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

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

How the Northern Cardinal bird was named

In 1758, the Cardinal was one of the many species originally described by Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern scheme of binomial nomenclature. Based on appearance, Linnaeus thought the Cardinal was related to the Red Crossbill and gave it the genus Loxia cardinalis. Loxia is derived from the Greek loxos which means crosswise..
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However taxonomists found the two species were not closely related. As a result in 1838, it was changed to the genus Cardinalis and given the scientific name Cardinalis virginianus, which means "Virginia Cardinal" because there were a lot of Cardinals in Virginia.
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Then in 1918, the scientific name was changed to Richmondena cardinalis to honor Charles Wallace Richmond, an American ornithologist. But in 1983 that was changed again, to Cardinalis cardinalis and the common name was also changed to "Northern Cardinal.”
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There are actually several bird species in the world with the name Cardinal. The term "Northern" in the common name refers to its range, as it is the only cardinal found in the Northern Hemisphere.

And the “Cardinal” name was derived from the vivid red plumage of the male, which resembles the robes of the Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.
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Whatever the name, Cardinals are beautiful birds that are a favorite to watch year-round at mid-Michigan feeders.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What are the Best Binoculars: How to Choose Optics

Answer these questions to get a better handle on what you really need:

How much magnification do you need?
Making the image 8 or 10 times closer with binoculars is the most popular choice.

8x binoculars work well in all terrain and in a wide variety of situations because images tend to be brighter with wider fields of view. The large view makes it easier to follow fast moving birds in thick woodland environments, scan for animals from a distance, and to follow action in sporting events or at the theater.

10x binoculars give you more detail for viewing raptors, waterfowl, and large wildlife, and are preferred for observing at longer distances and in more open terrain. Keep in mind that you need a steady hand. It takes very little hand tremor to affect your view.

Do your binoculars need to be waterproof?Most standard binoculars will stand up to light rain and humidity. But if bad weather is a possibility, then get a waterproof binocular.

Will you wear eyeglasses or sunglasses?
Constantly taking your glasses on and off is not only frustrating, but it will slow you down when tracking fast-moving birds. Twist up eye cups allow you to twist the eye cups up to give you the perfect eye relief when you aren’t wearing glasses and twist down the eye cups when you wear glasses.

Full Size Binoculars or Compact?

Compact binoculars (like EO Triumph 8x25 binoculars) are small enough to fit in a pocket while you're at work in the yard. These small binoculars will be bright enough for daytime use and, if light gathering isn't an issue, are easier to travel with and take along for walks, concerts and football games.

Full-Size Binoculars (like EO Denali 8x42 or 10x42 binoculars) will provide better image quality than compact binoculars. Full-size binoculars will gather enough light to show good color and definition from dawn to dusk.

Our most popular binocular is:
Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular

Field of View: 408 feet/1000 yards
Eye Relief: 18 mm
Close Focus: 7.0 feet
Weight: 21.9 ounces
Dimensions (HxW): 5.4 x 5.0 in.
Weatherproofing:Waterproof/Fog-proof

The Denali's crisp, contrasting views work hard when scanning across open fields for raptors and other wildlife. Phase correction enhances resolution, contrast, and overall sharpness. Fully multi-coated lenses provide maximum brightness and true colors.

Rugged, sleek and elegant in form, the redesigned Denali is waterproof and fog proof for durability you can count on in any weather. Waterproofing seals optics against water damage. Fog proofing prevents fogging of internal lenses. Ergonomic styling provides comfortable handling. Twist-up eyecups adjust for full-field viewing even with eyeglasses.

The Eagle Optics Denali 8x42 Roof Prism Binocular comes with:
Rainguard, tethered objective lens covers, neck strap, carry case, and an Eagle Optics Platinum Protection Unconditional Transferable Lifetime Warranty.

Friday, July 29, 2011

American White Pelican spotted in Lansing, Michigan

“Oh, a wondrous bird is the pelican, His bill can hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak, Food enough for a week, But I’m damned if I see how the helican.” --Dixon Lanier Merritt

I spotted a white pelican in the Grand River. I know that pelicans are in Florida. Did something happen to this bird and he flew in the wrong direction? ~ Lansing, MI

American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhync...Image via WikipediaDon't worry, this happens in a lot in the fall. Many birds wander widely after the breeding season. The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) breeds in some northern states and parts of Canada west of Michigan and then spends winters in the southern U.S. south to Panama.

