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, September 30, 2012

There are eight woodpeckers found in Michigan.

1. Downy Woodpecker - At about 6 inches, it’s smallest woodpecker in North America and the most frequent visitor to backyard feeders year-round. They have a white belly and back and their black wings have white bars. The males have a red patch on the back of the head. It’s called downy because of the soft feathers on its back.
2. Red-headed Woodpecker – These woodpeckers have an unmistakable bright red head, black wings and white belly. They spend the summers in all of Michigan but aren’t as common at birdfeeders.
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker - They are common throughout most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula year-round. People often call the Red-bellied woodpecker by a list of common misnomers like red-headed or ladder-back woodpecker because of their gleaming red caps and striking black and white barred backs. Since virtually all woodpeckers are black and white with patches of bright colors on various parts of their bodies, the Red-bellied was named for the unique pinkish tinge on the belly, common to both genders.
4. Hairy Woodpecker – At about 9 inches, these medium woodpeckers look like their smaller downy woodpecker cousins. They aren’t as common at suburban birdfeeders.
5. Pileated Woodpecker – Male and female Pileated Woodpeckers both have a flaming red crest but the males have a red “moustache”. There is no real consensus on whether this bird’s name is pronounced “pie-lee-ated” or “pill-ee-ated”.
6. Northern Flicker – Unlike most woodpeckers, this species spends much of its time on the ground, feeding mostly on ants. Both the male and females have a red chevron on the back of their heads, black bibs, speckled chest, and a brown, barred back and wings. The males have a black “mustache”.
7. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sapsuckers don’t actually suck sap- they lap it up with a tongue that resembles a paintbrush. According to AllAboutBirds.com, “The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.”
8. Black-backed Woodpecker – I’ve never seen this bird. It is a year-round resident of northern Michigan and the U.P. According to Ted Black in his Birds of Michigan field guide, the blacked-backed are reclusive birds that are most active in recently burned forest patches where wood-boring beetles thrive under charred bark.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bad News / Good News on the upcoming bird watching season

Red-breasted Nuthatch
The bad news is that Canada’s natural seed crops were horrible this year and lots of birds that usually like to winter further north are going to have venture south to Michigan to find food. The good news is that Canada’s natural seed crops were horrible this year and lots of birds that usually like to winter further north are going to have venture south to Michigan to find food. So we are going to have a few “new” birds at our feeders this winter.

Every year ornithologist Ron Pittaway analyzes the cone and berry crops of the boreal forest to predict if certain birds will irrupt into the northern U.S. or remain further north. A bird irruption is an irregular migration of a large number of birds to areas where they aren’t found typically, motivated usually by the search for food. This year Ron Pittaway's 2012-2013 Winter Finch Forecast predicts several birds may irrupt into Michigan.
Pine Siskin

I was surprised when a customer told me that she saw a red-breasted nuthatch in early September. Then I also saw several sitting casually by me as I refilled my feeders. And when I listened, I heard all the laughing in the air. Their song is a nasal, happy, laughing call similar to woodpeckers. When these birds visit Michigan, they usually hook up with other local nuthatches, woodpeckers, and chickadees to forage for food.

A few Red-breasted Nuthatches at our mid-Michigan feeders during the winter is common but to see such a widespread irruption beginning mid-summer indicated a cone crop failure in the Northeast. Feeders to attract Red-breasted Nuthatches to your yard should hold seeds like sunflower, peanuts or suet.

Common Redpoll
A few more birds the report expects us to see this fall and winter:
- Pine Siskins currently in the Northeast should move south this fall and winter because cone crops are poor.
- Common Redpolls because the white birch seed crop is poor to fair across the north.
- Purple Finches because both coniferous and deciduous hardwood seed crops are very low this year in the Northeast.
- Pine Grosbeaks because the mountain ash berry crop are hard with low moisture content because of the drought in the boreal forest.
- Bohemian Waxwings because the mountain ash berry crop in the boreal forest was affected by drought.
- Evening Grosbeaks because coniferous and hardwood tree seed supplies are low.

