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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Photo Share: Tufted Titmouse thoughts

If anyone 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, February 27, 2014

Poles to mount your Bluebird House

Where can I obtain a mounting post for my bluebird house? Can I put my house on a tree or a wooden fence post? – DeWitt, MI

Wild Birds Unlimited has an exclusive, patented Advanced Pole System® (APS) mounting hardware that is the perfect for your bird feeding or bird housing needs.

It is super easy to install. First twist the 3-foot base pole into the ground using the convenient corkscrew auger. Then slide the Stabilizer onto the base pole to keep the pole straight and push into the ground (Tests show the stabilizer holds the pole straight in up to 35 MPH wind gusts). Snap on the 3-foot extension pole. Then attach your chosen house to dual mounting flange (designed to mount birdfeeders or houses), and snap that to the top pole.

Once the pole is installed, it is the perfect height to make it easy to monitor your nest box. There’re also several attachments that can be added later. You can add a squirrel or raccoon baffle if predators are in the area. Or add a treat cup to give exhausted parents a mealworm snack and perching branch under the house to give babies a safe place to land their first day out of the nest. 

Bird houses on trees or fences are harder to protect from Red Squirrels or other predators.

Related Articles:
- Best bird houses at Wild Birds Unlimited http://goo.gl/A1dMF
- Product Highlight: Advanced Pole System http://bit.ly/uKRdrZ
- How to Protect My Bluebird House pole: http://bit.ly/vcPUb7
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/A8OFNi
- 5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/x16Dqr
- When do you clean bird houses? http://bit.ly/zpTAiX

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Birds Around the World: Superb Fairy-wren

I am a backyard birder. I love to watch all the activity outside my window at work and in the garden at home. I am very familiar with the nature in my community, but what about other communities.
Male and Female Superb Fairy-wrens. Photo from Wikimedia Commons
I thought it would be fun to take a peek at a bird in a warmer location. Australia’s summer is December to February, the opposite of Michigan. During the breeding season, the male Superb Fairy-wrens are among the most brightly colored birds on south-eastern corner of South Australia. They have rich blue and black plumage above and on the throat. The belly is grey-white and the bill is black. Females are brown with a dull red-orange eye mask and a pale greenish tinted brown tail. Non-breeding males, females and juveniles are predominantly grey-brown in color.

They are common in urban parks and gardens, and can be seen in small social groups. These groups normally consist of one dominant male and several females and young birds. Male Superb Fairy-wrens have been labelled as 'the least faithful birds in the world'. Females may be courted by up to 13 males in half an hour, and 76% of young are sired by males from outside the social group.

In the spring they build a dome-shaped nest of grasses and other fine material. It is usually placed in a low bush and is constructed by the female. The female incubates the eggs alone, but both sexes feed the young. Other members of the group will also help with the feeding of the young. The Superb Fairywren mainly eats insects and supplements its diet with seeds.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How Do I Start Bird Feeding?

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

Things to remember:

• Make sure you can see the feeder from a comfortable spot in your home. The whole point of adding a feeder to your yard is so that you and your family can enjoy watching the activity.
• Place your feeder where it is visible. Birds generally find their food by sight.
• Sprinkle some seed on the ground to encourage the birds to a new feeding area.
• Use a seed type or seed blend based on the birds in your area.
• Keep your feeders clean and the seed fresh.
Don’t be disappointed if you only see little brown House Sparrows at first. Birds are attracted by activity. If a flock of sparrows deem your feeder good, other species will check out what all the fuss is about and the word will spread quickly.

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

Related Articles:
- When should I clean my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/rtg6LR
- Why Wild Birds Unlimited has the best seed. http://bit.ly/uER81k
- The best bird feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited http://bit.ly/rzl7RQ
- What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://bit.ly/vKhfMl
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/rZG7mw
- How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/vcBne9
- Seed Storage Cans and WBU Seed Scoops: http://bit.ly/q6th9R

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why should you clean out your bird house

I have a couple of bird houses that wrens nested in last year. Will they come back to nest in the same place and is now a good time to clean out the old nest?

