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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Red-billed Queleas are the world's most numerous wild bird

You think your birds are eating you out of house and home, just be glad you’re not feeding the Red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea).  Native to bush, grasslands, and savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa this small finch is the most abundant bird on the planet today.

Each day, queleas consume their weight in seeds from native annual grasses. Often referred to as ‘feathered locusts’, queleas can form nomadic super-colonies of up to 30 million, feeding on ripe sorghum, wheat, barley, rice, sunflowers and corn.
Red-billed Quelea distribution map

During the breeding season, hatchlings are initially fed caterpillars, grasshoppers and other insects, before being fed grass seeds. A colony in Namibia was estimated to comprise 4.8 million adults and 4.8 million fledglings, and consumed approximately 13 tons of insects and 800–1200 tons of grass seeds during its breeding cycle.

The video below shows 1.5 billion Red-billed quelea swarming over Africa’s savannah. 

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Most common winter hawks in Michigan

What hawks are in mid-Michigan in the winter? I was watching my feeder 2 days ago and a hawk swooped down and tried to snag a house finch. The finch took off and there was a wild chase and I don't think the hawk got him. I did not get a good look at the hawk as it happened very quickly.

The most common neighborhood winter hawks in Michigan are the Sharp-shinned Hawks and the Cooper's Hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more people have been reported seeing them at well-stocked feeding stations.

Less common in the neighborhoods are the Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, and Northern Goshawks.

Life is very difficult for raptors. An estimated 80% of raptors don't make it through the first year. Studies have shown that the success rates for hawks capturing their prey are less than 20%. There is some evidence that hawks catch a higher percentage of weak and diseased birds simply because they are easier to catch. As a result, this helps to keep the remaining population healthier.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flys away. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties.
  • Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by Hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding. 
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Thanks to everyone who participated in the GBBC!

GBBC eNewsletter

February 27, 2012
Eastern Screech-Owls by Mary Sanford, New Hampshire, 2012 GBBC

On A Record-Setting Pace

Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! Data are coming in at a record-breaking pace. As of Monday, February 27, participants have submitted 95,480 checklists reporting 611 species and 16,453,862 individual bird observations. Will we set a new record for the most checklists? If you tallied the birds but haven't sent in your checklist, please do so by March 5!

To see the latest standings for species and locations with the highest totals, check the Top 10 Lists at any time. Preliminary results show that more records of Snowy Owls were reported in the GBBC this year than in past counts (628 reports of Snowy Owls in 29 states and provinces so far compared with the next highest year, 237 Snowy Owls in 22 states and provinces in 2009). Scientists from Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada will take a look at the data on Snowy Owls and other birds after we've received all the counts. We'll share the highlights with you in a few weeks.

In the meantime, we invite you to explore the GBBC website, where you can choose maps, look at state and province tallies, or search for results about a particular bird species or town. While you're there, check out a sampling of fantastic photos from across the continent and Hawaii, showcased in this year's photo gallery.

Data Entry Deadline is March 5

Just a reminder that you have until Monday, March 5, to submit your tallies from any day of the count during February 17-20. After March 5, data entry will be closed. To get started, look for the button that says, “Submit Your Checklists!” on the GBBC home page.

TIP: If you don't see a species you're looking for, click on the "rarities" button. The button is on the right side of the bird list page, next to the button that allows you to list species alphabetically. If the species you're looking for is still not listed, you can note it in the comments section for future reference, though it will not go into the database.

CORRECTIONS: If you realize you made a mistake, we can delete your entire checklist and you can enter a new, corrected list. Just look for the link to make corrections beneath the "submit your checklists" button on the GBBC home page. Thank you!
Left: 91-year-old recumbant biker birder, by Pamela Graber, Florida; Right: Red-headed Woodpecker by Harold Weber, Mississippi, 2012 GBBC

GBBC Participant Comments

"My two grandchildren, ages 7 and 12, did the GBBC with me today...We enjoyed the process very much and look forward to doing it again."

"I love doing the GBBC!  It brings a bright spot to those winter days. Despite being 8 months pregnant and working full-time, I have done 6 counts!"

"Hello from Halifax! We had a lovely time participating in the GBBC this year."


"The kids were excited to receive their certificates for participating. One already has it in a frame on his wall!"

See more than 200 photos in the GBBC gallery!


