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

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

How does the Cold Weather Effect Hummingbird Migration

Everything in the bird world seemed to be placed hold when the freezing weather hit mid-Michigan. I don't hear the excited singing in the morning, my nest building material hasn't been touched in a few days, and the early migration of the hummingbirds has stopped.

I was shocked last week when the migration maps showed the hummingbirds had arrived five weeks earlier than normal in Michigan. The good weather encouraged some males to race ahead to claim the best breeding territories. Now the cold weather has stopped the birds in their tracks.

However, the early birds should be alright. Healthy Ruby-throated hummingbirds can tolerate nights in the teens easily as long as there are bugs, blooms and feeders available. During the night, hummers will enter into a state of torpor to save energy. Similar to a type of short-term hibernation, torpor reduces their metabolic activity and drops their heart rate from 1,200 beats per minute to 50 beats per minute.

Hummingbirds migrate alone, each to their own internal clock and map. As the weather warms more and more individuals will join the first wave of hummers until the final ones arrive in June.

What can you do to help the early hummers? Don't wait to hang your feeders until after you see hummingbirds. I have had many customers report that the ruby-throats are in the area. The standard 1:4 white sugar and water solution won't start to freeze unless nights drop below about 27 degrees Fahrenheit, and even a slushy feeder is better than none at all.

You can also leave all the spider webs you see outside alone for the hummers to pick clean and encourage fruit flys to your garden by tossing in old banana peels. The banana peels break down rapidly and fertilize the garden with important macro-nutrients plants need and attract small flys for the hummers to eat.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Wild Turkey grazing under feeders

Good morning! I thought I'd share this photo with you. I live in downtown Lansing, and imagine my surprise when I came back from my weekly Sunday morning coffee run to find a turkey wandering in front of the apartment buildings. By the time I got into my apartment, she was happily grazing at my feeders. It definitely gave me a much-needed morning chuckle. =) Have a great day! - Heather

Love it! More and more turkeys are learning to live near humans as long as there is a small woodlot or grassy field nearby.

It’s a little unusual to see a single female so early in the spring. They tend to stay in their winter flocks until April in our area. Winter flocks are divided into male and female (and her young).

Their breeding season is in March and April normally. Males may be seen courting in groups, gobbling, spreading their tail feathers and strutting. The dominant male will mate with several females in the flock.

Then females leave the group after mating to nest alone. Their nest is just a shallow depression scratched out in the ground covered by vines. A hen will lay a clutch of 10-14 eggs, usually one per day, that hatch after 28 days of incubation by the female alone.

Perhaps next month you will send me a photo of a hen and her poults!?

I was definitely shocked to see her! I'm not sure if she'd be willing to nest around my feeders, though, since there are several stray cats in the neighborhood. However, I will definitely let you know if I see a nest or poults around. I do have a spot nearby that would probably work for a nest if not for the threat of predators.

There was also a turkey that stationed itself outside the Michigan State Police post in Brighton. More on that story at: http://www.annarbor.com/news/fowl-play-state-police-troopers-in-brighton-being-watched-by-turkey/

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Enhance your garden with a touch of copper

Wild Birds Unlimited Copper Top Series has just arrived! These unique feeders are only ordered for the spring and fall so come in quick if you don't want to wait to add an elegant yet functional copper topped bird feeder or bird house to your garden.

Made in the USA, these well designed feeders have curved sides to view birds easily, heavy plexi-glass lens to view the seed level, comfortable perching areas to attract a wide variety of birds and a thick roof covered in solid copper to create an attractive appearance that will stand out in any yard.

The copper topped houses are also exceptional and built to last several seasons. Each house is made to specific dimensions, with proper ventilation and drainage and are easy to clean and hang. They add a decorative touch to your garden in addition to attracting many bird families.

Wild Birds Unlimited also offers copper hummingbird, oriole and finch feeders. Any of these unique metal bird feeders and houses will add an elegant and luxurious, upscale quality to your deck or yard space. These American made, reasonable priced feeders and houses also make the perfect gift!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why are the red and black beetles called ladybugs?

The warm window at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store woke up a ladybug. Known to winter in small cracks around windows, these beneficial beetles are waking up all over and may need a little help finding an exit. (Why can they always find a way in but not out!)

