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.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds

I need some help in choosing a bird seed blend ~ East Lansing, MI

When choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds I always make sure sunflower is the first ingredient. I also like seed blends with nuts. Sunflower seed is the favorite of most seed eating birds like cardinals, finches and titmice and the peanuts will attract bug eating birds like chickadees, wrens, jays and woodpeckers.

To make the most of your birdseed budget, choose seeds that attract the birds you want to watch. The following shows the results of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studies on food preferences of birds:
a) Black oil – Fresh oil sunflower seed is attractive to most seed eating bird species.
b) Striped – The larger shell is harder for some birds to crack but Tufted Titmice and Blue Jays prefer.
2. Peanut pieces – Are attractive to numerous species. Lots of bug or suet eating birds choose peanuts for their high protein and fat levels.
3. White Proso Millet – Is the preferred food for ground feeding birds like juncos, doves and sparrows.
4. Safflower seed – This was not included in USFWS studies but is a favorite of House Finches and is considered acceptable to most other bird species except blackbirds and starlings. (Squirrels don't seem to care for it either.)
5. Nyjer (Thistle) - Is not related to weed thistles. The high fat content and small seed shape makes it attractive to finches.
6. Cracked Corn - Eaten about one-third as often as white proso millet and attracts blackbirds.
7. Red Proso Millet – It can be used as a substitute for white proso; however, not as preferred
8. Golden (German) Millet – Is the least preferred of the millets
9. Milo (sorghum) – Large red round seed found in a lot of cheap blends. It is unattractive generally to all species. Jays, cowbirds, and grouse may eat it in Michigan. More of the western ground feeding birds might eat milo.
10. Oats - Only starlings found hulled oats attractive.
11. Wheat – Unattractive to most species.
12. Canary seed - Unattractive to most species. House Sparrows and cowbirds will eat canary seed.
13. Flax seed - Almost completely ignored.
14. Rape seed (canola seed) - Least attractive feed in the study. Quail and doves may eat.

Where to Purchase Seed
We have tons of fresh seed delivered every week to our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. Our seed is also sifted to take out all the sticks and field debris. Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love. We also carry a wide variety of other bird foods—suet and no-melt doughs, seed cylinders, mealworms and more.

What is your best blend?
For the East Lansing  Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend. Our unique No-Mess Blend contains sunflower seeds, peanut pieces and white proso millet without the shells. No shells on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's nothing on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything happily.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Northern Cardinal Mating Rituals

I've had a steady colony of Cardinals coming to my feeder for the past six years. They live in the pines in my front yard and all spend time at the feeder in the back yard. Their number has grown from two pairs to three and now to four over these few years. Imagine my surprise that just now I looked out to see NINE pairs. I have several different feeders and they were all over them. Any thoughts? Is it nearing the time when they breed? I've always thought that once paired they stayed together - do they still group during the mating season? ~ Garden City, MI

February is the toughest month for birds to find food so that may be why you are seeing more birds at the feeders. Also most cardinals form pair bonds around February-April. Males and females that have paired up in previous seasons are often the first to pair up as the new breeding season begins, sometimes even as early as January.
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When the males begin to sing they are claiming a territory. Older males usually claim their old territory while young males have to move around to find an open territory and an available mate. Extra cardinals now could also mean they are young birds looking to establish a breeding territory.
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Actual nesting begins usually sometime between early April and mid-May and ends sometime between mid-July and early September depending on where you live.
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Northern Cardinal Mating Rituals
Male cardinals sing to establish territories and attract mates. Females that hear singing may approach and then fly away when spotted by the male. While the male chases the female he continues to sing and spread his tail and wing feathers to give the females a good look. This may continue for several days and help the female determine the male’s health.
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As the courtship continues both the male and female begin to sing duets. Cardinals can sing several different song types but during the duets they coordinate songs. Scientists think this is another way for the female to determine her potential mate’s quality.
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Next the males bring tasty treats that they feed to the females. A male’s ability to forage efficiently and provide good quality food is an important consideration for a female that depends on a male to provide food for her while she is incubating eggs and later feed her babies.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Strange Feather Variation: Red and white cardinal

