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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Which one of these birds is not like the others?

Top: Male House Sparrow/Female House Sparrow
Bottom: Carolina Wren/ Male House Sparrow
A lot of brown birds look alike to human eyes but I encourage you to take the time to really look at the birds visiting your feeder. Like cats and dogs, different species of birds have different characters.

I was watching the feeder today when a Carolina Wren zoomed the feeder. It poked and pushed until it was the only one feeding. The sparrows and squirrels stood off to the side to wait their turn. Carolina Wrens seem to be bursting with energy and I enjoy having them in the yard.

In the summer they eat a ton of bugs and in the winter they are very entertaining to watch at the feeder. You might hear them before you see them. Their song is beautiful. Click here to listen.

The “Carolina" refers to the Carolinian Zone, an area which includes much of Eastern United States and extends south to the Carolinas. The climate of this area is also moderated by our Great Lakes, so it is able to support animal and plant species usually not found in other northern parts.

Our Carolina Wrens do not migrate but are very sensitive to cold weather. Severe winters result in a marked decline in their numbers. Having a known source of food is essential for providing wrens with the energy, stamina, and nutrition they need to survive. For this reason, it is a good idea to put out a feeder to help these birds (and other bird species as well) survive the winter.

Carolina Wrens are primarily insect eaters, but suet, peanuts, seed cylinders and mealworms are good substitutes for scarce insects during winter. They can be attracted to your feeders by providing a brush pile close to your feeding area. I have a pine tree and a bushy viburnum to give the birds cover. They feel more secure with a place to seek refuge nearby.

I also have a wren house that it can sleep in at night. A good idea to encourage Carolina wrens to stay and feed in or near your yard is to provide houses or roosting pockets near the bird feeders. Roosting pockets are little shelters, much like birdhouses (but smaller and not meant to be used as a nesting site), where the birds can roost and hide from the wind chill. The combination of roosting pockets and bird feeders during winter is one sure way to attract Carolina wrens in your area.

So take a look at all those brown birds that are visiting. With a Birds of Michigan field guide at your side, you'll learn all their names in no time!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When do bats hibernate?

Bats are amazing creatures. The only mammals capable of sustained flight, bats wings are formed from skin stretched over long, thin fingers.

There are nine species of bats in Michigan that feed on a variety of moths, flies, beetles and other insects. Under normal conditions they can capture 600 to 1,000 mosquito-sized insects per hour. Our bats range from 3 to 5-1/2 inches in length from head to tail and weigh only 0.1-1.2 ounces.

They forage at night and use echolocation to find and capture prey. They emit pulses of high-frequency sound that bounces off nearby objects. The bats then use the echoes to navigate in total darkness and find food.

For most bat species, males live separately from females as they raise their young in the summer. They come together again in early fall when courtship and mating are initiated. After mating the bats look for optimal place to hibernate. They like a constant temperature, around 45 degrees, and high relative humidity. This could mean caves, mine tunnels, and occasionally in hollow trees or attics.

Hibernation is an adaptation for survival during the winter months, when there are no insects available for bats to eat. Bats will hibernate generally from November to April or until the frost line is gone and there are enough insects to feed the bats. Many Michigan bats will migrate south from September to the beginning of October to find a suitable place to hibernate.

In the spring, males and females form small groups and look for nursing sites. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI has bat houses for both nursing mommas and the bachelor boys. Most young are born from late May through early July, and are usually capable of flight within 21 days. Young bats typically reach adult size by late summer.

The Organization for Bat Conservation is dedicated to teaching people about bats and conserving bat populations and habitat. To learn more about these fascinating and beneficial members of Michigan’s wildlife community, visit their Web site at www.batconservation.org.

Related Articles:
· What Bats Live in Michigan? http://bit.ly/sQFMtq
· Where do you hang a bat house? http://bit.ly/rRivKw
· Are there Nectar Feeding Bats in Michigan? http://bit.ly/vYPpZ1
· Do Birds have Thumbs like Bats? http://bit.ly/tjpL2T

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The cat-human-bird connection at Wild Birds Unlimited

“Isn’t it ironic to have a cat in a bird store?”  This is a very popular question for new customers that stop by our store. But cats and humans working together in grain stores goes way back. DNA evidence identifies the pet cat’s ancestor as the Arabian wildcat Felis silvestris lybica and places its origins between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago in the Middle East when the first agricultural societies emerged.

