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

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blue and orange bird making mud nest

I actually have a barn swallow nesting on my house! The nest construction was amazing. It looked like there were several birds building the nest. How long does she sit on the eggs? ~ Portland, MI

Barn Swallows have a steely blue back, head, wings, and tail, and a rufous neck and tan belly. White spots under the scissor tail can be difficult to see except in flight. Males are more boldly colored than females.

In Michigan, Barn Swallows come up from South America in the spring to breed. They are very adaptable birds and can nest anywhere with open areas for foraging, a water source, and a sheltered ledge. Barn Swallows once nested in caves throughout North America, but now build their nests almost exclusively on human-made structures.

Both birds of a pair make the nest. They build the shell of mud, and line it with grass and feathers. Unmated adult males or “helpers” often associate with a breeding pair to assist in nest building, nest defense, incubation and brooding. "Helpers" may also succeed in mating with the resident female, leading to polygyny. Juveniles from the first brood of the season have also been observed assisting their parents in feeding a second brood.

Breeding pairs form each spring and can produce 2 clutches per season from May until August. Both parents incubate about 5 eggs for about two weeks, feed their nestlings for about 20 days and continue to feed them for about 2 weeks after they have fledged.

Barn swallows are quite effective in reducing insect pest populations. While in the nest, barn swallow parents may feed their nestlings up to 400 times per day. Flies, grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, beetles, moths and other flying insects make up 99 % of their diet. They catch most of their prey while in flight, and are able to feed their young at the nest while flying.

The survival of the Barn Swallows and their relationship with humans may have been helped by superstition that any damage to a Barn Swallow's nest leads to cows with no milk and to hens without eggs.

Related Article:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Study reveals birds and children don't learn in the same way

Aesop's Fable: The Crow and the Pitcher

A Crow, half-dead with thirst, came upon a Pitcher which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the Pitcher he found that only very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair. 

Then a thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the Pitcher. 

At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.

    Little by little does the trick.

A study has shown that young children and crows can both solve similar tasks, but only the children were able to retrieve the reward when it was a task that defied logic.

The main purpose of the study was to see whether birds and children learn in the same way. Study leader Lucy Cheke, from Cambridge University, said that, based on the results, it seems they don't: the birds were unable to learn when something apparently impossible happened, while children were able to learn about what was happening even if they had no idea how it was happening.

"It is children's job to learn about the world," Cheke says, "and they can't do that when they are limited by a preconceived idea about what is or is not possible. For a child, if it works, it works.

"The children were able to learn what to do to get the reward even if the chain-of-events was apparently impossible. Essentially, they were able to ignore the fact that it shouldn't be happening to concentrate on the fact that it was happening.

"The birds however, found it much harder to learn what was happening because they were put off by the fact that it shouldn't be happening.

"The Aesop's fable paradigm provides an incredibly useful means by which to compare cause-effect learning with understanding of underlying mechanisms.

"We are planning on extending this paradigm to really try to understand what's going on in the heads of adults, children and animals when they deal with problems in the physical world."

Sources:
  1. Lucy G. Cheke, Elsa Loissel, Nicola S. Clayton. How Do Children Solve Aesop's Fable? PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (7): e40574 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0040574
  2. Translations of The Crow and the Pitcher by Aesop http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Crow_and_the_Pitcher

Friday, July 27, 2012

When black birds fly south

A flock of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius pho...Now that breeding season is over for Red-winged Blackbirds, they will begin to gather in flocks of all male or all female birds. Northern populations migrate south to the southern United States and Central America beginning as early as August. Even though we’ve had no break in the weather, many birds are feeling a sudden restlessness as they prepare to move south.  Red-wings eat mainly insects in the summer and seeds found in fields or feeders, in the winter. In preparation for migration they may stop at your feeders for a last bite.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Brown bird on the finch feeder

I caught a glimpse of a brown bird on the finch feeder. It was all brown and had a gray beak. Any ideas? ~ Lansing, MI

female Indigo Bunting
Indigo Buntings are a dark gray or black bird about the size of a goldfinch. When the sun hits the male his feather structure refracts the sun to make him appear a brilliant indigo blue. The females are all brown. In mid-Michigan, we often see them at the finch or sunflower bird feeders.

