Canada.

They prefer open areas in the sun, pastures, fields and golf courses and nest in natural tree cavities, or man-made nest boxes, including those built for bluebirds. The bluebird and swallow are both native species and both desirable birds to have in your yard. One proven technique that allows both songbirds to nest together successfully is to set up pairs of boxes, no more than 10-20 feet apart. Since Tree Swallows will not allow another pair of swallows to nest within 20', the second box is free for bluebird use and the two species can co-exist, after some initial squabbling to sort out who gets which box.

Swallows make their nests from grass and weed stems and line them with feathers. They usually have 3-7 eggs. Their eggs are white and unmarked. Young usually fledge in 16 to 24 days

Tree swallows can often be seen perching in long rows on wires. They also spend much of their time in flight. To bathe, swallows swoop down over a body of water and lightly brush the water. To eat, swallows catch mostly winged insects while in flight, but can forage on the ground for insects, spiders, seeds, and berries.

More information can be found at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tree_Swallow/id

Thanks for writing again. Sarah

Update:

Eastern Kingbird -- Humber Bay Park, Toronto, ...Image via Wikipedia
http://twitter.com/cederdj thought your photo of the mystery bird looked like an Eastern Kingbird, a large flycatcher. They have a similar silhouette except for the longer bill. They also have dark gray to black backs, a white tipped tail, and a thin orange red crown that you rarely see.

More about the bird can be found at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Kingbird/id

They’re a country bird like the Tree Swallows and are insect eaters too. They don’t nest in a cavity however. They build a cup-shaped nest on a flat limb or tree stump.

The kingbird lives up to its scientific name Tyrannus tyrannus or tyrant by defending its territory aggressively, even against much larger birds. It can also spot cowbirds’ eggs and toss them out of their nest.

Thank you David for reading the post and helping out with our mystery bird!


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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nesting Questions

I found a pile of female cardinal feathers in the yard last month. I had been watching the male and female bouncing around the evergreens feeding each other and then one day the male was all alone calling for a mate. It took him about a month to find a new female. Yesterday we watched the new female build a nest nearby with twigs from our honeysuckle bush while the male watched excitedly. Life is very fragile.

This is the time of year to have the number of a licensed rehabilitator handy. If you find a baby bird that is too young to fly, put it back in the nest. The mother will appreciate the help. However, if you find a baby bird that is old enough to fly, but isn't, chances are it is learning. If you look, you will see the mother nearby. Leave these older birds alone and let them learn to fly undisturbed.

If you're not sure call for help before you do anything. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

Sarah, My question today: I have a nesting Killdeer out front of my house. The poor thing is sitting there in snow, rain, & wind with no protection from weather or critters. If I was to back the back end of my pickup over to straddle the nest, do you think that would upset her to the point she would abandon the nest? At least it would provide some protection from the rain & snow. And a dog would be kept away also. I could leave the truck there until I saw some little ones. I know God has this all figured out, but I thought I might help. Bill

To be honest I don’t know if they would appreciate that or not. Day after day the mother and father killdeer can take turns sitting on eggs no matter the weather. Killdeer are tolerant of humans and probably wouldn’t abandon the nest if you drove your truck over them, but I’d just leave them alone. If they have to abandon the nest they’ll start another one soon.

The parents don’t start sitting on the eggs to incubate them until all the eggs have been laid. So even though the first-laid egg spends a longer time in the shell than the last-laid, all the killdeer chicks have the same development period. It takes 24 to 28 days of incubating for the chicks to hatch, hopefully on a warm, sunny day! Sarah

Hi Bloubird, I have a question for you; a Mallard Female has made a nest outside of our home. We live in a small suburb of Detroit. What should I do about this? I have been giving her some wheat bread and I did look up that I should get some possible duck food or corn. Can you help? I am an animal lover and want to know what I should do. Thank you for your response. Harriet

Mallard eggs in a nest in a forest few hundred...Image via Wikipedia
The best thing to do is just let her forage on her own. She wouldn't appreciate any food near her nest that would call attention or bring predators near. Mallards eat a variety of things including insects and larvae, aquatic invertebrates, seeds, nuts, grasses, aquatic vegetation, and whole grains.