The grain loving house mouse was not as happy with cat-human love connection. Wildcats had no interest in eating grain but people probably encouraged them to hang around to deter mice.

The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store has 3 cats that have been the topic of several popular posts.  My catty co-workers have given customers many chuckles over the years as they’ve greeted them with a meow, chased dropped pens, or cuddled up in the bird baths.
Originally all stray cats, my three amigos were brought indoors to provide them with a safe haven as well as to keep my wild birds safe from predation.

October 29th is National Cat Appreciation Day and I would like to take a minute to recognize the hard work my cats do each day and bring awareness to the number of cats that still need homes today.

J.B is first on my list. A loyal worker for almost 20 years, he is acting Opurrational Director. If there are any problems, he is the voice of reason and is able to calm everyone down. Eli-Birder, his assistant for 9 years amazes customers with his GIANT gentleman's act and Hello-Dolly, with us for only 4 years, has taking over most greeting duties. Thank you for all your hard work guys!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Why owls are associated with Halloween

The variety of myths surrounding owls range from the idea that they bring bad luck, announce death, or take away souls, to the belief that they provide cures for ailments, ward off evil spirits, and guide the dead on their journeys. Many superstitions persist to this day.

In autumn there are a lot of first year owls that leave their parents and move to new territories. Inexperienced young birds that make swoop downs on unsuspecting nighttime travelers walking a dark and lonely road can make the beginning of a great story.

The turning head, glowing eyes, silent flight, night hunting, and cackling like an otherworldly creature also helped make the owl a part of our Halloween traditions.

Today however, when we think of owls we know they are a beautiful and valuable asset to the natural ecology feeding on rodents, insects, frogs, lizards, and birds. We can study and admire their silent flight, incredible eyesight and hearing, and their ability to almost completely turn their heads around.
Related Articles:
- Fun Facts on Owls http://bit.ly/t6elFd
- Amazing Vocals of the Barred Owl http://bit.ly/sguMqL
- Snowy Owls http://bit.ly/ylJmQq
- Eastern Screech Owl http://bit.ly/wMQBZj   
- Great Horned Owl http://bit.ly/zmlFqY
- Great Gray Owl http://bit.ly/tAewYm  
- Long-eared Owl http://goo.gl/qGgbju

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Evening Grosbeak decline?

According to Project FeederWatch: “The Evening Grosbeak is a yellow, black, and white finch with a bill that appears too big for its body. Its winter range typically covers the entire northern half the United States and it is found year-round in many western states and southern Canada.

Evening Grosbeaks are an irruptive species, meaning their migration is irregular, linked to the availability of food. They may be abundant in an area one year and nearly nonexistent the next. However, the long-term trend shows that these irruptions have almost ceased in many areas of the East, and declines have been documented in their core western range as well.

The reasons for the decline are unclear—are the birds dying, are they failing to reproduce, or are they simply moving elsewhere? Scientists are not sure.”

Project FeederWatch is a program to count the birds at the feeders from November through early April. The data is used to alert scientists to particular species or questions that may require more detailed follow-up studies.

Wild Birds Unlimited is also a major sponsor of the GreatBackyard Bird Count (GBBC), a joint project between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society. GBBC is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. I urge everyone to participate in the next GBBC in February to gather additional information.

More Fun Facts about Evening Grosbeaks
• Other birds like to eat wild cherries, but only Evening Grosbeaks target the pits. The slippery seeds are held firmly with special pads on the “gross beak” and are simply crushed. So favored are cherry pits that Evening Grosbeaks sometimes seek out the pits voided by American Robins.
• Evening Grosbeaks manipulate cherries in their beak to remove the outer skin and flesh, the remaining seed is then swallowed after it is cracked open with their beak.
• Evening Grosbeaks can break open food items that require up to 125 pounds of force to fracture apart in testing devices.
• As with many finches whose diet is primarily vegetarian, Evening Grosbeaks are attracted to natural salt and mineral sources.
• The Evening Grosbeak is an irruptive migrant that makes irregular appearances at winter feeding stations throughout much of United States.
• The Evening Grosbeak was not commonly found east of the Rocky Mountains before the 1850’s. Winter irruptions now occur in all of the 48 contiguous states. This expansion may be attributed to widespread planting of box elder trees in landscapes across the east. Its seeds persist on the tree throughout the winter and provided flocks with a reliable source of food.
• The Evening Grosbeak was named in 1825 based on erroneous accounts that they became vocal and active only “at the approach of night.” This erroneous belief persisted for years, and the name is still a misnomer.
• Evening Grosbeaks seem to delight in snipping off the twigs of Sugar Maple trees and sipping the sweet sap.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Best place to put bird feeders