Snowy Owl by Marilyn Grubb, Alberta, 2012 GBBC
Northern Cardinal by Glenda Simmons, Florida, 2012 GBBC
Northern Shrike by Réjean Turgeon, Québec, 2012 GBBC
Laysan Albatross by John Riggins, Hawaii, 2012 GBBC
Pyrrhuloxia by Paul Pruitt, Texas, 2012 GBBC
Yellow-billed Magpies by Don Metzner, California, 2012 GBBC
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited, a sponsor of the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Keep up with us on Facebook and join the flock! 

Birds freeze or fly at the approach of a predator

I had a customer come in and tell me that the most common prey the hawks ate outside her office window were woodpeckers. While at my house the bird most often attacked is the Mourning Dove. Two birds, that go instinctively into defensive mode when a predator is around, but in completely opposite ways.

Since woodpeckers aren’t fast flyers, a downy’s best defense is to freeze in place to escape a predator’s notice if he can't make it safely to an evergreen shrub.

Scattering at the first hint of danger is another way for birds to survive. Doves usually feed in flocks and fly in every direction in a flurry of feathers to confuse predators. They can accelerate to speeds greater than 60 mph and make abrupt changes in direction and speed to make a quick getaway.

Depending on the situation, some birds may employ both strategies. A chickadee will flee if dense cover is nearby, but freeze if he’s been caught unaware by a hawk's appearance.

A third defensive tactic is “mobbing”. This is when smaller birds try and to drive the bigger birds out of their territory. Blue Jays and American Crows mob birds of prey all year long; while other birds like mockingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, and common grackles primarily mob these big birds during the breeding season.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Little brown bird with red head and striped wings

Hello, I’m trying to identify little birds the size of goldfinches. They are little brown birds on my finch feeder that have red heads, black faces and well defined lines on the wings. I’ve never seen them before. Can you help? ~ Lansing, MI

What you’ve described sounds like a Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea). They are small brown and white birds with streaked sides and two white wing bars. They also have a red forehead and black feathering on the face around a yellow bill. The males are distinguished from the females by red feathers on the upper chest.

Ted Black’s Birds of Michigan field guide describes the Common Redpoll as a predictably unpredictable winter visitor. They eat a variety of foods including birch and alder seeds or sunflower and nyjer thistle seed at the feeders.

They eat up to 42 percent of their body mass every day; storing seeds in a throat poach in their esophagus to eat at a later time. Their focus on food helps make wintering redpolls remarkably fearless of humans.

Their common name is derived from the color and “taking a poll” or counting heads. The species name Carduelis flammea means “goldfinch flaming”.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

What do they mean by lifer birds?

What do people mean when they say they have spotted a lifer bird? ~ Lansing, Michigan

Some bird watchers compile a list of every bird they see. Common birds at the feeders make the list first. Eventually a list of all the bird species they see and identify with absolute certainty in their lifetime is compiled. And there may be some excitement when a rarer bird is added to someone’s personal list.

Some birdwatchers will also increase their life lists in competitions for the most birds spotted when they create a national list, state list, county list, or year list. Typically, the list is kept in a journal that notes the bird species, the date, location and any notes you want to add. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing has a Birding Journal that helps you keep track of the birds you’ll see throughout the seasons. It also has tips, trivia and blank pages for notes and sketches.

If you are interested in creating your own life list, you can get a list of all the birds sighted in Michigan from the Michigan Audubon website or Wikipedia’s List of birds of Michigan.

Wikipedia also has a List of birds of Canada and the United States and the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) has a checklist of the 2,078 bird species known in North American.

Finally, for a list of the almost 10,000 bird species in the world go to http://www.birdlist.org/index.htm or check out the American Birding Association’s official list at http://www.aba.org/checklist/abachecklist.pdf.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Photo Share: Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) by Donna Dewhurst
Did you miss anything on the Wild Birds Unlimited blog this week?

Weekly Recap: 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What are the advantages of the Peterson’s Bluebird House?

With the approach of spring the Eastern Bluebirds are beginning to search actively for places to nest. If you live in the country, near an open field or around a golf course that has open spaces and trees, you have a very good chance of attracting a nesting pair of bluebirds to your property.

Eastern Bluebirds are cavity nesters and prefer to nest in abandoned woodpecker nests or tree hollows. However with suburban growth, bluebirds natural hunting fields were reduced and old tree snags were eliminated.  

Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI has several styles of functional bird houses that help bluebirds find a place to nest. The Peterson bluebird house, designed by Dick Peterson of Brooklyn Center, MN is a relatively new design that is becoming more and more popular.