While the hen is incubating her eggs she usually leaves her nest for only about an hour in the morning and evening to feed. The rest of the time, she tries to remain invisible.

I wrote about the nesting habits of mallards in an earlier post at: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2011/03/mallard-nesting-behavior-can-i-move.html

A lot of ducks and geese feel safe nesting near humans. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll be there for about a month. Then within a 24 hour period the chicks will hatch and the hen will march her brood to the nearest wetland.

I hope that helps, Sarah

Thank you so much for your input. It does set my mind at ease. I did notice there are about 10 or 12 eggs. Do all of them hatch? This is so fascinating. I did put out some cut up lettuce, cucumber and some wheat bread but I will do as you said about just let nature take its course. Thanks again. Harriet

That is a very good question! An unhatched or dud egg left behind would be an unwelcome surprise in the summer.

After the mother duck has left with her hatchlings you can dispose of any unhatched eggs. The whole clutch may hatch but if one didn't, I would bury it in the garden. The calcium in the shell would be good for the plants. Thanks, Sarah
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sad News: Female Eagle Struck By Plane

by Eagles at Norfolk Botanical Garden on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 3:34pm

NORFOLK, VA (April 26, 2011) – This morning an adult bald eagle was struck and killed by an incoming airplane at Norfolk International Airport. The bird was the female of the nesting pair from Norfolk Botanical Garden (NBG).

The strike occurred sometime between 8:30 and 8:50 a.m. These eagles were well known through the Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Cam provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), Norfolk Botanical Garden, and WVEC, and have been at NBG since 2003.

This year the pair of eagles has produced three chicks at that nest site.
DGIF biologists have determined that it is in the best interest of the eaglets at Norfolk Botanical Garden to remove them from the nest and relocate them to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

What Bird is Singing Outside My Window: How to identify birds' songs

@birdsunlimited Any good starting tips for identifying what is singing outside my window in the morning? Mason, MI

Identifying birds by ear is a skill that you can learn with a little practice.

1. There are a lot of learning devices. Wild Birds Unlimited has bird song CDs available including one that has Michigan birds only. And the Backyard Birdsong Guide is a very popular book that allows you to enjoy bird songs at the touch of a button while reading vivid descriptions of their songs, calls, and related behaviors. On the internet BirdJam.com and AllAboutBirds.com can also be good sources to investigate.

2. Look at the most likely suspects first. The dawn chorus in April and May is when some birds sing louder and more vigorously than they do at other times of the day to defend a breeding territory or attract a mate. The American Robin, Northern Cardinal, European Starling, Blue Jay and American Crow are some of the earliest risers in my neighborhood.

3. When you hear a bird's song, describe it to yourself. Most woodpeckers have a song that sounds like a laugh, ha, ha, ha. Starlings can mimic almost anything and usually have a long rambling variety of whistles, squawks and screeches. Cardinals usually think their pretty, pretty, pretty or sing wake-up, wake-up ... what, what, what, what. Robins’ cheery-up, cheerio is very loud in the morning but I find it very nice. With Blue Jays and crows it’s less about singing for a mate and more about communicating. You’ll hear one bird call out to another bird from their group using loud jay, jay, jay or caw, caw, caw to find out where the best breakfast is being served.
4. During the day, take time to look up when you hear a bird singing. If you can see the bird singing it is sometimes easier to recall later. Right now I see the House Sparrow chip, chip, chipping, a Black-capped Chickadee calling feeee-bee, a Chipping Sparrow is trilling away, and the Cedar Waxwings are squealing. This is along with all the traffic noise and ambulance sirens.

I hope you’re not too upset with the birds’ songs. The guys are just full of energy and enthusiasm for the coming breeding season!