They can weigh as much as 30 pounds and their wing spans can exceed nine feet. The American White Pelican eats about four pounds of fish a day. It hunts by scooping in a bill full of water and fish that expands a flexible pouch below. The water is drained and the fish are swallowed whole.

If you want to submit your unusual siting go to ebird.org. eBird shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time the data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere and beyond.

Thank you for sharing your story.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to hang feeders from trees

I want to hang a feeder from a tree. Do you have a chain?

Yes, Wild Birds Unlimited has chains but we also have Tree Hooks made by the same people that developed our unique Advanced Pole System. They come 12 inches to 6 feet in length. The large end goes over a branch and the little end holds the feeder. There is no damage done to the tree.

That sounds ideal! I had my tree trimmed and I was puzzled on how to re-hang these feeders. I  will come in to get a couple as soon as I measure the height to the branch. Thanks.

I'm glad I could help. We also have S hooks that are 2" to 24" long.

Related Article:
Advanced Pole System: Bird Feeding Station That Looks Great and Stays Straight!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to pish for birds

Historical evidence suggests that pishing may date back to the time of St Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Today it is a popular American technique to draw North American bird species out into the open using the sound of air expelled through pursed lips. This technique is used by scientists to increase the effectiveness of bird diversity surveys, and by birders to attract species that they might not otherwise see. Curiously it is not as effective in other areas of the world.

A birder can coax birds out from the cover of trees and undergrowth to investigate the pishing noise. Some birders just say the word “pish, pish, pish.” Others use a shushing style. One characteristic that seems to work is a prolonged, unhurried and even-toned quality in the sound. Loudness is not important and can be counterproductive. Also it’s better if each note is drawn-out and raspy. The sound must arouse a bird's natural inquisitive instinct enough to investigate the incessant, repetitive calling.

For beginners, pishing works best in an area with thick vegetation. Once you’re deep in the woods, you are literally inside the birds' living room, and pishing produces the best views and detects the most species. Another tip is to stay perfectly still. Bird vision is much sharper than ours and is highly tuned to detect movement. Flocking is a survival aid and ensures that many pairs of eyes and ears are on the alert for danger. Sitting down and remaining stationary makes it harder for the birds to locate a mystery sound.

Once attracted by pishing, the first birds to arrive often announce their presence by calling. In turn this stimulates others to join in the commotion. However once they discover the sound’s source, they quickly melt away as they realize they have been duped.

The exact translation of “pish” is unclear. It might be a “hey, you” and the birds pop out to see if someone was talking to them. The other theory is that it imitates an anxiety call of a bird in trouble or an alarm call of a squirrel. Mobbing behavior is commonplace among little birds that can become prey of owls, hawks, and other predators. So it may be more of a “look out, help me” warning call that gathers an entourage of irate small birds into action to protect themselves. Or it may just be a bit of peoplewatching on the part of the birds. However, the meaning is still unclear so don’t overuse the technique because we don’t want to unnecessarily overstress our bird friends.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Summer is a good time to feed birds

“The kiss of the sun for pardon. The song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on this earth."—Dorothy Frances Gurney

Working at Wild Birds Unlimited I hear how hungry the birds are all the time. So first I would like thank you and everyone that supports our small business. People who shop here are the best!

Backyard bird watching is a fascinating activity that increases our awareness and appreciation of nature. It also helps us forget about the hectic day-to-day craziness and just sit back and relax.

We are now moving in to my favorite time of year. The heat has finally broken (I hope!!!!!). The wind is blowing and the leaves are rustling. Make sure you take time to smell the roses and watch all the baby birds mature.

Baby Bird 08                    (Your photostr...
And just a little reminder that Tuesdays are seed delivery days. If you would like to load a few bags directly into your car, that would be much appreciated. I know I keep running out of No-Mess blend but there is a couple tons waiting outside the store right now! Come in early to pick up your supply because the sale on our most popular blend ends this month at the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, Michigan.
Thank you all!

Monday, July 25, 2011

How fast can monarchs migrate?

That's a good question. In a laboratory, scientists found Monarchs could fly almost 4 mph. However that could vary depending a lot on weather conditions. We do know it takes them about 2 months to travel 2000 miles from Michigan to their winter home in Mexico.

