About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply 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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Birdwatchers fall and winter checklist

I hope everyone enjoys this upcoming Labor Day Weekend. I usually take advantage of the extra day to do some fall cleaning in the yard. I want the birds that winter in Michigan to find a refuge in my backyard during the harsh winter months. I prepared a checklist to help you make sure your yard is ready too.

Preparing Your Yard for the Fall and Winter Checklist:
Provide Roosting Spots - Nest boxes turn into roosting boxes in the winter for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might stay all winter in mid-Michigan. Clean out old nests from houses to allow birds the opportunity to roost in a warm, clean house when winter winds blow. You can also plant natural shelters like bushes or buy roosting pockets available at Wild Birds Unlimited to offer essential protection in the winter.

Prepare Bird Baths - Birds also need a source for water in the winter. In our area, weather can turn cold fast and freeze the water in bird baths. It is always good to cover ceramic bird baths or bring them in for the winter. It’s best to place a plastic or metal bath out with an added heater or a buy a heated birdbath. If you’re not sure what you need, Wild Birds Unlimited will give you accurate information on how to support our local birds.

Clean Feeders - 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 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. Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.

Feeder/Hardware Maintenance - Check your feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill. If you are going to need a new Advanced Pole System to hang your feeders this winter now is a good time to get in the ground before it freezes.
Fill Feeders - Wild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will visit this winter. Even though natural food sources are plentiful right now, birds are definitely taking note of which yards have food available. What you do as the days grow shorter lets the birds know where to go when that first storm hits. And beautiful, hungry, thankful birds can brighten any dreary winter day.

Leave Gardens Standing - Don't cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, Coneflowers... Goldfinches and other birds love them. The birds make the flowers dance as they flit from flower to flower looking for seed heads.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

Photo Share: Handsome Hawk

Hello, I enjoy following your posts on Facebook, thought I would send this to you for your Friday Photo Share.  My husband took this a couple of weeks ago.  I believe this is a red tailed hawk.  It was just sitting on our deck.
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, August 29, 2013

The benefits of putting up birdhouses in the fall

I live in San Antonio, Tx. and I have purchased a Chickadee Nesting Box and wanted to know if this would be a good time to attach it to a tree? Thanks for all the great information.

It's never too late or too early to put up a bird house. You can put houses up year round.

Some benefits of putting up birdhouses in the fall:
1. Birds will have plenty of time to locate them before the breeding season.
2. The houses will be well weathered by spring.
3. Some birds will use nest boxes as roosting sites in the winter.

When deciding on the placement of the houses in the yard, keep in mind the habitat requirements of the species you wish to attract. Chickadees find a cavity in a tree near a forest edge or use a nest box, usually 5-25 feet up in a tree. Try to place the box very close to an area with cover of a bush or small tree where mated pairs can find nesting materials, food and their young have a safe place to fledge.

Generally, in southern ranges the hole should face north or east to reduce heat "loading" during hot afternoons. In northern ranges, a south facing hole might actually help keep the inhabitants warm.

Unfortunately some bird populations appear to be declining and one factor might be due to the loss of nesting sites in dead trees and competition with other cavity nesting birds. Even in appropriately wooded habitat, people may remove dead trees in an effort to clean up; this limits the places where birds nest. Man made nesting boxes can simulate a cavity in dead tree and help decrease further declines. 

Related articles:
How to Attract Bluebirds: http://bit.ly/nfCq2b
When do you clean bird houses?: http://bit.ly/oiB7fu
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses: http://bit.ly/oBBA0d
How to Participate in NestWatch: http://bit.ly/opPqQ3
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://bit.ly/ypyvNe

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Trumpet Vine: Hummingbird flower

Witches Fingers, that’s what we used to call the Trumpet Vine or Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) as kids. We would pluck the flowers and put them on the tips of our fingers and run around, point at people and give a creepy laugh.

Of course today I like the flowers because they attract hummingbirds and the dense foliage is used by many types of birds as shelter. The vine is native to woodlands and riverbanks of the southeastern United States, but is a popular garden perennial plant across much of the US and southern Canada.