Hello, would you please help me identify this species of Cardinal (?) or bird in the following pictures. I have never seen a Cardinal quite like this. It was eating from the bird feeder with the other Cardinals and other birds. This particular bird showed up a couple of weeks ago and was still here this morning. Thank you for your help, Don & Lois from Crossville, TN

Thank you so much for sharing your observation with us. It is a female cardinal with a feather variation caused by leucism. Leucism is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation in animals.
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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, like the one in your photo, 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.

Unfortunately they usually don't have as long a life span. It doesn't affect their health but they are easier for prey to spot and have a harder time attracting mates. So consider yourself lucky!

Read more at Project Feeder Watch's website: Plumage variations: Albinism or Leucism?

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Finch feeder that doesn't lose seed.

We have recently put out a golden finch feeder that is about 18 inches tall and 3 inches in diameter with 6 perches. We are thrilled that it is being heavily populated but am wondering if I need to get a second feeder because there are so many finches that they are fighting for the perches. Is this normal? Also, they sure are messy! Is the mess on the ground thistle shell or waste from the fighting?

Excellent, excellent questions! I love the happy, warm, song of the goldfinches especially in the cold months. I started with one finch feeder and now have five. It’s not uncommon for flocks of finches to flutter down from the tops of trees to wait for their turn at the feeder. Or as you noticed, announce to a fellow feathered friend their time is up and push their way in to feed.

We always have a lot of finches but this year customers have been reporting an increase in the numbers of American Goldfinches as well as an irruption of several other bird species. Canada’s natural seed crops were horrible last year and lots of birds that usually like to winter further north have ventured south to find food.

Because of this increased traffic it is very important to keep your feeders clean. These flocks of birds are going to be stressed and susceptible to disease. Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes in a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution. Scrub with brushes (we have these), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. Or Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00.

Another tip is that if the finches stop eating after the feeder is half empty; don't wait for them to finish their plate because they won't. Goldfinches are notorious for leaving a tube feeder half full. To keep your birds happy you have to empty the older seed (if it's still good) into a different container, fill the bottom of your feeder with new seed and top it off with the older seed. The birds will probably eat down to that certain level again and you'll have to repeat the process.

Mesh feeders are my favorite!
And now to the mess. Nyjer® (thistle) is a tiny black birdseed cultivated in Asia and Africa that is high in calories and oil content, and loved by American Goldfinches. Nyjer® does not sprout weeds and is not related to the purple, prickly, Canada thistle weed.

Unfortunately Nyjer® has a lot of shell. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. What looks like wasted seed on the ground is probably just tiny shells. If any seed does happen to fall you may see Mourning Doves or Juncos picking out any leftovers.

I like to use straight Nyjer® (thistle) in my feeders. The squirrels don’t bother the feeders and I know the goldfinches love this seed. Don’t use any finch blends with canary seed, rape seed or flax seed. In feeder studies these seeds along with milo, oats and wheat were found to be the least attractive to birds and will be tossed to the ground.


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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sharp-shinned vs Cooper’s Hawks

A sharp-shinned hawk?  I heard an odd noise and looked outside - he's maybe four feet from the window and looks quite cozy.  We get Cooper's hawks from time to time, but never this close to the house. ~ Kate from East Lansing, MI

They are indeed excellent photos of a Sharp-shinned Hawk! The heavier streaking down the belly and square tail with a notch in the center make me believe he’s a sharpie.

Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) hawks can be hard to ID. The birds have a lot of variation in plumage and size and there is no single field mark that distinguishes one species from the other.

Sharp-shinned Hawks average 10-14" long. Females are larger and can appear nearly as large as a male Cooper's Hawk. Where Cooper's Hawks average 14-20" long and males are smaller and can appear nearly as small as a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.