If you haven’t already cleaned out your birdhouses, that should be done as soon as possible. By cleaning out a nest box you help deter parasite infestation, a predator’s ability reach a nest and it’s a good time to evaluate the house’s condition.

You should definitely clean out all bird houses at least once a year. I like to clean them in the fall after nesting season. But if you didn't get a chance to clean house in the fall you should do it as soon as possible.

You can clean out bluebird boxes after each nesting or at least every fall because they aren’t good excavators. Bluebirds just build on top of old nests until the babies are sometimes too close to the entrance hole and fall out before they are ready to fly. A high nest is also easier for predators to reach in and disturb a nest.

Wrens can clean out their own box and the presence of a used House Wren nest may actually encourage wrens to re-nest. But you should check to make sure the nest doesn’t have any unhatched eggs or pests. If it’s a mess inside and the drainage holes are plugged go ahead and clean it out. You can leave some sticks below the house to help them rebuild.

To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest and just sweep everything in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

Whether the same bird comes back to your nest is determined by several factors. Is the nest box clean and still in good condition, did they have a successful breeding season last year, and did they get there early enough to claim the nesting sight again and defend the territory? It’s possible to have the same wren family move in the same house year after year or a wily chickadee or sparrow may spot the house and try to claim it first.

WARNING: Please remove all winter wreaths from your doors. We get calls every spring about birds making their nests in holiday wreaths. Anyone who places hanging plants on a covered porch in the spring or leaves a holiday wreath hanging on the door may find that by April a female House Finch has begun to build a nest in it.

Once a House Finch pair has built a nest in a hanging plant, on a wreath, or over a light fixture, etc., there is little to do but enjoy the experience and wait for the young to fledge (three to four weeks). You can continue to use the door or water the plants but the nest should not be relocated. 

Related Articles:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Short-eared Owl

In contrast with many other owls, Short-eared Owls begin foraging during daylight or early evening. These owls may continue to be active into the night, but usually cease activity after nightfall. They have a tendency to form communal roosts during the winter months.

Pair formation begins in mid-February and continues through June. Short-eared owls don't hoot like forest-dwelling owls. These open grassland and meadow owls perform dramatic courtship dances where the male claps his wings together on each down-stroke and makes short dives in the spring. Once mated they nest on the ground in protection provided by tall grasses. They often return to the same nests.

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Watch birds raise a family this year

I really want to watch birds raise a family this year in a bird house. When do I put it up and do you have houses in stock? ~ Lansing, Michigan

It's never too early or too late to put up a bird house. If you listen, you've probably already noticed the excitement in the air. Every day the sun is rising a little earlier and the days are getting longer. Pretty soon when I wake up in the morning, I'll be able to watch the birds outside my window sitting on the tips of branches and breaking out in song to mark their territory.

Home Tweet Home
It's hard to believe, but a lot of the birds that winter in Michigan have already begun to scout for good nesting areas. At Wild Birds Unlimited we can help you choose a good, functional bird house that is right for where you live. Not all birds are going to use birdhouses. Depending on where you live, some birds that use houses are House sparrows, wrens, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, flickers, bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Purple Martins, Screech Owls, American Kestrels and Wood Ducks.

Best Nest
Just like feeders, it's best to find a house that is designed well and easy to clean. Look for homes with an easy clean out, proper ventilation, drainage holes, untreated wood, or recycled plastic houses with the proper design. Not all birdhouses are equal. Studies show the inside dimension, the shape and the diameter of the opening determine what birds it will attract. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, Michigan store always has a wide selection of functional bird houses available.

Create Habitat
People provide bird houses or "nest boxes" because in nature most of these birds use tree hollows or old woodpeckers' nests. But today we are quick to remove dead and decaying trees with holes because they could become dangerous and fall in storms. So we help Mother Nature by providing alternate homes.
In return the birds will do their best to decimate the bug population in your yard by stuffing their kids' mouths. And they are also educational and entertaining to watch!