Special features of the Peterson’s house at Wild Birds Unlimited:
• The steep roof and its overhang prevent predators from reaching into the entrance hole and also keeps out bad weather.
• The heavy cedar construction provides insulation to moderate temperature extremes within the box.
• An opening between the door and roof and holes in the side walls allows ventilation.
• The narrow width of the house is preferred by bluebirds and the small floor size may expedite nest completion.
A larger oval-shaped opening mimics natural woodpecker opening and is attractive to bluebirds.
• The front panel swings open easily for easy monitoring and cleaning and there are drainage holes in the bottom of the nestbox.
• They are built to NABS (North American Bluebird Society) specifications.
And made in Michigan from discarded western red cedar pieces that are hand sorted.

The houses are easy to mount on our Wild Birds Unlimited APS birdhouse pole or a fence post approximately five feet above the ground. Just make sure to space them at least 100 to 150 yards apart.

Past research has found the birds prefer the early morning sun coming in the front of the house as it faces east, away from prevailing winds and facing towards a tree or shrub. Trees and shrubs provide a perching area for the bluebirds to hunt bugs and a landing spot for the young bluebirds when they first leave the house.

If you have Tree Swallows in the area mount a second house not more than 10 feet away from the other box to deter bluebird/swallow fights. This "pairing" allows both songbirds to nest close together successfully and team up to scare away predators. 

The Peterson bluebird house is a wonderful example of design and function that meets the needs of birds and bird watchers alike. It provides an excellent home for birds to raise their little babies and is simple to mount and maintain.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Chemical-Free Lawn is Bird Friendly

After putting up different bird feeders last fall, I now have various kinds of birds visiting my backyard daily.  Is it safe to use weed killer and fertilizer on my lawn and flower gardens? Thanks, Raleigh, North Carolina

According to the (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center, many birds die each year from landscape pesticides, when they eat pesticide granules or eat poisoned insects. To reduce or eliminate your use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides use disease- and pest-resistant plants, cultivate native plant species, and reduce the lawn area. If you manage your yard naturally, you can increase natural insect predators like ladybugs, praying mantises, frogs, toads and of course birds. Leaf mulches and compost also add nutrients to soil and eliminate the need for weed killers and fertilizers.

Spreading chemicals on the lawn is a relatively new idea that became widespread after World War II. But green lawns existed long before these chemicals were developed and the following are some more suggestions on how to keep your lawn green:

1.  Longer grass - Longer grass has deeper roots, is more drought resistant, and shades the ground, which decreases the amount of weed seeds that can germinate. Mowing it shorter than three inches can stress your turf.
2. Natural fertilizer - Leave the grass clippings on your lawn to break down, add Nitrogen to the soil and fertilizer the lawn naturally.
3. Aerate your lawn - Earthworms do a good job of working against soil compaction, but you can also mechanically punch holes in your lawn in the spring or fall. It’s easy to do and the plugs you remove are left on top to break down and fertilize. Lawn aeration also attracts birds that like to eat exposed bug larvae. 
4. All weeds and bugs aren’t bad - Clover was once a highly desirable lawn plant, until the 1950s when a company launched a PR campaign denouncing clover, and then, predictably, introduced an herbicide that killed it. But clover stays green year round, fixes nitrogen in the soil and may bring you good luck if you see one with 4 leaves. Healthy lawns contain a variety of insects and their relatives and are an important part of the natural balance. Bugs break down leaf litter or become a source of food for other insects, birds or mammals.
5. Corn gluten meal as a natural herbicide and lawn fertilizer - Corn gluten, a by-product of corn processing, suppresses crabgrass and dandelions when added in the early spring, and it also feeds your lawn.

Sources: 
- Pesticides and Wild Birds 
- Natural Organic Lawn Care  
- Audubon Association 
- 7 Chemical Free Fixes For Common Lawn Problems
- Are Fertilizers Herbicides And Pesticides Safe For Your Lawn?

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why am I seeing bluebirds and robins in the winter?

Hello, I have several bluebirds in my yard and I've never had them before!  Are they migratory?  Why are they here now?? I also had a robin yesterday! Kind of worried about them, should I be? ~ Marcia

There is no need to worry. Some America Robins migrate but if you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of Robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common.

After nesting season has ended, they 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’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts. They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

The Eastern Bluebirds also gathers in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

With the lengthening of daylight the birds are becoming more active. Nesting season is just around the corner. Make sure your houses are ready and feeders and baths are full.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Wild Birds Unlimited has the best mealworms

I’ve had customers come in and tell me that the mealworms they buy at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, Michigan are far better than anywhere else and I just read a study that may explain why the birds prefer our worms.

