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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Vampire Bird

Image via WikipediaSit down boys and girls and let me tell you a little story about a vampire bird.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, ...

It is early afternoon and the trees are enjoying the autumn breezes blowing through their leaves. All of a sudden there is a nasal mewing "me-ah" and then a tree finds itself under attack.

The distinctive slow irregular drumming sound of the feathered tree vampire, also known as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, can be heard as the bird bores shallow parallel wells. Nothing can be done to stop the bird as he laps up the blood (sap) that oozes out of the neck of the tree. The attack is rarely fatal for the victims but BEWARE, repeated attacks can shorten a little tree's life.

Look for the blood red crown:
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius is a little larger than the Downy Woodpecker. Although named yellow-bellied, the light yellow feathers on the birds’ underside aren’t what most bird watchers will see first. They have black and white barring on the back, a wide white stripe on each black wing, a blood red crown, a black line through the eyes and a black bib. The males also have a red throat.

Sap itself makes up only about 20% of the overall diet of this species, though at certain times, the figure can be 100%. They don’t suck sap but actually have a tongue that has a feathery edge to allow the birds to lap sap. Sapsuckers also consume insects, fruit, leaf buds, seeds and suet.

Other birds like the hummingbirds, kinglets, warblers, and waxwings can also take advantage of the sap wells that these woodpeckers drill, especially during migration.

According to AllAboutBirds.com, “The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.”

Related Articles:
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

An owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees

Most birds have eyes at each side of their head. They see a different scene with each eye. But an owl’s eyes are at the front of its head. The owl sees the same scene with both eyes, just as a human does. However, an owl cannot move its eyes in their sockets. In order to see what is beside or behind it, the owl turns its whole head.

An owl's neck has 14 vertebrae, which is twice as many as humans. This allows the owl to turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right from the forward facing position. An owl cannot turn its head full circle as is the common belief.

The stiff feathers around the owls’ eyes act a lot like dish antennas. They reflect sound toward the ear openings. If the sound is louder in one ear than in the other, this tells the owl that the animal is closer on that side. The owl turns its head until the sound is equally loud in both ears. Then it knows it is facing the animal.

An owl can also “hear” the height of a sound. It turns and tilts its head until it gets a perfect “fix.” They hunt mainly for small animals that creep on the ground, and can even locate by sound those animals hiding under snow. 
Related Articles:
Fun Facts on Owls http://bit.ly/t6elFd
Amazing Vocals of the Barred Owl http://bit.ly/sguMqL
Do Bluebirds Cough Up Pellets Similar to Owls? http://bit.ly/t3Gu0D
Small Michigan Owl Visits Neighborhood http://bit.ly/tlzaoN
Fall Trees Reveal Their Secrets: Screech Owl peek-a-boo http://bit.ly/uC91a5

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grey colored warbler with grey-black back and bold white wing bars and yellow shoulders and butt

Also known as “Butter Butts” because of their trademark yellow rumps, the Yellow-rumped Warbler is the most abundant and widespread wood-warbler in North America. They are a common migrant in mid-Michigan from August-October and then again in April and May.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats

A lot of our customers start bird feeding to entertain their indoor cats. It is a challenge to keep indoor-only animals stimulated and engaged mentally. A window feeder is one solution.

Whether you are a city or country dweller, if you have a window you can access, you can put up a window bird feeder. You can choose from several styles. Some of our best sellers right now at the Wild BirdsUnlimited East Lansing, Michigan store are the double tray buffet style and the hopper style. (In the summer the best seller is by far the Aspects HummZinger window hummingbird feeder)

Now is the best time to put up a window feeder. As we begin to close our windows in the next few weeks, the cats are going get a little stir crazy. While the sun is still shining, get outside to wash your windows and put up a window feeder (also known to our fur friends as kitty TV).

It’s a win/win situation. Your cats will benefit because they will be occupied for hours and the birds will benefit because they have a reliable source of food. You’ll also be entertained by your cats’ reactions as well as all the neat birds that come up close.

No need to worry that you’ll scare the birds away. I’ve had my face smashed against the window several times to talk to a chickadee and they never seem to mind my animated motioning behind the window.