The following are ID tips from Project Feeder Watch for the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk:

1) The tail feathers of Sharp-shinned Hawks appear squared with a notch in the center, whereas a Cooper's Hawks tail looks rounded.
2) Cooper's Hawks have a barrel shaped chest. Sharp-shinned Hawks are widest at the shoulder and get distinctly narrower down to the hips.
3) A Sharp-shinned Hawk's head looks small compared to the body, and a Cooper's Hawk's head looks large.
4) Cooper's Hawks are usually larger than Sharp-shinned Hawks.
5) A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk has very thick, rufous stripes that extend down the lower belly while the Cooper's Hawk has very thin, dark vertical streaks that fade away on the lower belly.
6) Sharp-shinned have very thin toes and legs, compared to the Cooper's Hawk.
7) The color of the nape of an adult Cooper's Hawks is pale with a clear contrast to a dark cap. Juveniles of both species can show a pale nape, however.

More identification tips and challenges can be seen on Project Feeder Watch's Accipiter Photo Gallery page: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/accipiterphoto.htm

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Celebrate Michigan's birthday with some fun facts


On January 26, 1837, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill making Michigan the nation's 26th state. "Michigan" is believed to come from the from the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigami, meaning "great water" and referred originally toLake Michigan itself. The Great Lakes account for one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater supply.

In 1836 a pair speculators from Lansing, New York sold land to a non-existent city in mid-Michigan known as "Biddle City." The New Yorkers arrived to discover that the plots they had purchased were located in a marsh or underwater. Some of the pioneers stayed, and developed a village in what is now Old Town Lansing a mile north of the non-existent "Biddle City."

In 1847, the legislature passed a law to locate the state capital in mid-Michigan because many were concerned about Detroit's proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had captured Detroit in theWar of 1812. Unable to publicly reach a consensus because of constant political wrangling, theMichigan House of Representatives privately chose the Township of Lansing as the capitol out of frustration. The sleepy settlement of fewer than 20 people transformed quickly into the seat of state government and individual settlements began to develop along the Grand River.

State Symbols:
Bird - American Robin
Fish - Brook Trout
Reptile - Painted Turtle
Wildflower - Dwarf Lake Iris
Flower - Apple Blossom
Tree - White Pine
Stone - Petoskey Stone
Fossil - Mastodon

Fun Facts:
Michigan is simultaneously known for its cities, supported by heavy industry, and its pristine wilderness. Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state. It is home to a number of areas maintained by the National Park Service with 78 state parks, 19 state recreation areas, and 6 state forests.

Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the nation's first land-grant university and was the first institution of higher learning in the nation to teach scientific agriculture.

Michigan was the first state to provide in its Constitution for the establishment of public libraries and the first state to guarantee every child the right to tax-paid high school education.

Vernors ginger ale was created in Detroit and became the first soda pop made in the United States. In 1862, pharmacist James Vernor was trying to create a new beverage when he was called away to serve our country in the Civil War. When he returned, 4 years later, the drink he had stored in an oak case had acquired a delicious gingery flavor.

The Kellogg Company has made Battle Creek the Cereal Capital of the World. The Kellogg brothers accidentally discovered the process for producing flaked cereal products and sparked the beginning of the dry cereal industry.

The Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in America to feature cageless, open-exhibits that allowed the animals more freedom to roam.

Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes, more than 36,000 miles of streams and 116 lighthouses and navigational lights.

The Upper Michigan Copper Country is the largest commercial deposit of native copper in the world. Detroit is known as the car capital of the world. Alpena is the home of the world's largest cement plant. Rogers City boasts the world's largest limestone quarry. Elsie is the home of the world's largest registered Holstein dairy herd. Michigan is first in the United States production of peat and magnesium compounds and second in gypsum and iron ore. Colon is home to the world's largest manufacture of magic supplies. Grand Rapids is home to the 24-foot Leonardo da Vinci horse, called Il Gavallo, it is the largest equestrian bronze sculpture in the Western Hemisphere.