Related Articles:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Photo Share: Mourning Dove on snowy day

Thank you for sharing your wonderful 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, February 20, 2014

Make your yard a magnet for birds

Can you have too many feeders? My son says I’ll attract mice if I put up another feeder. ~ Mason, Michigan

The easiest way to address your son’s concern is feed only food that the birds eat so there is little or no mess left behind for the mice. Make sure you never pick up any bird seed blends with filler seeds. The biggest no, no in feeding birds is offering seed blends with milo, oats or other filler seeds that birds won't eat.

Birds kick filler seeds to the ground where they go to waste or attract unwanted rodents. Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) sells the best and freshest seed year round formulated especially for the local mid-Michigan birds. It does not include cheap filler grains that decrease the price per pound of a blend. WBU blends actually end up costing less because there is no wasted seed and it attracts more of the birds that you want to watch.

Good Food
When it comes to wild bird food, there are lots of choices. For birds in Michigan studies indicate that Black-Oil Sunflower, Sunflower Chips, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, or Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types.

Tidy Food
For the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend. 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. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything happily.

Long lasting
Seed Cylinders are also a high-fat, quick-energy food source that is specially-designed to meet your birds' hearty appetites. The Wild Birds Unlimited popular no muss, no fuss Spiral Seed Cylinder Feeder holds cylinders of tightly packed seed held together with gelatin so there is no seed spray. The whole block is completely edible. And depending on bird activity in your yard, a 2lb cylinder packed with energy rich pecans, peanuts and sunflower seeds can last days and a 4.5lb cylinder can last weeks.

Bug eating birds like Suet
If you have never fed Suet, you have missed some great neighbors. Lots of migrating warblers will stop at suet feeder as well as common year-round birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches. By adding Suet to your wild bird's menu, you will also attract wrens, jays, titmice, and the ever popular bluebird.

Best Suet
Not all suets are created equal. 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 have to pick around and pick out all this filler to reach a little suet.

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, no corn, and no millet - no filler ingredients!

Don't forget Water
If you don’t have room for another feeder, you can always add a heated bird bath. Birds can use snow and ice as a source of water but it expends precious caloric energy to convert it to water. If there is an available source of open water, birds can conserve their energy for heat and survival during cold winters. Besides helping birds digest food properly, water helps birds keep their feathers clean and in top condition for effective insulation.

And Houses
Just like feeders, it’s best to find a house that is designed well and easy to clean. Look for homes with an easy clean out, proper ventilation, drainage holes, untreated wood, or recycled plastic houses with the proper design. Not all birdhouses are equal. Studies show the inside dimension, the shape and the diameter of the opening determine what birds it will attract. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, Michigan store always has a wide selection of functional bird houses available.

Related Articles:
- What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/tfT7Ca 
- Where Do Birds Go At Night? http://bit.ly/uoQOBw 
- Help Birds Beat Their Winter Woes http://goo.gl/ZlDTw
- Are there heated birdbaths that are solar? http://bit.ly/tnTrK4

Record Number of Countries Join the Great Backyard Bird Count #GBBC

127 countries submitted bird checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, eclipsing last year’s 110 countries. The four-day count ended Monday, but data are continuing to roll in from around the globe, on pace to surpass last year’s record-breaking count.

The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

Top 10 most frequently reported species (number of checklists reporting this species):

Northern Cardinal, Ella Clem
Species Number of Checklists
Northern Cardinal 50,603
Dark-eyed Junco 48,195
Mourning Dove 41,587
Blue Jay 37,069
Downy Woodpecker 34,555
American Goldfinch 31,397
American Crow 30,452
Tufted Titmouse 30,230
House Finch 30,193
House Sparrow 28, 980

 Top 10 most numerous species (sum of how many individuals were observed across all checklists):

Snow Geese, Larry Jordan
Species Number of Individuals
Snow Goose 1,195,722
Canada Goose 985,763
European Starling 516,723
Mallard 470,340
Red-winged Blackbird 446,496
Ring-billed Gull 409,660
American Coot 391,423
Dark-eye Junco 382,003
American Crow 307,629
American Goldfinch 303,025

Checklists have come from Australia, China, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Iceland, India, Kenya, and even Antarctica! In Canada, participants in British Columbia have racked up the highest provincial total (189) in that country. Participation in the Maritime Provinces is also up with reports from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador already outstripping last year’s totals even before all the data has been entered.