Over 300 types of ladybugs live in North America. The reason that entomologists think that ladybugs have such brilliant red coloring and black spots is to warn their predators that they taste really bad and that they are a little bit poisonous, too. 

They were named in Europe, during the Middle Ages by Catholic farmers that prayed to the Virgin Mary for help with the insects that were destroying their crops. The red and black beetles appeared soon after to eat the plant-destroying pests and save the crops. The farmers began calling the beetles "The Beetles of Our Lady", which became lady beetles, lady birds, and ladybugs. The red wings represented the Virgin's cloak and the black spots represented her joys and sorrows. There was no differentiation between males and females.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What is a brood patch on a bird?

A puff of  air on the belly of a Barn Swallow
reveals an incubation patch.
As the days lengthen, one physical change birds of nearly all species go through is the loss of feathers on their belly early in the breeding season. Nesting birds develop bare patches called incubation or brood patches just before the first egg is laid. When the feathers are fluffed, you won’t notice a change on healthy birds.

Development of these brood patches is prompted by rising levels of hormones. They form in whichever sex cares for the eggs and young, usually females but often males as well. The skin swells and the blood vessels feeding the skin expand.

The bare patch is revealed when a bird settles in to the nest, spreads apart their contour feathers that remain over the patch, so that bare skin rests directly on the eggs. This contact transfers body heat to incubate the eggs and chicks.

Later the lost feathers are replaced in the complete molt following the breeding season. 

Source and photo credit to: Avian Reproduction: Clutch Size, Incubation, & Hatching - http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/avianreproduction2.html

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Examining The Hummingbird Tongue

Hummingbirds are very small birds with a high metabolism. A great deal of energy is expended when flying, so they must feed almost constantly. Hummingbirds can consume up to twice their body weight in nectar every day. They usually feed on nectar and insects.

Hummingbirds actually have a long flexible tongue that is good for reaching into long flowers for food. To bring nectar up to their mouth, hummingbirds' tongues acts like a fluid trap, rather than a straw.

Recent research shows that the tongue tip is a liquid-trapping device that changes configuration and shape dramatically as it moves in and out of fluids. Hummingbird tongues are forked at the tip and covered with feathery structures called lamellae that help to form grooves on either side of the tongue.

The video shows that, upon entering nectar, the tongue tips spread apart and the lamellae, unfurl to collect nectar. When pulled out of the liquid, the split tongue tips zip back up and the lamellae roll inward, to trap nectar inside.
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Source: The hummingbird tongue is a fluid trap, not a capillary tube - http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/04/27/1016944108.abstract

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Do I leave dummy nests alone?

I have two bluebird boxes on my property. There have been lots of bluebirds around checking out both houses. It appears that they (or some bird) has built a dummy nest in one of the boxes. And some have been checking out the other box every day but have not started a nest it. Chickadees are now also checking out the one house. Why haven't the bluebirds claimed the empty box?

Eastern Bluebird
Also, should I remove the dummy nest from the second box to allow another pair to possibly nest? Or should I leave it to Mother Nature?
I’m not sure where you live but in Michigan it's a little early for bluebird nesting. The box with a nest was probably claimed by an experienced, older pair that knows the area well and knows where all the food sources are located. But they also know that it is too early to start incubating eggs.

If eggs hatch before your area can supply enough food, the babies might starve. I would leave all the bird nests alone.
Black-capped Chickadee

Once the conditions are right and the best house is chosen, songbirds like bluebirds will finish building their nest and begin egg laying. They don't start sitting on the nest immediately. The bird will begin to incubate the eggs after her clutch is complete. That way the babies are born on the same day and there isn’t competition between older and younger siblings.

Your bluebirds are probably taking advantage of their last moments of freedom before confinement to the nest and are just waiting for the right conditions before they begin nesting.

Eastern Bluebirds build a neat, woven cup-shaped nest made mainly from fine grass or pine needles inside old woodpecker nests or bird houses.

Tree Swallow
Black-capped Chickadees build nests in bird houses with a moss base, topped with animal fur or cottony plant fibers.

Tree Swallows build cup-shaped nests of grass or pine needles, usually lined with lots of fluffy feathers to cover the eggs inside bird houses.