I like to use the sunflower seeds without the shell or our no-mess blend so there are no shells below the feeder. That way the area remains tidy. But sometimes I use safflower seed if the squirrels take an interest in the feeder. Safflower seed is a seed that most squirrels will avoid.

If you’ve never fed birds before, this is a great way to start. It’s also a great gift idea if you want to give someone a hobby for the holidays.

Related Articles:
Tips and tricks to make your suction cups stick. http://bit.ly/uvCI3o
Which seeds are preferred by wild birds? http://bit.ly/tZKjjf 
Cats go Stir Crazy at the Store! http://bit.ly/ukt8qw
Close-up of oriole at the window feeder: http://bit.ly/rIMsv2
Hummingbirds at the window: http://bit.ly/s5Y3WJ
What says eh-eh, yank-yank? http://bit.ly/vvh2lm

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Online Bird Identification Tool

A lot of the questions I receive deal with identifying birds in peoples’ yards. With just a couple minutes of your time you can help Cornell University build a smart online bird ID tool.

When people notice a new bird, the first question they often ask is, "What's that bird's name?" Cornell Lab of Ornithology is building Merlin to help people find the answer.

Merlin will be a new kind of bird identification tool—one that combines artificial intelligence with input from real-life bird watchers to produce an online "wizard" that helps people ID birds quickly and connects them to more information.

You don't need to know the names of birds to help, just identify the three most obvious colors you see. To help build this online ID tool click HERE  or go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/labs/

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fun Woodpecker Trivia

A. How many species of woodpeckers are in the world?
Acorn Woodpecker
  1. 10
  2. 20
  3. 100
  4. over 200
B. What’s the smallest woodpecker in North America?
  1. Downy
  2. Red-headed
  3. Bar-breasted Piculet
  4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
C. What is the average life span of a wild woodpecker?
  1. 4-11 years
  2. 8-22 years
  3. 16-44 years
  4. 32-88 years
D. What kind of woodpecker was Woody Woodpecker?
  1. Pileated Woodpecker
  2. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. Red-bellied Woodpecker
E. What is the woodpecker's favorite feeder?
  1. Suet feeder
  2. Peanut feeder
  3. Mealworm feeder
  4. Seed cylinder Feeder
A. There are over 200 known species of woodpeckers. Many are on the threatened or endangered lists. Two species, the Ivory-billed and the Imperial, may already be extinct.

There are eight woodpeckers found in Michigan.

B. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker in North America. At 6-7 inches in length, this little black and white woodpecker with a red patch on the back of the male’s head is very friendly at the suet feeders.

Bar-breasted Piculet is the smallest known woodpecker in the world. At around 3.25 inches, it is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

C. The average lifespan of these wily birds is 4-11 years depending on the species.

D. Accordingto NPR: “It turns out that Walter Lantz, the animator who created Woody Woodpecker, had personally given eminent ornithologist Kimball Garrett a copy of his biography, and in that book it says that Walter and his wife, Grace, while honeymooning in a California cabin, were amused by an acorn woodpecker who was poking nuts under the roof shingles. They liked the "little raucous scream" the bird emitted. Grace said to Walter, "Why don't you make him into a character?"”

E. Trick question. A simple suet feeder is an easy way to attract a variety of beautiful woodpeckers but at my house woodpeckers come to a variety of feeders. They are even on my seed feeder. They select the peanuts and sunflower chips out of my no-mess seed blend. These friendly birds that make a “laughing” call when I’m filling the feeders, are very entertaining to have in the yard.

Related Articles: 
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S
Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt
How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI
Woodpeckers of the world: http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/Sampler2-Woodpeckers.html

Monday, October 24, 2011

When is bird migration over?

I was wondering if the birds have stopped migrating. ~ Fowlerville, Michigan

Migration is never over. There are birds moving all around the world all the time. However spring and fall migration is when a lot of birds shift to different territories.

Mid-Michigan has already said good bye to the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the orioles and all the other black birds. Most of the warblers and kinglets have already passed through by the end of October too.

Right now I’m watching the White-throated Sparrows making a pit stop in my yard for a few weeks before they continue further south. The first wave of Dark-eyed Juncos are passing through right now too. The Junco’s we see now are probably females and may continue on all the way to Florida. The boys are the ones that winter with us in mid-Michigan so they can be the first in the spring to zip up to the nesting territories and stake a claim.

