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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Male birds can't fool their mates for long

New research reveals that some male birds use their song to dupe females they have just met into thinking they are in excellent physical condition. Singing is a test of a bird's condition because it uses a lot of energy.

Researchers at the University of Exeter studied zebra finches to establish how trustworthy birdsong was in providing honest signals about the male's value as a mate. Fit and healthy birds are thought to be able to sustain a high song rate for longer, making them more attractive to females.

Researchers discovered that male birds in poor condition could "cheat" and vary their song to give a false impression to stranger females. But they did not even try to fool female birds who knew them.

Dr Sasha Dall, of the University of Exeter, was involved in the research. He said: "Every man wants to cast himself in a favorable light when he meets an attractive female, and we have shown that birds are no different. But just like many humans, it seems zebra finch males are unable to dupe females who know them well enough. When the birds were in an established relationship, the female could tell the true condition of a male by his song, and judge whether he would make a good father for her next brood."

Zebra finches are Australia's most popular finch. They make common pets and are used widely in scientific research because they adapt extremely well. For zebra finches, both color and birdsong are important factors in choosing a mate.

Dr Morgan David, who led the research, said: "This is the first study to find evidence that the link between male body condition and birdsong differs depending on the context of the encounter with the opposite sex. It could have significant implications for learning more about the evolution of courtship patterns such as birdsong."

Story Source:
Birdsong bluster may dupe strange females, but it won't fool partners
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-12/uoe-bbm121412.php

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why juncos are called snowbirds

A Dark-eyed Junco subspecies - the Slate-color...Image via Wikipedia
• 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.

• 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 records for Dark-eyed Juncos is 10 years.

Source: WBU Educational Resources-Juncos

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Why Bird Feeders Must Be Cleaned

When was the last time you cleaned your feeders? Like most people, birds don't like to eat off of a dirty plate. It's recommended that you clean your bird feeders at least once a month. 

And this winter it is especially important to maintain a clean feeding station. 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.These flocks of birds are going to be stressed and susceptible to disease.

In order to keep healthy birds at your feeders, consider the following:

1. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. 
2. Check your feeders after a rain and snow to make sure the seed is dry. If not, replace it.
3. Store seed in a cool dry location. Wild Birds Unlimited has closed steel containers that work well to protect seed from unwanted seed thieves or bad weather. 
4. When choosing a new feeder look for something easy to clean and fill.
.If you keep these measures in mind, you can keep this hobby enjoyable for your family and safe for your birds. Bon appetite!

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Friday, December 28, 2012

Photo Share: Falling snow

Fun snow facts:
- Snow is formed by the crystallization of water and since all water molecules have six sides, so do all snowflakes.
- On average an inch of rain can become one foot of snow.
Snowflake- There are 7 major snowflake shapes: tubes, stars, hexagonal plates, ridged arm stars, hexagonal columns, needles, and irregular.
- In 1755 the red dust from the Sahara desert caused red snow to fall over Europe when the dust became condensation nuclei for flakes.
- Fluffy (powdery) snow which falls at very low temperatures can be up to 95% air, while warmer temperature will produce very wet heavy flakes.
- An average snowflake is made up of 180 billion water molecules.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Save your Christmas tree for the birds

"Life is a series of little deaths out of which life always returns." ~ Charles Feidelson, Jr.

Last week was the Winter Solstice, the day the Earth's Northern Hemisphere has the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The birds might consider it the beginning of the "real" New Year. I did too! It’s the day when the whole annual cycle begins all over, and I can look forward to the gradual lengthening of days.

You can’t help but admire our hardy winter birds in Michigan. When I go out to fill the feeders in the morning and hear the nuthatches and woodpeckers “laughing,” I feel happy that they’ve made it through the night.

And remember if you feel a little guilty about just throwing away your Christmas tree, its usefulness can be extended by placing it outside near feeders for added shelter against the weather and predators. In a matter of minutes, the old tree is providing a new natural cover.

The birds had an advantage with the milder November and early December which allowed them to seek natural foods. Though it might seem strange to humans, wild birds prefer to forage over visiting feeders (with the possible exception of the House Sparrows).

However, as the temperatures dip and natural food sources may become covered with snow or locked in ice, the supplemental food and water we provide is more widely appreciated and has a bigger impact on the birds’ survival.