Hello, you've been so helpful with all of my questions! We've just moved our feeders around for winter viewing. How long before the cardinals figure out the new configuration. ~ Pewamo, MI

Where to Place Feeders
The number one rule in feeder location is to place it where you can watch the birds easily. Try to find a place that's sheltered from the wind and away from cats and other predators. And then you'll just have to wait for the cardinals to get in the habit of visiting the new feeder locations. They can be stubborn but eventually become comfortable at the new location.

How Birds Find The Feeder
Birds are amazing creatures and can find new feeders several different ways just like humans find restaurants. Everyone has a friend that likes to tell you about the new "hot spot." Some birds fly in flocks and may send out a scout bird to forage for new feeding sites.

Or if you see a line around the block for a restaurant, you may get in line yourself to check out the food. Some solitary birds see a lot of birds at a feeder and go see what all the fuss is about.

What if you see the "Golden Arches" on the way home from work? You know what's inside. Most birds find their food by sight. Some birds already eat at the neighbor's house and may see your familiar feeders on the way home.

How Long Does It Take
It may be a matter of hours before birds discover new feeders or a matter of weeks. The variation depends on habitat, number of nearby feeders, and the kinds of birds in the area. Chickadees, and House Sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders. Also if you switch feeders the birds may be cautious to try that feeder. To encourage the birds to use new feeders tempt them with scattered seeds on the ground.

Advanced Pole System
Wild Birds Unlimited patented Advanced Pole System (APS) is comprised of interchangeable hardware pieces, that lets you add or subtract bird feeders, birdhouses and other bird feeding accessories. It gives you the ability to create and customize your bird feeding station with over 3,000 combinations.

Related Articles:
- Product Highlight: Advanced Pole System http://bit.ly/uKRdrZ 

- How to hang feeders from trees http://bit.ly/suV4Z5
- How to Protect My Bluebird House pole: http://bit.ly/vcPUb7
- Last Minute Gifts for Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/tMBYOf

Friday, October 25, 2013

Photo Share: Brilliant Cardinal

A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) perched in the branches of an apple tree. Photos taken by Ken Thomas.

Northern cardinals affect humans by dispersing seeds and eating insect pests such as boll weevils, cutworms, and caterpillars. They are also an attractive visitor to backyard birdfeeders.

Their diet consists mainly (up to 90%) of seeds and fruits. They also eat some insects and feed their young insects almost exclusively.
Northern cardinals also eat some insects and feed their young almost exclusively insects.
Northern cardinals also eat some insects and feed their young almost exclusively insects.
Northern cardinals also eat some insects and feed their young almost exclusively insects.

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.

Related Articles:
- Cardinal Fun Facts
- How Cardinals were named 
- Cardinal Feeders Made in USA
- How to Attract Cardinals
- What foods make cardinals redder  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Choosing the best bird seed

I am experimenting with making my own bird seed mix rather than continuing with purchasing commercial products which have a considerable amount of undesirable fillers, e.g., red milo, wheat and grit that only end up as waste. My formula will consist of black/striped sunflower seeds, safflower and white proso millet. Do you have any other suggestions? ~ East Lansing, MI

Food is essential to provide birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition to endure the elements. An ample supply of fresh high-calorie foods is crucial to a bird's survival.

I too used to make my own blends before we opened our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. I knew there was no point in buying a seed blend where half the bag was full of seeds that the birds in our area didn’t eat. 

Wild Birds Unlimited has regionally formulated seed blends to provide the most nutritious food for your birds. The first ingredient in our top 4 seed blends is sunflower seed. Oil Sunflower seed is the favorite of most of the backyard seed eating birds and I always like it to be the first ingredient in my bird seed blend.

Choice, Supreme, and Deluxe all have oil sunflower, striped sunflower, safflower, and sunflower chips. Deluxe also has white proso millet to attract the ground feeding birds like the juncos, sparrows, and doves.