For a lot more interesting facts on butterflies visit The Journey North Website.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Do Cuckoos leave their eggs in other nests?

Both the Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest in Michigan.

According to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black, “shrubby field edges, hedgerows, tangled riparian thickets and abandoned, overgrown fields provide the elusive Black-billed Cuckoo with its preferred nesting haunts. Despite not being particularly rare in Michigan, it remains an enigma to many would-be observers.

Arriving in late May, this cuckoo quietly hops, flits and skulks through low, dense, deciduous vegetation in its ultra-secret search for sustenance. Only when vegetation is in full bloom will males issue their loud, long, irregular calls, advertising to females that it is time to nest. After a brief courtship, newly joined Black-billed Cuckoo pairs construct a makeshift nest, incubate the eggs and raise their young, after which they promptly return to their covert lives.

The Black-billed Cuckoo is one of few birds that thrive on hairy caterpillars, particularly tent caterpillars. There is even evidence to suggest that populations of this bird increase when a caterpillar infestation occurs.

This cuckoo is reluctant to fly more than a short distance during nesting, but it will migrate as far as northwestern South America to avoid the North American winter.”

Similarly, “the Yellow-billed Cuckoo skillfully negotiates its tangled home within impenetrable, deciduous undergrowth in silence, relying on obscurity for survival.

Then, for a short period during nesting, the male cuckoo temps fate by issuing a barrage of loud, rhythmic courtship calls. Some people have suggested that the cuckoo has a propensity for calling on dark, cloudy days in late spring and early summer. It is even called “Rain Crow” in some parts of its North American range.

In addition to consuming large quantities of hairy caterpillars, Yellow-billed Cuckoos feast on wild berries, young frogs and newts, small bird eggs and a variety of insects, including beetles, grasshoppers and cicadas.

Though some Yellow-billed Cuckoos may lay eggs in the unattended nests of neighboring Black-billed Cuckoos, neither of these cuckoos is considered to be a “brood parasite.”

Some Yellow-billed Cuckoos migrate as far south as Argentina for the winter.”

Sources:
1. Birds of Michigan: by Ted Black
2. Photos from Wikipedia: Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tips for feeding birds in the summer

Summer just seems to be flying. If you can believe it, some birds have finished nesting and are already starting to fatten up in anticipation of the journey south. As we approach August and September you will see an increase in feeder activity.

Make sure to keep your feeders clean. It can be detrimental to the birds if you don’t clean your feeders regularly. In order to keep healthy birds at your feeders, remember the following:

1. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry.
2. Check your feeders after a rain to make sure the seed is dry. If not, replace it.
3. Use Feeder Fresh to keep your seed dry in humid weather.
4. Store seed in a cool dry location. Wild Birds Unlimited has closed steel containers that work well to protect seed from unwanted seed thieves or bad weather.
5. When choosing a new feeder look for something easy to clean and fill.

Also right now there are still young birds around learning the ropes and unfortunately, many times it's the inexperienced birds that fall victim to window strikes. Birds also strike windows as they quickly try to escape predators, hitting glass in a moment of panic. And during spring and fall migration, window strikes increase as birds unfamiliar with the area pass through your yard. Window strikes are hard to eliminate totally, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity:
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1. Locate feeders and birdbaths within 1-2 feet of windows so birds can't gather enough speed to cause significant injury or about 20-30 feet from windows so birds have time to change direction.
2.Window feeders also alert birds to a window.
3. Window screens will reduce injury even if a bird flies into it. Use them where practical.
4. Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds.
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If you do have a window strike and the bird is injured CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

Friday, July 22, 2011

Small black spider with egg sac

Photo of American common house spider, Achaear...Image via WikipediaI’m having a Charlotte’s Web moment.

I was going to wash the front windows when I saw a small black spider trying to protect her egg sac in the corner of one window.

I washed around her and kept an eye on the spider. According to Wikipedia it is a Common House Spider (Parasteatoda tepidariorum). Like the House Finch, the spider nests near human houses and thus was named "House" Spider. It has a tangled web in the corner of the window full of a variety of bugs.

This picture depicts spiderlings of a Common H...Image via WikipediaI watched for about a week and then came in the other day and saw about 100 baby spiders about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The hatchlings hung around for a few days and when I came in this morning, they were gone.

Good luck little guys!

Related article
How E.B. White Spun 'Charlotte's Web' : NPR (npr.org)
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's cold inside!

