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, October 31, 2012

Mother Nature in disguise

Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth) is a common personification of nature. Also known as Nokomis, Algonquian legend says that "beneath the clouds lives the Earth-Mother from whom is derived the Water of Life, who at her bosom feeds plants, animals and human."

The word nature comes from the Latin word, natura, meaning birth. The personification of Mother Nature, was widely popular in the Middle Ages and can be traced to Ancient Greece where the earliest written literal references to the term "Mother Earth" occur in 13th/12th century BC.

Nature, the Gentlest Mother


"It's not your imagination" ~ 2007 movie poster for Premonition
By Emily Dickinson
Nature the gentlest mother is,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest of the waywardest.
Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill
By traveller be heard,
Restraining rampant squirrel
Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation
A summer afternoon,
Her household her assembly;
And when the sun go down,

Her voice among the aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest cricket,
The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep,
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light her lamps,
Then bending from the sky

With infinite affection
And infiniter care,
Her golden finger on her lip,
Wills silence everywhere.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Nature

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Bird Seeds Goldfinches Like Best

I'm writing to scold you and I want you to reprint this on your computer newspaper. I did not think it made a difference where I bought my finch food. You said it made a "HUGE" difference. I took home a small bag of your thistle and I noticed it did make a HUGE difference!

Now I have so many finches at the feeder I will have to come in every week to keep the feeders full of your seed. Why do the other stores bother selling bird food when it is so inferior? ~ Lansing, MI

Attracting more goldfinches is very rewarding. They are bright, cheery songbirds that the great state of Michigan is lucky enough to have year round! However, it's very common to here people tell me they just don't have large numbers goldfinches.

Seed
There are a lot of bird seed blends containing many different types of seed. So how do you know which bird seed to buy? Wild Birds Unlimited uses research from a three-year, one million dollar study of bird seed and feeder preferences in the United States and Canada.

We know that goldfinches eat a variety of seeds. Sunflower and Nyjer thistle are two of their favorites at the feeders but it has to be fresh. One way to check your seed is to pinch it with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Feeders
Feeders also attract the American Goldfinches. We sell a variety of finch feeders. My favorites are the Mesh Finch Feeders. They not only let the finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but they also allow air circulation to keep your Nyjer Thistle as dry and fresh as possible; something that's very important to these picky eaters. (Nyjer thistle is the common name used to identify a tiny black birdseed but is not related to the purple, prickly, Canada Thistle weed.)

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Monday, October 29, 2012

What birds do when a hurricane hits

Can birds predict that tornado-like winds are about to hit?

Most birds have a special middle-ear receptor called the Vitali organ, which can sense incredibly small changes in barometric pressure. So if the activity at feeders suddenly becomes much more intense a storm may be approaching. Birds flying low or lining up on power lines also indicate swiftly falling air pressure.

The small birds like chickadees fly as little as possible and try to wait out storms in patches of dense vegetation or roosting boxes that give protection. And they appreciate feeders.

During storms birds may think of your feeder as a known source of food. While not dependent on feeders, birds don't feel like foraging for food in bad weather. Feeders make it easier for wild birds to brave a storm.

High winds make flying difficult. I love when the wind blows but know it is hard on the birds, so I keep the feeders full. If they can navigate it to the feeder, they deserve a good meal.
 
You'll see some birds that seem to be flying in place, while other birds like the Blue Jays seem to be able to navigate and take advantage of the wind. They zoom in at the feeder like a bullet. 
 
After a storm, brush piles of leaves and other natural debris can be piled up to provide birds with a place to take cover from the weather and hide from predators.

There should also be available drinking water to allow birds to maintain a healthy metabolism and stay warm. If weather turns freezing, you can use a heated bird bath or add a heater to your existing plastic, metal or stone bird bath.
 
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Small, gray, short-bodied, long-tailed, big-headed flycatcher

The Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) is one of the first birds to return to the breeding grounds in spring and one of the last to leave in the fall. They arrive for breeding in mid-March, and return to winter territories in September and October.