I’m still waiting to see the White-crowned Sparrows which usually show up in my yard mid-November. Like the white-throated they don’t stick around long but they are a large sparrow with striking white racing stripes on their head. I’m also waiting for the first sighting of the Red-breasted Nuthatches which like to winter in our area.

A lot of birds dependent on open waters like the herons, geese, swans and other waterfowl and shorebirds wait until the water freezes before they move south. The end of October to December can be their migration time.

And while they are flying south a couple of “horny” birds kick off another breeding season. In mid-December you hear the Great Horned Owl calling for a mate. They actually start to nest in January or February. The Horned Lark also performs an elaborate song-flight courtship display in the beginning of the year. Horned-larks are one of our earliest nesting birds. In some states, nests may be found in February. This can mean that the first set of eggs is often destroyed by snowstorms.

In March the black birds start to return. In April and May lots of other birds are journeying north only to see some birds going back down south again as early as June. So in Michigan we are lucky to always see something interesting in our yard whether they are our local regular birds, fly-by birds, wintering or summering birds. A good field guide can help you remember all the comings and goings of the birds or it might be fun to keep a journal.

Related Articles:
The Journey North: Bird Migration Maps http://bit.ly/pbk4Eb
Great Horned Owl Singing at Night http://bit.ly/qKeKDM
Are Horned Larks Common in Mid-Michigan? http://bit.ly/qmAbt7
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d  
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ow20ZD
Bird only in mid-Michigan during the winter http://bit.ly/ojcyP7
What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Most common winter birds in Michigan

I'm new to the area. Does Lansing have Cardinals year-round? What birds will I see at the feeder this winter? ~ Lansing, Michgian

Mid-Michigan is lucky enough to see lots of birds during the long cold winter months. I’ve listed some of the most common birds you’ll see and the food they like at feeders.

1. House Sparrow- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips
2. Black-capped Chickadee- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
3. Northern Cardinal- Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Shelled peanuts, Striped Sunflower seed
4. Downy Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet
5. White-breasted Nuthatch- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
6. Mourning Dove- Oil Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, White Proso Millet, Nyjer Thistle
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
8. Northern Flicker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
9. Dark-eyed Junco- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Nyjer Thistle
10. American Goldfinch- Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
11. Blue Jay- Peanuts in the Shell, Nuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
12. Tufted Titmouse- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
13. House Finch- Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
14. European Starling- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
15. American Crow- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
16. Cooper’s Hawk- Songbirds, Squirrels, Unrendered Suet
17. Carolina Wren- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
18. Eastern Bluebird- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
19. American Robin- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
20. Cedar Waxwing- Mealworms, Suet Nuggets, Berries and Wild Fruit

Click HERE for the Eastern Seed Preference Guide

Of course there are a lot more birds in Michigan during the winter and they don't just eat from feeders, but this gives you a start. For more information we have Birds of Michigan Field Guides or you can visit our online Bird Guide to identify birds at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/.

Related Articles:
10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://bit.ly/oL3iCF 
Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/nImz5g 
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh  
How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men 
What is the best bird feeder? http://bit.ly/qVr7i8

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When do I take down the finch feeder?

This is the first year we have had "finch bags" out for our beautiful little friends. My husband has LOVED giving daily finch reports - "there are 10 on there at one time", etc. We were talking this morning and realized we don't know how long to leave the bags/feeders out. Have looked on line and don't find a definitive answer. Can you answer this question? Thanks for your help! ~ Ginny

I love the American Goldfinches! The great state of Michigan is lucky enough to have goldfinches year round and if you enjoyed watching them in the summer they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.
.
And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to pinch it 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 East Lansing, MI receives a fresh load of seed each week).
.
Also remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the Goldfinch love.

And once a month the mesh bags should be brought in and washed in the sink with the diluted vinegar water or thrown into the whites wash. Hang it up to dry and then refill.

I started with the mesh bags too but every spring I would watch a red squirrel shred it and then bundle it up in her mouth, I assume to build a soft nest for her babies. Now I have 5 Wild Birds Unlimited lifetime guarantee metal mesh feeders. Today they are eating like there's no tomorrow: http://youtu.be/YY3jNnq67EI

Related Articles:
How to Attract Goldfinches http://bit.ly/qaVwBA
How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/nIlV3i
How do you recommend cleaning a mesh finch feeder and how often? http://bit.ly/nB7DNJ

Friday, October 21, 2011

What’s the difference between a full moon and a new moon?