"Birdwatching is a sanctioned voyeurism." Jonathan Rosen ~ The Life of the Skies

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fun Facts on Red-winged Blackbirds

How does a female redwing blackbird look? ~ Wyandotte, Michigan
What do red winged blackbirds eat? ~ Mountain Iron, Minnesota

The Red-winged Blackbird male is unmistakable for most Michigan residents. The pure black bird with bright red shoulder patches edged in yellow is hard to miss. The female and juvenile are less obvious. They have heavily streaked under parts and mottled brown upperparts and can look like large sparrows.

During the breeding season, Red-winged Blackbirds eat mostly insects, including dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, butterflies and moths. They often use a feeding technique known as gaping. They expose insects that are hiding under sticks and stones or in the bases of leaves by forcibly spreading open their bills. If no bugs are available in early spring they may initially frequent your feeder. They enjoy suet, nuts, and sunflower seeds.

More Fun Facts:
•Red-wing Blackbirds will increase their feeding rate to match the other blackbirds around them, even if they are already well feed.
•Red-wing Blackbirds learn which new foods to try by carefully watching what the other blackbirds are eating.
•Red-winged Blackbirds often use a feeding technique known as gaping. They expose insects that are hiding under sticks and stones or in the bases of leaves by forcibly spreading open their bills.
•Red-winged Blackbirds are one of the most polygamous of all bird species. They have been observed to have as many as 15 females nesting in the territory of a single male. On average, a single male has roughly five females in its territory.
•Red-winged Blackbirds fiercely defend their territories during the breeding season. Over a quarter of the male’s time is spent vigorously defending his territory from other males and predators.
•Male Red-winged Blackbirds return north in the spring ahead of the females and migrate south in the fall after the females.
•Female Red-winged Blackbirds build their nest in four stages. Initially they weave together several supporting pieces of vegetation and then intertwine the walls of the nest onto these supports. The nest cup is then lined with mud, and the final step is to line the nest with a layer of fine grasses.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan

White-throated Sparrow, Réserve naturelle des ...Image via Wikipedia
I woke up this morning to the song of the White-throated Sparrow. They have a high whistle that sounds like Oh-sweet-canada-canada or Old-Sam-Peabody-Peabody. Click HERE to listen. 

I get excited when I see these birds because they are only in mid-Michigan from mid-April to late May. Then the birds move on to nest in upper Michigan and Canada and you won’t see them again until they migrate south in November.

White-throated Sparrows take off at dusk and fly all night when migrating. It was still dark when I heard him singing so I couldn’t see him, but I’m assuming he found my yard a suitable pit stop.

A White-throated sparrow is a medium sized sparrow with brown streaked back, plain gray belly, and black-and-white striped heads. They have a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill.

Melospiza melodiaImage via Wikipedia
When it got brighter outside I scanned the yard for the new resident. Maybe he was taking a nap because I didn’t see him. I did see a Song Sparrow. They look like fluttering leaves, but they make up for their less than dazzling plumage with their beautiful song.

Song Sparrows are medium-sized sparrows too. Their most distinctive features are the dark feathers under the bill that look like mutton chops and the dark brown spot of feathers over their heart. They also have heavily streaked gray-brown backs, a dull white belly and a chest that is streaked with brown feathers. Their head has a brown crown with paler median stripe, a pale gray eyebrow and a white chin.

These birds forage on the ground for insects and seeds. Just look for the bouncing brown leaves under the feeders or listen for their song. Click HERE to listen to a sample of their songs.

Dark Eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)Image via Wikipedia
The Dark-eyed Juncos were also around in large numbers. But they are another bird that will be leaving in May to nest in the forests further north. Juncos have dark gray plumage on their heads, breast and back. This contrasts with their white belly. I’ll miss them and their flashing white outer tail feathers.

Birds are coming and going all the time in the spring. Now one sparrow I’m looking forward to is one of the cutest native sparrows, the Chipping Sparrow.

They are a very tiny, clean, crisp, energetic, sparrow about five inches long and weigh 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.

The smallest and friendliest of the sparrows, they are always busy, busy running around on the yard looking for weed seeds or under the feeders.

Arriving in April and May to the Michigan area from their winter home in Mexico, Central America or the southern United States, they aren’t shy. When they arrive, they will 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.