Choice is the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing’s second most popular blend. It has peanut pieces in the mix. Now when I tell that to most people they say, “oh, no that will attract squirrels”, but the peanuts in the mix are for the birds. Lots of bug eating birds like the woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, and nuthatches love to pick out the peanuts. Peanuts have a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. Lots of interesting birds love peanuts.

We get our seed in almost every week and for the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store and I order the most of the No-Mess Blend by far. We have to bring in so many bags of no-mess that it is sometimes hard to find a place to store the extra tonnage on the floor.

Our unique No-Mess Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's no debris on the ground to clean up.

The first ingredient in the No-Mess blend is sunflower seed without the hull, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet without the hull. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

Each of our blends is mixed 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 but aren't eaten by the birds in Michigan. Therefore, there is no wasted seed. Wild Birds Unlimited blends actually end up costing less to use while attracting more of the birds that you want to watch.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Prevent mice access to your bird seed

Photo Courtesy:  flickr
With the onset of cool autumn weather, House Mice Mus musculus might come in from the fields, fencerows, and wooded areas, where they spend the summer and move closer to human dwellings for warmth. They’ll find cracks in rocks or walls, create underground burrows, utilize woodpiles, or storage sheds to make an area for their cozy nests of rags, paper, or other shredded material to keep warm.

House mice, generally nocturnal, are quick runners (up to 8 miles per hour), good climbers, jumpers, and swimers. Despite this, most mice do not live beyond 12-18 months. They are eaten by a wide variety of predators including cats, foxes, weasels, ferrets, snakes, hawks, falcons, and owls.

Originally native to Asia (probably northern India), the house mouse can now be found in all parts of the world that have human settlements. They most likely came as stowaways in livestock feed.

Make your home less attractive to mice by storing your bird seed in a Wild Birds Unlimited closed steel container that prevents any unwanted seed thieves access.

Related articles:
- What is No-Mess Bird Seed?: http://bit.ly/pl516I
- How to keep moths out of bird seed http://goo.gl/qF2SW1
- Seed Storage Cans and WBU Seed Scoops: http://bit.ly/q6th9R
- Who ate all the birdfood during the night? http://goo.gl/DuZPWp
- How to winterize your bird feeding station http://bit.ly/xucuF8
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

When bird migration begins and ends

Is migration nearly over? We've had several window strikes lately and I think it was because these birds were new to the area and just migrating through. ~ Ann Arbor, Michgian
Migration is never over. There are birds moving all around the world all the time. However spring and fall migration is when a lot of birds shift to different territories. Right now there are first year birds and new birds migrating throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Birds also strike windows as they quickly try to escape predators, hitting glass in a moment of panic. 

Window strikes are hard to totally eliminate, but there are ways to reduce them and/or reduce their severity. Decals like Window Alert placed on the outside of windows have had the most positive feedback from customers. Each decal contains a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight. This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds.
Mid-Michigan has already said good bye to the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the orioles and all the other black birds. Most of the warblers and kinglets have already passed through by the end of October too.
Right now I’m watching the White-throated Sparrows making a pit stop in my yard for a few weeks before they continue further south. The first wave of Dark-eyed Juncos are passing through right now too. The Junco’s we see now are probably females and may continue on all the way to Florida. The boys are the ones that winter with us in mid-Michigan so they can be the first in the spring to zip up to the nesting territories and stake a claim.
I also just saw the White-crowned Sparrows which usually show up in my yard mid-November. Like the white-throated they don’t stick around long but they are a large sparrow with striking white racing stripes on their head. And I'm excited about the number of Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins I'm seeing which like to winter in our area.

A lot of birds dependent on open waters like the herons, geese, swans and other waterfowl and shorebirds wait until the water freezes before they move south. The end of October to December can be their migration time.

And while they are flying south, a couple of “horny” birds kick off another breeding season. In mid-December you hear the Great Horned Owl calling for a mate. They actually start to nest in January or February. The Horned Lark also performs an elaborate song-flight courtship display in the beginning of the year. Horned-larks are one of our earliest nesting birds. In some states, nests may be found in February. This can mean that the first set of eggs is often destroyed by snowstorms.