Eastern Phoebes breed all across Michigan in open deciduous woodlands, usually near water. They spend the winter primarily across the southeastern United States, ranging as far north as Virginia, southern Kentucky, and central Oklahoma and as far south as central Mexico. An insectivorous, this tyrant flycatcher sits alertly on low perches, often twitching their tail as they look for flying insects. They also eat fruits and berries in cooler weather.

The Eastern Phoebe's call is a sharp chip, and their characteristic song  fee-bee gave them their common name. They are a gray sparrow-sized bird with a lighter gray belly and no eye rings, no obvious wing bars and an all dark bill and legs. The Eastern Phoebe is a fairly short-bodied, long-tailed flycatcher with a thin pointed bill and a big-headed look when they puff up their small crest.

Sources:

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Feathers developed as a form of communication not flight

Were feathers used originally as a form of communication and not for flight? A new theory is that when feathers first formed on dinosaurs they were used more for flashing and waving to impress and attract potential mates.  

In Canada, fossilized bones of an ornithomimid dinosaur preserved evidence of fossil feathers that could not possibly be used for flight. Debates began on the purpose of feathers if not for flying, like protection from the elements, help to nestle eggs, threaten predators or attract mates.

Because the juvenile ornithomimus had a thin, downy coat and the adults had bigger, showy feathers, scientists believe that the wings were used for purposes later in life, like reproductive activities, such as courtship displays.

Richard Prum, an expert on birds present and past at Yale University, says recent discoveries do suggest that feathers were some kind of signal. "The idea is that these were for communication," says Prum, "and that's fascinating, because we recently have new evidence that the feathers of dinosaurs were pigmented, and perhaps pigmented very boldly, so that already implied that there was a communication function for early feathers."

In fact, Prum says the need for dinosaurs to "look hot" had some important consequences for today's birds. "The evolution of attractiveness or beautiful traits may have had an important role in the origin and early diversification of feathers," Prum says.

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Sources: 
- Science - www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6106/510
- University of Calgary - http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/releases/october2012/first_feathered_dinosaurs

Related articles:
- Types of Bird feathers http://goo.gl/W9rzP
- Why Birds don't Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter: http://bit.ly/mPa0Y8
- How small birds stay warm in the winter: http://bit.ly/q3dDqj  
- Why birds molt: http://bit.ly/ox5Hwi
- Blue Jays aren't blue: http://bit.ly/pMN37k
- Fossils of colored feathers: http://bit.ly/nc2UeA

Friday, October 26, 2012

Photo Share: Northern Cardinal and Black-capped Chickadee

"My favorite weather is bird-chirping weather."
~ quote from Loire Hartwould
Thank you for sharing your photos! Holly sent us lots of fabulous photos that I will continue to share in the coming weeks on our Friday photo share. If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Wild Birds Unlimited Bird Feeding System is the Best!

The Advanced Pole System - Looks Great, Stays Straight! Wild Birds Unlimited's patented Advanced Pole System (APS) is comprised of interchangeable hardware pieces, that lets you add or subtract bird feeders, birdhouses and other bird feeding accessories, giving you the ability to create and customize your bird feeding station with over 3,000 combinations — it is all up to you!

How Does It Work?
It’s easy! Just insert a screwdriver into the hole at the middle of the 4-foot Base Pole and twist it into the ground using the convenient corkscrew auger connected at the bottom of the pole. Next slide the Stabilizer onto the Base Pole and push into the ground. Tests show the stabilizer holds the pole straight in up to 35 MPH wind gusts. Plus, it is lawnmower-friendly.

Get Creative! 
Create your own unique setup by selecting the bird feeder, birdhouse, bird bath, or bird feeder supplies you want. The APS parts fit together easily, and no special tools are required. Birds will flock to your new APS station in no time. So, sit back and enjoy the show.