Though some native sparrows look similar, these sparrows have distinct differences. So listen and look for new birds in the area. Or for a list of some New World sparrows go to AllAboutBirds.com.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

How Birds Court

Birds court one another with dances, songs and building nests!

Love's Old Sweet SongImage by linda yvonne via Flickr
Now is the time of year when male wild birds begin to draw the attention of females, and their courtship practices can be as fascinating as they are complex.

Originally scientists thought that many birds, such as geese, swans and eagles, mated for life only seeking a new mate when the original partner died. Recent research shows that some species are faithful to their pair-bonding only for a season, while others actually have multiple mates simultaneously. For example, after hummingbirds mate, the male will court another female. Male House Wrens build multiple nests and let the female choose the one she prefers. Then, the male may try to attract another female to occupy one of his other nests.

Red-winged Blackbird, Point Pelee National Par...Image via Wikipedia
Bird courtship displays are integral to mating and raising young. Female birds often choose suitors based on appearance, the ability to provide food, evidence that the male can build the strongest and safest nest and other characteristics.

With some species, the male simply flies in front of the female to show off his luminous colors or unique markings. And some birds touch bills or groom each other during courtship.

Male jays and cardinals often present sunflower seeds to their potential mates while Mourning Doves and mockingbirds fluff up their feathers and “dance.” Some seabirds and waterfowl bob their heads, bow and flutter their wings to attract their mates. Cranes are well known for their fantastic dancing as they begin their courtship.

If you have woodpeckers in your yard, you probably already know one way these birds go after a partner – by rat-tat-tatting on your house or gutter downspouts. They can make quite a racket – the louder the better! Other birds use sound to attract their mates but do so with a song or repertoire of songs. The same rule applies – more is better! A male with a larger repertoire of songs may be considered more attractive than one with only a few songs.

From dancing to eating to nest building to singing, birds have many courtship rituals. And springtime is the most likely time for you spot some of these unique behaviors right in your own backyard!

Peek out the window and let us know what signs of spring’s renewal you spot!

Source: http://www.wbu.com/education/birdcourtship.html
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Barn swallow and tree swallows at the Wetlands!

Sarah, Just thought you would like to know that Spring is in full swing at the Tollgate Wetlands near Groesbeck Golf Course.

I took this picture last night and really appreciated the beauty of these birds. I have not seen them at the wetlands before. It was really fun watching them swoop for insects just above the water. Just beautiful!

Thanks!
Laura M

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why are they called Lenten Roses?

Early Riser in the Garden

Lenten Roses announce the arrival of spring with their nodding green flowers, some with pink tinges.

Native to much of Europe, the Lenten Rose (Hellebore) has evergreen foliage with beautiful winter or early spring blossoms. The flower colors are provided by sepals, structures that resemble petals. The actual flowers are inconspicuous but the sepals remain months after pollination has occurred.

The common name Lenten is because some varieties bloom during Lent. Even the snow we had recently didn't deter the blooming.

The name hellebore comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure, and “bora” meaning food. This species and the other members of this genus Helleborus are highly toxic.

Tips to keep woodpecker from damaging your house

How do you stop woodpeckers from pecking on the house? ~ Littleton, Colorado

Woodpeckers can cause a great deal of property damage and sleepless mornings. In one study, the birds stopped drumming 50 percent of the time within two weeks or so whether the homeowners did anything or not. Hopefully I can suggest a solution that will work with your woodpecker.

Why Woodpeckers Peck Your Home
Woodpeckers damage structures for basically three reasons:

1. Searching for insects or hiding food (Some people find feeding suet distracts a woodpecker from their house.)
2. Creating cavities for nesting and shelter (Sometimes putting a woodpecker house helps deter damage.)
3. Drumming (Drumming is a means of communication between woodpeckers. Like some birds sing, woodpeckers drum. There are different drumming calls that they may use: mating; alarm; or territorial. This can be heard over long distances, if they use a surface with adequate acoustic properties.)

Laws
Woodpeckers are a federally protected bird under the North American Migratory Bird Act. So you can't use lethal control on woodpeckers without contacting your Federal Wildlife Officer.