Male American Goldfinch and Indigo Bunting
Photo by
Indigos like a variety of food, including small seeds, nuts, berries, insects, mosquitoes, flies, aphids, small spiders, buds, goldenrod, thistle, grasses, and herbs. At my feeders they like the Nyger Thistle and the No-Mess blend which has the sunflower chips, peanuts, and millet without the hulls.

Related Article:

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Where to hang finch feeders

Just bought a new finch feeder. Can I hang it down low in front of my picture window for my cats and family to watch? ~ Lansing, MI

I’ve found the goldfinches feel more comfortable with the feeder near trees but that isn’t a requirement. I have several feeders hanging from a dogwood and pear tree in the front of the house and a couple on a pole in the open in the back of the house. All the feeders have birds but I fill the front feeders that are near trees twice as much.

The most important place to hang a feeder is where you and your family can watch it easily.

Goldfinches can be some of the most particular and finicky backyard birds. Their seed has to be fresh, the feeder clean, and they don’t take it well when you move or replace a feeder.

To make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. On these cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week.)

Second, make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. In Michigan where it can be humid the seed may not get a chance to air out and begin to mold. This can be dangerous to the finches and they will avoid your feeder again. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using a WBU Weather Guard.

Third, finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. Just as you may have been taught it was polite to leave at least a little food on your plate so as not to appear gluttonous, I think the goldfinches may have the same rule. So what do you do if you have polite birds that eat only to a certain level and then stop even if there is still good, fresh seed in half of the tube? Don't just top off your feeder with fresh seed. Empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of your feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. The birds will probably eat down to that certain level again and you'll have to repeat the process.

My favorite feeder is a Mesh Finch Feeders. Several birds can feed at a time, the seed airs out, it's easy to clean, easy to fill, has a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA. They eat from top to bottom. However if you're thinking of switching feeders remember that finches don't like change and it may take several minutes to several months for Goldfinches to accept a new feeder.

Fourth, yellow attracts Goldfinches that are scouting for new feeding sites. Just like you know about the golden arches of McDonald's, the birds know yellow represents food whether it’s a sunflower or a feeder. If your feeder isn't yellow, attach a yellow ribbon to the feeder to catch a scout's eye. Once one Goldfinch finds your feeder, a flock will follow.

If you already have a few finches at the new location then you just have to be patient. They are probably upset that you moved the feeder but will return eventually.

Something fun to do with the kids this summer

It’s been a very long, hot summer so far. Parents and grandparents may be looking for something to do with their little ones over summer break.

Aside from trips to the library, museums, theater and pool, it can be difficult to find interesting activities to keep kids entertained. Now might be the time to introduce them to the birds!

Feeding birds can be entertaining as well as educational. Begin by trying to identify the birds in your yard. Help kids look through a birding book. We have one popular Birds of Michigan field guide that is easy for beginning bird watchers. It is organized by the color of the bird. Simply remember the color of the bird and turn to that section to see the choices.

To get a closer look at the birds set up a window feeder or choose a simple feeder that’s easy to fill and clean. Birds don’t like to eat from dirty plates. It’s important to teach kids that a clean feeder helps keep the birds healthy. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing also has the freshest seed that is blended to attract the widest variety of birds.

You could also set up a water bath. 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.
   
Or take the Olympic Games Challenge
Birds vs. Humans

Birds have many special adaptations to help them live their lives. Some birds can fly long distances; some can dive deep into the ocean while others can run really fast.

How would you match up with birds in an Olympic Games challenge? Compare your best to the best that birds have to offer in the following categories:

1. WINGSPAN
A White Pelican has a wingspan of 8-9 feet, a Bald Eagle has a wingspan of 6-7 feet!
• I have a wingspan* of ____feet ____inches.
*Stretch your arms as wide apart as possible and have someone measure distance between the tip of your longest finger on each hand.

2. WINGBEATS
In 10 seconds, a hummingbird beats its wings 700 times!
• I can flap my wings (arms) _________ times in 10 seconds.

3. CONCENTRATION
An owl can stare for hours while hunting for prey!
• I can stare for _______minutes without blinking.

4. HOLDING BREATH
A cormorant dives deep in search of fish. It can hold its breath for about 15 minutes (900 seconds).
• I can hold my breath for _______seconds.