In March the black birds start to return. In April and May lots of other birds are journeying north only to see some birds going back down south again as early as June. So in Michigan we are lucky to always see something interesting in our yard whether they are our local regular birds, fly-by birds, wintering or summering birds. A good field guide can help you remember all the comings and goings of the birds or it might be fun to keep a journal.

Related Articles:
- The Journey North: Bird Migration Maps http://bit.ly/pbk4Eb
- Great Horned Owl Singing at Night http://bit.ly/qKeKDM
- Are Horned Larks Common in Mid-Michigan? http://bit.ly/qmAbt7
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d  
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ow20ZD
- Bird only in mid-Michigan during the winter http://bit.ly/ojcyP7
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU

Monday, October 21, 2013

Unusual bird migrations

The Shortest:
Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) live primarily in areas of dense cover in the wooded foothills and mountains along the West Coast of the United States. In the fall these birds congregate into family groups of up to 20 birds and make their way from their summer home in the mountains, into the sheltered valley below the snowline in the winter. This seasonal journey by the quail may cover distances of up to 20 miles by foot.
The Longest:
A Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) holds the record for the longest known non-stop migration. Using satellite tracking, birds in New Zealand were tagged and tracked all the way to the Yellow Sea in China. According to Dr. Clive Minton, "The distance between these two locations is 5950 miles, but the actual track flown by the bird was 7258 miles. This is the longest known non-stop flight of any bird. The flight took approximately nine days.” Researchers found that the Bar-tailed Godwits flights southward ranged in duration from 5.0 to 9.4 days and from 5950 to 7258 miles.
The routes of satellite tagged 
Bar-tailed Godwits migrating north 
from New Zealand to Korea and China

Related Articles:
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d  
- Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/n0z040
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU
- How many birds would you say die or get injured during migration? http://bit.ly/r5o3NQ

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Goldfinches overwinter in Michigan

Hello, I’ve lived my whole life in NYC where I occasionally woke to a pigeon. We just moved to East Lansing or “mid-Michigan” as my wife tells her friends, and wake up to a cacophony of bird songs in the morning. Curiosity led me to your journaling site on the internet and you have answered so many of my questions. Is it too late to put up a finch feeder?

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

That is a good question! The American Goldfinch is one of my favorite backyard songbirds because of its butterfly like flight and delicate song.

Many people don't realize that the Goldfinches are not bright yellow all year. In fact they are the only finch in North America to go through a complete molt two times a year. In the fall the male loses his bright yellow feathers and black cap and switches to a duller olive green wardrobe with dark, blackish wings and pale wing bars.

Both male and female goldfinches have a similar duller olive green winter wardrobe. They are found year-round at Michigan bird feeders, so it is always a good time to put up a finch feeder.

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, October 19, 2013

Bluebirds and Robins can overwinter in mid-Michigan

Hello, I was surprised to see a flock of robins on the park lawn today. Will they leave soon? I also heard some bluebirds on a trail walk. What's going on? When do they migrate? ~  Holt, MI

Some America Robins migrate but if you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common.

After nesting season has ended, they usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts. They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

The Eastern Bluebirds also gathers in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may host the bluebirds year-round.

We often think of migration as birds traveling thousands of miles south to winter in a tropical climate. There are also partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually. American Robins can become nomadic. During heavy snowstorms they may move further south to find food only to move back when the weather clears.

Or the bluebirds that nested in Canada may skip over Michigan to winter in the southern states, but in southern and mid-Michigan, many bluebirds may just remain year-round residents. Scientists think it’s due to genetics whether they want to fly south or winter over. Some birds are compelled to move south and others are not. They all gather in huge family groups in the fall however to increase their survival through the winter.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Photo Share: Chipmunk soaking up the last bits of sun before winter

Eastern Chipmunks get their name because they are often seen sitting on a perch and “chipping”. They are solitary animals and their chipping perch is usually close to their burrow entrance to let other chipmunks know to stay away.

Eastern Chipmunks do not hibernate throughout the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their homes. In the fall they gather large amounts of food in their burrows and build nests on top of their treasure trove. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks head underground to their prepared area, where they enter torpor (short times of hibernation). They wake up occasionally eat their stored food and go back to sleep until the earth warms in the spring.