Strategies to Control Woodpecker Damage
Unfortunately, there is no easy guaranteed solution. So with that being said, try the following strategies:

1. Check for insects. Woodpeckers feed on insects in wood.
2. Cover all damage as soon as possible. Place aluminum flashing over the areas where the woodpecker is pecking. The flashing will stop the pecking at that spot because: a) it is metal, b) it changes the sound, and c) woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. Just make sure that the woodpecker is not living in your home.
3. Scare the woodpecker away using one or more of the following:
  • Mylar tape: Wild Birds Unlimited has some Mylar tape (1-inch-wide strips) flutter ribbon you can hang in the area. Woodpeckers don't like shiny objects. If you don't have Mylar, hang tinfoil, aluminum pie plates, or old CDs or DVDs.
  • Mylar balloons: The dollar stores usually have shiny Mylar balloons you can hang in the area.
  • Garden hose: One animal damage controller recommends placing a garden hose with a sprinkler set at an angle to reach where the bird is drumming. The woodpeckers leave after a few squirts because they don't like hanging on to wet structures.
  • Attack spider: This is a relatively new (2003) technique. A large spider drops down at the first knock to scare woodpeckers through sight and motion. These can be found at party stores now. It also scares little trick or treaters. Bonus!
  • Owl effigies: These are only effective if you are willing to move them around on a daily basis. I don’t really recommend these but we usually carry them at Wild Birds Unimited.
  • Exclusion techniques: If woodpeckers are damaging your siding under an eave, hang some netting from the eave line down to the ground. If the net is extended away from the house wall, the woodpecker can't get close enough to damage the wood.
Also, as soon as you notice problems, take action quickly before the woodpecker decides your home is a nice place to live.

If the attack on windows is a regular occurrence and not just an accidental window strike, the likely behavior is a reaction to the bird seeing an intruder on its territory. A simple solution to this problem is to cover the window with screens or rub the window with a bar of soap to decrease the reflection. The Mylar tape or balloons also work to keep the birds away from your windows.

Good luck.

Source: MSU Extension- http://www.extension.org/faq/926

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mysterious Regurgitated Nuggets Left Behind at Birdfeeder

I live in Arkansas with several acres and forest surrounding my land. I have feeders, platform and others out yearly. I have noticed this past week, several what appeared to be regurgitated balls in the platform feeder. I've never seen this before and it happened just over nite and there were lots of the balls in 2 different feeders. I have so many different varieties of birds, including Carinals, Jay, Titmouse, Hawks, Blue Birds, Finches, Doves, etc. What might this be?? Thank you in advance.

Oh a mystery!

I think what you have is no bird at all but an opossum. Called "Nature's Little Sanitation Engineer,” an opossum’s diet includes all types of bugs and insects as well as rodents, snails, frogs and carrion. The nocturnal opossum is also attracted to neighborhoods by the availability of water, pet food, fruit that has fallen from trees and birdseed.

When they forage at bird feeders for food, they tend to get a mouth full of seeds and chew and chew and chew. After awhile they’ll spit out a dry, compressed seed pellet about the size of an almond.

Photograph of the common opossumImage via Wikipedia
Opossums are fascinating creatures. They are the largest order of marsupials in the Western Hemisphere. Like all marsupials, opossums give birth to tiny, undeveloped young. The embryos develop in the mother's womb for less than two weeks, and then the newborn opossums crawl from the birth canal to the mother's pouch, where they fasten tight to a nipple. They stay there nursing for up to 60 days.

Opossums are usually solitary and nomadic, staying in one area for a few days and then moving to the next. After the babies are weaned they leave the pouch and ride on the momma’s back to each new location.

For more information on opossums go to FAQ on Opossums.

AWWW. How interesting. Thank you so much for the info. I just learn something new everyday in my new country life.
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What can I feed Blue Jays?

Do bluejays eat mangos? ~ Pine Lake, Georgia

Blue Jays eat fruit, nuts, berries, seeds, and suet. Mangoes aren’t a native fruit but jays are curious birds and they would probably take a taste.