India is the clear superstar outside of North America with nearly 3,000 checklists and the greatest number of species reported at 765!
Country Number of Species Number of Checklists
United States 637 102,839
Canada 231 11,395
India 765 2,913
Australia 488 808
Mexico 632 377
Costa Rica 545 150
United Kingdom 154 146
Portugal 178 135
Puerto Rico 107 132
Honduras 316 99

In North America, California sits atop the leader board with the most checklists and the greatest number of species so far, but New York is nipping at its heels for the checklist record. Ontario, Canada, has jumped into the top 10 for checklists, outdistancing even big birdy states such as Texas, Florida, and North Carolina.
State/Province Number of Species Number of Checklists
California 354 7,607
New York 164 7,161
Pennsylvania 136 6,413
Ontario 144 5,870
Texas 346 5,093
Florida 305 5,011
Ohio 137 4747
Virginia 176 4,537
North Carolina 192 4,500
Michigan 127 3,687

These checklist and species numbers will continue to rise as GBBC participants enter their data for the four days of the count through the end of the month.  Although much more data has yet to be recorded, here are some of the trends noted so far.
  • Fewer Finches
    After last year’s “superflight,” this year’s GBBC reports for 10 irruptive species (mostly finches) are down considerably. This includes reports for the White-winged and Red crossbills, Common and Hoary redpolls, Pine and Evening grosbeaks, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Bohemian Waxwings. These are natural fluctuations in numbers because of variation in seed crops.
  •  Snowy Owl Invasion Continues
    A massive irruption of Snowy Owls into the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes States of the U.S., as well as southeastern Canada, is easily seen in GBBC numbers. Preliminary results show more than 2,500 Snowy Owls being reported in 25 states and 7 provinces of the U.S. and Canada!

  • The Polar Vortex Effect
    The impact of frigid cold in many part of North America has resulted in unusual movements of waterfowl and grebes. With the Great Lakes almost completely frozen, some species, such as the White-winged Scoter and the Long-tailed Duck have fled the frozen lakes and stopped at inland locations where they are not usually found at this time of year. 
Explore what’s being reported with the new “Explore a Location” tool.  See what species are being reported and how many checklists are being turned in at the county, state/province, and country levels.  Participants may also submit photos for the GBBC photo contest or just explore some of the fantastic images that are coming in! An overall summary of the report will be released in a few weeks.

The GBBC is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Advantages to flocking bird behavior

Have you noticed the increased activity of the starling flocks lately. Many birds form flocks year round like starlings, doves, waxwings, crows, jays, and goldfinches. Some species form flocks just during the winter like cardinals, bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches. Flock numbers can vary from a few birds to millions depending on the species. While other birds prefer to remain solitary like hummingbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, and wrens.

