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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Photo Share: Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing is mostly frugivorous.That means it is a fruit eater. Most of its diet is made up of berries, especially in the winter. Berries play a large role in the cedar waxwing's breeding, social and migratory behavior. Cedar waxwings will perch on a branch and pluck berries or it will hover in the air and grab berries. In the northern part of their range, the cedar berry is a large part of their diet.

They travel in flocks of 40 or more birds. They often will appear in a spot with a good crop of berries. When they have eaten all the berries, they move on.

Thank you for sharing your photo! 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, November 29, 2012

Best book to identify birds in Michigan

Birds of Michigan 
By Ted Black and Greg Kennedy
360 pages, 5.50" x 8.50", paperback

This is a wonderful book for beginning or advanced bird watchers in Michigan. It has detailed illustrations of 302 bird species with specifications of their size and any unique markings. It includes descriptions of the birds’ habitat, nesting, feeding, and voice. The birds are also grouped and color coded for quick identification by species.

One of my favorite features is a very handy quick find reference of all of the birds at the beginning of the book. It also lists Michigan birding groups and which local nature center or park will have a particular species of bird.

 

This is a very handy book to have around even if you don't plan on doing more than watching the birds at your feeder. I also recommend Stan Tekiela Birds of Michigan book & CD set if you want to see photos of birds or hear their songs.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why people care about birds and Wild Birds Unlimited

Wild Birds Unlimited. Was anyone else aware that this place existed? It's solely dedicated to the feeding birds.Who cares about wild birds? ~ via twitter

Scientists believe that modern humans arose about 200,000 years ago, but only reaching recognizable behavioral traits about 50,000 years ago. While modern birds arose more than 100 million years ago according to molecular evidence. So they were here long before humans but is there a reason people care about birds?

10 reasons birds are important to people:

1.  Eat pests: Birds are technologically advanced, highly motivated, extremely efficient, and cost-effective, insect-pest controllers. Native Americans lured Purple Martins into their villages by hanging up gourds with holes cut in the sides. It's estimated that martins each eat over a thousand winged insects in a day. Long ago farmers also knew how owls ate mice, bluebirds and swallows ate bugs in the fields, chicken and grouse ate fleas and ticks and encouraged the birds to live nearby. Just as smart people today still put up bird houses to reduce the bug population in their yards. 
2.  Pollinate: Animals provide pollination services for over three-quarters of the staple crop plants that feed human kind and for 90% of all flowering plants in the world. In addition to countless bees, butterflies, and other invertebrates, birds and mammals also serve as pollinators. Hummingbirds pollinate wildflowers that help recolonize deforested areas and prevent erosion. And according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, orioles serve as "important pollinators for some tree species, transferring the pollen from flower to flower on their heads."
3Disperse seeds: The loss of birds could change plant communities and lead to the local loss of particular plant species.  The seeds of Capsicum plants are predominantly dispersed by birds and many of the food products featuring capsaicin include hot sauce and salsa. And a single Blue Jay can cache or hide as many as 5,000 acorns up to 2.5 miles away by carrying several nuts at one time in their esophagus. As a result the rapid northward dispersal of oaks after the ice age may have resulted from the northern transport of acorns by jays. 
4.  Unite a nation: The United States started the trend for national birds when it made the Bald Eagle its avian representative over 200 years ago. In 1789 George Washington became our Nation's first President and the American Bald Eagle became our Country's official bird. President John F. Kennedy later wrote: "The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the Bald Eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America."
5.  Help win wars: The study of wild birds’ many survival techniques has been integral to the establishment of many military improvements. Birds taught the military about camouflage, flight, sentry systems, and during World War I and World War II, the U.S. military enlisted more than 200,000 pigeons to conduct surveillance and relay messages. 
6.  Save people: The classic example of animals serving as sentinels is the "canary in the coal mine". Well into the 20th century, coal miners in the United Kingdom and the United States brought canaries into coal mines as an early-warning signal for toxic gases including methane and carbon monoxide. The birds, being more sensitive, would become sick before the miners, who would then have a chance to escape or put on protective respirators. So during the 1960s, when birds of prey began dying, people were alerted to the dangers of agricultural chemicals such as DDT. Birds act as "sentinels" for environmental health hazards by providing early warning of human health hazards in the environment.  
7.  Promote conservation and environmentalism: The Passenger Pigeon, once the most common bird in North America, went into a catastrophic decline in numbers and then extinction by 1914 due to over hunting. The senseless slaughter of the passenger pigeon aroused public interest in the conservation movement and resulted in new laws and practices which have prevented many other species from going extinct.
8.  Feed people: Eggs and meat from birds have sustained people for centuries. 
9.  Clothe and comfort: Feathers provide fashion, warmth, and comfortable cushion.
10. Entertain: The antics of our garden birds keep us amused and may inspire future scientists to make further discoveries about these ancient creatures that might one day save the world.