I do know that if you offered a buffet, their first choice would be peanuts in the shell. I use the peanut wreaths or tray feeders to hold the whole peanuts. Just remember you should fill them only when you’re there to watch because a party of blue jays can empty a feeder in less than an hour. But boy, during that hour it’s like watching a blue tornado.

The blue jays usually send out scouts to alert the band when food is available. One benefit of all that noisy calling is that it alerts other birds too, that there is food in the area.
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Monday, April 18, 2011

How can birds fly in the rain?

Seed eating birds don’t depend on bird feeders to survive and experts estimate that only 10-20 percent of their diet comes from feeders. But boy as you may have 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.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

How to Attract Cedar Waxwings

I had a momma and 2 baby wax wings at my home last year here in Van Wert County OH. I had never seen them here before. I would like to know if they might return and what I can do to attract and keep them coming back each year. Thank you.

Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) eating berriesImage via Wikipedia
The Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is mostly frugivorous or fruit eater. Berries play a large role in the cedar waxwing's breeding, social and migratory behavior. Native berry-producing trees and shrubs planted in your yard can attract waxwings and will often encourage them to nest in your area. Some plants that bear small fruits are dogwood, serviceberry, cedar, juniper, hawthorn, and winterberry.

Our Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store is surrounded by a variety of crab apple trees that ripen at different times of the year and attracts flocks of waxwings year-round. Waxwings also catch and eat flying insects on the wing or glean vegetation for crawling bugs.

You might hear the waxwings before you see them. They have a very distinctive thin, high-pitched warbled "zeee" or "zeeet" call that is hard to forget. They are very social and usually fly in large flocks and often nest in loose clusters of a dozen or so nests.

Cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) passing a...Image via Wikipedia
They don’t begin to nest until later in the summer when there is plenty of fruit to feed the babies. Cedar Waxwing pairs perform a wonderful courtship dance before mating where the male approaches the female and hops gently forward to offer the female a berry. When the female accepts the berry she’ll dance away and then dance back and give the berry back to the male. They repeat this a few times until the female eats the gift.

Female waxwings do almost all the nest building. Construction of the bulky cup-shaped nest takes a week and may require more than 2,500 individual trips with twigs, grasses, cattail down, blossoms, string, animal hair, and similar nesting materials.

Usually 5 or 6 eggs are laid and the female incubates them for two weeks. The eggs are bluish grey with irregular, dark brown splotches. Both parents feed the young which fledge or leave the nest after two weeks.

The nestlings stay close to the nest and are fed by the parents for another 6 to 10 days, but after that, they split off to join a flock of other juvenile birds.

The name "waxwing" comes from the waxy red secretions found on the birds’ wingtips. The red waxy drops are actually flattened extensions of the feather shafts colored by astaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment. Both males and females have the red waxy tips on their wings but only after their second fall. The older the bird, the more showy the red tips.

Studies show that the birds only mate with birds within their own age range and the amount of wax on the wing may be how the birds determine who is in their mate group.

Related Articles:
Thank you for the quick reply. As I did a little more web searching I found a migration map.  My area, NW Ohio, is colored as year round so I just wanted to make sure that they stay here all year.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Crushed Eggshells are Good to Mix with Birdseed

Cornell Lab of Ornithology and other scientists believe that pollution depletes calcium carbonate in the environment which results in a reduced population of some songbirds.

Eggshells are about 95% calcium carbonate. You can give birds additional natural calcium, especially in the spring when females need it to produce their own eggs, by mixing eggshells with your seed.

Rinse the eggshells and put them in a bag in the freezer. When you have a lot stored up, spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 250 degrees to make them safe for bird consumption. Have fun smashing the shells into pieces and scatter on a platform feeder or mix with your seed.

Putting eggshells on the menu may even attract species that don’t usually come to seed feeders, like orioles, gnatcatchers, and some species of wood warblers.