House Wrens are famous for building dummy nests to keep other males away. They also build several starter stick constructions to present to females. The female then chooses which nest is best and takes over building the nest with cottony spider cocoons, fine fibers and downy feathers.
House Wren

The other birds checking out the boxes are probably newly mated and trying out different nesting sites. They flit about from sight to sight in the early spring looking for the best nest.

I’m glad you are having such success. Just be a little patient and let nature take its course.

Thanks for your advice. Your nudge to be patient was very useful (working on that in many areas of my life :)) The bluebirds are completing their nest……they were just taking their time with it.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Can birds become dependent on bird feeders?

Spring and Summertime is a great time to feed birds. You may see different birds at your feeders during summer than you do during winter. And many, such as finches and warblers, may sport their vibrant spring and summer plumage spreading color throughout your yard.

For much of North America summertime is a great time to see hummingbirds and other nectar-eating birds. Hummingbirds are frequent feeder visitors because they eat nearly half their weight in nectar every day!

You'll also be in for a treat when woodpeckers, bluebirds, and other nesting birds bring their babies to your feeders to teach them how to eat at the feeder. The young fledglings put on such a show!

Birds only supplement their diet up to 10 to 20 percent at feeders. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office of Bird Management states: "If you enjoy feeding the birds, there is no reason to stop feeding the birds in the summer. You can do it year round. Feeding the birds in the summer will not make them lazy or too dependent."

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology scientists state; " Keep the restaurant open year round and offer a variety of seeds and suet."

Talk with our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists at Wild Birds Unlimited about the many ways you can enjoy feeding the birds in summer and all year long. 

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Dark-eyed Junco migration

The Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis is a medium-sized sparrow with dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts which contrast with the white, outer tail and white belly. The female and immature juncos are less slate colored and tend to be browner than the adult male.

In mid-Michigan, it's almost time to say good bye to the juncos. These small birds prefer cold climates to nest, so they retreat north as spring arrives.

The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. Studies show winter junco flocks are 80 percent male in Michigan and 72 percent female in Alabama. Males risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring. As the days get longer and warmer, the boys migrate north.

So now in early spring, the jucos we see are mostly female. Once they fuel up they may linger a few days or continue north if the weather cooperates. You won't know until the next morning who you'll host for breakfast.

Juncos migrate at night at very low altitudes in flocks up to 100 individuals. Other birds like fox and tree sparrows may accompany the juncos. Flock composition can change from day to day during migration. Juncos prefer to forage and roost in groups during the day and may depart en masse at night but do not stay together during flight.

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.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Does the warm weather mean early migration?

Birds that winter in the south don’t exactly know that we are having an early spring. They generally leave the same time each year based on internal circadian rhythms and subtle changes in the sunlight. However once they begin their journey, the weather in the United States can play a big role in how quick they reach their nesting grounds.

When we have unexpected cold fronts in the spring, birds can stop temporarily or even reverse direction to wait for better traveling conditions. And with this yummy spring weather we’re experiencing, the birds may speed up their migration spending less time at their normal pit stops to reach their destination.

Lately there has been a lot of excitement in the air with this crazy weather. I have seen waves of Dark-eyed Juncos stopping briefly at my feeders only to leave the next day on their way further north to their nesting grounds. The chickadees have been conducting battles for territory through song and checking out nesting sites. Bluebirds and other birds have started to carry off mouthful of nesting materials. While robins and cardinals, up before the sun, sing lovely ballads for their mates.

Things seem to be moving much faster than normal and people are curious if the migrating orioles and hummingbirds will show up earlier this year. I usually put my nectar feeders up April 15th and expect to see regular birds visiting by May. But I just checked the migration maps, YIKES!!, they've been sighted in Michigan!

It's still early but I think I'm going to wash up my nectar feeders and put them up today. If you want to check the maps or report the sighting of a bird go to www.hummingbirds.net to check the status of hummingbirds and http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/Maps.html for a lot of other spring sightings.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk Nest

In the images above, the hawk with the band on the right leg is the female. The male has a band on his left leg. See live stream

Cornell Lab eNews Flash
LIVE: Red-tailed Hawk Nest

A new nest camera high above a Cornell University athletic field is streaming crystal-clear views of a Red-tailed Hawk nest via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website. The new camera stream puts viewers 80 feet off the ground and right beside the nest, where they can watch the hawks arrive, see them taking turns incubating the eggs, and compare notes on the two birds—the male has a more golden-tawny face and is slightly smaller than the female, who has been nicknamed "Big Red" for her alma mater.