Sources:
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Photo Share: Kingbird, Flycatcher and Swallow



Joshua Chrisman (Creator and Admin of Michigan's Wildlife on www.facebook.com/MichigansWildlife) sent us lots of  of lovely pictures that he took last year. Most of the pictures are taken around the Greenville, Grand Rapids, Stanton, and Saginaw areas. Some were also taken in the Upper Peninsula. I will be posting them gradually over the next few week 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, January 24, 2013

Wild Birds Unlimited - Tidy Cylinder Feeder

This Tidy Cylinder feeder has an attached tray that reduces the amount of seed debris that falls to the ground and allows cardinals to perch comfortably. It is easy to fill; simply drop one of our exclusive seed cylinders into the feeder, hang it, and watch your birds enjoy.

Our exclusively-formulated Cranberry, Supreme Fare and Safflower seed cylinders are held together tightly with gelatin so the birds have to work to grab seeds. Instead of birds swooping in, grabbing a bite, scattering seeds and taking off, Seed Cylinders give you a few extra moments of enjoyment and no seed spray.

The Cranberry and Supreme Fare cylinders have pecans as the first ingredient. After I put out one of these pecan rolls, I like sit back and watch the action. Why pecans? Pecans are a very high energy food and the birds appreciate a good meal during this stressful time.

If you don't have a baffled Wild BirdsUnlimited Advanced Pole System and worry about the squirrels, you can choose to use the Safflower cylinder to keep squirrels and blackbirds away.

I can tell you that Seed Cylinder feeders are undemanding. They are easy to clean, easy to fill, leave very little mess and attract a wide variety of birds. The feeders are popular with beginners and for people like me who have been feeding birds for almost 40 years.
 
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are your House Finches getting redder?

I believe that my house finches have been getting redder and redder over the years. Do you think some day they'll be as red as a cardinal?

Good nutrition is important for birds, too!
House Finch eating seed cylinder on Wild Birds Unlimited Dinner Bell feeder
Today House Finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) are a familiar sight at mid-Michigan bird feeders if you offer sunflower, safflower or Nyjer® (thistle) seed. These talkative little 6 inch birds get their name from their habit of hanging around human houses. Their cheery warble and variety of chirps are a constant around the feeders and you may find their nests in your hanging baskets, wreaths, or nearby pine trees.

They are very good at adapting. The House Finch was not always a local bird. In 1940, they were captured illegally in California and imported to New York by pet dealers. Fearing prosecution, the dealers released their “Hollywood Finches” on Long Island and since then the finches have spread to all corners of the east and have even rejoined their relatives in the west. But have they also been getting redder?

Male and female House Finch on WBU Hopper Feeder
Adult males are rosy red around the face and upper breast, with streaky brown back, belly and tail. Adult females aren’t red; they are plain grayish-brown with thick, blurry streaks and an indistinctly marked face. The amount of red the male finch has can vary depending on the amount of carotenoid pigments he eats during his fall molt. Many brilliant red, orange, and yellow color displays of birds are the result of carotenoid pigments deposited in the feathers.

Carotenoids are the class of hydrocarbons, widespread in nature and important pigments in living organisms. They are found in foods that are deep green, yellow, orange, and red like fruits, vegetables and seeds.

Normal male House Finches exhibit individual variation in coloration, with their plumage ranging from pale orange to bright red, but the brighter males have an advantage with the females. Carotenoid-based feather coloration has been found to be an important criterion in female mate choice because brighter finches usually have better foraging ability, better health, more testosterone and less parasite loads.

Your redder finches may just be well fed older, more experienced birds or in fact may be evolving into redder, more vibrant house finches of the future. The research is still out on the bird's 'carotenoid circle of life', but you made a very good observation. Thank you for sharing.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Feeding the birds will not make them "lazy," or "dependent."