Bird watching is a wonderful hobby for people of all ages. Currently one third of the U.S. populations feed wild birds. It can be enjoyed almost anywhere at any moment of the day. If you have any more questions, I can answer them in the blog or you can come into our Wild Birds Unlimited shops for help.

Related Articles: 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's in Wild Birds Unlimited

I get a lot of questions and confused customers walking into our Wild Birds Unlimited stores this time of year wondering what is in the shop.

We actually don't sell birds. Our store name is a little confusing. We sell feeders and food for birds in your yard and a wide variety of supplies so you can watch birds up close. We also sell other unique items for nature lovers.

Who Bird Watches?
History shows humans have long been fascinated with birds. There are nearly 10,000 known species that now inhabit the earth and can be seen anywhere in the world including your own backyard.

What is Bird Watching?
Bird watching begins simply by observing birds. Gradually you can begin learning their names, identifying their markings, observing their activities, songs, behavior, and habitats.

Why bird watch?
Birds can be an indication of overall environmental health. If you’re interested in the environment, paying attention to birds can give you insight into many aspects of nature. Also, with our busy lifestyles, we often forget to slow down and enjoy the surroundings. Bird watching gives you the chance to escape and relax.

How do I start?
To invite more birds to your yard you can set up a bird feeder, bird bath, or bird house. I especially like my window feeders so I can see the birds really close! Wild Birds Unlimited has several styles. I fill it with our No-mess blend so of course there will be no mess below the feeder.

This may be as far as you want to go in bird watching. Or as the birds become more familiar to you at the feeder you can look up their names in a book or field guide, investigate using binoculars, join the local Audubon Society, or open up your own Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop. There are no set rules to bird watching.
Cat TV


Michigan has over 400 species of birds. A few of the most common birds seen at a seed feeder in mid-Michigan are the Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, House Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, European Starling, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, and Mourning Dove.

Bird watching is a wonderful hobby for people of all ages. It can be enjoyed almost anywhere at any moment of the day. All in all, bird watching is relaxing, fun, and educational. If you have any specific questions I can answer them in the blog or you can come into our Wild Birds Unlimited shops for more ideas or help.
 
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Monday, November 26, 2012

The family tree of all birds

Press Release:



Image by Arne Mooers (SFU),
Gavin Thomas (Sheffield) and Cody Shrank (Yale
A Yale-led scientific team has produced the most comprehensive family tree for birds connecting all living bird species and revealing surprising new details about their evolutionary history and its geographic context.

The researchers relied heavily on fossil and DNA data, combining them with geographical information to produce the exhaustive family tree, which includes 9,993 species known to be alive now. Analysis of the family tree shows when and where birds diversified — and that birds’ diversification rate has increased over the last 50 million years, challenging the conventional wisdom of biodiversity experts.