Enough crazy things have happened this week that I check the calendar to see if it was a full moon. Nope, only a last quarter moon phase.
Lunar libration with phase Oct 2007 450px
Each month Earth’s Moon passes through eight phases in about 29.5 days. These phases are named after how much of the moon we can see.
  1. New Moon or Dark Moon is when the side of the moon facing the Earth is not illuminated by the sun and you see no moon.
  2. Waxing Crescent is when part of the Moon is beginning to show. Each day the moon "waxes" a little bit more.
  3. First Quarter is when 1/2 of the moon is visible for the first half of the evening, and then goes down, leaving the sky very dark.
  4. Waxing Gibbous is when most of the Moon is visible. During this phase, the Moon remains in the sky most of the night.
  5. Full Moon is when you can observe the entire face of the moon from evening to early morning.
  6. Waning Gibbous is when you see less and less of the Moon each night.
  7. Last Quarter is when you can see exactly 1/2 of the Moon's lighted surface.
  8. Waning Crescent is when you see less and less of the moon until it’s a New Moon again.
Each month’s full moon has a descriptive name too. The following are from the Native Americans:
• Full Wolf Moon in January because the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages.
• Full Snow Moon in February since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month.
• Full Worm Moon in March as the temperatures warm and worms awaken.
• Full Pink Moon in April is when early pink wild ground phlox bloom.
• Full Flower Moon in May is when flowers are abundant everywhere.
• Full Strawberry Moon in June is the time for harvesting strawberries.
• The Full Buck Moon in July is the month when the deer bucks get new antlers.
• Full Sturgeon Moon in August is the month sturgeon, a large fish of the Great Lakes and other major bodies of water were caught.
• Full Corn Moon or Full Harvest Moon in September is marked when corn was supposed to be harvested.
• Full Hunter’s Moon or Full Harvest Moon in October
• Full Beaver Moon in November because the beavers are now actively preparing for winter. It is sometimes also referred to as the Frosty Moon.
• The Full Cold Moon; or the Full Long Nights Moon in December is the time when nights are at their longest and darkest.

Occasionally (about every 2.7 years) there are two Full Moons in the same month. This is referred to as a Blue Moon. The next blue moon will be in August 2012.

Sources:  
- Lunar libration with phase Oct 2007 450px.gif http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lunar_libration_with_phase_Oct_2007_450px.gif
- Moon Calendar photo: Used by permission of The University of Texas McDonald Observatory http://stardate.org/nightsky/moon   
- Full Moon Names and Their Meanings http://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names/

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What to feed birds in the winter

Is there something special I'm supposed to feed the birds in the winter? ~ Adrian, Michigan

Feel Good about Eating Fatty Foods
As winter approaches, throw dietary caution to the wind.
We're not talking about some radical new nutritional plan. We're talking about feeding your wild birds high-calorie, high-fat foods to help them survive the winter.

Food is the most essential element to providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need during the winter months. To stay warm, birds will expend energy very quickly, some losing up to 10% of their body weight on a cold night.

An ample supply of a high-calorie food, such as suet, seed cylinders, or peanuts, is critical to a bird’s survival
Suet is a high-energy, pure-fat substance that is particularly helpful in winter when many birds have a difficult time finding the insects they would eat normally.

If you offer suet in addition to your seed, bird species, such as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice are even more likely to stop by your yard and become frequent visitors.

And if you aren't offering your birds peanuts, you're truly missing out.

Peanuts are also a high-fat food that a variety of birds will eat for an energy-filled treat. In their shell or out, your birds will go crazy for peanuts.

Come in to the Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, Michigan and we'll help you prepare your birds for the upcoming winter.

Source: WBU Nature News

Related Articles:
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/pHITS5
What birds like peanuts? http://bit.ly/nGkP1K

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shortest and Longest Bird Migrations

The Shortest:
Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) live primarily in areas of dense cover in the wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the United States. In the fall these birds congregate into family groups of up to 20 birds and make their way from their summer home in the mountains, into the sheltered valley below the snowline in the winter. This seasonal journey by the quail may cover distances of up to 20 miles by foot.