Backyard bird feeding is a convenient way to enjoy wildlife. A recent Census Report reveals that over 65 million Americans, young and old, feed wild birds. Watching birds is the fastest growing hobby in the country, second only to gardening. Like having a pet, watching birds seems to make people feel good.

When's the best time to start?
There is no best or worst time to start bird feeding. In general, whenever the birds are stressed they will appreciate a reliable supplemental food source. That means if you were ever thinking about bird feeding, January and February are actually the months that a backyard bird feeder can make a difference.

Typically, feeders serve as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard. Fruit and nut bearing bushes and trees supply a natural food source as well as native flowers, such as coneflowers, black eyed Susan’s, and cosmos that are allowed to go to seed and stand through the winter. In the last couple months of winter the natural sources have gradually become more and more scarce and birds may switch to utilizing feeders to survive from day to day.

In fact February is designated National Bird Feeding Month because it's one of the most difficult months in the U.S. for birds to survive in the wild. In mid-Michigan the plants are still dormant and haven’t begun to produce new food for the birds and the bugs are still scarce.

Also, low temperatures force birds to burn up to 10% of their body weight in stored fat each night to stay warm and this fat must be replaced every day.

Be sure to keep your feeders filled with the high-energy, high-fat foods that provide your birds with the crucial nutrition they need to survive. Studies indicate that Black-Oil Sunflower, Fine and Medium Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types. Please don’t waste your money on cheap seed. Cheap filler grains like oats, wheat and milo decrease the price per pound of a mix but aren't eaten by the birds and are left to rot on the ground.

And don't forget the Suet. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds. Our Suet is made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. Special processes remove impurities that cause low melting points and spoilage problems.

When's the best time to stop?
If you enjoy feeding birds, there is no reason to stop. You can do it year-round. Feeding the birds throughout the summer will not make them "lazy," or "dependent."

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining and educational pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults. It provides a needed stress relief and brings families together. There is no designated time to feed the birds. Most people feed year round.

They watch the birds in the winter to brighten the long, dark, dreary days, and then watch the beautiful migratory birds that come in the spring all excited for nesting. Next comes watching the baby birds at the feeders demanding food from parents and finally the large variety of birds that gather after nesting to make the long journey south or to bulk up for winter again.

Consider that the average wild bird weighs less than two nickels and you’ll realize that the winter can be a very punishing time for your backyard friends. Birds that come at dusk on a cold evening are hungry, and it's nice to make sure that they always find something to eat.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Fun Facts on Squirrels

January 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day and I was wondering about the origin of the name “squirrel”.
Why are squirrels called squirrels?
Wikipedia explains that the word squirrel came from the early 14th century Anglo-Norman word esquirel and from the Old French escurel, which is the reflex of a Latin word sciurus. This Latin word was itself borrowed from Ancient Greek word σκίουρος, skiouros, which means, are you ready… shadow-tailed. This is probably because the squirrels use their bushy tails to shade themselves.

So for everyone who thought squirrel meant “clever creature sent to drive me crazy” or “batty rat that can figure out any bird feeder” now you know it means "beautiful beastie with a bushy tail".

Why do squirrels chew on everything?
Squirrels, nibble, gnaw and chew on anything and everything to sharpen and shorten their teeth that grow continuously. Squirrels’ teeth grow very fast and they wear them down by cracking nuts, trimming trees, and attacking bird feeders. If they didn’t, we’d have saber toothed squirrels running around.

How fast are squirrels?
The backyard tree squirrels in mid-Michigan are fast. They chase each other around and avoid predators at an average speed of 10-20 miles per hour. They have long, muscular hind legs and short front legs that work together to aid in leaping. They can jump 10 feet from a tree to a bird feeder or straight up an average of 4 ft. The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed. This helps them run up and down trees quickly.