The nest should be active for at least the next two months, and we hope you'll join us as we watch the young birds hatch and grow. The parents have raised young here for at least the last four years. As signs of spring began to show, the pair began adding sticks and green pine boughs to the nest, and the male started bringing prey, such as squirrels and pigeons, to offer the female. The pair now has two eggs, laid last Friday and on Monday, and we're waiting to see if they lay a third. The birds will incubate for 28-35 days from the date the first egg is laid.

To make sure no one misses out on the early stages of this Red-tailed Hawk story, we've put together a temporary page on our All About Birds website where we invite you to watch these magnificent birds. The site will be live 24 hours a day and the video can be streamed in HD. You can also watch on mobile devices such as smartphones and iPads. A full-featured BirdCams site will launch in late April with many more species, including  Osprey, Black Vulture, and Great Horned Owl.

Enjoy the view!


How long does a house fly live?‎

I saw a house fly today. When the weather warms, flies come out of diapause, a process similar to hibernation. This process, which comes on gradually, can last for months, and take place at any point in a housefly's life cycle.

The house fly (Musca domestica), is the most common of all domestic flies, accounting for about 91% of all flies in human habitations, and is one of the most widely distributed insects, found all over the world.

Each female fly lays about 5 batches of 100 eggs that hatch into larvae (maggots) within a day. They live and feed on dead and decaying organic material for about a week. After they’ve grown and shed their skin 3 times they find a cool dry place to transform into pupae. The adult flies then emerge from the pupae after 4 to 6 days and soon begin to look for mates. Adults live from 2 to 4 weeks. About twelve generations develop each summer.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where are the orioles?

I live near Millersburg, Mi. which is 32 miles east of Indian River. The last two years we have had Orioles feed at our jelly feeder and nest in the area.  Both years in July, the young was feeding themselves when we had an electrical storm with high winds and the Orioles disappeared. Is this normal?

I always say orioles are the last to arrive in the spring and first to leave in the summer. They usually hit my mid-Michigan feeder at the beginning of May with a big song and dance. I have my feeder on the window at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store and he'll sing right to the customers when he's happy and give me the look if I haven't had a chance to fill his jelly wells.

Then in June his visits are less frequent as he's busy incubating eggs and then sourcing out bugs for his babies and only stops by occasionally for a quick bite.

In July he becomes more secretive. As Baltimore Oriole babies become independent, parents begin their fall molt and are more susceptible to predators as they grow a new set of feathers. Peak migration is August and September but some begin as early as July if they are done nesting.

Besides molting, birds also have to fatten up before they leave and wait for just the right weather conditions. Birds have internal barometers and can actually feel changes in air pressure in their inner ear. When a storm approaches, the air pressure goes down and the birds eat a lot more in anticipating of bad weather. Then these smart birds will take advantage of the strong tailwinds for the long journey south.

October through February most orioles hang out in the tropics. March and April some orioles begin moving north. On average, they probably travel about 150 miles each night in flocks, flying at about 20 miles per hour. If the weather is favorable, it will take an oriole about 2-3 weeks to complete his migration north to reach my window again by May.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

When do the hummingbirds return?

The most frequently asked question in the spring is when to put out the hummingbird feeders?

In mid-Michigan you have to pay your taxes and put out your hummingbird feeders by April 15th. You can track the migration of the Ruby throated hummingbird on www.hummingbirds.net.

The hummingbirds we see in April probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bluebirds: Carrier of the Sky

Mountain Bluebird
Though their name is a bit misleading, bluebirds have fascinated birders for years. Just look at the many ways bluebirds distinguish themselves from other birds.