And for gardeners, eggshells around the base of plants deters snails and slugs from crossing the sharp eggshells barrier to reach your plants. It also boosts the nutrients in the soil and can be mixed together with dried coffee grounds, which provides a high content of nitrogen, to keep your plants healthy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hummingbirds in Arizona

Hi Sarah,

Winter of 2010 , while visiting my In-Laws in Arizona, my Mother-in-law took me to an Arboretum in a National forest. They had the most beautiful variety of Hummingbirds. So this March while visiting them, I went back with my camera, and had a blast photographing these precious little birds.

What I have here is a Broad-billed, an Anna's Hummingbird, and a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Hope you enjoy them.


Linda
 
Nesting already in Arizona! I just checked the migration map at http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html. Michigan's Ruby-throated just made it to the Lansing area. I have to get my hummingbird feeder out today.
 
Hummingbirds.net also stated that Arizona had 17 species of hummingbirds. I've only seen the Ruby-throated. I had to look up the Broad-billed Hummingbird species at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse_tax.aspx?family=62.

Great photos! My favorite is the Anna's Hummingbird on the thorny branch. Thank you for sharing. You made it a fabulous Friday Photo.
Sarah

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The egg is used widely as a symbol of the start of new life.

From ancient times eggs have been decorated, exchanged, and shown reverence. Before the egg became closely entwined with the Christian Easter, it was honored during many Rite-of-Spring festivals.

The egg represented the rebirth of the earth after the long, hard winter was over and was believed to have special powers. For Christians the egg is a symbol of resurrection.

Although the omens and the mystery of the egg have disappeared today, the symbolism remains, and artists, young and old, continue in the old world tradition of adorning eggs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What do grackles eat?

Grackles have taken over!  Any suggestions for what to feed them so they stay away from the songbird feeders? ~ Greater Detroit Area 


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Common_Grackle_-_markings.jpg

Common Grackles forage primarily on the ground. During breeding season, their diets consist mainly of insects. However the birds are opportunistic and can eat fish, small frogs, salamanders, mice, and small bats. They are also known to eat other birds' eggs and nestlings, and occasionally kill and eat other adult birds, particularly adult House Sparrows. During spring and fall migration and winter, common grackles eat mostly grains and sunflower seeds, as well as corn and acorns. They also eat some fruits.

The arrival of hungry blackbirds in the spring can be overwhelming for some people. Keep in mind that after some spring rains and a couple warm days, the bugs will start hatching. That is when you'll be thankful that these menacing birds are patrolling your lawn for a variety of creepy crawlies and flying insects.

In the meantime I've made a checklist of some ways to reduce the numbers of blackbirds from your feeders:

1) Change seed: Take away cracked corn or food scraps, their favorite foods. Switch to an all safflower seed diet for a few weeks. Squirrels, blackbirds, starlings, and crows don’t like safflower. It may take awhile for the other songbirds to accept the change but it is a favorite with cardinals and chickadees. And gradually the rest of the songbirds will switch over to safflower.

2) Change your bird feeders: Replace platform or hopper feeders with tube feeders, the Squirrel Buster Plus weighted perch feeder, or the upside down suet feeder. If the birds are unable to sit and eat comfortably they will probably move on to easier feeding areas.

3) Keep larger birds away from spilled seed: Since song birds knock seed out of feeders, limit access to spilled seed by placing rocks or shrubs beneath your feeders. Smaller birds will be able to hop in and out of tiny places, unlike big blackbirds.

4) Make the area more desirable for songbirds: Lots of trees will make them feel secure, as will the presence of a constant water source. Blackbirds and Crows prefer the open fields or yards.

Also be aware that the abundance of blackbirds makes them an important prey base for many small predators. Thanks for the question.

I hope one of these tips helps.
Sarah

Thank you!  Lots of great ideas.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What does a Bald Eagle call sound like?

Subspecies H. l. washingtoniensis in flight, A...Image via Wikipedia
Can you identify a Bald Eagle by its call? What about other birds? Learning bird songs is a great way to identify birds hidden by dense foliage, faraway birds, birds that sing you awake in the morning, and birds that look identical to each other.

When a customer comes into the Wild Birds Unlimited store describing a bird song I immediately go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search. This might have helped Conan O'Brien too.

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