How big is a squirrel’s brain?
You are what you eat. A squirrel’s brain is about the size of a walnut, one of their favorite foods. They can eat their own body weight (approximately 1.5 pounds) every week. Squirrels are mostly vegetarian but sometimes they do eat small insects.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Little brown bird walking up the trunk of tree

It’s such a treat when I spot the Brown Creeper circling the locust tree right outside my window. They're not a frequent visitor like the nuthatches but it’s always a welcome site to see a creeper not so much creeping up a tree but dancing up the trunk of a tree, checking all the crevices in the bark for hidden bugs or larvae. 

Brown Creeper Certhia americana 
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Creeper (Certhiidae)

Description: The creeper has a long stiff, pointed tail to help it climb tree trunks, and a long down curved bill to probe insects from bark. Its brown back feathers with buff white streaks, white eyebrow feathers, and white belly feathers make them nearly indistinguishable from a piece of bark.

General: The cryptic Brown Creeper usually hangs out in old-growth forests and will nest behind loose bark of a dying tree. The base of the nest is attached to the bark with webbing from cocoons or spider egg cases, and then a cup is made of fine pieces of bark, fibers, leaves, mosses, and feathers.

Behavior: Brown Creepers are the only tree creepers in North America. Feeding mainly on invertebrates found on tree trunks, they start at the bottom of a tree, spiral upward, then float down to the base of the next tree and begin again. A group of creepers are collectively known as a "sleeze" and a "spiral" of creepers.

 
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Different kinds of sunflower seed

I’ve been reading lately about how birds like oil sunflower. Can you explain what that is and how it’s different from other sunflower seed? ~  Saint Louis, Missouri  

That is an excellent question! Sunflower seeds are the fruit of the sunflower plant. Black Oil Sunflower and Striped Sunflower are the two different varieties used to feed birds.

Most seed eating birds are attracted to black oil sunflower seeds. The black in the name describes the all black hull. The oil in the name refers to the higher oil content per gram in this smaller sunflower seed. Cardinals, chickadees, finches, sparrows, nuthatches, and many other birds prefer black oil sunflower over any other seed because of its high fat content and thinner shell which makes it easier for birds to open.

Striped sunflower is larger and has a tougher striped shell. Jays, titmice, cardinals, grosbeaks and woodpeckers love striped sunflower and can handle the tougher, larger shells. 

Sunflower seeds can also come hulled, which means the shell has been removed. 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 means no hulls on the ground and the seed won’t sprout either. Hulled sunflower seeds will attract the same birds, but there is no mess left below the feeder.

Sunflower seeds are considered the number one choice to feed and attract the greatest variety of birds. At Wild Birds Unlimited we will help you choose the right seed – and the right feeder – for the birds you are trying to attract.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Photo Share: Cedar Waxwing

Joshua Chrisman (Creator and Admin of Michigan's Wildlife on www.facebook.com/MichigansWildlife) sent us lots of  of lovely pictures that he took last 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, January 17, 2013

Is Your Yard Going To The Squirrels?

The Red Squirrel, Eastern Gray Squirrel, and Eastern Fox Squirrel are all active year-round, but may stay in their nest several days during extreme hot or cold weather. They like to bury large amounts of nuts to feed on in the winter. And studies show that 85% of these nuts are actually recovered.

Besides nuts squirrels enjoy a variety of foods like corn, sunflowers seeds and fruit. If you want to give your squirrels a treat Wild Birds Unlimited makes it easy with a special Wildlife Blend made to feed squirrels in a platform feeder or nut box. Or we have cracked corn, whole corn, corn on the cob, as well as peanut pieces and peanuts in the shell.

If you can’t beat them, join them
Instead of fighting squirrels, try feeding them to add another element of fun to your backyard wildlife antics.

Why feed squirrels:
- Keeping a squirrel satisfied with its own food will distract them from bird feeders.
- Squirrels are undeniably cute animals and can be as interesting to watch as birds.
- Use a squirrel’s craftiness for your own pleasure by introducing feeders where they have to work to get out their food.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Red Fox in the neighborhood

We've had Red foxes being reported in the suburbs behind the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing. 