I so wish I could open the windows right now and breathe in that hot summer breeze, but a couple customers at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store have already hinted that our 78 degree store is hot.

I can’t help it. I get "air conditioner head" and my babies are so cold. I had to crochet a couple extra blankets for my boys.

I love to carry out seed to the cars just to get a minute in this breezy hot air.

Take it easy and enjoy the day!

Can birds crossbreed?

There are Labradoodles and cockapoos. Why aren't there any Rob-a-dees or Stardinals? I mean how do they recognize one another so they can mate?

"Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together."William Turner ~ The Rescuing of Romish Fox (1545)

You have a very interesting question. All animals with feathers are in the Class called birds or Aves and all the warm-blooded vertebrate animals with hair and females that produce milk are in the Class called Mammalia. Other Classes include Amphibians, Reptiles, and Pisces. Each animal within their class is then further defined by Orders, Families, Genera, and Species.

All dog breeds belong to the one species Canis lupus familiaris. The dog is descended from the wolf and the evolution of such widely differing breeds has been heavily influenced by conscious human selection, in addition to natural evolution. On the other hand there are about 10,000 species of birds. So the difference between the American Robin and the Black-capped Chick-a-dee is similar to that between sharks and goldfish, or dogs and cats, or lizards and snakes.

Birds have an innate ability to recognize their own species and look for mates based on their song, color of plumage, and behavior or distinctive courtship displays. However closely related bird species can interbreed, producing hybrids. One example is the Baltimore Oriole which can hybridize with the Bullock's Oriole where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains.

Birds in captivity can also hybridize like the Harlequin Macaws, Catalina Macaws, and many others. However birds prefer their own species in general. So, sorry, I don’t think we’ll see Stardinals anytime soon. But if you do, send me a picture.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do birds attract mates with their scent?

Press Release:
Avian ‘Axe effect’ attracts attention of females and males

Contact: Layne Cameron, University Relations, Office: (517) 353-8819, Cell: (765) 748-4827, layne.cameron@ur.msu.edu; Danielle Whittaker, BEACON, Office: (517) 884-2561, djwhitta@msu.edu
Danielle Whittaker, BEACON researcher,
used dark-eyed juncos to demonstrate
how songbirds use scent to attract mates.
Photo Courtesy of BEACON.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a case of life imitating art, avian scents given off by male songbirds have the females (and males) flocking in.

A Michigan State University researcher revealed the process of how males draw attention to themselves through chemical communication in the current issue of Behavioral Ecology. Scents are used in all organisms for many purposes, such as finding, attracting and evaluating mates. But this is the first study of its kind that demonstrates that it is happening among songbirds, said Danielle Whittaker, managing director of MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action.

Body-spray commercials feature young men dousing themselves with fragrance and – voila – hordes of beautiful women or even bands of angels descend upon them. Male birds deploy a similar tactic when they release their cologne – or preen oil – secreted from a gland at the base of their tail. It not only works to attract the attention of female birds, but it also has the unintended effect of attracting males as well.

“It’s kind of like the ‘Axe effect,’ in that females were attracted to the scent and didn’t seem to care where it came from, meaning their own population or a different one – even though birds in these populations look and behave differently,” Whittaker said. “And I think the males were drawn in as an aggressive response to the scent of another male.”

Traditionally, songbirds have been written off in terms of using their sense of smell because they have the smallest olfactory bulbs relative to brain size among all birds. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that songbirds harbor a high number of olfactory receptors, and they’ve been able to prove that the birds are capable of using odors to help find their way.

So, Whittaker and her collaborators in Ellen Ketterson’s lab at Indiana University weren’t surprised to discover that the birds used scent in attracting mates. Some eyebrows were raised, though, when they learned how attractive the scent was across populations and sexes. Another interesting find was that when given a choice, the female birds preferred the odor of the smaller males, Whittaker said.

“However, in a previous study, when they got to see the actual birds, they tended to prefer larger males with larger plumage ornaments,” she said. “Based on these results, I’m hoping to find out how and why small, unattractive males overcompensate by producing greater amounts of an attractive scent.”

MSU’s BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, a National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center, has partners at North Carolina A&T State University, University of Idaho, University of Texas at Austin and University of Washington.
Original News Release: http://news.msu.edu/story/9579/

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to get the chickadees to stay at the feeder longer


Making Time (and Birds) Stand Still
Time.