It takes 3-4 years for it to mature to the point of producing blooms, and I’ve found the more I “beat up” or trim back the plant harshly the more it blooms.

Many people grow Trumpet Vines in their gardens for its beautiful flowers or to attract birds but some downsides to the plant are its aggressive nature. It can crowd other plants, climb or grow into walls and fences and can cause a rash on some people.

The range of trumpet creeper across the United States matches nearly that of the ruby-throated hummingbirds’. And its bloom time, June to September also coincides with the hummingbirds’ migration south.

Source: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campsis_radicans
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When to take hummingbird feeders down and many other FAQ

I am seeing some really fat hummingbirds and some really skinny hummingbirds. They can’t be pregnant this late in the fall. Is one just lazy? They are different colors too. How many hummingbirds do we have in Michigan? Am I supposed to take the feeder down soon? ~ Lansing

Ruby-throated male
Thank you for your questions! You’ve made some very good observations. There is a lot of misinformation about hummingbirds and I’m always happy for the opportunity help people learn more about fall feeding.

Why do hummingbirds get fat in the fall?
Nesting season is over for the hummingbirds in Michigan by the end of June. Once breeding territories no longer have to be guarded, hummingbirds wander widely. Just before they answer the call to travel south, hummingbirds eat in excess to build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the belly, back, and throat. A hummingbird actually gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice them getting fatter and fatter and then one day they fly to their wintering grounds.

Ruby-throated female
Do I make the nectar recipe stronger to give them more energy?
It's not necessary to make your sugar solution stronger. The 4:1 ratio is the closest to the favorite flowers that hummingbirds visit. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. Click HERE for the nectar recipe.

Should I make the sugar solution weaker to encourage them to leave?
I would continue to feed the hummingbirds the same nectar solution until they are fat enough to move further south. Don't rush them. Let them leave when they have enough energy and the weather is favorable.

Am I supposed to take down my feeder on Labor Day?
DO NOT take your feeders down on Labor Day. In mid-Michigan, you can leave your hummingbird feeder up until mid-October. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us whether there is a feeder up or not.

How many species of hummingbirds are in Michigan?
Actually five species of hummingbirds have been sighted in Michigan, however most people only see the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The male and female hummingbirds look different. Ruby-throated male's have ruby-red feathers on the throat, a green back and white belly. The females have an emerald green back and white bellies.

Other hummingbirds seen very, very rarely, in Michigan according to Hummingbirds.net are the Rufous Hummingbird, the Broad-billedHummingbird, the GreenVioletear Hummingbird and the White-eared Hummingbird.

Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese?
During migration hummingbirds fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese. Individual adult males get the urge to leave first, followed soon after by the females, and then finally the juveniles. Amazingly, once the young have gained enough weight, they find their own way to the same winter habitat as their parents - someplace where they have never been, using the GPS in their head.

It’s astonishing that a bird that weighs as little as a penny with the brain the size of a BB has traveled thousands of miles all alone and ended up in the right place every fall since the last ice age.

Some think that the rumor of hummingbirds hitching a ride with geese was started by Mr. Audubon himself. But migratory geese don't fly as far south and leave much later than hummingbirds. Geese don't start migrating until mid-September and are not gone until lakes and rivers are frozen, while hummingbirds start migrating in mid-July and are mostly gone from Michigan by mid-October.

Where do Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winters?
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. A few remain along the Gulf coast and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

How to keep the bees and wasps off hummingbird feeders

The only sure defense against bees and wasps is to deny them any access to the nectar. I have replaced all my hummingbird feeders gradually with the problem free Wild Birds Unlimited saucer style feeders. The bees don’t like the saucer style because the nectar is down low, there is no leaking or dripping, they have a built in ant moat and they are easy to clean and fill. There are also optional bee guards you can attach to allow only hummers and no bugs access.

There are different styles and sizes of the saucer style hummingbird feeders, even a window feeder! They all have perches (I love it when they stop to drink) and bright colored tops to attract the birds naturally. Both the cover and the clear bowl are constructed with UV stable poly carbonate, the most durable plastic available, are dishwasher safe, come with a lifetime guarantee, and are made in the USA.