The Longest:
A Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) holds the record for the longest known non-stop migration. Using satellite tracking, birds in New Zealand were tagged and tracked all the way to the Yellow Sea in China. According to Dr. Clive Minton, "The distance between these two locations is 5950 miles, but the actual track flown by the bird was 7258 miles. This is the longest known non-stop flight of any bird. The flight took approximately nine days.” Researchers found that the Bar-tailed Godwits flights southward ranged in duration from 5.0 to 9.4 days and from 5950 to 7258 miles.
The routes of satellite tagged 
Bar-tailed Godwits migrating north 
from New Zealand to Korea and China

 Sources:

Related Articles:
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d  
Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/n0z040
What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU
Solving the Mysteries of Migration with Wind Tunnels http://bit.ly/qg0F53
How many birds would you say die or get injured during migration? http://bit.ly/r5o3NQ

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What do American Robins eat in the winter?

Do robins get and eat immature pecans from a pecan tree?  Thanks! ~ James

Robins do eat immature pecans as well as lots of other foods in the fall and winter. After nesting season has ended, Robins usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I was watching a group last night devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, tiny flowering pear tree fruit and under my feeders looking for peanuts and pecans.

What robins eat can vary according to location too. But all Robins eat pecans, walnuts, acorns, apples, cherries, and dogwood fruit from trees and the berries of poison ivy, poison oak bayberries, blackberries, blueberries, greenbrier, honeysuckle, juneberries, juniper, madrone, mountain ash, mulberry, pokeberry, pyracantha, raspberry, sassafras, serviceberry, spiceberry, sumac, viburnum, and woodbine.

Related Articles:
Why are the Robins Attracted to Water? http://bit.ly/qP9aTs
Fledgling Robins Find Their Way http://bit.ly/pqrhSL
Fun Facts About The American Robin http://bit.ly/n9CSni
Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dirt baths help birds stay clean

I see a lot of birds taking dust baths in the fall. I have a pond nearby that is always open. Why do the birds roll around in the dirt? ~ Ovid, Michigan

I like questions that explore bird behavior. There is not always a clear answer but casual observations can lead to fascinating insights in the bird world. I’m glad you noticed this curious bird behavior.

Dust bathing is not as common as water bathing but it can reduce moisture and oil, align feather barbs and remove external parasites. In the fall birds might prefer a dust bath to help sooth itchy skin due to molting.

New pin feathers grow within a covering called a sheath. You can see this easily on baby birds when they grow their first adult feathers all at once. When the feather is done growing the sheath falls off with preening or sometimes a little extra help with a roll in the dust.

Some common species that you’ll see dust bathing are sparrows, flickers and thrashers. Thanks for contributing you observation to the blog.
 
Related articles: 
Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/oGHxtQ
Why birds molt http://bit.ly/nf49Sm
Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fun Facts About Evening Grosbeaks

Growing up I used to watch the Evening Grosbeak all the time in the trees and on the feeders. Now they are hit or miss. Is their population shrinking? ~ Gladstone, MI

According to Project FeederWatch: “The Evening Grosbeak is a yellow, black, and white finch with a bill that appears too big for its body. Its winter range typically covers the entire northern half the United States and it is found year-round in many western states and southern Canada.

Evening Grosbeaks are an irruptive species, meaning their migration is irregular, linked to the availability of food. They may be abundant in an area one year and nearly nonexistent the next. However, the long-term trend shows that these irruptions have almost ceased in many areas of the East, and declines have been documented in their core western range as well.

The reasons for the decline are unclear—are the birds dying, are they failing to reproduce, or are they simply moving elsewhere? Scientists are not sure.”

Project FeederWatch is a program to count the birds at the feeders from November through early April. The data is used to alert scientists to particular species or questions that may require more detailed follow-up studies.

Wild Birds Unlimited is also a major sponsor of the GreatBackyard Bird Count (GBBC), a joint project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society. GBBC is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. I urge everyone to participate in the next GBBC on Feb. 17-20, 2012 to gather additional information.

Fun Facts about Evening Grosbeaks
• Other birds like to eat wild cherries, but only Evening Grosbeaks target the pits. The slippery seeds are held firmly with special pads on the “gross beak” and are simply crushed. So favored are cherry pits that Evening Grosbeaks sometimes seek out the pits voided by American Robins.