 “The current zeitgeist in biodiversity science is that the world can fill up quickly,” says biologist and co-author Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University in Canada. “A new distinctive group, like bumblebees or tunafish, first evolves, and, if conditions are right, it quickly radiates to produce a large number of species. These species fill up all the available niches, and then there is nowhere to go. Extinction catches up, and things begin to slow down or stall. For birds the pattern is the opposite: Speciation is actually speeding up, not slowing down.” 
The family tree of all birds.  
Click here to make it bigger. University of Sheffield

The researchers attribute the growing rate of avian diversity to an abundance of group-specific adaptations. They hypothesize that the evolution of physical or behavioral innovations in certain groups, combined with the opening of new habitats, has enabled repeated bursts of diversification. Another likely factor has been birds’ exceptional mobility, researchers said, which time and again has allowed them to colonize new regions and exploit novel ecological opportunities.

Source: 
The global diversity of birds in space and time
W. Jetz, G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann, A. O. Mooers doi:10.1038/nature11631,

URL: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v491/n7424/full/nature11631.html

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bird of the Week: Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) are year-round residents in Michigan’s forests and woodlands and have the biggest range of all North American grouse species.

Fun Facts:

- In the winter, Ruffed Grouse grow temporary scales on the sides of their feet to act as snowshoes.
-  The grouse's cryptic coloration (patterning of light and dark on the feathers) and slow, deliberate walk make them virtually invisible.
- The state bird of Pennsylvania, the ruffed grouse gets its name from the tufts of black feathers on its neck, which are raised into a ruff by the male during its courtship display.
- The alternate, irregular dark and light markings on the tail feathers of the ruffed grouse is unique to each bird.
- Unlike other grouse species, the Ruffed Grouse relies entirely on a non-vocal acoustic display, known as drumming. In the spring, males drum their wings to produce a series of deep thumping sounds that increase in tempo.
- Their population fluctuates depending on the Snowshoe Hare population. Hares seem to be a favorite of predators but if there are fewer bunnies to eat the grouse become alternate prey.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How to Get Rid of Uninvited Guests

Chickadees eat safflower.
Me, I’d love to feed the whole world. But I know that some people have trouble with uninvited guests like hawks, squirrels, House Sparrows, starlings and blackbirds at the bird feeders.

If you switch over to straight safflower seed you will decrease the activity of all those guests except hawks. Safflower is a small white seed about the size of oil sunflower that is savored by Cardinals, House Finches, Black-capped Chickadees, and more. Blackbirds, starlings, squirrels, and sparrows avoid safflower. When you start feeding safflower there will be a dramatic drop in the number of birds at the feeder but then different birds will appear gradually.

It’s also important to buy suet without seed in it because that's what the sparrows like. Our Wild Birds Unlimited Peanut Butter Suet contains just suet and peanuts no seed or we have the straight beef suet that the just the chickadees, woodpeckers, and nuthatches like. And the Hot Pepper Suet repels all mammals including squirrels.

Goldfinches can eat Nyjer bottoms up.
Most squirrels, House Sparrows, hawks, starlings and blackbirds also leave the finch feeders alone when you feed straight Nyjer thistle. If they still are a problem you can use an upside down finch feeder. Goldfinches can eat upside down comfortably. The feeding port is below the perch and the goldfinches have to hang by their toes to reach the seed.

If you’re still overrun with flocks of sparrows and starlings, hawks may actually help you take care of a few of those unwanted guests. Unfortunately they may also tote off a couple of the birds you like.

To deter hawks, place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. Federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. So keep in mind that hawks may eat a few sparrows and squirrels but only tend to settle in at feeders for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out.

If you want to attract the widest variety of birds Wild Birds Unlimited has several other blends that are formulated to attract the birds that live in our area. We do not include cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix and aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

The only blend I use is Wild Birds Unlimited's unique No-Mess Blend which features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds means no hulls on the ground and the seed won’t sprout either.

Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything. One 20# bag of No-Mess contains at least twice as much seed as a bag with shells.