Though the Rolling Stones sang that it was on our side, when it comes to bird feeding, time seems to come up short, especially the amount of time birds stay at our feeders.

Or at least that’s how it used to be….

Made of different combinations of tightly packed ingredients, our exclusively-formulated Bird Food Cylinders tend to keep birds at the feeders longer because they have to work to remove seeds. So instead of birds swooping in, grabbing a bite and taking off, Bird Food Cylinders give you a few extra moments of enjoyment.

Also, Bird Food Cylinders last longer and allow you to refill your feeders less often.
We offer several Bird Food Cylinder flavors and sizes. The different Bird Food Cylinder ingredients attract more birds and meet their different needs.

We have several feeders that you can use to offer Bird Food Cylinders, including our Dinner Bell™ Feeder, Cylinder Feeder and TidySeed Feeder.

Bird Food Cylinders are great for every day use, and they’re wonderful vacation foods, too. Going away for a few days and want to continue feeding the birds at your home? Want a simple way to attract birds while you’re vacationing at a camp site? Bird Food Cylinders can easily do both.

Visit Wild Birds Unlimited soon to learn more about our Bird Food Cylinders and how you can have more time with the birds at your feeders.

Source: WBU Content

Monday, July 18, 2011

Colorful Bird Splats Contain Secrets

You’ve patiently waited all summer for the cherries to ripen. Tomorrow they will be at their peak for picking. Then in the morning you discover you’ve been hit by Berry Thieves! If the fruit is ready, a variety of birds can pick a tree clean in a day.

Fruit grows on trees, bushes, climbing plants and on shrubs and several species of birds love them. Purple mulberry splats decorate the sidewalk as the berry season begins in mid-Michigan and as the season progresses so does the color of splats. For birds, the range of fruit and the extended length of the season during which various types become available provides many songbirds a nourishing lifeline year round.

The quest for survival has led plants to develop delicious and ingenious ways of making the animal world compete in sending their seeds out to new lands. The yummy, bright colored, vitamin packed, flesh of the fruit conceals and protects the seed within. Birds and berries are a remarkable example of Mother Nature in action. Birds eat the produce and spread the precious seeds contained in the berry over a wide area. They extract or excrete the undigested seeds enabling the plant to grow and spread.

There is no doubt that plants are one of the world's most successful life forms. They are able to survive in virtually every environment imaginable, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles. There are even tough “weeds” poking up through the cracks in the cement. Plants evolved countless methods of producing and spreading seeds. So don’t blame the birds for stealing all the fruit. They are being used in Mother Nature's master plan to spread tiny packages of genetic material across the land to ensure the survival of her planet of plants.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When do orioles leave Michigan?


I haven’t seen my orioles since the end of June. Where did they go? Isn’t it too early to migrate south? Should I take my oriole feeder down? 
 
Dream Weavers
oriole female nestDSC_0157Baltimore Orioles arrive at their mid-Michigan breeding grounds near the end of April. Soon after the female alone begins to build a nest. This consists of weaving and tying thousands of stitches and knots with her beak into a woven hanging-basket.
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It can take as many as 15 days for her to weave a nest and the result is an engineering masterpiece of plant fiber, grasses, vine and tree bark. Orioles build the nest on small branches 6 to 45 feet in the air, to keep them safe from predators. Female orioles are also in charge when it's time to incubate the eggs and brood the young in the nest. Then both parents feed the young which fledge about 30 days from egg laying.

Orioles make only one nesting attempt per year. So depending on the success of the birds in finding mates and a nesting site, they may be done raising a new family anytime from mid-June to mid-August. That means they’re free to move around after that. Some may start down south and some adult orioles are just secretive at the end of July when they begin their fall molt and may not visit feeders.

Usually, there are a few early individuals that start migration. These are followed south by a much larger volume of migrants. Finally the peak tapers off gradually to a few lingering stragglers. Most of the bird books will tell you that they leave Michigan by mid-September but there is no set schedule and I'd leave your feeder up a little while longer, just in case.

Related articles: 
1. Migration of Birds: When Birds Migrate http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/birds/migratio/when.htm

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Feeding Baby Birds

I came home last night and watched a juvenile Blue Jay, Cardinal, Downy Woodpecker and Starling all try to figure out how a feeder worked and what they were supposed to do with the food in front of them. It reminded me that this summer, parents across the country will spend countless hours with their children, taking them to places they’ve never seen before...like the bird feeders in your yard.