5. WEIGHT
At over 40 pounds, the Trumpeter Swan is North America's heaviest bird! The Australian Ostrich weighs in at over 250 pounds!
• I weigh _______pounds.

6. HEIGHT
The Australian Ostrich is almost 9’ tall!
• I am _______tall.

7. SPEED
A Greater Roadrunner can run at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour!
I can run ______ miles/hour. (use the chart below to determine your speed)

Run 60 feet and check calculations.
Finish time     
3.0 secs = 13.6 Miles/hour
4.0 secs = 10.2 Miles/hour
5.0 secs = 8.2 Miles/hour
6.0 secs = 6.8 Miles/hour
7.0 secs = 5.8 Miles/hour
8.0 secs = 5.1 Miles/hour

For more activities for kids go to:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why are the birds eating so much?

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

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

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

This year the birds have had a very long, hot summer to endure. Many birds that normally move away from the feeders to catch bugs when their babies are born have been having a hard time finding food in this dry weather. So the lack of natural food and extreme temperatures has increased the activity at a lot of feeders.

You may be tempted to buy a cheap bag of birdseed at the supermarket. RESIST THE TEMPTATION! The birds will scatter the majority of it on the ground as they look for good seeds.Most cheap blends contain cheap filler seeds that may be attractive to the birds out west but our local backyard birds just have to pick through it. Since you’re paying by the pound, it makes sense to buy seed that the colorful birds like and not just feed the chipmunks.Wild Birds Unlimited makes seed blends specifically formulated to attract the widest variety of birds in our area so you won't see a lot of seed just tossed out of the feeder on the ground.

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

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Black-headed or bald-headed-vulture-cardinal

I’ve seen a lot of rough looking birds lately with feathers poking up here and there. I know that soon I’ll be getting calls about black-headed or bald birds.

Every July and August it is a somewhat common sight to see some bald birds at the feeder in mid-Michigan. Molting, for birds, is usually the periodic replacement of feathers by shedding old feathers while producing new ones. And, after the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

However, after nesting season some Cardinals, BlueJays, and Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers. Many appear to be juveniles undergoing their first pre-basic molt or growth of their first winter adult plumage. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds are bald and some aren’t or why it’s just the head.

Growing up I remember we would have bald Blue Jays appear at the feeders every fall. They were large, lively, loud, healthy birds with tiny bald black heads. Fortunately, new head feathers grew in within a few weeks.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with most of these birds, despite how bad they look. The only other reason a bird might lose patches of feathers may be due to health problems such as malnutrition, mite infestation, or some unidentified disease.

So if you see a Vulture Cardinal or Mohawk Blue Jay, don't worry. The unexplainable but temporary feather loss is common for this time of year. Even though staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds, I believe these birds will be alright without any intervention and grow their feathers back soon.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Orange and blue-black robin-like thrush

Varied Thrushes are rare in Michigan. According to the Birds of MichiganField Guide by Ted Black “Varied Thrushes are typically western birds, but a few invariably wander off course each fall and make their way into our region. There are one to three sightings reported in Michigan each year usually at backyard feeders with nearby dense coniferous trees that provide shelter for this wayward wanderer. Berries, fruits, seeds, nuts, acorns and suet are some of the offerings that might encourage a lengthy visit from a Varied Thrush.”

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Nyjer thistle doesn't grow weeds

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

Photo Share: House Finch male


The House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus is 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. 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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer is a good time to offer goldfinches nesting material.

Wild Birds Unlimited cotton ball
Different birds use different nesting materials. In July the goldfinches just begin nesting. They generally line the inside of their nest with a soft lining. Clean pet hair or cotton can be stuffed into an old mesh onion sack or an unused suet cage and hung from trees and bushes for birds to use in nest building. Wild Birds Unlimited also sells natural cotton balls and Birdie Bells full of feathers, straw, and cotton.

They also use dried grasses in their nest construction. It’s best to keep your lawn free of weed and feed chemicals. Other construction materials can include twigs, dead leaves, feathers, plant fluff or down (e.g. cattail fluff, cottonwood down or Canada Thistle fuff).

Avoid using dryer lint. Lint from man made fabrics hardens after getting wet providing poor nest insulation.


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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Large Green Moth: The Pandora sphinx moth

This big green moth caught my eye while I was going out to fill the feeders. I think it is called a Pandorus Sphinx (Euorpha pandorus) in North America.