I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season and I wish everyone a future filled with great birding experiences. Happy New Year!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nature up Close: A look at different bird beaks

The bird's beak or bill is a remarkably useful instrument that comes in all shapes and sizes. The bill shows various adaptations for methods of feeding.

Birds with all-purpose bills have general sort of diet using a bill that can cut, crush, rip, and open just about anything.

Some other examples are short thin bills for insect eaters, short thick bills for seed eaters, long thin bills can be for probing flowers for nectar or probing soft mud for worms and shellfish, strong hooked bills for tearing meat.
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The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), the largest member of the toucan family, possesses the largest beak relative to body size of all birds. The toucans use this exaggerated feature to attract mates and pick fruit from the thin ends of branches that can not support the birds weight. A recent study also found the bill can help the bird keep its temperature under control.

Flamingos are filter feeders, and have many complex rows of horny plates that line their bills to strain food items from the water.

Of course, gathering food is not the only use for the bird's bills. Birds use their bills in fighting and in defense of their territory, gathering nesting materials, building nests, grooming feathers, attracting mates, scaring predators, and other important rolls.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day of Peace


Monday, December 24, 2012

Closer look at birds that fly south and those that are migrating north

I’m excited about seeing all these new finches from Canada this winter! I’m keeping my feeders full so I can watch all the activity. Will they stay around because they have such a good thing down here or will they leave in the spring?

What a wonderful question! I wrote earlier about how this was going to be a good season for bird watching because 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.

Those hardy Canadian birds that irrupt occasionally are wonderful to observe but generally heed their hormonal urge to leave in the spring when it’s time to nest. So enjoy them now.

On the other hand studies have revealed that more and more southern birds are moving north and sticking around mid-Michigan in the winter. Land development, a steady increase in global temperatures, and bird feeding during the last half of the 20th century may have played a small role in the northward expansion of some southern birds.

For example, the northern edge of the Cardinal’s range has expanded greatly since the days of John James Audubon. Originally a southern bird, the Northern Cardinal began expanding its range into northern states around the 1900’s. After nesting season Cardinals stop defending territories and begin to flock together. During the early days of their expansion they would migrate back south during the winter. But in time they became year round residents of Michigan.

The Tufted Titmouse has also been expanding their range northward since the 1940’s and is now found even in Canada. Speculation for their expansion includes warming winter temperatures and the increase in mature woodland habitat.

Or take the Turkey Vulture. Once only a southern US bird, by the 1960's they had extended their breeding range into Michigan. The popular theory is that the interstate highway system increased the availability of food in the form of roadkill.

So what do we make of all this? How do animals know when and where to go? The usual explanation is that the migration is driven by instinct, hard-wired into birds. But birds might be evolving. Whether or not a bird flies south for the winter depends a lot on what food the species eats.

Every year we get more and more sightings of orioles, hummingbirds and other birds that normally migrate, sticking around. Amazingly, if a bird can get enough food, it apparently can survive even the worst weather.

That’s why information gathered from the citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, helps to us see the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer data is collected, the more meaningful it becomes in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like:

• How will the weather influence bird populations?
• Why winter finches and other “irruptive” species appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

For highlights of past results, visit http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/science-stories

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bird of the Week: Small gray and white bird with tuft

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 
Description
Tufted titmice are 15 to 17 cm long and have wingspans of 23 to 28 cm. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes.

Behavior
Tufted titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and hanging upside down while searching beneath twigs for insects. They are active during the daytime and do not migrate extensively, remaining in residence throughout the winter. They are fairly confident birds and can be trained to come at the sound of human voices and take food from their hands, though not as easily as their cousins, the black-capped chickadees. Tufted titmice store food under bark or under objects on the ground. Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. Pairs separate from winter flocks in preparation for mating by February.

General
Eats insects, spiders, snails, various berries, acorns, seeds and suet. Forages in trees, sometimes upside down, often in mixed species flocks like chickadees. Most Tufted Titmice live their entire life within a few miles of their birthplace. They only occur in areas where rainfall is greater than 24 inches per year, and are more common where rainfall exceeds 32 inches per year. The Tufted Titmouse is very appealing visitor to the feeder. A group of titmice are collectively known as a "banditry" and a "dissimulation" of titmice.  

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bird at Play

We know crows are very intelligent birds and they often exhibit playful behavior. But have you ever seen one sledding in the snow? The accompanying video shows a hooded crow in Russia sliding down a snowy roof on a jar lid.