Advantages to flocking bird behavior:
Flock of American Goldfinches
1) Protection - When birds join forces to flock together they can spot predators quicker and then mob, distract or confuse attackers.   
2) Foraging efficiency – Sometimes scout birds are sent out in different directions and report back to the flock where the best food can be found. You can hear Blue Jays and American Crows call out in the mornings, signaling to fellow flock members where to find the best food.
3) Finding mates – After nesting season, young chickadees fly off to find a flock to winter with along with a mate for next spring.
4) Continuing Education – Young bluebirds form family groups in the fall. Parent birds continue to teach their young how to survive until they disperse in the spring to find their own mates.
5) Fly in formations – Certain birds’ aerodynamics conserves energy and allow flock members to see each other and communicate while in flight.
6) Roosting – When large flocks congregate at night, their shared body warmth can help them survive extremely cold temperatures.
Advantages to solitary bird behavior:
1) Protection – Single birds are quieter and attract less attention from predators.
Solitary Northern Flicker
2) Foraging efficiency – A solitary woodpecker or hawk can search for food without any competition from any flock members. Birds with low reserves forage alone, but birds with lots of food available flock.
3) Finding mates – Hummingbirds and wrens can find multiple mates while guarding a territory. Birds in flocks have an increased intensity in competing for mates.
4) No pecking order – Solitary birds depend on themselves to survive. If there is a food shortage, dominant birds in the flock feed first and subordinate birds may go hungry.
5) Stay Healthy – There is less risk of disease spreading between birds if they have little contact with each other.  
6) Roosting – Tiny areas can be used to roost at night. A flicker can find a small spot under the eves to spend a chilly night with some protection and little notice.
Related Articles:
-          Northern Cardinals Flock in the Fall http://bit.ly/yzzIAI
-          Do hummingbirds migrate together? http://bit.ly/Asq1WR
-          How to Attract Cedar Waxwings http://bit.ly/AlxIQX
-          Where Bluebirds go in the Winter http://bit.ly/y2frQD
-          Have you ever heard of a wedge of geese? http://bit.ly/zDuqdp

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Birds’ songs herald the approach of spring

There is still a lot of snow on the ground but you may have noticed that as the days get longer, the birds are beginning to sing more. What triggers this change in behavior?

A key part of a bird’s brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to longer days, the cells start to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone, previously associated only with growth and metabolism. It indirectly stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete further hormones called gonadotrophins, causing male birds' testicles to grow and, results in increased singing during breeding season.

So now is the time to be thinking about providing nesting material and nesting boxes to attract wild birds in your yard because there is nothing like birds’ songs to herald the approach of spring.
Related Articles:
- How Birds Sing http://bit.ly/xxf2vn
- How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/wYSqwb
- How Birds Court http://bit.ly/A2qGqS
- Dryer Lint is a NO NO for Nesting Material http://goo.gl/31x9i
- 5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE

Monday, February 17, 2014

How ducks can swim in freezing water

OK - I need a tutorial; Why don't wild fowls' legs freeze in this bitter weather when they are floating in icy ponds, walking on ice/snow?  Must have seen that answer before, but don't have it memorized yet.....Susan

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
When it’s cold outside, the lack of insulation on birds’ legs makes them a site of potential heat loss. But birds’ feet and legs are made up of mainly bone, tendon, and scaly skin. And unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze.

Certain birds like waterfowl also have a heat exchange system in their legs. It is a specialized circulatory pattern to reduce heat lost through the feet when standing in cold water. The arteries and veins in the legs of many birds lie in contact with each other and function as a countercurrent heat exchange system to retain heat.

Similar to a radiator, arterial blood reaching the feet is already cool and venous blood reaching the core has already been warmed. In addition, by constricting the blood vessels in its feet a bird may further decrease heat loss by reducing the amount of blood flow to their feet at low temperatures.

So while the core temperature of a duck or gull standing in ice water may be 104 degrees F, its feet may be only slightly above freezing.

Read the full article on Temperature Regulation and Behavior at: http://www.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Temperature_Regulation.html

Related articles:
- Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/xbZ9lR
- Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
- Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/jrpDX
- How can birds survive this cold weather? http://goo.gl/4v2d4

Sunday, February 16, 2014

#GBBC 2014 Halftime Report

Thanks to all of you who have been out counting birds! The checklists are rolling in from around the globe and are on pace to surpass last year’s record Great Backyard Bird Count. Please continue to submit your checklists to help create a more complete picture of bird populations in your area.

As of mid-morning on Sunday, February 16, (eastern U.S. time zone) we have received checklists from 103 countries, including Australia, China, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Iceland, India, Kenya, and so many more. A sampler of some species and checklist tallies:
Country  Number of Species   Number of Checklists 
United States 591 36,000
Canada 216 4,000
Mexico 523 141
Costa Rica 324 31
Argentina 184 27
Kuwait 99 43
Portugal 140 44
Iceland 45 34
Puerto Rico 80 45

Last year participants tallied more than 40% of the world’s bird species! Will we reach 50% this year? That may depend on participation in three crucial areas: the forests of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. These regions harbor most of the world's bird species and we need reports from those locations. If you have friends or know guides that work in those areas, please get in touch and encourage them to enter their weekend birding tallies to the GBBC!