For the full 2012-2013 Winter Finch Forecast go to: http://www.ofo.ca/ofo-docs/WinterFinchForecast2012-2013.pdf

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Photo Share: Black-capped Chickadee

The Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is a small, North American songbird that is notable for its capacity to lower its body temperature during cold winter nights, its good spatial memory to relocate the caches where it stores food, and its boldness near humans.

If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the next Friday Photo post. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chickadees at Night

What’s the best-selling hardcover book at Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing this year? Surprise. It’s Chickadees At Night, a picture book for all ages by Michigan resident Bill O. Smith.

Bill O. Smith first fell in love with chickadees when he heard them singing on a cold winter morning. The idea of a book began with a simple question. Where do chickadees go at night? And then suddenly the words began to arrive: "With chickadee caps on chickadee heads/do they sleep eight across on chickadee beds?"

what do chickadees wear for pajamas?
This book is illustrated beautifully with paintings by Charles Murphy, and is sure to be a family heirloom! Each time you read it you'll see something new. This fun and thoughtful book takes you on an adventure. It sparks your imagination about what chickadees do before they go to bed and what they do at night. 

Chickadees At Night is meant for storytelling. The reader has as much fun as the listener. And I especially enjoy the last page which contains “Chickadee Nuggets,” a list of fun facts that are nice to know and share with others like "chickadees actually use at least fifteen calls to talk to each other about such concerns as danger, territory, and food supply. 

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Debunking 10 bird myths as winter approaches

1. Little birds hitch rides on bigger birds to journey southNo birds ride on the backs of other birds to go south. Even the littlest birds in Michigan, the ruby-throated hummingbirds, migrate thousands of miles south each fall to reach their winter homes in Mexico and Central America under their own power. They fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese.  
2. All birds fly south in the winter - In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nesting in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird. Some permanent or non-migrating backyard birds are Downy Woodpeckers, Black-Capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, or House Sparrows.  
3. Don’t start feeding birds until it snows - Birds have a varied diet and the best way to help them develop brighter plumage is to create a habitat with lots food high in fat in protein in the fall. Young birds like chickadees and titmice find new territories to hook up with other young birds at the end of summer and join local adults to form winter flocks. If you are feeding a good birdseed blend now, you will attract lots of birds that will remain in the same general area for the rest of their adult lives.  
4. I can use last year’s seed this year - In warm weather or if you store your seed inside buy no more than 2-3 weeks supply of seed at a time. And never pour old seed on top on new. During the winter, foods will generally be fine for at least 3 months if stored properly in a cool, dry place. At Wild Birds Unlimited, we guarantee our bird food will be fresh and a healthy choice for our local birds.  
5. Birds will eat any seed - Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements. Our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI are dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed that is also sifted to take out all the sticks and field debris. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love. We also carry a wide variety of other bird foods—suet and no-melt doughs, seed cylinders, mealworms and more. 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.  
6. The birds will starve if stop feeding them - Some people believe that once you start bird feeding, it should be continued. Or that feeding your birds in the summer will make them too lazy, too dependent or keep them from migrating at the appropriate time. All of these old myths have been dispelled by modern research and observation. Bird feeding is a fun and educational hobby. Birds appreciate the food but never become dependent on your feeder unless there is a severe storm that prevents them from foraging.  
7. Birds’ feet will stick to metal perches - Unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze to metal in the winter. Heat and moisture are accumulated in sacs, transferred to the lungs and eliminated through the mouth.  
8. Heated bird baths are like hot tubs for birds - If your area freezes like mid-Michigan, you can provide a heated birdbath for your birds. This isn’t like a hot tub. The bath just remains free of ice and open to the birds. Most people understand the importance of water for drinking but many do not realize just how important it is in bathing for birds. Because feathers are critical for flight and insulation, birds keep them well-maintained. A good part of a bird's day is spent just cleaning and grooming its feathers by bathing, scratching, and preening.  
9. Bird houses are only used in the spring - At night or during bad weather birds often find shelter in tree cavities, birdhouses, or under the eaves of houses. Bird houses left up all winter also might attract young birds scouting out future nesting sites.  
10. Hawks in the yard will kill all my birds - 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. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Woodpecker feeding on the ground