It is a remarkable demonstration of deliberate play by a bird. The crow uses a found object, searches for the best sledding path, and slides down the roof repeatedly (for fun?).

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor for The Atlantic, put the issue of crows and playful behavior to Alan Kamil at the Center for Avian Intelligence at the University of Nebraska.

"It is in keeping with the general reputation of corvids," said Kamil, after watching the video. "I don't know what to make of it scientifically but it is a cool example of a play-like behavior in a corvid."

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Photo Share: Coot, Egret, Heron

Joshua Chrisman (Creator and Admin of Michigan's Wildlife on www.facebook.com/MichigansWildlife) sent us lots of  of lovely pictures that he took this year. Most of the pictures are taken around the Greenville, Grand Rapids, Stanton, and Saginaw areas. Some are also taken in the Upper Peninsula. I will be posting them gradually over the next few weeks on our Friday Photo Posts.

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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Brighten your winter garden with a touch of copper

Wild Birds Unlimited Copper Top Series has arrived! These unique yet functional copper topped bird feeders or bird houses add a touch of elegance to your garden.

Made in the USA, these well designed feeders have curved sides to view birds easily, heavy plexi-glass lens to view the seed level, comfortable perching areas to attract a wide variety of birds and a thick roof covered in solid copper to create an attractive appearance that will stand out in any yard.

The copper topped houses are also exceptional and built to last several seasons. Each house is made to specific dimensions, with proper ventilation and drainage and are easy to clean and hang. They add a decorative touch to your garden in addition to attracting many bird families.

Wild Birds Unlimited also offers copper hummingbird, oriole and finch feeders. Any of these unique metal bird feeders and houses will add an elegant and luxurious, upscale quality to your deck or yard space. These American made, reasonable priced feeders and houses also make the perfect gift!
 
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, December 19, 2012

Nature up Close: Winter Solstice

The tip of Earth's axis causes the northern hemisphere in winter
to face away from the sun and toward it in summer. Credit: NASA
Is anyone else tired of it being dark at 4pm? Don’t worry, the winter solstice is this week and for everyone in the northern hemisphere that means the days will start to get longer.
The first day of winter or the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year when the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest.

Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice usually occurs on December 21 to 23 each year in the Northern Hemisphere, and June 20 to 23 in the Southern Hemisphere.

Winter Solstice celebrates the birth of the new Solar year and the beginning of winter. Cultures around the world have had celebrations of rebirth for centuries at this time of year.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter approaches and birds abound

Mid-Michigan is lucky enough to see lots of birds during the long cold winter months. I’ve listed some of the most common birds you’ll see and the food they like at feeders.

1. House Sparrow- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips
2. Black-capped Chickadee- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
3. Northern Cardinal- Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Shelled peanuts, Striped Sunflower seed
4. Downy Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet
5. White-breasted Nuthatch- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
6. Mourning Dove- Oil Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, White Proso Millet, Nyjer Thistle
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
8. Northern Flicker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
9. Dark-eyed Junco- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Nyjer Thistle
10. American Goldfinch- Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
11. Blue Jay- Peanuts in the Shell, Nuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
12. Tufted Titmouse- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
13. House Finch- Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
14. European Starling- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
15. American Crow- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
16. Cooper’s Hawk- Songbirds, Squirrels, Unrendered Suet
17. Carolina Wren- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
18. Eastern Bluebird- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
19. American Robin- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
20. Cedar Waxwing- Mealworms, Suet Nuggets, Berries and Wild Fruit

Click HERE for the Eastern Seed Preference Guide

Of course there are a lot more birds in Michigan during the winter and they don't just eat from feeders, but this gives you a start. For more information we have Birds of Michigan Field Guides or you can visit our online Bird Guide to identify birds at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/.

Related Articles:
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://goo.gl/RlGE6 
- 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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Fun Facts on Woodpeckers