Although the data are still pouring in, read on to learn about some of the trends we’ve noted so far.

Fewer winter finches across North America
What a difference a year makes. Last year the GBBC documented a finch “superflight,” driven by food shortages in Canada. Ten species of irruptive species (mostly finches) staged a record invasion in areas where they don't usually show up. Compare the White-winged Crossbill reports from last year’s GBBC with what we see so far this year:
2013 GBBC
White-winged Crossbill Reports
  2014 GBBC
White-winged Crossbill Reports

These two maps highlight how dramatically bird populations can fluctuate naturally from year to year—and we could never see the change so clearly defined over the vastness of a continent without your data. We’re seeing a similar pattern with Red Crossbills, Common and Hoary redpolls, Pine and Evening grosbeaks, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Bohemian Waxwing, birds that were more numerous farther south last year as well.

Snowy Owl by Kathy Ferrara,
Massachusetts, 2014 GBBC
The Snowy Owl invasion continues
A massive irruption of Snowy Owls into the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes states of the U.S. has been producing headlines for the past several months. Even though we’re only halfway through the GBBC, we’ve already tallied 327 checklists reporting a total of 476 Snowy Owls in 20 states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada. Compare this to 392 owls from 8 provinces and 14 states during all four days of 2013. As an illustration of how the owls have moved, in 2013 Canada had 46% of the Snowy Owl reports, but this year that number has dropped to 32%. Despite this year's impressive numbers, snowies can still be hard to find. We recommend checking seashores and lakeshores, farm fields, and even cities, where the owls often choose a prominent perch with a good view, such as a utility pole or even the roof of a city building.

The polar vortex effect
In much of North America, we’re shivering through bone-chilling blasts of arctic air also called the “polar vortex.” The impact of this frigid cold on birds is most apparent in areas such as the Great Lakes which are almost completely frozen. Only Lake Ontario has any significant open water now and that has resulted in major movements of waterfowl and grebes. The GBBC is capturing these patterns well.

For example, the White-winged Scoter is not usually found inland in February, but has been widely reported from interior locations over the past few days as has the Long-tailed Duck. This trend is apparent in the maps below showing reports for these two species so far during the GBBC.
2014 GBBC
White-winged Scoter Reports
  2014 GBBC
Long-tailed Duck Reports

Exciting rare birds
One of the more exciting rare birds reported in this year's GBBC is from across the pond. A Yellow-rumped Warbler has been visiting a feeder in central England! This is the first New World warbler ever recorded for the GBBC from the Eastern Hemisphere!
Sinaloa Wren by Donald Sutherland,
Arizona, 2014 GBBC
Some Mexican species have been moving north, with Sinaloa Wren reported during the GBBC for only the second time, along with other species like Rufous-capped Warbler. Climate change is driving movement of Mexican species into the desert Southwest. The GBBC helps to monitor these types of movements from their very first appearance in the country. Will the Sinaloa Wren be a common bird in Arizona 10 years from now? Or will their expansion fizzle out?

India has been a lot of fun to watch during the GBBC! Indian birders have been abuzz on Facebook and other social media to promote the count and their great efforts are showing. Some 500 species and a whopping 1,184 checklists have already been collected with more coming in every hour. With the weekend just half over, India has already found 40% of the regularly occurring species in the country! This includes data from the southern tip of the country to the Himalayas (23 states). Southern India has been most active with Tamil Nadu state reporting half the total species (231) so far and Kerala in the lead for total participation with 535 checklists, thanks to their Common Bird Monitoring initiatives.

Australia’s bird watchers are doing their country proud, especially since the merger of Eremaea Birds with eBird. Of 772 species recorded all-time for Australia, 445 have been found in just these past 2 days, nearly 60% of the total. By the end of the GBBC, Australia may post the highest percentage of its country's avifauna.