It’s Flexible!
The APS was designed to accommodate all feeders with many hanging accessories from which to choose. Suet feeder, peanut feeder, tube feeder, wooden feeder, one feeder, many feeders — the Advanced Pole System is the ultimate solution to all your birdfeeding needs.

Don’t have a yard? Use the Advanced Pole System to create a birdfeeding station on your deck. It’s that flexible!
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Wild Birds Unlimited - Advanced Pole System (APS) is a revolutionary bird feeding pole that has interchangeable hardware pieces that lets you design the perfect feeding station for your needs. You can make it as tall or as short as you want with as many arms or attachment as needed.

We have a wall of “extras” that can customize your set-up with several different arms to add as well as perching branches, suet attachments, side dishes, baffles and a choice of several finials.

To help you construct your masterpiece come in to our WildBirds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI store or go to wbu.com/aps for more examples.  If this is all too confusing we have a basic setup all boxed up and ready to take home or give as a gift.
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Winter foods for birds

Chickadee rides a flower head while examining it for seeds
I’m fascinated with the nuthatches I’m seeing in the yard this year! Every time I fill the feeder, little nuthatches and chickadees are around to let me know they are doing their best to reach the end of my bottomless buffet of birdseed.

Goldenrod Gall
Birds are excellent food foragers. They don’t need a feeder to survive normally, but I enjoy watching them up close, so I provide them with ample seeds and suets. I also provide them with lots of trees, bushes, flowers, and vines that produce fruits, nuts and berries.

Bugs and bug larvae are also hidden but available if you know where to look. Sometimes they are buried in the fallen leaves or in the crevices of tree bark. Another tasty treat for bug eating birds is the Goldenrod Gall Fly larva. You may have noticed golf ball sized growths on dried goldenrod stems. Did you think maybe it was some weird seed pod development? It’s actually a spherical gall bed for larva to develop.

The female Goldenrod Gall Fly lays her eggs on young goldenrod stems in the spring. In about 10 days the eggs hatch and larva burrows down into the plant stem. The larva's saliva, which is thought to mimic plant hormones, results in the plant producing exaggerated plant growth or galls to provide the larva with both food and protection over the winter.

Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches can peck into the galls to extract the tasty and energy rich larva inside. In some areas, it can be a very important food source for birds.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Michigan's Kirtland's warbler reached record-high numbers in 2012

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) released recently Michigan's annual survey information indicating the population of Kirtland's warbler, a federally endangered bird, has reached an all-time high. "We are witnessing a conservation success story," said DNR endangered species coordinator Dan Kennedy.

A male Kirtland's Warbler from Wikipedia
Biologists, researchers and volunteers in Michigan observed 2,063 singing males during the official 2012 survey period - 1,805 males were observed in 2011. This represents the largest single-year increase since 2007. The lowest numbers were recorded in 1974 and 1987, when only 167 singing males were found.

The endangered Kirtland's warbler is one of the rarest members of the wood warbler (Parulidae) family. It nests in just a few counties in Michigan, Wisconsin and the province of Ontario and nowhere else on Earth. The male Kirtland's warblers' summer plumage is composed of a distinctive bright yellow colored breast streaked in black and bluish gray back feathers, a dark mask over its face with white eye rings, and bobbing tail. The female's plumage coloration is less bright; her facial area is devoid of a mask. Overall length of the bird is less than six inches.

Kirtland's warblers typically nest on the ground in stands of jack pine between 4 and 20 years old. Historically, these stands of young jack pine were created by natural wildfires that frequently swept through northern Michigan. Modern fire suppression programs altered this natural process, reducing Kirtland's warbler habitat. As a result, the population of Kirtland's warblers declined to the point that they were listed as endangered.

To mimic the effects of wildfire and ensure the future of this species, the DNR, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manage the forests through a combination of timber harvests, burning, seeding and replanting to promote habitat for the Kirtland’s Warbler and many other species, including snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, other songbird species and rare plants. This use of public lands also creates jobs, as well as brings birders and hunters from across the state and around the world to northern Michigan.