  • A Pileated Woodpecker "drums" on hollow trees with its bill in order to claim territory.
  • A group of pileated woodpeckers are collectively known as a "crown" of woodpeckers.
  • Beetle larvae make up about one-third of the Pileated Woodpecker’s natural diet. Ants are the next most important food item.
  • The barbed tip of a woodpecker’s tongue is very sensitive to touch and can both detect and impale insect larvae. The tongue is coated with sticky mucus that is secreted by large salivary glands; this coating helps to ensure that its prey does not slip away.
  • Woodpeckers are among a very few birds that have zygodactyl feet – which simply means they have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backwards. Most birds have an arrangement of three toes forward and one backwards. Having two sets of opposing toes gives them a much better grip on the trees they land on and climb.
  • In order for woodpeckers to survive the 10G’s of force that they can sustain with every blow against a tree, they have the following special adaptations:
    -The bones between the beak and the skull are joined by a flexible cartilage, which cushions the shock of each blow.
    -The skull is made of spongy, air-filled bone and the brain is packed very tightly into the brain cavity, with little room to rattle around during impacts.
    -The shear force from each blow is directed not to the brain, but downward towards very strong neck muscles that act as shock absorbers.
    -A woodpecker’s head and body are always in a perfectly straight alignment when hitting a tree to avoid breaking its neck.
  • When feeding on wood, grubs make an audible sound that could be heard by a woodpecker.
  • Woodpeckers have a better sense of smell than most birds and may be able to detect the strong odor of the formic acid that ants, bark beetles and termites excrete (smells like Sweet Tarts.)
  • If you want to provide good habitat for woodpeckers, consider leaving the dead tree snags in and around your yard.
Related Articles: 
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
- Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S
- Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt
- How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How to pronounce Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus
Order: PICIFORMES Family: Woodpeckers (Picidae)

The Pileated Woodpecker is Michgan's largest woodpecker at sixteen and a half inches in length and a wingspan up to 30 inches. Its size, sleek black back and wings, offset by a red crest, are obvious field marks. The males have a characteristic red "mustache", which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black. Another distinct field mark is the large white area under its wing which is viewed when the bird is in flight.

There is some confusion on how to pronounce "pileated". Some lean toward "PIE-lee-ate-ed", while others say "PILL-ee-ate-ed". Both pronunciations are accepted. The name comes from the brilliant scarlet crest of feathers on the top of its head, called a pileum (PIE-lee-um). The genus name, Dryocopus means "oak tree cutter".

Pileated Woodpeckers are known for the large holes or excavations they produce while foraging for food and producing their nest cavities. The holes can be greater than a foot in length. They have even been known to break smaller trees in half! They are searching for carpenter ants and wood-dwelling beetles, a favorite snack. During their quest, they produce large holes that are relied upon by many mammals, birds, and reptiles for shelter and nesting. They also will eat fruit and nuts. Pileated Woodpeckers will frequent feeders near a large woods.

Though Pileated Woodpeckers are not in any imminent danger, there is reason for concern. Pileated Woodpeckers rely heavily on big trees for their nest cavities. They prefer large dead trees within mature forests. With many areas losing large trees due to disease and clear-cutting, one should watch his species closely. Since so many other creatures depend upon this bird for survival, it would be devasting, if it was lost.

Related Articles: 
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
- Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/tJ7e6S
- Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt
- How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Top 5 fantasy bird pick

Which 5 birds would make your day perfect if you saw them in your garden?

Thank you for your thoughtful question. I like all the birds that visit regularly and I am thankful they like what I have to offer in the way of food and habitat. We are lucky in mid-Michigan to have an amazing diversity of wild bird species. Some that I’m especially excited about are the

  1. American Goldfinches for their lovely song and butterfly flight pattern
  2. Red-breasted Nuthatch because they are another tiny bird with a large laughing call and bold friendly behavior
  3. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds because they just seem like miracle birds
  4. Purple Martins are not suitable in my very wooded suburban habitat but I would like to have some swooping in my yard and
  5. Great Horned Owls are big beautiful birds that would make my day perfect if I saw them in my garden.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love my jays, cardinals, sparrows, wrens, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, hawks, waxwings, robins, orioles or other rare birds not in our area like birds of paradise or pink flamingos. But it would be a grand to see my chosen group of birds in a single day even though some are summer birds and some are winter birds.

Do you have a top 5 fantasy pick of birds you want to visit your yard in one day?

Related Articles:
- Do you get more birds if you feed year-round? http://goo.gl/QknpG
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/vUQDO
- What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://goo.gl/SAA35
- Common winter birds in Michigan and their food preference: http://bit.ly/yp9YQA

Friday, December 14, 2012

Photo Share: Trumpeter Swans with Cygnets


The Trumpeter Swan was hunted nearly to extinction for its meat and feathers in the early 20th century. This magnificent bird measures in at 5-6 feet long and is the world's largest species of waterfowl. The name trumpeter refers to the bird's loud, bugling voice that is produced when air is forced through their long neck.
Joshua Chrisman (Creator and Admin of Michigan's Wildlife on www.facebook.com/MichigansWildlife) sent us lots of  of lovely pictures that he took this year. Most of the pictures are taken around the Greenville, Grand Rapids, Stanton, and Saginaw areas. Some are also taken in the Upper Peninsula as well. I will be posting them gradually over the next few weeks on our Friday Photo Posts.