Whichever seed you choose to use, you'll know Wild Birds Unlimited always has fresh bird food full of the high fat and protein the birds need right now. Seed comes in every Tuesday. If you come early enough you can watch me load tons of seed into the store. And if you want to buy bags of seed right off the pallets, you are very welcome.
Related Articles:
- 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 
- Best food for birds in the winter http://goo.gl/WXXcp

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Debunking a turkey myth

My grandpa is a farmer and he told me last year that a turkey is so stupid it will drown in the rain if he looks up. He said when it starts to rain they look up and water goes down their throats and they will drown. I told him we have wild turkeys that come by our house in Southampton and when it rains they just go under a bush. What about you? Have you heard of a turkey drowning in the rain? ~ Suffolk County, New York 
 
The idea that turkeys drown in the rain is a new to me too. I looked it up on snopes.com and found that it seems to be a common urban legend but not true. Below is an excerpt from a good article by the Oregon State University Animal Sciences department that explains more: 
 
Turkey may be top choice for the holiday feast, but the live birds don't have much of a reputation for smarts. The result, turkey has become synonymous with dumb.
Tom Savage, a poultry scientist in the Oregon State University Animal Sciences Department, is tired of all the ridicule turkeys have had to endure. The researcher has spent a lot of time with turkeys and feels strongly that the use of the turkey as a metaphor for stupidity is unfair and inaccurate.
 
"I've always viewed turkeys as smart animals with personality and character, and keen awareness of their surroundings," said Savage. "The dumb tag simply doesn't fit." Backing up his claim, Savage referred to the story about how turkeys are so stupid that they sometimes look up at clouds overhead while it's raining and keep staring skyward until they drown.
 
Although he has never heard of this actually happening, Savage noted that some turkeys do cock their heads back, stare up at the sky, and hold that position for up to a minute or more. But the behavior is a genetically-caused nervous disorder called tetanic torticollar spasms, he said. "It's an example of how a misunderstood animal behavior becomes identified as proof that the animal is extremely lacking in intelligence," Savage said.
 
He admits that some of the turkey's unique characteristics probably do encourage people to think turkeys are stupid. For example, domestic turkeys tend to look awkward, particularly when they are running. Savage counters that this is because they have been bred to be heavy, meaty birds, much larger than their sleeker wild cousins.
Savage responds that wild turkeys are very good fliers so it's not unusual that domesticated turkeys instinctively try to fly. But, of course they can't fly very well, or far, because they're too heavy, he said.
 
A realist, Savage acknowledges that improving the turkey's reputation for intelligence is an uphill battle. Just the same, he insists on doing what he can to debunk the myth of the dumb turkey. "I'm an advocate for turkeys," he said, "except on Thanksgiving." 
 
Full Article by Author Bob Rost: "OSU animal scientist debunks dumb turkey myth." Oregon State University News, November 19, 2003. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/story.php?S_No=92&storyType=news 
 
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Origin of the Turkey name

As we approach Thanksgiving (aka Turkey Day), you might be wondering why turkeys are called turkeys. There's a lot of confusion, but this all-American bird is not from the country of Turkey. The birds weren't known outside the Americas until Spanish explorers brought some from the New World to Spain in the early 1500s.

There are a few explanations on how Turkeys were named. In the days when geography was a little sketchy, Europeans sometimes referred to any exotic import as Turkey (i.e. Turkey Bird, Turkey rug, Turkey bag).

Another story is that Europeans already ate guinea fowl they imported to Europe by Turkish merchants. So when the first American settlers were presented with a similar large bird for Thanksgiving it was giving the generic name Turkey. Others say that the name turkey came from Native Americans who called the birds firkee, which sounds like turkey, and is the sound turkeys make when they are afraid --"turk, turk, turk."

Or, people may have thought turkeys, peacocks, and guinea fowl were all alike. A Latin and Greek translation of the bird's scientific name, Meleagris gallopavo, means “guinea fowl chicken peacock.”