• There are three species of bluebirds found in North America, including Eastern, Western and Mountain Bluebirds.
• All bluebirds are cavity nesters and will use an artificial nest box. Habitat and nest cavities had been disappearing for many years, but bluebird populations have steadily increased for the past few decades due to thousands of bluebird nest boxes being installed across the country.
Western Bluebird
• Bluebirds may raise two and sometimes three broods per season. Pairs may build their second nests on top of the first nest or they may nest in an entirely new site. The male continues to take care of the recently fledged young while the female begins to re-nest. Young from the first brood will occasionally help raise their siblings in the second brood.
• Males may carry nest material to the nest, but they do not participate in the actual building. They spend much of that time guarding their mates to prevent them from mating with other males.
• Adult bluebirds tend to return to the same breeding territory year after year, but only a small percentage (3-5%) of young birds return to where they hatched.
• A bluebird can spot caterpillars and insects in tall grass at the remarkable distance of over 50 yards.
• Bluebirds have no blue pigments in their feathers. Instead, each feather barb has a thin layer of cells that absorb all wavelengths of color except blue. Only the blue wavelength is reflected and scattered, resulting in their blue appearance to our eyes.
Eastern Bluebird
• Unlike other bluebirds, Mountain bluebirds are able to hover above the ground while searching for insects. This enables them to live in areas with few trees or shrubs.
• Eastern Bluebirds will occasionally breed with Mountain Bluebirds and successfully raise young.
• Bluebirds can fly at speeds up to 45 miles per hour if necessary.
• When choosing natural nesting cavities, studies have shown that Eastern Bluebirds select abandoned woodpecker nests at least 75% of the time.
• The first Bluebird Nesting Box Trail was established in Adams County, Illinois in 1934, by T.E. Musselman.

Source: WBU BOTM 

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

What to know about feeding birds in the spring

I hope everyone has caught up with the spring forward we did last weekend. Spring is just around the corner. Are you ready? If you haven’t already prepared your yard, I made a spring cleaning checklist to help.

Preparing Your Yard for the Spring:
1. Provide Nesting Spots- Place nest boxes and nesting material out for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might breed in mid-Michigan. Clean out and repair old nestboxes to allow birds the opportunity to nest in a warm, clean house. You can also plant natural shelters like trees or bushes.
2. Prepare Bird Baths- Scrub the bath with a good brush and change your water. There are also two different products available at Wild Birds Unlimited to help maintain the quality of the water. The first is a liquid you add each time you change the water or there is a tablet you leave in the water for a month.
Birdbath Cleaning Brush: This 8" brush is well suited for cleaning birdbaths, as well as for many other household uses. It has stiff, tough polypropylene bristles that will do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.
CareFree Enzymes is a bio-enzymatic product specially formulated for birdbaths to prevent organic contaminants from forming including white scale deposits, iron, copper and hard water stains. It uses two unique proprietary technologies; one system helps to prevent the buildup of stains and mineral deposits on the birdbath surfaces, while the second system keeps water clear and free from the organic debris that can make the water cloudy.
Healthy Ponds Birdbath Dispenser treats birdbaths up to 7 gallons. Delivered with two disposable, floating plastic dispensers; each refill is effective for up to 30 days.
3. Clean Feeders - Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI- will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use 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. Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.
4. Feeder/Hardware Maintenance- Check your feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill. Find where you've stored your hummingbird and oriole feeders and give them a good cleaning.
If you are going to need a new Advanced Pole System to hang your feeders, now is a good time to come in to Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI and get help designing a new feeding station.
5. Fill Feeders- Wild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will nest in this season. Natural food sources are scarce right now and birds are definitely taking note of which yards have food available.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Photo Share: Goldfinches change color as spring approaches

JB and I have been watching the goldfinches go through their spring molt. They are exchanging their dull winter feathers for their bright yellow spring colors.

Finding that extra energy to go through a complete molt in the spring means there has been a feeding frenzy at my feeders lately. They are so fun to watch!

Many people don't realize that the American Goldfinches are not bright yellow all year. In fact they are the only finch in North America to go through a complete molt two times a year.

In the spring the male turns bright yellow with a black cap, wings, and tail, and white rump. In the photo the male goldfinch is just starting to get a few black feathers on his head and bright yellow feathers on his body. The female keeps the duller brown color and lacks the black cap.

The American Goldfinch’s legs, feet and bill also change from a dark grayish brown to a buffy yellow orange color.

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

What kind of bird bath is the best?

Water is one of the most important necessities that birds need year-round.
If you are thirsty where do you go? Finding safe, clean water is often difficult for birds. By offering a bird bath you can make a bird’s life a little easier.

Baths not only provide clean water to quench thirst, baths also help birds maintain their feathers. A good part of a bird's day is spent just cleaning and grooming their feathers by bathing, scratching, and preening. It’s so important that it is often the first place parent birds bring their newly fledged babies.