Related articles:
- How much food can a chipmunk hold in his mouth? http://bit.ly/yD6Bn8
- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/yIfqFT
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/A2wG1g
- Will Safflower seed deter chipmunks? http://bit.ly/wYGDBi
- How many different types of chipmunks are there? http://goo.gl/X4Sqff

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Take the suet challenge

I love to watch the birds up close but we have a mess on our porch because the woodpeckers flick the suet on the wood. Is there a plate I can put under the feeder? ~ Dewitt, MI

I enjoy the woodpeckers too and have a couple suggestions. First we have an Advanced Pole System that can swing your feeder away from the porch. Second, I would change your suet. The only reason your birds would be throwing stuff on the porch would be if they didn’t like something in it. Sometimes cheap suets are filled with milo or other filler seeds to take up space which forces the birds to pick around to find what they want.

When you come into Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI you can choose from a variety of high quality seed and suet cakes that will attract a wide number of different bug eating birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and wrens.

What is suet?
Our Suet is made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds. In spring, it meets the increased energy demands of nesting birds. In the summer months, it provides a good substitute for insect-eating birds, especially in years when insects are not very plentiful. In fall, suet helps wild birds store fat to prepare for migration or the coming winter. And of course, in winter, suet replenishes depleted stores of energy and nutrients, to help birds survive the long, cold months.

Is there really a difference in suet cakes?
Not all suets are created equal. When you are choosing your breakfast cereal, you might choose a less healthy, colorful, sugar loop and pay the price later with less energy and a blah afternoon. But birds must always be on alert and in top form, especially during times of stress like nesting season or long winters. You should always read the nutritional labels and strive to provide wild birds with food that is healthy and has the proper nutrition.

How do I read suet labels?
The first ingredient should always be rendered beef suet. Some people feed straight suet only. If you want to offer more protein the next ingredient should usually be peanuts or tree nuts. Never, never buy suet where milo, oats, wheat, processed grain by-products or artificial flavorings are in the ingredients. These filler ingredients are used to make a cheaper cake but the birds will toss it to the ground.

The Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store’s best seller is the peanut butter suet cake, which has only three ingredients: rendered beef fat, chopped peanuts and peanut butter. Again, no milo, no wheat, and no millet - no filler ingredients! This is my favorite suet cake too (for my birds, I mean).

What is the Guaranteed Analysis?
Looking at the Guaranteed Analysis, you will see several lines of information: Crude Protein, Crude Fat, Crude Fiber, and Moisture. What does all that mean to a consumer? A good suet cake will have a minimum crude protein of around 6% and crude fat of 35% (the more the better). And it’s acceptable for suet to have a maximum crude fiber of 12% and moisture of 10%.

At Wild Birds Unlimited we are dedicated to the promotion of responsible feeding. Anything we sell in the East Lansing, Michigan store is good for the birds; no fillers, no by products, just top-quality food. I encourage you to take a suet challenge. Try our #1 selling quality Peanut Butter suet and see if your birds are happier.

I'll come right in! Thanks for your quick response and good suggestions.

Related Articles:
- What birds eat suet? http://bit.ly/q2Sfje
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- Filling Up on Fatty Foods: http://bit.ly/ob0NIq
- Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stink Bugs: Large brown shield-shaped bugs

Twice this week my head has been dive bombed by stink bugs. These large brown shield-shaped bugs also known as Halyomorpha halys, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB), were introduced accidentally into the United States from China or Japan as stowaways in packing crates. First documented specimens were collected in Pennsylvania in 1998. They have now been found in 40 states including Michigan in 2010.

Control of stink bugs is a priority of the Department of Agriculture. The bugs suck out juices from numerous types of plants including tomatoes, soy beans, lima beans and sweet corn, and have caused severe losses in some fruit orchards.

Stink bugs invade homes in the fall to survive the winter. Once inside the house, they will go into a state of hibernation to wait for winter to pass. These insects are not known to cause harm to humans, although their large size, about ½ inch, and tough shield shaped back make them scary when they smack into the side of your head. They are various shades of brown on both the top and bottom and have stink glands located on the underside of the thorax.

The stink bug's ability to emit an odor through holes in its abdomen is a defense mechanism meant to prevent them from being eaten by birds and lizards. However as of 2012, native predators such as wasps and birds were showing increased signs of feeding on the bugs as they adapt to the new food source.