If you haven’t already, try some of these activities:
  • Explore what’s being reported with our new “Explore a Location” tool. You can see what species are being reported and how many checklists are being turned in at the county, state/province, and country levels. Just click “Explore Data” on the GBBC or eBird websites and you’ll see the “Explore a Location” tool at the top of the list.
  • Submit photos for the GBBC photo contest or just explore some of the fantastic images that are coming in!
  • Sign up for the GBBC eNewsletter on the website homepage. This is the best way to stay on top of any updates and to get word of the 2014 count summary when it’s ready.
Thanks for counting with us—let’s keep a good thing going!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Crow migration? Raven's in Michigan?

Do Crows migrate in winter? My friend says they do, and that most Crow appearing birds are actually Ravens....I think she's mistaken. Thank you for your help! ~ Dave

Copyright © 2011 Cornell University
Click on All About Birds image for more ID help.
While crows and ravens are both highly intelligent birds and may look similar at first glance, at second glance you can distinguish clearly different behaviors, habitats and even physical characteristics.

We have American Crows year-round in Michigan and it’s not uncommon to see them, especially on garbage day, picking through your neighbors' leftover chicken wings. Most crows prefer open areas with nearby trees like in the suburbs, parks, woodlots, and forest edges. Some crows remain on their territories during the winter gathering in large winter roosts and large flocks searching for food. Winter roosting behavior begins in autumn and peaks mid-winter.

Crows, from tens in the north to hundreds of thousands in the south, will assemble in the late afternoon hours in an area with large trees. However some American Crows do migrate. Researchers have found marked crows from southeastern Michigan as far south as Tennessee, but more often migrants go shorter distances in search of food sources.

The American Crow’s cumbersome sounding scientific name Corvus brachyrhynchos is Latin for “raven with the small nose.” American crows can be distinguished from Common Ravens Corvus corax most easily by size (ravens have a much larger wingspan and well-developed ruff of feathers on the throat, which are called 'hackles'), by voice (ravens are hoarser), by the bill (ravens have heavier, "roman-nosed" bills covered by bristly feathers), and by the shape of the wings and tails (ravens' tails come to a point and crows have a rounded tail).

Copyright © 2011 Cornell University
Click on All About Birds image for more ID help.
Common ravens glide and soar more often than American crows and prefer open landscapes, such as treeless tundra, seacoasts, open riverbanks, rocky cliffs, mountain forests, plains, deserts, scrubby woodlands and now some parts of their range is found in urban areas. Their Michigan range is the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula, and they are common in the jack pine forest.

Ravens often forage in larger groups in areas where resources are concentrated like in landfills, and non-breeding individuals may occupy communal roosts. But most ravens are seen alone or in pairs. Breeding pairs establish nesting territories, which vary in size with the food available in the area. Migration has not been recorded in common ravens, but populations can make short seasonal movements to avoid extreme weather.

For more identification tips and to see a side by side comparison go to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page Similar Species: Crows and Ravens http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2501

Thank you for your question. I hope this helps. Remember to take part in this years Great Backyard Bird Count: http://www.lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2013/02/everyone-can-participate-in-great.html 

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Photo Share: Northern Goshawk?

I was shoveling my driveway yesterday and heard an unusual call from the top of a neighbor's tree. Was this a Northern Goshawk? Feel free to share the picture.

Hello, Thank you for sharing such a fabulous picture! I've never seen a Northern Goshawk, so to be honest, I can't tell from the photo. Did it have a bold whitish eyebrow. All accipiters, including northern goshawks, have a distinctive white grouping of feathers which form a band above the eye (the superciliary). In goshawks this band is thick and more pronounced than in the other members of the species.

The colorings of adult male and female northern goshawks range from slate blue-gray to black. Their backs, wing coverts, and heads are usually dark, and their undersides are white with fine, gray, horizontal barring. Their tails are light gray with three or four dark bands.

Northern Goshawks are mostly silent but you can listen to see if this is the call you heard at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/northern_goshawk/sounds

Thank you Ne for sharing your wonderful 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.