Birds choose food with highest nutrition. Such “nutritional wisdom” allows animals to make a diet choice that satisfies their physiological needs. For example, carotenoids are immuno-stimulants and also help with feather pigmentation. Therefore, colorful species will seek out food with high levels of carotenoids.

Mealworms left to feed just on the bran in their container don’t contain as many carotenoids as my mealworms which are fed a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every 2 weeks. Although there is no specific information on the how the birds can tell which mealworms are cartenoid-rich, it’s thought that the preference may be based on smell or taste.

You can help your birds out too by feeding your mealworms right before they are presented to the birds. Some good foods to feed mealworms are bananas, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, broccoli or cantaloupe.

Source: Specific Appetite for Carotenoids in a Colorful Bird - http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0010716

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fun Facts on the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Red-shouldered Hawks belong to a group of hawks called “Buteos” or soaring hawks.  Buteo is the Latin name of the Common Buzzard. In the Old World, members of this genus are called "buzzards", but "hawk" is used in North America.

The Red-shouldered Hawk is a medium-sized raptor with a chunky appearance, broad wings and fan-shaped tail. They have a brown head, a dark brown back and reddish brown finely barred under parts. The Red-shouldered Hawk gets its name from reddish brown feathers on their upper wings giving the bird the appearance of having red shoulders, although this part of the wing is actually the hawk’s wrist. Their tails are dark brown/black with narrow white bands.

They range from the Great Lakes region east to Maine and south to Texas and Florida. They are also found along the coast of California. Populations of this hawk in the northeast migrate to northern Mexico for the winter.

Red-shouldered hawks usually live in deciduous or mixed deciduous-conifer forests and swamps. They like to perch on dead trees to observe and hunt animals on the forest floor. You may be able to locate them by one of their common calls, “keeyuur, keeyuur”. They hunt mainly small mammals, no larger than a rabbit or squirrel. They will also eat snakes, toads, frogs, small birds, and large insects.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

What are the differences between the Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends?

Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements. An ample supply of fresh high-calorie foods is crucial to a bird's survival.

Wild Birds Unlimited has regionally formulated seed blends to provide the most nutritious food for your birds. The first ingredient in our top 4 seed blends is sunflower seed. Oil Sunflower seed is the favorite of most of the backyard seed eating birds and I always like it to be the first ingredient in my bird seed blend.

Choice, Supreme, and Deluxe all have oil sunflower, striped sunflower, safflower, and sunflower chips. Deluxe also has white proso millet to attract the ground feeding birds like the juncos, sparrows, and doves.

Choice is the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing’s second most popular blend. It has peanut pieces in the mix. Now when I tell that to most people they say, “oh, no that will attract squirrels”, but the peanuts in the mix are for the birds. Lots of bug eating birds like the woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches love to pick out the peanuts. Peanuts have a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. Lots of interesting birds love peanuts.

We get our seed in almost every week and for the East Lansing  Wild Birds Unlimited store and I order the most of the No-Mess Blend by far. We have to bring in so many bags of no-mess that it is sometimes hard to find a place to store the extra tonnage on the floor.

Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's no debris on the ground to clean up.

The first ingredient in the No-Mess blend is sunflower seed without the hull, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet without the hull. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

Each of our blends is mixed to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix but aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Therefore, there is no wasted seed. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Photo share: Evening Grosbeaks (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

A trio of evening grosbeaks take a drink from a bird bath. ~ photo by George Gentry in Oregon
Did you miss anything on the Wild Birds Unlimited blog this week?

Weekly Recap: 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Backyard Bird Count Begins

GBBC eNewsletter

Blue Jay by Marie Lehmann, Florida, 2011 GBBC
Are You Ready? The 15th Great Backyard Bird Count starts February 17-20. You are invited to be part of a massive citizen-science effort across North America. Tens of thousands of fellow bird watchers will be counting birds and submitting their checklists to www.birdcount.org. Just watch birds for at least 15 minutes at any location and tally the highest number of each bird species you see at any one time. Submit a new checklist for each day and each new location where you count.