These moths have a wingspan of 3 1/4 - 4 1/2 inches and eat nectar primarily. He was quite friendly as I moved him from in front of the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store over to the side garden. His size and green color were very impressive!

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Three species of Goldfinches found in North America

Male and female American Goldfinches
Together the American Goldfinch and their relatives the LesserGoldfinch and Lawrence's Goldfinch, form a group of goldfinches in America.

Goldfinches can be found throughout most of North America. In Michigan we are lucky enough to have the American Goldfinches year round in our area. These bright yellow and black birds have the largest range and can be found in most areas of the United States and the southern regions of Canada.

The other two goldfinches in the U.S. are found more in the southwest. The Lesser Goldfinch lives in the larger portion of the western States and Mexico and the Lawrence's Goldfinch breeds in California and Baja California and winters in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
Lesser Goldfinch male

Fun Facts on Goldfinches:
- Due to their almost exclusive diet of seeds, the goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water during dry periods.
- Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, in the spring before breeding and after nesting in the fall.
- Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries, but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
- The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.”
- Goldfinches are vegetarians and are dependent on flower seeds for food and even use plant down to line their nests.
- Young goldfinches are dependent on their parents for at least three weeks after fledging. Be sure to watch and listen for their energetic begging as they harass their parents for food at your feeders.
Lawrence's Goldfinch male
- Male Lesser Goldfinches in the eastern part of their range in the U.S. tend to have black backs. Along the West Coast, their backs are green, with only a black cap. Elsewhere, the amount of black varies, with many birds having partly green backs. South of central Mexico, all of the males are black-backed.
- The Lesser Goldfinch is the smallest of the North American goldfinches at 4.5″ compared with the slightly larger Lawrence’s and the American Goldfinch at 5″.
- Lawrence's Goldfinch was named by John Cassin in 1850 for his colleague George Lawrence, a New York businessman and ornithologist.
- Unlike most migratory birds, Lawrence's Goldfinch moves mostly to the east and west, rather than northward and southward, between seasons.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

What are the Dog Days of Summer?

Baby Baltimore Oriole waiting for food
I had a very good spring and summer watching the Baltimore Orioles feeding regularly from the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store’s window feeder. One of my best salesmen, the bright orange and black bird sold hundreds of oriole feeders to awed customers and worked for only a few mealworms, bottles of BirdBerry jelly and lots of sugar water.

Recently he brought his big yellow babies up to feed too. Now they are preparing to fly south. The nesting season is over for lots of birds. As the morning bird chorus slows down, the sounds of summer switch to the buzzing song of the Cicadias'.

Summer is the season for insects. Unfortunately with so little rain in the Lansing area this year, a lot of birds are still supplementing their diet at bird feeders. The blackbirds, which usually leave the feeders to search for yummy bugs in the lawn didn’t leave.

Am. Robin digging under the feeders for spilled nuts and seeds
And I’ve never had so many customers ask what to feed their robins. People noticed that lots of American Robins have also been hanging out under the bird feeders to find a quick treat in this sweltering weather.

These hot, sultry days of summer in the Northern Hemisphere are called the Dog Days of Summer. According to John Brady’s Analysis of the Calendar in 1813, this is believed to be an evil time when "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies."

Am. Goldfinch eating Canada Thistle
The Old Farmer's Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius. These are the days of the year when rainfall is at its lowest levels.

The American Goldfinches have just started their nesting season right now. They wait for flowers to go to seed. Grasses, Milkweed, wild Canada Thistles and other weeds are important to goldfinches, as a source of food and as raw material for their nests.

Then we come out of the Dog Days into my favorite time of year! By mid-August you'll wake up every morning to the tinkling tune of baby goldfinches!

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cuckoos in Michigan

The Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos both nest in Michigan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Flight displays of the American Goldfinches

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mana shares her poem

My Garden of Peace

The warmth of the sun hugs me lightly
as the water glimmers!
 
The wind sways left and right
as the birds sing a sweet melody.
 
Water calmly flows down a curvy stream.
 
I am enchanted as butterflies flutter by.
 
The sky is as clear as a crystal with no clouds in sight
And only a rainbow shooting out of the blue.
 