• Evening Grosbeaks manipulate cherries in their beak to remove the outer skin and flesh, the remaining seed is then swallowed after it is cracked open with their beak.

• Evening Grosbeaks can break open food items that require up to 125 pounds of force to fracture apart in testing devices.

• As with many finches whose diet is primarily vegetarian, Evening Grosbeaks are attracted to natural salt and mineral sources.

• The Evening Grosbeak is an irruptive migrant that makes irregular appearances at winter feeding stations throughout much of United States.

• The Evening Grosbeak was not commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains before the 1850’s. Winter irruptions now occur in all of the 48 contiguous states. This expansion may be attributed to widespread planting of box elder trees in landscapes across the east. Its seeds persist on the tree throughout the winter and provided flocks with a reliable source of food.

• The Evening Grosbeak was named in 1825 based on erroneous accounts that they became vocal and active only “at the approach of night.” This erroneous belief persisted for years, and the name is still a misnomer.

• Evening Grosbeaks seem to delight in snipping off the twigs of Sugar Maple trees and sipping the sweet sap.

Related Articles:
Probability of seeing Evening Grosbeaks: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/News/EvegrosProbability02.htm
How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count: http://bit.ly/pQYMON
Winter Finch Forecast: http://bit.ly/pXR2Qz

Saturday, October 15, 2011

2012 Winter Finch Forecast: Good news for the birds

The good news is that Ontario Field Ornithologist Ron Pittaway has found that the cone crops are excellent and extensive across much of the boreal forest and northeast Canada. That means there will be plenty of food for the winter finches. The bad news is that more birds will stay up north this winter with little chance of irruptive migration to mid-Michigan. A bird irruption is an irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t typically found, usually motivated by the search for food.

Winter finches, perching birds in the family Fringillidae, are noted for their irruptive migrations south in the winter. They are made up of mainly seed-eating songbirds and most are native to the Northern Hemisphere.

10 Winter Finches in Michigan:
  1. Pine Grosbeak- The largest finch (8”-10”) in Michigan that shows up from the subartic and boreal forests across North America in erratic winter invasions.
  2. Purple Finch- A common migrant and winter resident statewide form September to May. Sticks close to forest edges and feeders with lots of tree cover and shrubs.
  3. House Finch- Native to western North America, the House Finch can now be seen year-round near human development. Many House Finches migrate south in fall and those that stay in very cold winters might not survive without feeders.
  4. American Goldfinch- Bright cheery bird even in its olive green winter wardrobe. Found year-round at Michigan bird feeders but numbers may increase greatly if northern birds’ food sources decline.
  5. Red Crossbill- They are considered the great gypsies of the bird community. They wander through conifer forests looking for pine cones. Their unusual cross bill is perfect to pry open conifer cones.
  6. White-winged Crossbill- With the bumper crop of seeds up north in 2012, these crossbills are unlikely to visit mid-Michigan this year.
  7. Common Redpolls- A predictably unpredictable winter visitor. Some years the flocks are greater than others.
  8. Hoary Redpolls- They can often be found mixed in with flocks of Common Redpolls and irrupt every few years.
  9. Pine Siskin- Small brown and tan streaked bird with flashes of yellow. Found year-round in Michigan but more common some years than others.
  10. Evening Grosbeak- One of the largest finches at 8” it’s almost twice the size of its close relative, the American Goldfinch. They were given the name Evening because that’s when they were originally only thought to sing and grosbeak is french for large beak.
For Ron Pittaway's complete Winter Finch Forecast 2011-2012 go to: http://www.ofo.ca/reportsandarticles/winterfinches.php

Related Articles:
Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/pEuMKo 
House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/opD7kb
Bird of the week: Pine Siskin http://bit.ly/qNqIuK
Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4

Friday, October 14, 2011

Best Winter Hobby: Bird Watching through a Sunny Window

Jasper 3yrs (left) Oliver 1 yr (right) with their winter sweaters on. Watching the birds through the window @ Grandma's house in the dead of winter 2011 ~ Rebecca
Absolutely adorable! Thank you for sharing such a precious moment on our Friday Photo.