If you choose not to try a new feeder right now, I have three tips to stop bees:

1.    Deter Bees: I discovered bees don't like the smell of cherries. If you swab the ports with real almond or cherry extract (purchased at any grocery store baking isle), the bees will avoid the feeder. This really works but it wears off fast and you have to reapply the extract every day.
2.    Distract Bees: Use a super-concentrated sugar water mix (two parts water, one part sugar), and pour it into a shallow plate, preferably a big yellow one (bees seem to be attracted to that color). Put the plate on a ladder or stool near the hummingbird feeder and they will probably move over to the plate. Once the plate is empty the bees should disperse.
3.    Disinterest Bees: Reduce the sugar concentration to 1 part sugar in 5 parts water instead of the usual nectar recipe of 1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. This will make it less attractive to insects, but probably won't make the hummingbirds lose interest.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Migration of turkey vultures

If you ever drive on the highways, you’ll see at one time or another, big dark birds circling high on the air thermals. They are probably Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura.

Feeding mainly on dead animals, vultures aren’t common backyard birds. Turkey Vultures nest as far north as the southern border of Canada and as far south as Chile. Populations in Michigan and other colder areas migrate south to warmer weather in the winter.

This big brownish black bird can have a wingspan up to six feet and is recognized easily not only by its large wingspan but also by its tiny, red, bald head. Male and female turkey vultures are identical in plumage and in coloration, although the female is slightly larger. Immature birds (under one year) have black beaks and heads. As the bird matures the beak gradually turns white and the head red.
Turkey vultures frequently circle and gain altitude on pockets of rising warm air, or thermals. They can soar for hours without flapping their wings. When they reach the top of the thermal, they glide across the sky at speeds up to 60 miles per hour and can cover many miles going from thermal to thermal without ever needing to flap.
The Turkey Vulture soars above the ground for much of the day, searching for food with its excellent eyesight and highly developed sense of smell.
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.
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Saturday, August 24, 2013

A closer look at different territorial behavior among the birds

Why do I only have one or two cardinals at a time at the feeder and like a dozen finches visiting at once? ~ Lansing

That is an excellent observation. It has a lot to do with food availability and guarding nesting territories.  A “territory” can be defined as any defended area, even if it's just during nesting. Defending a territory requires time & energy but the benefits may include improved access to resources like food and nest sites.

As many of you have noticed in the spring, Northern Cardinals become very aggressive towards other cardinals or even their reflections in the window, in order to claim the perfect nesting territory and ample foraging areas for a potential mate.

For American Goldfinches, once a male has found a mate, he selects a territory, marking the boundaries by warbling as he flies from perch to perch. However, two or three pairs of finches may group their territories close together to form a loose colony.

About 13% of bird species exhibit colonial nesting. The advantages of this may be many more eyes available to detect and aid in defense of predators and exchanging information on the best foraging areas. The disadvantages include increased competition for mates, nesting areas, and food.  And large groups may attract predators and facilitate the spread of parasites and diseases.

Birds have learned different ways to survive. Whether to defend territories against other birds of the same species or to allow the formation of colonies depends on if the benefits of defense outweigh the costs. Once nesting is completed most birds like to gather in larger flocks for protection and to forage. Many people report having several pair of cardinals on their feeder by Thanksgiving and double the amount of flocking finches too.

Source: Territoriality & Coloniality

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Photo Share: 6 great iPhotos of birds feeding

Fun with summer birds:
Please choose whichever photo you'd like to use.  Anne

I like them all! 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, August 22, 2013

American Goldfinches with their winter colored feathers

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

Our bright yellow and black goldfinches are attacking the feeders now with little babies in tow. Soon they will be sporting their duller olive green winter wardrobe (see photo). Goldfinches are found year-round at Michigan bird feeders, but sometimes people don't realize these little brown birds were once our yellow goldfinches.
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 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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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mosquito hawks

Dragonflies are fierce looking flying insects that are among the most beneficial of wetland insects. Often called "mosquito hawks," they feed on mosquitoes, midges,  flies, bees, ants, wasps and other small insects. Dragonflies use their great speed and agility, plus excellent eyesight, to capture their prey in the mid air. All dragonflies are harmless to humans.