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, December 12, 2012

Why green, red, and white are Christmas colors

Have you ever wondered why the colors green, red, and white trigger thoughts of Christmas? For me, December means the bright red Northern Cardinals sitting in a white snowy evergreen “chip, chip, chipping” away.

Green, red, and white are some of the most common colors that stand out in nature during the winter. In fact, at a time when most plants are barren, those plants that remain green with berries, like holly and mistletoe, captivate attention. There is also a red and white magic mushroom (Amanita muscaria), that grows almost exclusively beneath green pine trees in Europe.

All these plants were used in winter traditions during ancient times and integrated into the Christian world.

The most important clue to the origin of the Christmas tree ball ornaments comes from the miracle play on Christmas Eve about the Tree of Good and Evil performed in late Middle Ages to teach religion. In the play Eve picked an apple from the forbidden tree, Adam ate it and both were exiled from Eden. But original sin was expiated by Jesus born on the 25th of December. The apple tree was usually represented with a fir tree set on the stage with some apples put on its branches to symbolize the future coming of Redemption, wafers to symbolize the presence of Jesus, and sweets and gifts for children to enjoy.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bird of the Week: Mutant Hairy Woodpecker

This bird was at my feeder today.

Larger than a Downy, but it was the white beak that caught my eye.

I looked in Sibley's but couldn't find any (non-extinct) woodpeckers with a white beak. 

 
I'm inclined to think it was a mutant Hairy.
Sorry for the picture quality, but I was taking the shots quickly thru the glass, just as identifiers.  Any thoughts?



Hello, It can be difficult to identify birds that have abnormal coloring. You definitely have one unusual looking Hairy. I rarely have Hairy woodpeckers at my feeders let alone funny looking ones. You are very lucky!

The lack of color in the feet, bill and probably the skin are the result of a defect that prevents the production of melanin in certain areas of the body, but leaves the unaffected areas with normal amounts of melanin.

I’ve seen lots of leucistic birds with different colored feathers but none like yours. Right now scientists describe two kinds of Leucistic birds, pale and pied. Pale leucistic birds will have the same markings, but extremely pale. Pied Leucistic birds have patches of white.

Leucistic birds are relatively unusual but much more common than albino birds which are completely white with pink eyes, legs and bill.

You can learn more about albinism and leucism at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/Albinism_Leucism.htm

I would love to share your photos on the blog with your permission. Thank you for sharing your observation! Sarah

Hi, Sarah -- here's a better pic from an hour or so ago:

Apparently it's going to be a regular visitor.  Feel free to post it.  I'm in the Rose Lake area.
Oooh, Pretty! Thank you for letting me share this, Sarah

Friday, December 7, 2012

Photo Share: Great Blue Heron



Joshua Chrisman (Creator and Admin of Michigan's Wildlife on www.facebook.com/MichigansWildlife) sent us lots of  of lovely pictures that he took this year. Most of the pictures are taken around the Greenville, Grand Rapids, Stanton, and Saginaw areas. Some are also taken in the Upper Peninsula as well. I will be posting them gradually over the next few weeks on our Friday Photo Posts.

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.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gifts Suggestions for Bird Nerd in your family

I want to buy the best bird feeder as a gift. What do you suggest?