This is the time of year when fledglings leave the nest and are taught how to forage for food by their parents. It's a fascinating interaction that is fun to observe.

The fledglings follow their parents and either wait quietly or call incessantly and flutter their wings until fed. After one to three weeks, the parents will stop feeding their fledglings and may even peck at them if they persist in begging for food. Even birds have dysfunctional families.

You can make your backyard "bird family-friendly" by continuing to offer high-protein bird foods, such as WBU No-mess blend seed, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, suet and mealworms. These energy-packed foods will entice birds and their young back to your feeders so you can watch them up close.
Cardinals are one of the most sought after backyard birds in our area because they're so handsome. A lot of customers are shocked by how dissimilar the babies look to the parents at first.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Female goldfinch image

There is a lot of excitement among the goldfinches as breeding season begins!

Cornell's website http://www.allaboutbirds.org/ writes that "paired-up goldfinches make virtually identical flight calls; goldfinches may be able to distinguish members of various pairs by these calls."

The female chooses her mate based on his bright coloring, song, and impressive flight displays in mid-July. During courtship, the birds will fly in circles, with the male warbling throughout the flight.

After a male has been chosen, nesting territories are selected. Males will flit from one perch to another and warble around the perimeter of his territory. They will also perform flight displays. Look for the males as they fly in an exaggerated version of their normal undulating butterfly flight.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to keep bees and ants away from the hummingbird feeder

The only sure defense against bees and wasps is to deny them access to the nectar. I’ve had really good luck with the WBU saucer feeders.



Before I had those feeders however I would swab the ports of my old feeders with almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid that scent. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day. 

Another trick you might try is to use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). After all the sugar water is gone, the bees should be gone too. 


Or Hummingbirds.net recommends: “reducing the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.”

Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders are also good at preventing ants. They all have a built-in ant moat that you fill with water to stop the ants. Our stores also have ant moats you can add to any feeder. Simply fill the little container with water and hang your feeder below. Once again the ants can't cross the water moat to reach your hummingbird feeders' nectar.

Do you have a bird question? I answer lots of bird and nature questions at http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/ Or you can email me at bloubird@gmail.com.
 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What makes that buzzing sound at night?

Almost everyone notices the buzzing sound as the sun goes down in the summer. Cicadias' songs trigger memories of long, hot nights and family camping trips. But I didn't know there was so much I didn't know about the bugs.

According to Wikipedia there are 2,500 species of cicada around the world, and each species sings a different song. Michigan has 10 species of cicadias identified.

They stay high up in the trees and are seen rarely. The males produce sound by vibrating abdominal drums called timbals. The noise is among nature's loudest sounds at 100 decibels or more at a distance of one inch.

After mating, females lay eggs in the bark of a tree. The eggs hatch after six to seven weeks and the cicada juveniles or nymphs burrow underground and begin feeding on roots. Their life cycles are long. Depending on the species of cicadia, they can spend 2 to 17 years underground as juveniles and then about 2 to 6 weeks as adults singing and mating.

When the 1-1.5 inch nymphs emerge from the ground, they climb a tree, puff up their exoskeletons until it splits lengthwise down the back and the adult cicadas slowly emerge. You can often find these ghostly shed skins still intact at eye level on tree trunks.

Cicadas do not sting, bite or carry diseases and they don't hurt the trees. In fact the presence of cicadas is usually a sign of a robust forest. To look at the species found in Michigan and listen to their different songs click HERE to go to The University Of Michigan-Museum of Zoology-Insect Division-Cicadas of Michigan website.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting

While most birds have finished nesting and some are flying south, the goldfinches are just starting to nest.

American Goldfinch Carduelis tristis, Fort Eri...Goldfinches nest in late summer and early fall. Depending on where you live, they nest at the end of July to September in the fork of a deciduous shrub or tree. They prefer hawthorn, serviceberry or sapling maples. 

Goldfinches delay the start of their nesting behavior until the thistles and other flower come into bloom so they can anticipate an abundant and reliable supply of seeds for their young. The female builds a compact cup nest of fibers, grass and spider silk and lines it with plant down and hair. So keep your WBU finch feeder filled with fresh Nyjer® (thistle) seed to welcome the American Goldfinch to your backyard refuge. 