Related Articles:
- How to keep moths out of bird seed http://goo.gl/D7JSp8
- A closer look at the woodpeckers in Michigan http://goo.gl/cLO0yr
- Where does the Woolly Bear go in the winter? http://bit.ly/pB5L4V
- A Very Tiny Hummingbird (Moth)? http://bit.ly/qtrAaV
- Do Honey Bees migrate in the winter? http://bit.ly/GEK5QX
- How long does a house fly live?‎ http://bit.ly/HeSh7g

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What do warblers eat...besides poison ivy berries?

I ask because for the last few years I've had a large number of yellow-rumped warblers eating the poison ivy berries from a stand of willow and poplar that grows in a low area in the pasture, but I've never seen them come into the feeders in the yard.  I am NOT stocking the feeders with poison ivy berries! ~ Lynn

Poison Ivy: Leaves of three, let it be! Berries white, take flight! 

Most warblers eat beetles, flies, wasps, caterpillars, moths and other insects. However, before and during migration these insect-eating songbirds add more fruits and berries to their diet.

Poison ivy is a very widespread and productive plant that produces dense clusters of white berries that ripen between August and November. Over sixty species of birds have been documented to eat the berries of poison ivy. These birds, obviously, do not become sensitized to the volatile oils and do not experience allergic reactions to the plant.

During migration, many birds may fly at night for hours without a break on their way to their wintering grounds. At each rest stop they must forage for sufficient food to hold them over for the next leg of their journey.

Of course most people aren’t comfortable cultivating poison ivy even if it helps the birds. But there are other native plants that can provide food and shelter for the birds that you can feel comfortable planting closer to the house. Virginia Creeper, viburnum, holly, spicebush, American bittersweet, dogwood, crabapples, sassafras, and grape vines are just a few. Pokeweed, not normally sold in greenhouses, also produces a late summer cluster of pretty, purple berries that is irresistible to a lot of birds.

To attract warblers to a seed feeder try a blend with sunflower seed and peanuts like our no-mess blend. I often see warblers that are passing through stop at my suet or nut feeders. You can also smear peanut butter and left-over suet on tree bark for them to find.

I've been told that Bluebirds are the responsible/guilty party for much of the poison ivy that springs up in inappropriate places, but I had no idea there were THAT many perpetrators. Kinda makes me wonder what the berries taste like, that they attract such a following.... But, no, the curiosity only extends so far.

You can blame the birds for depositing the seeds but man is more responsible for the expansion of the poison ivy plant. It is more common now than when Europeans first arrived in North America. It is believed that development of real estate adjacent to wild, undeveloped land has produced "edge effects," enabling poison ivy to establish vast, lush colonies.

In the open field the grass usually wins over time, and in the deep woods the ivy probably can't get enough light. But at the edge of the field, forest, parking lot, or road - the poison ivy wins out. 

WARNING: All parts of the poison ivy plant can cause harm to humans because the urushiol oil present in the entire plant including the leaves, stems, roots, berries, and vines. The oil is present in live plants, dead plants, and in dormant plants (like the vines in winter). Contact with the plant through touch or from release of oils through burning can cause rashes, difficulty breathing, swollen eyes, or throat and immediate medical attention should be sought.

Related Articles:
- Warblers in Michigan http://goo.gl/0YNOc3
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/Gmn0b
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/yAR4pm
- Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chickadee with no tail

I suspect a predator stole my chickadee’s tail. He’s been doing fine at my feeders but I wonder if he can survive the winter with no tail feathers. What do you think? ~ Taylor, Michigan

Chickadees have to molt every one of their feathers each year in late summer and early fall. They are done nesting, it’s still warm hopefully and there is plenty of high fat and high protein foods available to help them grow quality feathers to sustain them through the next winter, spring and summer.

If a chickadee has an accident or a close call with a predator and loses a bunch of feathers, a healthy chickadee can grow replacement feathers quickly. In a few weeks the tail can grow back and look completely normal. But sometimes the replacement feathers might come in white and then change back to the normal color at the next regular molt. The white feathers may not be as strong as the originals but they can still help the chickadee steer his flight.

If you’ve ever watched a chickadee flying you know that even with proper tail feathers their flight is slightly undulating with rapid wing beats and their maximum speed is only 12 mph. But that suits the Black-capped Chickadees because they seldom go very far. Most live their whole adult life in a small area and their average flights are about 50 feet. The birds hop along tree branches searching for food, sometimes hanging upside down or hovering and they may make short flights to catch insects in the air.