If anyone else would like to share their photos of nature, birds, or birdwatching, send it to bloubird@gmail.com with "Friday Photo Blog" written in the subject line and a little description about the picture. ~ Sarah

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What do Dark-eyed Juncos eat?

Hi, Do Junco's like the safflower seed ? Thanks, Debbie

Juncos, like many other members of the sparrow family, eat a variety of insects and seeds mainly on the ground. What seeds they prefer can differ across the country. 

Black oil sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract juncos to tray or ground bird feeders.

You’ll also see the juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.

We usually start to see Dark-eyed Juncos in mid-Michigan towards the end of October. You’ll see them hop or walk as they move along the ground. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males who risk harsh winters farther north in order to be closer to their breeding grounds.

Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “snowbirds,” because their southern migration foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. The snowbird nickname is also attached to the junco because it describes their white belly plumage and slate-colored back, which reflects “leaden skies above, snow below”.

Related Articles:
Fun Facts About Juncos http://bit.ly/pgewJn
What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/puRjIr

Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/nURO99
Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/pwEqIz

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches

House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) are a familiar sight in mid-Michigan today. These 6″, talkative little birds get their name from their habit of hanging around houses. They build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, or in trees, and their cheery warble or a variety of chirps is a constant around the bird feeders.

Female House FinchThe House Finch was not always a local mid-Michigan bird. In 1940, they were illegally captured in California and imported to New York by pet dealers. Fearing prosecution, the dealers released their “Hollywood Finches” on Long Island in 1940. Since then the finches have spread to all corners of the east and have even rejoined their relatives in the west.

The amount of red the finch has can vary depending on the amount of carotenoid pigments consumed in its food during molt. They have slight white wing bands, a brownish red head with a pink chest that has brown streaking. They also appear to have a sleek body and stand tall.

Purple finchPurple Finches (Carpodacus purpureus) are not really drawn to human dwellings, preferring wooded areas and nesting high up in conifer trees.

Carpodacus purpureus Purple Finch (female)The males have a slight crest on their head and a lighter red above the eye and the females have a white eyebrow. The males’ chests are streaked with pink with very little brown. The Purple Finch is actually about 6” too but looks more compact or chubbier, with its legs bent close to the body.

Related Articles:
House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/oOPJYR 
Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/qr78Dd

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nest of sticks in bluebird box

Hi: I made a bluebird nesting box last spring and put it at the end of my property I never saw any birds go in or out but I began to see nesting materials which looked like twigs. Today, I decided to clean out the nesting box and get it ready for next spring. The nesting box was full of twigs, not the usual materials I see for bird nests in our trees (straw, grass, etc.). Do you have any idea of the kind of bird that would make that kind of a nest? We usually see cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, mourning doves, and blue jays. I am located in Williston, Vermont. Thank you, Louis

A male House Wren or Carolina Wren may lay claim to a nesting cavity by filling it with more than 400 small twigs. If the female likes what she sees, she will then take over, making the soft nest cup with grass, inner bark, hair, and feathers. Wrens will usually lay 2 broods in the nesting season from May to July.

The male wren builds several starter nests and the female is the one that chooses which she prefers. The other nests may be used by the male to raise a second brood with another female or remain in place to discourage other male wrens from nesting in the same territory.

The stick-filled cavity of the wren nest provides "stilts" for the nest cup which allows rainwater to collect in the bottom of the nesting cavity without endangering the eggs or young.

For more information about wrens, visit http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Wren/guide/browse_tax.aspx?family=63 Thanks for the question, Sarah

Sarah: Thank YOU for the prompt reply. I have attached a photo of the nesting box.
Have a great day! 

If you don't see any soft materials inside, it's either a dummy nest to deter other birds or an unsuccessful attempt to attract a female wren.

Wrens, chickadees, and sparrows find the box more attractive when it’s near trees and lots of underbrush or bushes.

Bluebird enthusiasts have found the best way to attract bluebirds and tree swallows is to place your nest box in an open, grassy field edge or lawn area away from trees (100 ft or more apart). It should be at least 50 feet away from bird-feeders and your house. Face the box away from prevailing winds (south is preferred) and mount boxes approximately 5 feet high.