Soon the sun fades and the sky fills with colors
Of red, orange, and purple
As I say goodnight to my Garden of Peace!
 
by Athena Kaimana Zarka age 11

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Unique hand-blown hummingbird feeders

If you can believe it, July is when a lot of vendors approach retail stores to purchase items for the second half of the year. So in weather over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ve been ordering lots of winter themed items for Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing, Michigan. There are also lots of new summer and fall items that will be coming in each month.

This month we have Henrietta Glass, a line of teeny tiny hand blown decorative glass hummingbird feeders made in the USA. Jill Henrietta Davis, the owner and designer of Henrietta Glass explains, “In 1988, after experimenting with many different materials and art forms, I was first exposed to the wonders of molten glass and immediately fell under its spell.”

Part of what makes hummingbirds so magical is their tiny size. Jill Henrietta Davis makes feeders that are, like a hummingbird, small jewels in the garden.

Each 7 x 4 x 2” hand blown feeder is unique and comes with a gift box that contains a nectar recipe card, a filling funnel, instructions, a cleaning brush and an S-hook for hanging.

The hummingbirds just love the bright colored hand blown glass. The red feeding flower is designed to provide a more natural feeding position for hummingbirds, is drip free, and is held in place by a clear rubber band. They will make the perfect addition to your hummingbird garden or wonderful gifts for your friends.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Green leaf shaped grasshopper like bug and a white bell shaped flower

Photo taken in front of the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store
If you think this photo is about the flower, look again. Do you see the leaflike bug? This camouflaged katydid is hidden in plain sight from countless birds, frogs, snakes and other predators. They are typically not seen but heard, rubbing their wings together to make the namesake "katy-did" sound.  
Katydids are distinguished from grasshoppers by their long antennae, which may exceed their own body length, while grasshoppers' antennae are always relatively short and thickened.

There are more than 6,400 species of katydids in the family Tettigoniidae but only about 255 species in North America. They are also known as bush-crickets and long-horned grasshoppers, although they are more closely related to crickets than to grasshoppers.

The flower is a Campanula persicifolia or Peach-leaved Bellflower in the plant species of the genus Campanula. Its flowers are cup-shaped and can be either lilac-blue or white and will flower normally in June and July.
Sources:
3. Insects of the North Woods by Jeffrey Hahn

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to keep the goldfinches happy

Do your goldfinches sometimes leave your finch feeder alone and you don't know why? There may be no easy answer. Yellow finches are a beautiful bird but they are also very finicky. First make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Second, make sure your feeder is clean. These small tidy birds avoid dirty feeders.

Third, finches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. Don't just top off your feeder with fresh seed. Empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of your feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. The birds will probably eat down to that certain level again and you'll have to repeat the process.

My favorite feeder is the Mesh Finch Feeder. Several birds can feed at a time, the seed airs out, it's easy to clean, easy to fill, has a lifetime guarantee, and is made in the USA. They eat from top to bottom. However if you're thinking of switching feeders be aware that finches don't like change and it may take several minutes to several months for goldfinches to accept a new feeder.

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

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

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

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cedar Waxwing Nesting Season Begins in the Summer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Photo share: Baby House Sparrow in the window

Sarah, I thought you might like to share this photo on your blog. This baby sparrow was trying out her new perching skills on my window sill. Her parents were bringing up bugs and trying to get her away from the window. My cat was going crazy! 

She stayed there so long I thought she might be entranced by her reflection. So I opened the window (obviously she wasn't afraid of my cat's pretend pounces) and told her to shoo. Her parents directed her to a nearby bush and gave her a scolding. 

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I've learned so much. I hope the photo is good enough to share. ~ Jackie

The photo was great and so was your story! Thank you for sharing. This is exactly why I started blogging. Sarah

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monarda: Fireworks Flowers

Monarda (also known as bee balm, horsemint, oswego tea, and bergamot) is an aromatic herb in the family Lamiaceae, native to eastern North America. The scientific name comes from Nicolás Monardes, who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants found in the New World.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Several bee balm species have a long history of use as medicinal plants by many Native Americans. They were used as poultices for skin infections and minor wounds, or a tea for mouth and throat infections, as well as headaches and fevers.

The plant tastes like a mix of spearmint and peppermint with oregano and was also used by Native Americans as a seasoning for wild game.

Today many gardeners grow monarda for their showy fireworks blooms and to attract hummingbirds.