Hopefully the chickadee you observed with no tail has learned his lesson and will grow another healthy tail and steer clear of further dangers. And if you continue to fill your feeders with sunflower seeds, peanuts and suet he has even greater success at survival. Research has found that survival rate of chickadees near feeders nearly doubled, compared to those birds that obtained less-accessible food from the wild during severe winters.

Help Chickadees Feel at Home
Chickadees are among the easiest birds to lure into your yard, especially during winter. Here are a few tips to help attract them:
1. Chickadee food: Put out fresh sunflower seeds, peanuts, seed cylinders or suets.
2. Chickadee feeder: Almost any bird feeder will attract chickadees if it offers good food. I like to use the no-mess blend which has sunflower chips and peanut halves.
3. Chickadee habitat: Chickadees like natural cover near feeders to pop into and avoid predators or harsh weather.
4. Chickadee house: Roosting pockets or a small birdhouse with a 1 1/4-inch entrance hole, placed in heavy natural cover, will provide a winter shelter for the birds.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

White-throated Sparrow fun facts

It was so warm yesterday all the windows were open and I heard the call of a bird I only hear 2 times a year in mid-Michigan. In the spring I hear the song and know frost free days are ahead. In the fall when I hear them I know freezing days are just around the corner.

I'm now waking up to this song that sounds like a chickadee trying to sing under water. I haven't looked under the feeders yet but I'm sure I'll see the fist wave of White-throated sparrows.

They nest in upper Michigan and Canada. Fall migration begins in September, and we usually start to see them by mid-October (before the first permanent snowfall). They migrate in loose flocks, flying at night and foraging during the day. As with most species, fall migration is slower than spring migration, with longer stopovers. We can probably expect them to stay in our area for a few weeks

Some fun facts:
White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

• Individual White-throated Sparrows have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own. They all have distinct white throat feathers.
•White-throated Sparrows are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.
•A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.
•The White-throated and White-crowned sparrows only pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate north or south in the spring and fall.
•You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody"

Related Articles: 
What Bird is Singing Outside My Window: How to identify birds' songs http://bit.ly/qIoqqR 
Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/oy9XGz 
Which one of these birds is not like the others? http://bit.ly/qM1LQt 
What birds winter in Michigan? http://bit.ly/rqQgU2

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Chickadees don’t leave home without their caps

I came across your site on the internet. Do you know if all species of chickadee's have a cap on their head?  Thanks, Rose

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Yes caps are an essential part of the chickadee wardrobe. All chickadees are diminutive in size, ranging from 4.5 inches (Carolina Chickadees) to 5.5 inches (Boreal Chickadees). They all have a small, sharp beak, a dark crown and bib, whitish cheeks, gray or brownish back, and off-white belly with a variable amount of color on their flanks.

If you go to http://www.allaboutbirds.org, you can browse for birds by taxonomic order. Chickadees are Perching Birds (PASSERIFORMES) under Chickadees and Titmice (PARIDAE). In North America we have seven chickadees with brown or black caps.
- Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus
- Mountain Chickadee, Poecile gambeli
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Poecile rufescens
- Boreal Chickadee, Poecile hudsonicus
- Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis
- Grey-headed Chickadee, Poecile cinctus
- Mexican Chickadee, Poecile sclateri

Willow Tit
Scattered across Europe and Asia there are an additional 8 species of birds in the genus Poecile. They are called tits, the Old English name for the bird and they also all have the dark caps.
- Sombre Tit, Poecile lugubris
- Caspian Tit, Poecile hyrcanus
- Marsh Tit, Poecile palustris
- Willow Tit, Poecile montanus
- Black-bibbed Tit, Poecile hypermelaenus
- Songar Tit, Poecile songarus
- White-browed Tit, Poecile superciliosus
- Père David's Tit, Poecile davidi

That was a lovely question.
Thanks so much for the reply!! I am a 3&4 grade teacher and that is a question that one of my students ask in class one day. : )

Related Articles:
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- Quiz on Chickadees http://goo.gl/0cI03 
- Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/jAtN5 
- Fun Facts about the different Chickadees in North America http://bit.ly/zIDkCi 
- Not a Shy Bird: How the Black-capped Chickadee Communicates http://goo.gl/1rlnh