It's a joy to see a flock of goldfinches raining down to the feeder or dancing in the flowers in search of seeds. And the happiest sound in the late summer is the call of baby goldfinch!

American Goldfinch Carduelis tristisOrder: PASSERIFORMES Family: Finches (Fringillidae)
The male goldfinch is a small, bright yellow finch with a black cap, wings, and tail, and white rump and undertail coverts. Females are duller with olive back and lacks black cap. Winter males will turn olive-brown with yellow shoulder bars, white wing bars, dark bill, and may show black on forehead and yellow on throat and face. Winter females are duller with buff wings and shoulder bars, and lack yellow and black on face and head. Juveniles resemble winter females but have a yellow wash on throat and breast.
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The American Goldfinch is a bird of many aliases: wild canary, yellowbird, lettuce bird, and thistle bird, just to name a few. Ask a gardening enthusiast and you might hear the name “lettuce bird” due to the bird’s practice of nibbling at the tender young leaves of this vegetable. The American goldfinch looks similar to a canary at a pet store and so sometimes is called "wild canary" or "yellowbird".
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Another descriptive name, is “thistle bird.” It has long been known that thistle plants and goldfinch are almost inseparable, and even its genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, meaning “thistle.” Goldfinches rely heavily on thistle plants as a source of food and for nest-building materials. A research study in Michigan observed Goldfinches always liked to nest near an abundant supply of thistle seed. If you want goldfinch to nest in your yard you can offer cotton nesting material too.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle

Nyjer, niger, and thistle are all common names used to identify a tiny black birdseed cultivated in Asia and Africa that is high in calories and oil content, and loved by American Goldfinches. It's sometimes confused with the purple, prickly, Canada thistle but Nyjer isn't related to that weed at all.
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The scientific name for the Nyjer plant is Guizotia abyssinica. Its bloom has yellow, daisy-like flowers, and before it is shipped into the country the Nyjer seed has been heat treated to prevent the growth of any noxious seeds. Even if it did sprout, Michigan’s growing season is too short to produce a flowering plant.

There are 20 different kinds of native thistle plants in the U.S. that are also adored by finches, but the most common thistle that pops up in people’s yards was actually brought over from Europe. Canada thistle, Cirsium arvense, is a vigorous, competitive weed that occurs in a wide range of habitats and is difficult to control due to its ability to re-grow from its extensive, deep creeping root system.

It is native to Europe and was apparently introduced to North America by colonists in the early 17th century. It is illegal to sell and by 1991 it had been declared noxious by at least 35 states and 6 Canadian provinces. Canada thistle is a 2 to 5 foot tall herbaceous perennial with numerous small, compact purple or white flowers on the upper stems from June to Oct.

But it’s still alright to come in and ask for thistle seed because we know you want Nyjer "thistle" seed. However, legally we label our seed Nyjer so the Agricultural department won't come in and shut us down for selling Canada thistle, a noxious weed seed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Where are my goldfinches?

There is no one reason you don't have finches. First make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh. One way to do this is to 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. 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 your feeder is clean. Finches are finicky and avoid dirty feeders.

Third, finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. 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 the Mesh Finch Feeder. 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 be aware that finches don't like change and it may take several minutes to several months for goldfinches to accept a new feeder.

Fourth, there are a lot of natural sources available right now. These birds are vegetarians and will flock to any flowers that form seed heads like cosmos or black-eyed-susans.

Fifth, the birds are very busy right now nesting. The American Goldfinch is one of the latest breeding songbirds, waiting until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and plant down are readily available to weave nests and feed the young.

Is it worth the bother? Yes! I love the happy, warm, song of the goldfinches. I love the huge flocks of finches that flutter down from the tops of trees as they take their turn at the feeder. I love that I can hang the feeder anywhere because squirrels and other animals don't bother with Nyjer Thistle. And once you understand the goldfinches' needs, they are easy to please and very pleasing to watch.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Free Trees for Michigan


Odwalla is a juice company that is planting trees in state parks, and will plant one for you too! All you have to do is click on the link below and choose Michigan.

The plant a tree program is going on through Sept. 2011. When you choose a participating park system Odwalla will donate $1.00 towards the purchase of a tree to the state parks in that state on your behalf. Click on the link below and then pass this information to a friend. Go to: http://www.odwalla.com/plantatree/. No purchase necessary.

The Value of Trees
Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful.