The winter range of the Kirtland's warbler is in the Bahamas and in the Turks, Caicos, and Hispaniola islands. For more information on the Kirtland’s Warbler go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Kirtlands_Warbler/id.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Just a thought from two WBU sister stores in BC Canada

I started this blog to share observations about local nature and what’s going on in our Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, Michigan store. But did you know there are almost 300 Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) stores across the US and Canada? 

Today I asked one of the WBU’s 2300 miles west of us in British Columbia, Canada to share what’s happening in their neck of the woods. Sherry and Cliff Jury own the WBU's in Abbotsford BC and Chilliwack BC.

Sherry Jury provided us with her lovely observations below:

I always think of Mother Nature using October as a time to change her wardrobe. Gone are the bright greens, blues and purples. Now, for a brief moment, the colours of yellow and orange reigns supreme until they are replaced by dull browns and greys.

Our deer are certainly that colour now. We don’t have as many as we usually do (I hope that they are well), just the yearling and one doe and fawn are living in the back. Their coats now are a beautiful dark grey with a dark muzzle and white throat - very striking. They are still enjoying eating what is left of my violets and lady’s mantle plants but newly fallen leaves have been added to their diet. I thank them for their help with the leaves. There will be plenty to go around!

Our song sparrows are fighting for spots in the yard. One is claiming the front yard, two are claiming the back - unless both are fighting for the creek area, not sure there. They are singing happily in the willow and cedar trees and I must admit, they are improving. Their song now sounds like one a song sparrow should sing. Each has added their own little flourishes and trills to make his song unique and sound nothing like how our old song sparrow sang. We will see how successful they are at attracting a mate in the spring, if they still live here.

The first juncos have also arrived to lay claim to the back yard. These are the dominant males of the flock and they certainly act like it. Our current juncos are fat and healthy and are constantly chasing each other away from any scrap of food they find below the feeders. I notice they also have a wide space around each other when feeding unlike what occurs when the other birds arrive. Then, everyone feeds, fights and lives together in one big, feisty family. Not now, these guys are too important to mingle.

Everyone is eating more as nights are started to become cooler. Our squirrels are enjoying the extra apples on the trees. It is funny to watch them carry an apple around (they usually are as big as their heads) in their jaws and then try to bury them. But they don’t dig a hole. No, our squirrels sort of try to just push the apple in the dirt, hoping that by some miracle, it will bury itself. Dirt-covered apples, yummy.

~ by Sherry Jury
Home page: http://fraservalley.wbu.com/  
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/wbu.fraservalley.
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Friday, October 19, 2012

Photo share: A Little Fall of Rain

I always wonder about raindrops. I wonder about how their always falling down, Tripping over their own feet... And forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky to an uncertain end. ~ by Tahereh Mafi author of Shatter Me
Thank you for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts. 

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forecast: Partly Sunny, Mostly Birdy


American Goldfinch by Wayne Hoch
Forecast: Partly Sunny, Mostly Birdy
More Project FeederWatch participants needed to track winter birds
News release:
Ithaca, NY—The 26th season of Project FeederWatch begins November 10, and participants are needed more than ever. By watching their feeders from November through April and submitting their observations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, bird watchers make it possible for scientists to keep track of changing bird populations across the continent. New or returning participants can sign up anytime at www.FeederWatch.org.

After unusual winter weather in some parts of the country last season, many participants found themselves asking, “Where are the birds?”

“Warmer temperatures and lack of snow cover means birds can find more natural food so they may visit feeders less,” explains FeederWatch leader David Bonter. “But even if participants are not seeing many birds, that’s still valuable information we need to detect population changes on a broad scale.”

The AccuWeather long-range forecasting service is predicting some big storms in the Northeast this winter, so FeederWatchers in the region may see more birds at their feeders than they did last winter. Forecasts also call for another year of below-normal snowfall for the Midwest, above-normal snowfall and below-normal temperatures for the central and southern Rockies, and a wet winter with above-normal precipitation for the Gulf Coast and Southeast.