Right now there are also lots of birds traveling thousands of miles between wintering grounds and nesting grounds that just need a place to stop.

Come in to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing
and Dolly can help you choose the best bath
As forests have been cleared for development, birds have to find sanctuary in whatever forest, woodlot, or yard that is available when they become too tired or encounter bad weather on their journey. And if they choose your yard to stop over, hopefully you’ll have fresh water, food, and shelter to make their journey a little easier.

I know in the next couple months I’ll be seeing warblers, tanagers, buntings, and variety of other birds stopping at my water bath as well as visits from my regular cardinals, chickadees, and finches. Water will attract all species of birds. It's one of the easiest ways to bring birds up close, so the whole family can get a really good look and enjoy their beauty.

Tips for choosing a bird bath
Depth – I like a bath with a gradual dip to the middle no deeper than 2”. If your bath is any deeper, it’s nice to place a stone in the middle for the birds to make an easy escape.

Size – Baths can be any size. I have a very shallow tiny bath staked near the ground that the cardinal and goldfinches frequent and a large bath a little father away that the robins and doves prefer.

Appearance/MaterialWild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing stores have a variety of bird bath styles from glass, ceramic, metal and plastic.  As long as the water is fresh and the birds feel safe, all the baths will attract birds.

Location – In nature water is usually found on the ground or perhaps pooled in the leaves of a plant after a rain. Birds will come to the water at any level, so place the bath where you can see it easily to enjoy the birds.

Water Movement - Moving water will attract birds and can minimize insects and algae growth. Adding a mister or water wiggler can be fun.

Maintenance – It is important to keep you bath clean. Make sure to have a good stiff brush to scrub you bath occasionally and I also add a specially formulated bird bath protector to the water to prevent organic contaminants from forming and keep the water clear. Everything is available at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The First Butterfly of Spring!

I was working in the garden over the weekend and was excited to see a two inch orange and black butterfly flutter across the lawn. I looked it up the Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide that we have at the Wild BirdsUnlimited - East Lansing store and narrowed it down to an Eastern Comma or Question Mark butterfly.

Close relatives to each other, both species hibernate and appear on warm sunny days near the end of March. The field guide says that they are often quite wary and difficult to approach closely. Its rapid, erratic flight was also assisted by the high winds and so it disappeared before I could get a good look.

These butterflies seldom visit flowers which is a good thing right now. They actually feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung and carrion.

In the spring the males look for females. Once mated the female lays eggs under leaves of plants until the end of May. The young caterpillars hatch and munch on American elms, red elms, hackberry plants, Japanese hops, nettles, and more until its time to shed their skin and form into a chrysalis. After a couple weeks, a butterfly emerges, usually in the morning and afternoon hours.

When the summer adults emerge, they live, mate, and lay more eggs from May-September. Their eggs will develop the winter form of the butterflies that can overwinter to mate once again in the spring.

These punctuation butterflies were named for the white markings on the underside of the hindwings that look something like a question mark and comma.

Source: Butterflies of Michigan by Jaret C. Daniels
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Mourning Doves defend their nests

I have a mourning dove nest on my magnolia tree with 3 eggs. The bad thing about it, I believe, is how very low it is. I’m only 5’2” and I can see the eggs when she flies away. Should I place a bird house higher? We have cats running around from time to time I'm afraid they can get to her nest very easily.

Once a bird has chosen her nesting site, it’s best to leave her alone. They will learn through trial and error about how and where to build nests. If this particular site doesn’t work out for her, she will move on to a new location.

Doves are known for their inappropriate nesting sites. Their nest is usually a fragile, shallow platform of twigs. They will nest on the branch of a shrub, tree or even sometimes on the ground. They do not nest in bird houses and so I do not recommend placing a house above the nest.

An interesting fact about the dove nest building process is that the male bird collects the sticks and passes them to the female to weave into a nest while standing on her back. Once she lays her eggs, the pair rarely leaves the nest unattended. The male usually incubates from mid-morning until late afternoon, and the female sits the rest of the day and night.

Doves, like a lot of birds, rely on camouflage to protect them from predators’ attacks. Sometimes they remain still until danger passes or they may leave the nest as danger approaches, to lure the predator away.