Females lay eggs in the water which hatch into wingless aquatic nymphs. The nymphs feed on insect larvae, worms, and other small creatures and many remain underwater for several weeks, or several years, depending on the species. Dragonfly nymphs are, in turn, an important food for many fish. The last nymphal stage crawls from the water, the outer skin splits and the winged adult emerges. This process of development is called incomplete metamorphosis.

The smaller, slimmer damselflies have a similar life history, but unlike dragonflies, they fold their wings over their backs when perched.

Related Articles:
- Why Do Mosquitoes Bite Some People More Than Others?: http://bit.ly/nMo9uV
- A Very Tiny Hummingbird (Moth)?: http://bit.ly/qtrAaV
- Moth With Twelve Inch Tongue: http://bit.ly/pcs0TV
- Why did I take a picture of bird poop?: http://bit.ly/o9APHb
- Where does the Woolly Bear go in the winter?: http://bit.ly/pB5L4V

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

West Nile in Michigan

I remember most of the Blue Jays getting devastated by West Nile virus a few years back. I am now seeing more Blue Jays this year, but also WNV is back in the news. Are the current crop of Jays more resistant to WNV now, or did they get their numbers up and will be affected in the same way again by the virus?!? ~ Dennis
West Nile Virus (WNV) is a mosquito-transmitted disease that was first discovered in the African country of Uganda in 1937. In recent years West Nile virus has caused illness in birds, horses, and humans in Europe, and then the United States.

It was first discovered in the U.S. in 1999 in New York City. Since that time, West Nile virus has been detected in humans, animals, and mosquitoes in 47 states from coast to coast. Originally reported in the Michigan in 2004, dead bird clusters of American Crows and Blue Jays acted as an early warning system for WNV activity.

In some species of birds, WNV-resistant populations may be emerging. Some surveys suggest that WNV may have reached its peak prevalence in the U.S., and the effects on bird species overall may be decreasing.

Birds including Baltimore orioles, chipping sparrows, eastern towhees, northern cardinals, and white-breasted nuthatches, do not seem to even be affected by WNV.

I’m glad you are seeing more birds this year. To learn more about West Vile or to report a sick bird county go to: www.michigan.gov/westnilevirus   

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Monday, August 19, 2013

There’s more to a jay than any other creature

This jay at Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store 
 looks like he got a bad haircut 
“You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure, ’cause he’s got feathers on him and he don’t belong to no church perhaps, but otherwise he’s just as much a human as you and me.” ~ Mark Twain.

It seems like every fall my mom would give me a short haircut before the school year started and I would spend the rest of the year growing it out again.

Mother Nature also gives some Blue Jays a rather short hairdo in the fall. Fortunately it only takes a few weeks for them to grow their feathers back after their fall molt.

Many people cast the Blue Jay in the roll of bully bird at the feeding station. But jays can be beneficial to other bird species, by chasing away predatory birds, such as hawks and owls, or giving a jayer-jayer call if it sees other predators within its territory.

Pin-feathers popping through above the eye
I woke up this morning to a jay “laughing” like a woodpecker and then screeching like a Red-tailed Hawk. Once I filled the feeders he let every bird on the block know there was food available with a pretty yodel.

Much about their migratory behavior of Blue Jays remains a mystery. We do see jays year-round in mid-Michigan, but are they the same birds? Young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults. To date, no one has worked out why some jays migrate and some stay year-round. 

Jay all put together again & gathering nuts
According to a 1992 article in by Bill Hilton Jr called "Boisterous blue jays": Young birds may migrate south to find easier food sources while more experienced older birds overwinter close to their nesting territory. And the Cornell bird guide found that individual jays may migrate south one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year and think it is related more to weather conditions. 