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) can be found in every county in Michigan but are especially common in areas with meadows, bushy fence lines, streams and low shrubby woods. They might also be found in suburban areas where food is available readily.

They are nocturnal and eat mostly mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, squirrels, insects, and fruit. This helps control populations of rodents and rabbits as well as disperses fruit seeds. They will also clean carrion off the roads. Foxes will eat about 2 pounds a day and cache any extra food for later.

Their fluffy fur makes them look heavier than they are actually. Red foxes weigh 4 to 31 lb, with vixens (females) weighing typically 15–20% less than males. They resemble small dogs around two feet long with a long, bushy tail around 15 inches. Their upper parts are reddish and they have a white, ashy underside. The lower part of their legs is usually black and their tail has a white tip.

Courtship usually occurs during the winter months when a female may be followed by one or more courting males and selects a single male with which she makes a firm bond. Then the pair works together to prepare a nursery den where the female gives birth after 51 - 53 days to a litter of an average of five pups. Just before and for a time after giving birth the female remains in or around the den. The male partner will provide food for his mate but does not go into the maternity den.

Pups can be born as early as February and as late as late-May. They are born helpless and covered with gray-brown, fuzzy fur, but still possess the characteristic white-tipped tail. Red fox males and females, and sometimes their older offspring, cooperate to care for the pups.

At about 10 days the pups open their eyes, at 20 days they venture from the den, and at 60 days they are weaned. At this time, the adults bring food to the den for the pups. The pups are nearly full-grown and are actively hunting on their own at 4 months.

Male pups begin to venture further from the den site first and disperse into new territory in the fall and winter, typically October to January. The pups are fully grown by winter and are able to mate and reproduce but young females may choose to postpone their leaving mom for another year.

Adult Red foxes are solitary animals and do not form packs like wolves. Individual home ranges vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas ranges may be between 3 to 8 miles. Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Keeping winter backyard birds warm

Keeping winter backyard birds warm is as easy as offering rich, high-energy foods and open water sources.
Offer Fat and Protein Rich Foods
Suet is a great winter food. A pure fat substance, suet provides high energy when insects are more difficult to find. We have a variety of suets to choose from. The most popular one is a peanut butter suet cake which is high in protein and is tastier to the birds. Wild Birds Unlimited also has bird seed blends that are sure to keep your birds warm.
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Energy-packed Cylinders
Bird food cylinders are a win-win for you and your birds. Seed Cylinders are long-lasting allowing you fewer trips to fill the feeder. The birds stay longer eating at the feeder instead of grabbing a morsel and flying quickly away to eat it elsewhere. The cylinders are packed with high-calorie nuts to provide birds with enough energy stay warm.

Open Water = Warm Birds
Water sources in winter are a wonderful way to attract a variety of birds, such as the American Robin, that don’t visit feeders normally. They provide a reliable source of water for bathing and drinking. Bathing is especially important in cold weather to keep feathers in top condition.

Available drinking water allows birds to maintain a healthy metabolism to stay warm. Use a heated bird bath or add a heater to your existing plastic, metal or stone bird bath. This will help make some water, available even on the coldest day.
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Monday, January 14, 2013

Quick fun facts on chickadees

Chickadees may be the most beloved birds that visit our backyards, but their seemlessly neverending energy and inquisitive nature are only part of what makes these birds fun to watch.

Chickadees:
• are easily identified by their namesake call “chick-a-dee.”
• weigh less than half an ounce.
• are generally monogamous and stay with the same mate for life.
• are cavity nesters and will excavate their own nest site in a rotten tree or use an old woodpecker hole or birdhouse.
• are regular visitors to feeders, but over 75% of their winter food supply still comes from natural sources.
• cache foods and remember where its hidden.
• increase their survival rate almost twice as much when the temperature falls below 10º F if they have access to feeders.
• can gain as much as 10% of their body weight each day and lose it all again during a cold winter night.

For more information about chickadees, visit allaboutbird.com - our online bird guide.
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