“We’ll have to see if those predictions pan out and how they might affect feeder-bird numbers,” Bonter says. “The one number we definitely want to see increase is the number of people taking part in FeederWatch. It’s easy to do, and the information is incredibly valuable in helping us better understand what’s going on in the environment and in the lives of the birds we enjoy so much.”

To learn more about joining Project FeederWatch and to sign up, visit www.FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Cornell Lab members), participants receive the FeederWatcher Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to your feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings, as well as the Cornell Lab's quarterly newsletter, Living Bird News.

Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The origin of pumpkins and Jack O'Lanterns

Pumpkins, an orange fruit harvested in October, go hand in hand with the fall holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. The name pumpkin originated from the Greek word for large melon which is pepon but American colonists changed it eventually into pumpkin.

The origin of pumpkins is not known definitively, although they are thought to have originated in North America. The oldest evidence, pumpkin-related seeds dating between 7000 and 5500 BC, were found in Mexico. Today pumpkins are grown all around the world for a variety of reasons ranging from food to ornamental sales.

The origin of pumpkin pie occurred when the colonists sliced off the pumpkin top, removed the seeds, and filled the insides with milk, spices and honey. The pumpkin was then baked in hot ashes.

The jack-o-lanterns originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did, Jack put the coin into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack freed the Devil eventually, under the condition that should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.

Jack died soon after, but God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern," and then, simply "Jack O'Lantern."

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack's lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. Immigrants brought the tradition to the United States but found that pumpkins, a native fruit, made perfect Jack O'Lanterns.

Sources :
-          The History Channel: http://www.history.com/topics/pumpkin-facts
-          Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumpkin 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

10 Winter Finches in Michigan

  1. Pine Grosbeak- The largest finch (8”-10”) in Michigan that shows up from the subartic and boreal forests across North America in erratic winter invasions.
  2. Purple Finch- A common migrant and winter resident statewide form September to May. Sticks close to forest edges and feeders with lots of tree cover and shrubs.
  3. House Finch- Native to western North America, the House Finch can now be seen year-round near human development. Many House Finches migrate south in fall and those that stay in very cold winters might not survive without feeders.
  4. American Goldfinch- Bright cheery bird even in its olive green winter wardrobe. Found year-round at Michigan bird feeders but numbers may increase greatly if northern birds’ food sources decline.
  5. Red Crossbill- They are considered the great gypsies of the bird community. They wander through conifer forests looking for pine cones. Their unusual cross bill is perfect to pry open conifer cones.
  6. White-winged Crossbill- With very poor spruce cone crops in the Northeast, wandering birds may show up throughout the Northeast.
  7. Common Redpolls- A predictably unpredictable winter visitor. Some years the flocks are greater than others.
  8. Hoary Redpolls- They can often be found mixed in with flocks of Common Redpolls and irrupt every few years.
  9. Pine Siskin- Small brown and tan streaked bird with flashes of yellow. Found year-round in Michigan but more common some years than others.
  10. Evening Grosbeak- One of the largest finches at 8” it’s almost twice the size of its close relative, the American Goldfinch. They were given the name Evening because that’s when they were originally only thought to sing and grosbeak is french for large beak.
For the full 2012-2013 Winter Finch Forecast go to: http://www.ofo.ca/ofo-docs/WinterFinchForecast2012-2013.pdf

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Birds tend to be left-handed

Why we are right or left handed seems like a simple question, but it’s still a mystery why most humans (70% to 95%) are right-handed. The most common answer is that handedness is determined by the structure of our brains, which are divided into two hemispheres. Nearly all righties process language in the left side of the brain, while many lefties process language on the right. What about birds?