We have a wide variety of feeders. With over 25 years of research and experience, Wild Birds Unlimited® is proud to offer you the highest-quality birdfeeders and birdfeeding equipment on the market today.
  1. Any feeder you choose should be easy to fill and easy to clean.
  2. Look for quality. Most Wild Birds Unlimited feeders come with a Lifetime Warranty.
  3. Determine what birds you want to attract. There are certain feeders that are made for specific birds (i.e. finch feeder, hummingbird feeder, squirrel proof feeder).
  4. Decide where you are going to put the feeder. Is it going to hang in a tree, on an Advanced Pole System, on a window, or off a deck? The best place to put a feeder is where you can view it easily.
Some of our most popular, easy to fill and easy to clean, backed with a lifetime guarantee feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI and why:
  1. Squirrel Buster PLUS™: This is our best selling feeder. It has a large capacity and is easy to maintain. Built-to-Last Construction. Most birds are attracted to it including the cardinals. Oh and it’s SQUIRREL PROOF! Oh yes it is!
  2. WBU Recycled Hopper: Made from recycled milk jugs, these feeders are 100 times more popular than the old wooden box feeders. They look good, last forever, and all seed eating birds can use it comfortably. It’s easy to fill, it has a removable seed tray to allow for easy cleaning and dry seed, and it can be hung or pole mounted. Made in the U.S.A.
  3. WBU Dinner Bell: Fill this versatile bird feeder with seed, mealworms, or a seed cylinder and see how many different birds you can attract. The dome provides protection from bad weather. It can also be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adaptor. Made in the U.S.A.
  4. WBU Mesh Finch Feeder: The mesh tube not only lets finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but it also allows air circulation to keep your Nyjer Thistle as dry and fresh as possible, something that's very important to our picky eaters.This feeder may be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adapter. Made in the U.S.A.
  5. WBU Recycled Plastic Tail Prop Suet Feeder: Common birds that eat suet are downy, hairy, red-bellied, chickadees, and nuthatches. The paddle simulates a tree trunk and offers birds a place to prop their tail while they feed. It won't rot, crack, fade, or warp like wood can and are easy to fill and clean. Made in the U.S.A.
  6. WBU Hummingbird Feeder: This specially designed feeder has a red cover that is highly attractive to hummingbirds, a built-in ant moat that keeps bugs out, and feeding ports that prevent rain water from diluting the nectar solution. Bees aren’t attracted to the saucer style feeder. It may be hung or pole mounted using the WBU pole adapter. Made in the U.S.A. This feeder is only up from April to October in mid-Michigan. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly south for the winter.
These are just some of the best feeders to start the hobby of backyard bird feeding. I didn’t even get to the Oriole feeders, window feeders, tray feeders, ground feeders, or other specialty feeders.

But don’t be overwhelmed. Wild Birds Unlimited doesn’t just sell bird feeders and bird food. We also give you accurate information about our local birds. It is our goal for you to have the best possible experience from your bird feeding hobby. Backyard bird feeding is the most relaxing, fulfilling, educational and exciting hobby that anyone can enjoy.

At Wild Birds Unlimited, we are Your Backyard Bird feeding Specialist®, here to help bring you, and nature together. Come in and we'll help you decorate your yard with birds this winter! 

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How the Christmas tree tradition started

The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of many ancient cultures. In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls on December 21 or December 22 and is called the winter solstice. Many ancient people celebrated at this time because after the solstice, the days would start to get longer. Evergreen boughs remain green all year and represented a continued existence of life during dark times.

The Romans celebrated with evergreens and lights and exchanged gifts. They gave coins for prosperity, pastries for happiness, and lamps to light one's journey through life.

Druids in Great Britain used holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life, and placed evergreen branches over doors to keep away evil spirits.

In Germany in the 7th century, the triangular shape of the Fir Tree was used by monks to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The converted people began to revere the Fir tree as God's Tree, and hung them upside-down, from ceilings at Christmastime as a symbol of Christianity.

Happy Christmas, painted by Johansen Viggo 1891
Later Christmas celebrations involving trees were recorded as the custom of local merchants’ guilds in the Renaissance-era in Northern Germany. Small evergreen trees decorated with paper roses, apples, sweets, dolls, apples, nuts, and pretzels in the guild-houses were set up for the benefit of the guild members' children, who collected the treasures on Christmas Day.

The tradition was then taken up by many aristocrats and traveled to different countries through the marriage of royalty.

Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record tree on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

It wasn’t until 1837, when Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were featured in a magazine article that tree decorating during Christmastime became popular. Both royals had German families that celebrated the holiday by decorating evergreen trees with trinkets, toys, gifts and edibles. After readers saw the engraving in the London Illustrated News, Christmas trees became widely embraced in the English-speaking world.

An America version of the engraving appeared in the influential monthly magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book followed by similar depictions in Harper’s Bazaar and other major American publications. In 1851, the year following the Christmas tree illustration in Godey’s, a woodsman named Mark Carr chopped down a couple dozen evergreens in the Catskill Mountains, transported them by ox sled to Manhattan’s Washington Market and quickly sold out his stock. The Christmas tree lot was born. Five years later, President Franklin Pierce erected the first Christmas tree in the White House.

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