While Turkey is the accepted name for this native American bird in the United States, now that I’ve researched a little of their history I can’t help but think The American Ornithological Union (AOU) should give them a real name. These poor birds have been a walking drumstick since the first humans laid eyes on them.

This Thanksgiving, my family and I will be dining on the lesser known Tofurky. (Keep your jokes to yourself. We had it last Thanksgiving and it was wonderful!) So what is the origin of the name Tofurky (Tofu Turkey)? The English word "tofu" comes from the Japanese tōfu (豆腐), which itself derives from the Chinese dòufu (豆腐 or 荳腐). Although in both languages the characters together translate as "bean curd," the literal meaning of the individual characters is "bean" (豆) and "curdled" (腐). Yum!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fun Facts about Turkeys

• The turkey was Benjamin Franklin's choice for the United State’s national bird.

• Today, wild turkeys are being reintroduced into many areas across the USA. Overhunting and the disappearance of their favored woodland habitat has resulted in the decline in turkey populations.
•Only Alaska and Hawaii don’t have native turkeys
•The turkey is covered by about 6,000 iridescence feathers of varying colors of red, green, copper, bronze and gold. The gobbler, or male turkey, is more colorful, while the hen is a duller color to camouflage her with her surroundings.
•The average life expectancy for wild turkeys is one and a half years in the wild and 13 years in captivity. Besides hunters, the birds are prey to a variety of animals like raccoons, bobcats, foxes, eagles, owls and much more.
• Wild turkeys have very powerful legs and can run faster than 20 miles per hour and fly up to 55 miles per hour.
• To attract mates, males display their fan-like tail, bare head, and bright snood and wattle. They also perform a little turkey trot and make a distinctive gobble that can be heard a mile away. After mating males have little to do with the females.
•The ballroom dance the "turkey trot" was named for the short, jerky steps that turkeys take.
• Females lay 4 to 17 eggs in a ground nest under a bush, incubate the eggs for up to 28 days and feed their chicks only for a few days after they hatch. Young turkeys quickly learn to fend for themselves as part of mother/child flocks that can include dozens of animals.
• The adult males, known as toms or gobblers, normally weigh between 16 and 24 pounds while the females, known as hens, usually weigh between 8 and 10 pounds. Very young birds are poults, while juvenile males are jakes and females are jennies. A group of turkeys has many collective nouns, including a "crop", "dole", "gang", "posse", and "raffle" of turkeys.
•A native of North America, the turkey is one of only two domesticated birds originating in the New World. The Muscovy Duck is the other.
•Turkeys originated in North and Central America, and evidence indicates that they have been around for over 10 million years.
•There are a few explanations on how Turkeys were named. One is that in the days when geography was a little sketchy, Europeans sometimes referred to any exotic import as Turkey (i.e. Turkey Bird, Turkey rug, Turkey bag).
•Turkeys don’t migrate. They can be seen grazing fields and woodlands during the day and roosting in trees at night. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to keep your bird bath water from freezing

Is there an anti-freeze I can put in the water to keep it melted in the winter? ~ Ann Arbor, MI

Excellent question! Water is one of the most important necessities for birds year-round. Most people understand the importance of water for drinking but many do not realize just how important bathing is for birds, especially in the winter. 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. 
 
However, Anti-freeze should never be added to a bird bath. Ethylene glycol, the primary ingredient in antifreeze is TOXIC and should NEVER be ADDED TO WATER where animals have access.

To keep open water available to birds, I like to use the Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) durable, heated plastic birdbath which provides a reliable source of water when natural sources are frozen, even to temp. below -20° F. Mount it easily to deck rails or place it in a birdbath holder to allow visitors to drink, bathe and keep their feathers clean all winter. It features a built-in 150 watt, fully grounded heater that is thermostatically controlled to conserve energy. It also has a full 4 year warranty and it’s made in the U.S.A.