Studies done on parrots that use their feet to pick up food have found that over 70% of the birds favor using their left foot. Several different types of parrots participated in tests designed to study their cerebral lateralization, meaning how strongly each bird processes information using either hemisphere of the brain.

One test had the birds pick seeds out of a background of similar sized pebbles. Another more difficult test had the birds use their feet to remove a treat from a dangling string. Three-quarters of the birds showed a definite left-footed tendency.

What about the birds in our backyards? Do you notice more birds holding a seed down with their left foot to crack it open? How about left-wingedness? Watch the soaring birds above. Have you noticed their preference to fly in counter-clockwise circles? 

Sources:

- Cerebral lateralization determines hand preferences in Australian parrots: http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/4/496

Related articles:
Can All Birds Learn to Talk Like Humans? http://bit.ly/s0rflH
Do Birds Have Thumbs? http://bit.ly/tFuQYn
How birds chew food without teeth http://goo.gl/5SbuV
Has a bird ever "flipped you the bird": A recent study reveals ravens have their own specific gestures http://goo.gl/r0GWk

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Second smallest bird in Michigan

It’s so dark in the mornings! When the sun finally started to shine I discovered that this little Ruby-crowned Kinglet had found a place to catch her breath in my window feeder. I snapped a photo quickly and she took off to the nearby tree a short time after.

Little groups of kinglets usually migrate by night, so you may wake up to discover your yard is a migratory stopover for the birds to rest and feed in evergreen tangles during the day. They are well camouflaged but sometimes betray their presence with lovely alto songs and flashing wing movements and hops like they are buzzing on caffeine.

The Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula) nests mainly in the northern evergreen forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and further north into Canada. Then in October they pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate to the southern United States and Mexico.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets have olive-grey plumage with a conspicuous broken white eye ring, a thin black bill and short tail. The males have a small ruby, red crown of feathers which gives the bird its common name kinglet, Latin for 'little king'. At 4 inches they are about an inch shorter than a chickadee and weigh 5 to 10 grams or the same as one or two nickels.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bluebirds year-round

I had a couple in my bluebird box that had babies earlier this year.  They repeated a few weeks later.  I then went out of town before the last batch of babies left the nest but assume all went well.

Now it is October and I have a couple flitting about the box, going in and out and have been doing so for 3 or 4 days now.  Because I had been away, I had not yet gotten around to cleaning out the old nest.  Now my question is, because there is strong interest in this home, should I clean it out now or leave it alone.  I don't know if they will re-use it. (I've had bluebirds for several summers, but have never had them stay for the fall/winter.  I live in North Alabama.)

Nesting season is definitely over in Michigan and I assume it should be over in Alabama too. You can contact your local Wild Birds Unlimited or Audubon Society for specific information about bluebirds in your area. I think the birds you see are just playing house.

The motivations for a lot of animals’ behaviors have yet to be understood fully. But observations of juvenile male bluebirds reveals they occasionally engage in reproductive activities and “play house” with young female bluebirds to perhaps practice for the future.

After nesting season has ended, Eastern Bluebirds usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. This will help increase their survival through the winter. These late summer flocks change their diet from mainly insects over to more fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruit trees, a feeder or a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

Once the baby bluebirds have fledged (left the nest box) they move around in a family group but don’t return to their nest. This is the best time to clean out a box. By cleaning out a nest box you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests making it closer to the entrance hole.

To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest and just sweep it all in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

These clean nest boxes make the perfect roosting spot in the fall and winter for a variety of birds that seek shelter out of all the winds, rain, and snow. At night or during bad weather bluebirds often find shelter in birdhouses, tree cavities, or under the eaves of houses.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Photo share: Varied Thrush


A view of a Varied Thrush perched on a branch near the visitor center at the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge located in California. ~ photo by Dave!Menke!

Rare winter resident in Michigan from October to April. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology website AllAboutBirds.org writes that the “large, robin-like thrush of the Pacific Northwest, the Varied Thrush, is a characteristic bird of the mature, dark coniferous forests. Wandering individuals turn up regularly far from home, wintering around feeders in the mid-western states.”