Things You Can Do During the Countdown to the GBBC:
• Forward this message to neighbors, friends, and relatives, asking them to participate. Every checklist counts!
• Fill your bird feeders if you plan to count birds at your feeders.
• Charge up your camera batteries so you can capture that perfect picture for the GBBC photo contest, or document a rarity.
• If you'd like a preview of the birds you might see in your area, enter your zip or postal code on this web page to get printable tally sheets.
American Robin by Jean Hale, Massachusetts, 2011 GBBC

Things to Watch for During the GBBC
• In past counts, participants were most likely to report American Robins in areas without snow. Will more robins be seen farther north this year?
• Will some birds, such as Eastern Phoebes and geese, begin their migrations earlier because of the warmer temperatures and lack of snow or ice in many parts of the country?
• Fewer Blue Jays have been reported in the Northeast in recent months; will GBBC reports show the same trend?
• Where will the Snowy Owls turn up next?


Free Snowy Owl Info

Because the Snowy Owl irruption has captured so much attention in recent months, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is providing free access to comprehensive information about the species from Birds of North America Online, typically only available by subscription. See info

To learn more about Snowy Owl sightings, read the eBird article "The Winter of the Snowy Owl." Go

Snowy Owl by Kim Graham, Ohio, 2006 GBBC
Orange-crowned Warbler by Linda Alley, Texas, 2006 GBBC

Get the Picture

We’ll have a 2012 GBBC photo album set up so you can enjoy some of the images that are uploaded for the annual photo contest. In recent years we’ve been getting 6,000 to 7,000 images and have posted a few hundred of them during the count. Be sure to read over the photo contest rules and terms of use before submitting your entry.
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited, a sponsor of the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Keep up with us on Facebook and join the flock! 

High quality bird feeders made in the USA

At Wild Birds Unlimited you can choose from a variety of the very best feeders. Most are made in America and have a lifetime guarantee.

This week's focus is on Aspects’ Quick-Clean Nyjer Tube Feeders. They combine heavy die-cast metal caps and base with a clear UV stabilized polycarbonate tube that won't yellow with age and will lasts a lifetime.  

A built-in seed deflector in the base allows birds to remove every last seed. While the revolutionary removable base makes cleaning the feeder a snap!

You can add a seed tray to attract more birds, or protect the feeder from the elements with an Aspects’ weather dome.  

The finch feeder is available in three sizes and colors at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Have you ever seen a black chipmunk?

The black squirrel, a melanistic subgroup of the common gray squirrel, is found all over mid-Michigan, but have you ever seen black chipmunk?

The following is a video of a melanistic Eastern Chipmunk that showed up at one of the local nature trails in Canada. 


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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Heart Birds

I thought this was an appropriate love poem for St. Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Do birds have belly buttons?

Stages in chick embryo development
All mammals have navels or belly buttons where the umbilical cord distributes nutrients between a mother and her fetus. After birth, the umbilical cord is cut and a scar develops on the abdomen where the hole closes. Humans have very obvious buttons. Other mammals like my cats have teeny, tiny, little, bare patches.

Of course avians or birds hatch from eggs which are virtually self-contained life-support systems that only require warmth and oxygen to develop properly. Instead of an umbilical cord scar, birds have yolk sac scars at hatching. This is where the chick embryo is attached to the yolk sac.

But don’t look for any bird belly button rings. The scars usually heal and become virtually invisible.

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Photo credit:  http://msucares.com/poultry/reproductions/poultry_chicks_embryo.html

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Identifying Brown Birds: Do birds change colors in the winter?

I’m new to bird watching. Do you have a book that shows the backyard birds in their winter colors? We have a lot of brown birds and I’m having a hard time telling the difference. ~ Birch Run, Michigan

Most of our backyard birds in Michigan go through only one full molt a year in the fall. They replace their tired old feathers with a new set that will last until next fall. Most of the brown birds you are seeing at the feeders are probably just that, little brown birds that are brown their whole life. The two exceptions are the European Starlings and the American Goldfinches.

Starlings molt their feathers in the fall too, but their new feathers are black with white tips giving the bird “stars”. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

The American Goldfinches are the only mid-Michigan finch to go through a molt in the fall and one in the spring. The male goldfinches molt into duller winter colors that resemble the female's soft olive green and subdued yellow tones. And just when it seems as though winter will last forever, the male goldfinch forecasts spring’s arrival with the reappearance of its glamorous buttery yellow.

Color can be confusing. Any of our Birds of Michigan books can help you identify birds as well as any of the North American field guides we have at Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan.

So what are all the brown birds you are seeing at the feeders? The most common backyard winter brown birds in Michigan are: House Sparrows, Dark-eyedJuncos, Carolina Wrens, female House Finches, Pine Siskins, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Creepers, Common Redpolls, female Northern Cardinals, European Starlings and American Goldfinches.

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