Another option is to place a birdbath heater in the bath you already have. WBU offers two heaters that turn on and off as needed like the heated birdbath. Our heaters are designed to be placed in concrete, plastic, resin or stone bird baths.

Or there is the birdbath de-icer. Its affordable foil construction is ideal for shallow birdbaths and stays on all the time at a low wattage to keep a circle of melted water in your bath. The 3-prong cord is fully grounded and has a one year limited warranty.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Photo share: Black bird at night

Thank you for sharing your photo! 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, November 15, 2012

New Snowman Bird Feeder is a Mrs. Snowman!

First we had the Green No/No seed ball feeders. Then No/No developed the adorable No/No feeder that looks a snowman! They flew off the shelves to fill many happy birdwatchers yards last year. Today the family has grown to include the new Mrs. Snowman! The perfect pair... Mr. and now the darling Mrs. Snowman NO/NO Feeders!
Your backyard birds will enjoy clinging to these unique yet sturdy Mr. and Mrs. Snowman Feeders!
The Mr. and Mrs. Snowman bird feeders along with the green and now red seed balls will be a hit in your backyard bird sanctuary!
Advantages of the NO/NO Seed Wild Bird Feeders:
You can hang several NO/NO Seed ball feeders up to decorate.
• NO Wood and NO Plastic: high-quality metal construction
• Holds black oil sunflower seeds, the favorite of most seed eating birds
• Feeds lots of birds at once
• Attracts chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, goldfinches, and more
• Easy to hang and fill and clean
• Makes a great gift or starter feeder
• Lasts for years
• They're really, really cute!

Come on in to the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI to see all the new inventory. We have several prewrapped items that will make great hostess or office gifts. But hurry because I ordered only a limited quantity of the holiday stuff and when it's gone, it's gone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fun Facts about Juncos

• Dark-eyed Juncos are often called “Snowbirds,” possibly due to the fact that they are more likely to visit feeding stations during snowy periods. Many people also believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. Another possible source of the nickname may be the white belly plumage and slate-colored back of the Junco, which has been described as “leaden skies above, snow below.”

• According to Project Feeder Watch, Juncos are sighted at more feeding areas across North America than any other bird. Over 80% percent of those responding report Juncos at their feeders.

• Juncos spend the entire winter in flocks averaging in size from six to thirty or more birds. Each flock has a dominance hierarchy with adult males at the top, then juvenile males, adult females and young females at the bottom. You can often observe individuals challenging the status of others with aggressive displays of lunges and tail flicking.

• To avoid the competition, many females migrate farther south than most of the males. Up to 70% of Juncos wintering in the southern U.S. are females. Males tend to stay farther north in order to shorten their spring migration and thus gain the advantage of arriving first at prime breeding territories.

• Juncos, along with some other members of the sparrow family, practice an interesting foraging method called “riding.” They fly up to a seed cluster on the top of a grass stem and “ride” it to the ground where they pick off the seeds while standing on it.

• The longevity record for Dark-eyed Juncos is 10 years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We're Irrupting . . . with Birds!

Red-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks have arrived! Have you seen these birds? If not, you will! This is an irruptive year, meaning that birds’ natural food supplies in Canada are low and many species of birds must head south to find food for the winter. When you throw these "invaders" together with the usual winter bird residents in mid-Michigan, you should have a fabulous year at the feeders!

Most of these new birds spend their summer isolated in Canada’s boreal forest so they don’t seem to have any fear of humans. They stay close as I fill my feeders and seem fascinated by the never-ending food at feeders.

Every morning may bring in a new bird. I first heard the ehh, ehh, ehh of the Red-breasted Nuthatch in October. The happy laughing call of this bird that is only about the size of my thumb brings me joy every morning. Adult Red-breasted Nuthatches have gray backs with rust-colored breasts. They have black caps, white stripes above the eyes and what looks like a black mask over the eyes. In winter, you can see them walking upside down on the trunks of trees as they look for bugs, as well as seeds of fir, pine, and spruce trees. They are also common visitors at peanut, sunflower, mealworms, and suet feeders.