We live in Chesaning, Michigan and we feed a whole variety of beautiful birds all year long. I can identify most of them but yesterday a new one showed up. I’ve seen it pecking on the tree but it seems to like to feed on the ground like a robin. It’s a gray and black bird with red on its head.

The Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a medium-sized woodpecker native to most of North America. Unlike most woodpeckers, the flicker spends a lot of time hopping around the ground like a robin looking for bugs, especially ants.

Adults are brown with black bars on the back and wings. A black bib is on the upper breast and the lower breast and belly are beige with black spots. Males in Michigan can be identified by a black moustache stripe at the base of the beak, a red chevron on the back of their head and bright yellow feathers on the undersides of their wing and tail.

The northern populations of the Northern Flicker are migratory, with fall migration taking place September to November. So if this Flicker is new to the area it may see your yard as a good place to winter from its summer home in Canada. They do come to feeders for seeds, nuts and suet. So maybe if you have a suet feeder out it would stick around during the day. Or watch any fruit bearing trees and bushes to catch him eating.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blackpoll Warbler: Greatest warbler migrant

Blackpoll Warbler in fall olive yellow plumage
The Blackpoll Warbler, a bird that weighs less than a wet teabag, is one of the greatest warbler migrants according to Ted Black in the Birds of Michigan Field Guide. They leave New England from late August to early October and fly nonstop up to 88 hours until they reach South America. This almost 2000 mile journey would be the equivalent of a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 3 days!

To accomplish this flight, the Blackpoll Warbler nearly doubles its body mass and takes advantage prevailing winds, sometimes flying at heights of 20,000 to direct them to their destination. 

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bird of the Week: Long Tailed Duck

Female Long-tailed Duck in winter plumage. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Mallard male & Long-tailed female in winter
Not a common duck to see in mid-Michigan, the Long-tailed Duck winters on the edges of the Great Lakes from late October to April. They prefer to spend most of their time in deep waters and can dive 200 feet to feed on fish or plants. They breed in the Arctic Tundra.

Formerly known as Oldsquaw, these ducks are one to the noisiest breeders but go quiet during migration and over the winter. Their coloring does a complete turn around too, as the seasons change. Their spring breeding plumage is mostly dark with white highlights, while their winter plumage is mostly white with dark patches.
Learn more about Long-tailed Ducks on All About Birds: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/long-tailed_duck/id

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Do all birds migrate?

In general, it's estimated that of the over 200 species of birds nesting in Michigan, about 90 percent migrate to some extent. Whether it’s from the U.P. to mid-Michigan or from our state to Mexico or Central America depends on the bird.

.In Michigan, birds can belong to several groups:

Permanent residents or non-migrating birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Black-Capped Chickadees, White Breasted Nuthatches, or House Sparrows are common year round residents..

Summer residents like the Ruby throated hummingbirds, orioles, swallows, or rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive in our northern backyards in the spring, nest during the summer and return south to winter.
.
Winter residents like
Red Breasted Nuthatches and juncos, not seen in our area during the summer, think mid-Michigan is the perfect place to spend the winter..
 