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dove chases and social displays

My husband and I have been wondering this question.. Why do mourning doves chase each other? For example, I can have a row of doves sitting on my fence, one goes down to feed and then another promptly follows and chases the other away with no intention of feeding. I believe it has to do with hierarchy but don't know for sure. ~ Noblesville, Indiana

That’s a great observation. Dove fights could have to do with establishing a pecking order. When nesting season is over at the beginning of fall, doves tend to gather together in loose flocks. The social structure is determined by a series of challenges between the birds. The bird that retreats the fewest times is considered dominant. The dominant bird has fewer challenges than the middle ranking birds throughout the winter and dominance is not related to whether the bird is male or female.   

At the end of winter the birds separate into male and female groups and dominance within the single sex groups is established. All the boys are attracted to the dominant female as they now mingle only at feeding sites. But the dominant male soon scoops up the dominate female and form a pair bond for the season. They are the first to pair, establish a territory and nest.

During courtships males perform a noisy flight display and then approach the female with a bow and a coo. Once she accepts the male they preen each other and stay very close. The male sometimes “drives” the female. He follows close behind and gives her a peck when she stops walking in areas where other males might be around.

Many chases or fights now are a result of an unmated male trying to gain the attention of a female. Males also chase pairs away from the territory that they’ve claimed for the season. It’s like the Jersey Shore reality show (dove version) right in your own backyard.

Source: Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove by Thomas S. Baskett
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Chipping Sparrow Juvenile with adult male

Male Chipping Sparrow
Sometimes juvenile brown birds are hard to identify at the bird feeder. Luckily babies can be very vocal. Recently I was carrying seed out to a car at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store and heard a loud, rapid see-see-see-see. I saw one bird chasing another and knew they were Chipping Sparrows.

I have been watching the little male at my window feeder over the past few weeks picking up quick bites and then zipping away. And then yesterday he brought his fledgling to my window.

"Peek-a-boo" juvenile Chipper
The baby was a little shy at first but soon forgot me and continued to harry his parent with an insistent (and loud) food begging call!

Chipping sparrows are small, neat, active sparrows with a distinctive bright copper colored cap and black eyestripes and white eyebrows. They also have an all light gray belly and the typical brown tweed sparrow back. The juvenile is sort of a light tan with black and brown tweed stripes all over.

Chipping sparrows are found throughout most of North America. In Michigan they arrive early April from the more southern states. They have one to two broods and migrate south again in September and October with other sparrow species.
Poppa Chipper finding seeds for Jr. (out of focus, sorry)

Chipping sparrows get their common name from the sharp "chip" call that they make frequently as they forage and interact with others. Their song is a single noted trill made up of rapid repetitions of a "tssip" that sounds like a sewing machine or a car with break trouble.

Chipping sparrows eat mainly grass seeds and other annual plants seeds. During the breeding season the diet also includes up to 40% of bugs. At the feeders they enjoy sunflower, safflower, millet, and peanuts.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Photo Share: Fabulous bird close-ups

Photos from my office window feeder and 2 home birds, all in East Lansing within last month. 

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, August 15, 2013

Watch and listen for Baby Goldfinches

While most birds have finished nesting and some are flying south, 
the goldfinches are just starting to nest.

American Goldfinches build nests from the end of July to September in the fork of a deciduous shrub or tree. They delay the start of their nesting behavior until the thistles and other flowers come into bloom so they can anticipate an abundant and reliable supply of seeds for their young.

So now is the time to make sure your Wild Birds Unlimited finch feeder is clean and filled with fresh Nyjer® (thistle) seed to welcome the finches to your backyard refuge. Click HERE to read more about the best finch feeder and how to attract more finches to your yard.

This is my favorite time of year. It's a joy to see a flock of goldfinches raining down to the feeder or dancing in the flowers in search of seeds. And the happiest sound in the late summer is the call of baby goldfinches!
Every morning I wake up to the tinkling tune of baby goldfinches. They look similar to the female or a goldfinch in winter colors and their baby call reminds me of a squeaky dog toy. "♪ High, low...♪ high, low, low."

I know that they'll soon have it all figured out including a grown up song and I'll miss their little "Ma me...Da de de" in the morning.