You’ll never know when you’ll come face to face with the unexpected bird at the feeders. The Pine Siskins slip seamlessly into goldfinch flocks feeding from the finch feeders. At a first glance, siskins appear to be very small streaked sparrows with faint yellow patches on their wings and tails, not always visible. But Pine Siskins are very social birds and have a cheerful "zzziip" song.

Like a rock-star, the Evening Grosbeak is a noticeable winter visitor during irruption years. They are a large, robust finch with a body that glows dusky yellow, a brownish black head with black crown and a heavy conical beak that is a pale greenish yellow and appears too big for its body. It flies on black wings that flash brilliant white patches. Once a flock descends they can empty a sunflower feeder in a very short time but they are such handsome birds we are happy to spoil them when they grace us with their presence.

Feeders are a great way to attract all these fabulous birds to your yard. We have many styles of feeders that are ideal for these birds & the foods they love! Come by the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan and we will help you decide what you need!

Click the links to learn more:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Finch invasion!

A charm of finches chatting at the feeders is a welcome sight!

No, it’s not your imagination. There are definitely more finches out there than normal. This is turning out to be one of the best years for bird watchers! Customers have been reporting an increase in the numbers of American Goldfinches as well as several other bird “invaders”.

Canada’s natural seed crops were horrible this year and lots of birds that usually like to winter further north have ventured south to mid-Michigan to find food.

Our bright yellow and black goldfinches are now sporting their duller olive green winter wardrobe. Goldfinches are found year-round at Michigan bird feeders, but some of their northern goldfinch relatives have joined our flocks to create a big-time show at the bird feeders.

I love the happy, warm, song of the goldfinches especially in the cold months. 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.

Fun Facts on Goldfinches:
- Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall.
- The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt too. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a buffy yellow orange color.
- To stay warm on a cold winter’s night, American Goldfinches have been known to burrow under the snow to form a cozy sleeping cavity. They will also roost together in coniferous trees or roosting pockets.
- Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries, but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
- American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds.
- Due to their almost exclusive diet of seeds, the goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water.
- The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.”
- Residential flocks of American Goldfinches roam widely during the winter and have been recorded moving over 4 miles between multiple feeding stations in a single day.
- Female American Goldfinches are dominant over males in the summer and appear to be subservient to them in the winter. See if you call tell a difference at your feeders.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Best way to begin bird feeding

Bird Feeders come in a wide variety styles. The best feeder to begin bird feeding is the one that caters to the birds that already find your yard a suitable habitat. Birds are sometimes wary of new feeders. So by targeting birds that are already in the area, the time it takes birds to utilize the new food source will be much shorter. 

Things to remember:
• Make sure you can see the feeder from a comfortable spot in your home. The whole point of adding a feeder to your yard is so that you and your family can enjoy watching the activity.
• Place your feeder where it is visible. Birds generally find their food by sight.
• Sprinkle some seed on the ground to encourage the birds to a new feeding area.
• Use a seed type or seed blend based on the birds in your area.
• Keep your feeders clean and the seed fresh.

Don’t be disappointed if you only see little brown House Sparrows at first. Birds are attracted by activity. If a flock of sparrows deem your feeder good, other species will check out what all the fuss is about and the word will spread quickly.

It’s good to understand what kind of backyard habitat you have and what birds you might attract depending on the season. If you’re not sure, come in to Wild Birds Unlimited to get answers to these and other issues from our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists. Good luck and enjoy your birds!
 
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Friday, November 9, 2012

Photo Share: Red-bellied Woodpecker

 Red-bellied Woodpecker close-ups by Holly S VanVoorhis.
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.       . 