When they are not nesting they generally eat enough to fill their bi-lobed crops and then fly back to digest. The bird's crop is a large sac at the bottom of the esophagus. In some warmer areas the Mourning Doves nest almost year round because they feed their young “crop milk,” a fluid from the lining of the crop. The parents regurgitate the "milk" directly into the hatchling's mouth and throat.

Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. While the average longevity for a typical adult is only about 1.5 years, the oldest known free-living Mourning Dove, as proven by bird banding research, was more than 31 years old. This is the longest life-span ever recorded for any terrestrial bird found in North America.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

FAQ about bird flocking behavior

Do birds warm their feet on telephone wires?
I think the main reason birds sit on high wires is because it’s a nice resting area. Power lines like trees, provide safe, high perches that allow smaller birds to survey the surrounding area for predators.

Why do the birds face the same direction?
Scientists believe the main reason that birds face the same way on a wire is due to the direction of the wind. Birds have an easier time taking off and landing facing the wind.

Birds sit on power lines, trees, roofs or any perch, facing into the wind. Any other direction would ruffle their feathers. It's also easier to communicate.

How can birds sit on electrical wires and not get electrocuted?
When birds are only in contact with one power line, they are not forming a complete circuit, so the electricity does not flow through them. 
Unfortunately, some larger birds, like hawks and eagles, have been electrocuted when they stretch their wings into another power line, completing the circuit.

When you see lots of birds on the wires, is bad weather coming?
Most birds have a special middle-ear receptor called the Vitali organ, which can sense incredibly small changes in barometric pressure. So if the activity at feeders suddenly becomes much more intense a storm may be approaching. Also, birds flying low or lining up on power lines can indicate swiftly falling air pressure.

Birds watch birdwatchers watching birds.
Sometimes I think birds like to watch us as much as we watch them because they seem to flock around the busier intersections.
Thank you for all the interesting questions.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bufflehead: Black and white duck

Hi! Are Bufflehead ducks common in Michigan? My husband spotted a male/ female pair in our pond and they've been here all day! Its fun to watch them... Will they stick around? ~ Bellevue, MI

Buffleheads can winter in mid-Michigan but they nest in Alaska and Canada. They usually begin to migrate to their breeding grounds from early March to early May. After nesting you may see them again in late September.

The Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) is the smallest diving duck in North America. They weigh about one pound and are about 13–16 inches long. Adult males are striking black and white, with iridescent green and purple heads with a large white patch behind the eye. Females are grey-toned with a smaller white patch behind the eye and a light underside. Their name is derived from “buffalo-head”, referring to the large, round head of the male when he puffs out his head feathers.

Unlike many ducks, they are mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years. They nest almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers or in nest boxes, lined with downy feathers from chest of female. Similar birds that do nest in mid-Michigan are the Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) and Wood Duck (Aix sponsa).

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

How to deter mobs of blackbirds from bird feeders

I love it when the feeders are mobbed by the big, loud, blackbirds and starlings in the beginning of the year. They’re all excited! Nesting season is near! Like at a start of a race, there is an energy in the air and it feels like it’s going to burst!

Unfortunately most of the bugs (their favorite summer food) haven’t appeared yet and March means slim pickings for a lot of birds. So they turn to feasting at your feeders.

While I love all the activity, I know most normal people don’t. So what can you do to deter the starlings and blackbirds, but still attract cardinals, chickadees, finches, and all the other less boisterous backyard birds?

Feeder Choices
  • Squirrel Buster Plus- This feeder is guaranteed Squirrel and large bird proof. You can exclude large nuisance birds with this feeder by rolling in the perches to make them short. You can also adjust the tension on the spring mechanism to have the feeder ports shut when large birds land. Blackbirds weigh twice as much as cardinals.
  • Upside Down Suet Feeder- a feeder that dispenses suet from the bottom doesn’t phase a woodpecker but will deter most blackbirds.
  • Finch Feeders- I’ve never had a problem with the blackbirds on any finch feeders that are filled with straight nyger thistle seed.
Food Choices
  • Use pure beef suet with no seeds
  • Switch to straight safflower seed: Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including jays, cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.
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·         What are those birds that sit on the wires? http://bit.ly/y608rz
·         Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
·         How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
·         What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/w3ZBGa
·         What do grackles eat? http://bit.ly/xBhX3j