American Goldfinches are in mid-Michigan all winter, so if they find your feeder now you can enjoy these sunny sounding birds even during the bleakest winter months. To watch a little video of the finches eating No-Mess Blend at the Squirrel Buster Squirrel-proof feeder click HERE.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Adult sparrows feeding each other

I have often observed grown sparrows feeding other seemingly grown sparrows, usually a male feeding a female. Is this common, what's this all about? Thank you, I am new to your site and think it is great, especially for anyone new to birding! 

Bird courtship displays are integral to mating and raising young. Female birds often choose suitors based on appearance, the ability to provide food, evidence that the male can build the strongest and safest nest and other characteristics.

With some species, the male simply flies in front of the female to show off his luminous colors or unique markings. And some birds touch bills or groom each other during courtship.

And many birds like the jays, cardinals and sparrows engage in courtship feeding behavior. Typically a male bird may bring a morsel to the female, demonstrating that he is able not only to find food, but that he can share it and provide for her while she incubates eggs or tends the brood.

For some species the male may just bring food and transfer it to the female for her to feed, while in other species he will place a seed or insect directly in her mouth just as he might be expected to do when helping feed hungry nestlings.

Along with being lovers, if you continue to watch, you’ll notice that many battles break out between males. Two House Sparrows in a seemingly endless wrestling match is not uncommon. It’s usually a bloodless battle that ends when they are distracted or one bird taps out.

Male House Sparrows have a patch of black feathers at the throat and chest called a "bib" or a "badge". This patch of feathers increases in size with age. Usually a large, dark bib signals a higher social status that will have the younger setting up challenges.

And I always know when a nest of baby House Sparrows are about to fledge when there is a large gathering of sparrows in the morning cheering the little ones out of the nest to nearby bushes. It’s like all the sparrow clan gathers and chants “jump, jump, jump” and then sing happy songs when they fly successfully from the nest.

From dancing, to eating, to nest building, to singing, birds have many rituals. Thank you for sharing the unique behaviors you noticed in your own yard!

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What to do if you have a hawk in the yard

I read about hawks on your website just now.  Sounds like I am to enjoy these in my yard, and surrounding yards for now. We have the sharp-shinned hawk. I live in Glasgow, Kentucky. First ones I saw came onto my deck. I took pictures.  We know there are 3 of them. There have been a hatching it seems. A neighbor saw a small one. We are seeing our bird population become less. We are all hoping they will move on soon. Thank you for your information.

 Native American folklore says: "If a hawk appears to you, then right now a clue about the magic of life is being presented. This magic can imbue you with the power to overcome a currently stressful or difficult situation."

You need to keep that in mind because if you feed birds long enough, a Hawk will likely show up sooner or later. Sometimes the hawk perches for a while. It is on those occasions that the phone at Wild Birds Unlimited starts ringing: "How can I get rid of this thing? It's killing my birds!" Of course that is what certain kinds of hawks do.

The most common neighborhood hawks are the sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. They are usually woodland hunters, and with their habitat shrinking more sitings have been reported at well-stocked feeding stations. Hawks have to eat too, and whether they are hunting around your feeder or off in the woods, they are going to catch about the same amount of prey each day. Consider yourself lucky that you have a front row seat to one of nature's more dramatic dances.

Hawks are recognized as a beneficial bird by those in society that know their main diet consists of rodents, snakes, reptiles, large insects as well as a few birds. But if having a hawk blast through, scattering the birds and perhaps carting one off, is not the experience you want, there are a few precautions to protect your bird feeding station.

Some steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors at bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flys away. So rather than get upset, enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • Place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds. If there is none available, consider planting a few varieties.
  • Lastly, acknowledge that a few birds and squirrels will be caught by Hawks at your feeders. This is part of the cycle. Raptors play an important role in controlling the populations. Also keep in mind; songbirds are difficult for hawks to catch. Few are caught by birds of prey.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that settle in at feeders do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. Just take a few simple steps to protect them and enjoy a season of bird feeding. 
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