Thank you for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Close-up look at why cats purr and other animals that purr

Chilly autumn days are often my favorite; with a cat on the lap, a cup of hot tea and lots of flocking birds outside the window. As I sit typing with JB in my lap purring quietly and Eli nearby on his mat purring loudly, I wonder what is the purpose of the purr and can other animals purr?
Can you hear his purr? Eli has such a loud purr some people think he's growling.
According to pets.webmd.com, purring is like smiling. We smile when we’re happy, nervous, greet each other, want something, and in a variety of other situations. Just as the edges of a human’s lips move up at the corners to produce a smile, a cat’s vocal cords separate and twitch at the rate of 25 to 150 vibrations per second (Hz), during both inhalation and exhalation to produce a purr.

Some wild cats and their near relatives that also purr are civets, genets, and mongooses. Other purrers include hyenas, guinea pigs, and raccoons.

Cats that don’t purr, roar. Lions and tigers, can’t purr because the structures surrounding their voice box (larynx) aren’t stiff enough to produce a purr but do allow roaring. Cats that live in a pack use roaring as a way to protect their pride while small wild cats tend to roam alone and find themselves in a variety of different situations where a purr is more effective. Although cats purr when they are content, they also purr when frightened or threatened.

Right now JB’s motor is running and I know he is happy with my warm lap and I’m happy too!


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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Chickadee's strategy for survival

Why don't chickadees stay to eat at the feeder?

How would you deal with a situation where your ability to remember where you put something might actually mean life or death?

This is the situation Black-capped Chickadees find themselves in every winter. They need 20 times more food in the winter than they do in summer because they can lose 10% of their body weight just during a cold winter night. So they've got to eat often.

As autumn approaches, they begin hiding or caching seeds for the winter by the hundreds. In a behavior called "scatter-hoarding," chickadees choose a seed  at the feeder and then leave quickly to hide it under tree bark or dead leaves.

The amazing thing is that they can accurately remember the location of each seed they hoard. Not only that, they also remember the quality of items they initially stored, making more of an effort to retrieve the higher quality food.

Scientists have found that the hippocampus region of the brain , the area associated with this type of spatial memory, is proportionately larger in chickadees than in other birds that do not cache food. Not only is it generally larger, it actually increases in size in the autumn and shrinks back to its original size each spring.

Look for the chickadee’s scatter-hoarding behavior at your feeders this fall, and just maybe you will learn a few tips from them on how to remember where you put the car keys.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

How birds chew food without teeth

Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak but no teeth. By manipulating their food with their tongue, backyard feeder birds are able to crack seeds into manageable pieces with their bills.


a is the proventriculus which oozes the gastric juice
b is the gizzard cut open to show grinding muscles
Birds swallow food and store it in their crop if necessary. The bird's crop is a large sac at the bottom of the esophagus where birds can stuff food in fast. It can also soften hard food with mucus. Once they swallow the food, it goes into the proventriculus, sometimes called the glandular stomach, a tube-like area which produces a large amount of digestive juices. The food then passes through the ventriculus also known as the muscular stomach or gizzard.

The gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of some animals, including birds, reptiles, earthworms, some gastropods and some fish. This is where the food is ground up. A lot of grain eating birds swallow small stones, shells, and sand occasionally to break apart hard seeds between a specialized stomach constructed of thick, muscular walls.

No worries about cavities or lost teeth. The grinding stones in the bird's gizzard wear down eventually and pass through the bird but are replaced with new stones the bird swallows.


Related Articles:
- Did birds once have teeth? http://goo.gl/alHqb
- Is there a bird without feathers? http://bit.ly/t9C55s
- Why is bird poop white? http://goo.gl/wUUUx
- Colorful Bird Splats Contain Secrets http://bit.ly/rIFQ2w
- How Birds Mate http://goo.gl/CZ9BK