Transients like the White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows are migratory species that nest farther north than our neighborhoods, but winter farther south and we see them only a few weeks during migration, as they pass through.
.
Other bird species seen at the feeder year round may also be migratory. While we see
American Goldfinch throughout the year, some of the ones we see in the winter may have nested in Canada. And Song Sparrows that breed in Michigan may migrate to the southeastern United States, or may remain a year-round resident. They are obligate partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. And sometimes circumstances such as a good breeding season followed by poor winter crops can lead to irruptions of bird species not normally seen in our area like the Pine Siskins or Redpoles.
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It’s not easy getting every bird’s travel plans straight. For example one my favorite birds, the
Northern Cardinal, has expanded its range greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. During the early days of the expansion the birds would migrate back south during the winter, but in time they became a year round resident in Michigan.
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Migration isn’t an exact journey. Using published literature, bird observer reports, and observations of bird watchers it has been found that many factors like the temperature changes and land development are very likely influencing birds’ migratory patterns and will continue to alter patterns in the future.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Photo Share: Outside my Window

 All around us birds are going about their lives, offering us fascinating insights into how they survive and interact with one another. The difference between noticing and missing these secret lives is a little time, a relaxed mind, and some curiosity. 
~ Marie Read author of  Secret Lives of Common Birds

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Happy Blog Anniversary to me: A look back over the last year

Four years ago today I started to blog about common questions people were asking at our Wild Birds Unlimited store.

I'm still answering questions, now more than ever. With over 630 Likes on Facebook and 3200 followers Twitter, the blog's readership continues to grow!
According to Blogger's statistics page of the Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan blog:

-There have been over 300,000 visits to the blog in the last year.
-87% of the readers live in the US, and the rest live in other countries.
-20% of US readers live in Michigan

I thought it would be fun to look back and see what people were reading.

The following is a list of the top 15 most read posts from this year. Click on the title to read the full post:

  1. Why feed birds in the fall 
  2. The best bee-proof hummingbird feeder 
  3. Why the color on a hummingbirds’ throat flashes  
  4. Why robins are called Robin Redbreast 
  5. There’s more to a jay than any other creature 
  6. Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? 
  7. How birds color their eggs naturally 
  8. Do birds have belly buttons? 
  9. Wild Birds Unlimited has Gifts Made in the USA 
  10. Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive   
  11. If birds were in the summer Olympics  
  12. Why do some birds flock and others remain solitary?  
  13. Not a Shy Bird: How the Black-capped Chickadee Communicates  
  14. What are the different types of cardinal birds?  
  15. Why should we care about birds?
I appreciate all the questions and kind feedback. If you need information or would like to share a story or photo you can email me at bloubird@gmail.com. I answer emails as soon as I can and then post my responses in the blog eventually. I try to space the posts out evenly over the month. 

Or you can come in to the stores. I'm usually at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan.

It's never a bother to answer questions. At Wild Birds Unlimited, we strive to offer the best customer service, top quality seed, feeders, and information to make sure you have the best backyard bird feeding experience possible. 

Thank you for supporting our local business,
Sarah

Store location:
Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823


E-mail:    bloubird@gmail.com
Website: http://lansing.wbu.com/
Blog:       http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/
Twitter:    http://twitter.com/birdsunlimited
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/lansingwbu

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Photo share: Great Blue Heron



The Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest and most abundant heron. With its long stilt like legs, long neck, and spear shaped bill, it is well equipped for wading in water and catching fish. Herons feed on fish, frogs, and other small animals, captured by a quick jab of the beak.

They are taller and much heavier than a Great Egret and smaller and much less bulky than a Sandhill Crane. In flight the Great Blue Herons can curl their neck into an S shape for a more aerodynamic flight profile unlike the straight-necked geese and cranes.

Breeding occurs in Michigan from March to May. These 3-5 feet tall birds like to build nests in trees with other herons in colonies close to lakes or other wetlands. The female lays three to six pale blue eggs and both male and female take turns incubating the eggs for a month.

Both parents take turns feeding until the babies fledge 60 to 81 days later. After they leave the nest, the parents continue feeding the babies for a few weeks while they teach them to hunt.

The average lifespan for the Great Blue Heron is 15 years. As with most animals, they are most vulnerable when they are young. More than half (69%) of the great blue herons born in one year will die before they are a year old. After 22 months they reach their sexual maturity and look for a mate.