Thank you for sharing your photos! Holly sent us lots of fabulous photos and 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, November 8, 2012

Fun Gifts for the Nature Lovers

Holiday Bird Food Essentials

Solid Seed and Nut Ornament 
Give your backyard friends a gift they'll really enjoy. Extra-large wild bird seed ornaments are solid, compact balls of mixed birdseed and pecans. They can be hung on outdoor trees, porch hooks, or shrubs as a treat for clinging birds. Features red raffia bow and jute hanging loop. Each ball measures approximately 4" dia. This is a perfect gift to have on hand to pass out to teachers, hostesses, unexpected guests and other friends and family.
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Giant Bird Seed Pinecone
Giant Pinecones coated with sunflower seed without the shell and tied with twine so you can hang them over a branch. A fun way to decorate an outdoor tree in your own yard, these pinecones makes charming, nature-inspired gifts for bird lovers. 

Buttons the Snowman Seed Cylinder
Available for a limited time only, our Snowman Seed Cylinder is a seasonal mix of safflower, sunflower chips, peanuts, cherries, blueberries and papaya to attract a variety of birds. Simply slide the Snowman Seed Cylinder onto our WBU Seed Cylinder Feeders or WBU Dinner Bell™ feeder and enjoy the feathered holiday visitors. This is an adorable and unforgettable treat birds really love! 
WBU Supreme Fare Seed Wreath
The WBU Supreme Fare Seed Wreath does double duty during the winter season. Not only is it a dining delight for birds, but it also adds festive cheer to any yard. This wreath is full of seasonally-appropriate ingredients including sunflower seeds, peanuts and pecans.

It makes the perfect gift for friends that love nature but might not need another feeder. The wreath is 100% edible. Birds will eat this treat until it disappears completely.

Each wreath comes in a clear wrapped gift box and includes a red hanging ribbon and seed net. 

Related Articles: 
- Let's all share Nature's bounty http://bit.ly/tgPkrv 
- Edible ornaments for the birds http://bit.ly/tXDnSB
- Decorate a Tree for Your Birds http://bit.ly/t3QtGV
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/tUElnw

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ever wonder about the first snowman?

Image from at imgur.
Documentation of the first snowman is unclear. However, Bob Eckstein, author of The History of the Snowman found the earliest representation of a snowman as a marginal illustration from a work titled Book of Hours from 1380.

In Europe and North America, snowmen are built with three spheres depicting the head, torso, and lower body. Snowmen are usually built with two spheres in East Asia and one or two in Japan.

The perfect time to make snowmen is usually in the afternoon. Snow becomes suitable for packing when it approaches its melting point and becomes moist and compact. This allows for the construction of a large snowball by simply rolling it, until it grows to the desired size.

Sources:
1) Eckstein, Bob author of "My Search for The First Snowman".

Monday, November 5, 2012

Specific bird flock group names


Have you ever heard of a wedge of geese? A wedge of cheese? No you read that right, a wedge of geese.

A large number of Canada Geese just flew very low over the store. Besides hearing the loud honking I was also amazed as an enormous V-shaped shadow moved across the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing parking lot. Did you know that a flock of flying geese is called a “wedge” of geese and a “gaggle” of geese when they are in the water?

A lot of bird flocks have specific group names. Why the need to name flocks of birds anything besides “flock”? I suppose because it was fun for bird watchers to observe birds and come up with a descriptive name for each species. For instance, a group of owls seem to look smart with their large round eyes like they are wearing spectacles and are therefore called a "wisdom" of owls. And nuthatches gather nuts and seeds, jam them into tree bark and so their group is collectively known as a "jar" of nuthatches.

So what are some other collective nouns for our backyard birds?
• A "blight" or "subdivision" of sparrows
• A "Vatican" of cardinals
• A "flight" of doves
• A "party" or "scold" of jays
• A "charm" of goldfinches
• A "banditry" of chickadees
• A "descent" or "drumming" of woodpeckers
• A “murder” or "cauldron" of crows
• A "worm" of robins
• A "constellation", "murmuration", or "vulgarity" of starlings