Studies prove that trees have a positive effect on many aspects of people’s lives, including their health, homes, businesses, communities, drinking water, and air quality.

An average American uses about 750 pounds of paper every year, and 95% of homes are built using wood. That means each person uses the equivalent of one 100 foot tall, 16 inch diameter, tree every year for their paper and wood product needs.

The amount of oxygen produced by an acre of trees per year equals the amount consumed by 18 people annually. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Feeding Goldfinch

Many outdoor activities may fall prey to the “summer doldrums” during these warm and steamy months…but backyard bird feeding is not one of them.

If you don't feed the birds in the summer, you will miss out on a growing cast of birds that are displaying their most dazzling plumage and interesting behaviors. High on the list for entertainment value is of one of our most luminous backyard birds — the goldfinch.

During July, long after most birds have started their families, the American Goldfinch is just beginning its nesting process for the first and only time of the year. You do not want to miss this exciting time of vibrant song and fascinating courtship behavior.

Goldfinch nesting coincides with the availability of plant down for nest construction and the abundant supply of their preferred food to feed their young.

Young goldfinches are dependent on their parents for at least three weeks after fledging. Their energetic begging, chasing and harassment of their parents for food at your feeders are truly some of the biggest payoffs of participating in the bird feeding hobby.

Goldfinches love to eat fresh, dry Nyjer® (thistle), and they also enjoy sunflower chips. Make sure you have plenty on hand to take advantage of one of the most exciting times of year to feed birds…it’s a sure cure for the summer doldrums!

Source: WBU Nature News

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

How fast can a hummingbird fly?

I'm watching the hummingbirds zip around my hummingbird feeders and I'm wondering what bird is the fastest?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds can fly up to 27 mph and if they catch a good wind they can move up to 60 mph.


But the fastest living creature is believed to be the
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, reaching speeds of at least 124 mph and possibly as much as 168 mph when swooping from great heights.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gardening for birds

Sharon wrote: "This is my first year to pamper the birds that visit me. I have learned alot about the habits of certain species and since I have alot of flowers, I even see some in summer. What are other birds common to summer gardens beside the hummingbird? I live on the edge of the woods, like only 10 ft. There is a swamp beyond a stretch of woods."

Landscaping your yard to provide native plant cover and natural foods for birds is a good way to attract birds and provide them with sanctuary. The variety of birds you’ll see depends on where you live.

Most native flowers, bushes, and trees like birds to help pollinate their flowers, eat harmful insects, and disperse their seeds. A customer came in the other day with a precisely planned garden except for a giant teasel plant in the middle. She thought the plant was so exotic she left it to bloom.

My favorite birds in the garden are the goldfinches and habitat can be a key to attracting them. In this case you do less work, not more. Don't worry about dandelions and don't cut off the tops of your marigold, zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers or coneflowers... goldfinches love them. The birds make the flowers dance as they flit from flower to flower looking for seed heads.

If the woods has some dead trees left standing you could attract a variety of woodpeckers, owls and other tree cavity nesters. And jays, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, robins and woodpeckers like to eat nuts (acorn, walnut, beech…) and most are also attracted to pine and spruce seeds.

Lots of flycatchers, warblers and vireos will nest in dense shrubs or thickets at the edge of a wooded area. It is nice if there are some species of thorny trees like wild crab apples, or hawthorn to provide safe nesting habitat and food. Evergreens like spruce, holly, or juniper also provide cover and food.

Fruit trees are also important. Once you hear the high pitched trill of the Cedar Waxwings, you’ll never forget. They are big fruit eaters and come to feed in large numbers. Native berry producing trees and shrubs attract them and often encourage them to nest in the area. Some other birds that like fruit are bobwhites, cardinals, crows, grackles, bluebirds, towhees, starlings, grosbeaks, catbirds, woodpeckers, finches, mockingbirds, orioles, and buntings.

Raspberry thickets are a favorite nesting location for many Indigo Buntings. The dense, thorny stems provide the nestlings with protection from many predators and the berries provide a convenient source of food.

Make sure you don’t use pesticides on the flowers. Let the birds handle that naturally. And brush piles or leaves raked under the trees also will attract many songbirds. Ground-feeding birds like sparrows, towhees, robins and thrashers will eat the earthworms, pill bugs, insects, and spiders that thrive in the decomposing leaf mulch.
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