Can I use your photo on the blog so other people recognize the nest? Sarah  

Sarah: Thanks for the information. I should move the box to a more open area next spring. Yes, you may use the photo for whatever purpose. Cheers! ~Louis

Related Articles:
How to Prepare Your Yard for Birds in the Fall http://ning.it/q0O4MW 
What Bird Wears Striped Underpants? http://ning.it/awDQs7 
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://ning.it/o1LQlj 
Common Bird House Problems http://ning.it/no6xAk 
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://ning.it/avHcIu

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Picture of olive green bird with yellow spots on its tail

I had a neat new bird migrate through the yard recently. She looked similar to a winter American Goldfinch at first glance. But then ta da! A flash of the tail like a lady opening a fan and you see the tail feathers form a pattern of two bright yellow spots.

That made identification a little bit easier. A quick flip through the Birds of Michigan field guide reveals that she is a female American Redstart. The fast movements and fanning of the tail is thought to flush bugs from the leaves so they can eat them, but it was quite a good show for me to watch too.

Females and young males are gray-olive with yellow patches on each wing, on the sides of its breast, and at the base of its tail on either side. The males are black where the female is gray and orange where the female is yellow.

They like shrubby woodland edges often near water. But you can see them pass through your  yard in early October as they migrate to their winter home in Central America, the West Indies, and northern South America and then again in May when they migrate back to southern Canada and the eastern USA to nest.

Their supercharged pursuit of insects in the trees and flashing wing and tail patches give the birds the nickname “candelita” or “little candle” in their Central American wintering grounds.

Related Articles:
Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/oW0XCD
Warblers in Michigan http://bit.ly/pzq7qn
Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/nF449Y

Photograph by Jeremy Meyer 
Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Do birds know winter is coming?

Two very good questions about birds and the changing seasons:
We went from air conditioner to heater in one day. Do birds know what's coming? ~ Ionia, Michigan
 
I'm watching a black and white bird jumping from the ground under the feeder to the tree trunk, ground to the tree trunk and running upside down. Is it playing some game? ~ Livonia, Michigan

To me, what makes days like these so beautiful is knowing that change is in the air. Every time I load seed into the car at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store I look up and soak up the sun. The crisp mornings, bright colored leaves, and excited bird activity all herald winter’s approach.

Birds know instinctively that winter is approaching too. Some bug, fruit, and nectar birds migrate south. Other birds that over-winter in Michigan may switch their diet to berries, nuts, crab-apples, and seeds.

The black and white nuthatch you saw bouncing from under the feeder to the trunk of a tree may be taking seeds and storing it under the tree bark to eat later.

Just like squirrels, some birds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, blue jays and woodpeckers will hide or cache their food to retrieve and eat at a later time. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to keep their stash a secret from competitors and help them survive during bad weather and when food sources are low.

Each seed is placed in a different location and to remember where each one is, neurobiologists have discovered that the part of the brain that processes spatial information increases in the birds’ that hoard food. They can find each hiding spot accurately even a month later.

By providing an easily accessible food source, you can help your birds with their caching needs in the fall. Below is a little more detail on some of your favorite birds' caching behaviors.

  • Cache seeds (in the shell and out), nuts, insects and other invertebrate prey
  • Food is typically cached about 100 feet from feeders
  • May carry off several seeds at a time, but each item is stored in a separate location
  • Store food in knotholes, bark, under shingles, in the ground and on the underside of small branches
  • Prefer to cache hulled sunflower seeds, because they are easier and faster to cache; occasionally mealworms
  • Food is typically cached about 45 feet from feeders
  • Store food in bark crevices on large tree trunks and on the underside of branches
  • Cache sunflower, peanuts and safflower one seed at a time
  • Food is typically cached about 130 feet from feeders
  • 80% of the time seeds are removed from their shell before hidden in tree trunks
  • Cache acorns, peanuts in the shell, and sunflower seeds
  • They can carry several nuts at one time in their esophagus.
  • A single blue jay can cache or hide as many as 5,000 acorns up to 2.5 miles from their original source and retrieve them when needed.
  • Jays cache nuts by burying them singly in the ground in their territory.
Related articles:

- Birds Move Trees http://bit.ly/oPqFgG
- Screech Owls cache uneaten prey items in cavities http://bit.ly/pJ7jCP
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker stores its food in the barks of trees http://bit.ly/nqYS7j
- Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard http://bit.ly/qFANnl  
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/qq5xu1 
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/ngkPX3