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, October 31, 2014

Photo Share: Chilling bird photos

Pictures of WBU feeders last winter - Anka

Thank you for sharing your photos of the last winter. They sent a chill down my spine. They are perfect to post on this Friday's Photo share for Halloween. - Sarah
 If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The spider is another animal linked to #Halloween

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
 'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
  The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
   And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there.”

“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
 For who goes up your winding stair
  -can ne'er come down again.
~by Mary Howitt,
My neighbor has a giant fake spider hanging by the front door and cotton webbing in the bushes to scare all the trick-or-treaters but it does the real spiders no justice. Spider webs have existed for at least 100 million years.

Spiders produce silk from their spinneret glands located at the tip of their abdomen. Each gland produces a thread for a special purpose – for example a trailed safety line, sticky silk for trapping prey or fine silk for wrapping it.

Webs allow a spider to catch prey without having to go out and forage. However, constructing the web itself costs them a lot of energy because of the large amount of protein required, in the form of silk. It is common for spiders to eat their own web daily to recoup some of the energy used in spinning.

Spiders have always been associated with witches and Halloween. Many superstitions and myths have been handed down for generations and linger on to this day.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Articles:
Myths surrounding owls http://goo.gl/A8lL3w
The origin of pumpkins and Jack O'Lanterns http://goo.gl/vH4FqL
Share the fall harvest with the birds http://goo.gl/0CMJr8
Photo Share: Mother Nature's clean up crew http://goo.gl/9RQnEG

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Black cats are good luck

J.B. is solar powered.
October 29th is National Cat Appreciation Day. At the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan, JB will be celebrating with a special treat of course. He really enjoys sunning himself under the window feeder and trimming his cat nip plant (Thank you Holly for these special plants).

Happy Cat Day to me! Where's my treat!
Black cats are a classic Halloween symbol, and objects of superstition. In Medieval France and Spain, black cats were considered bringers of bad luck and curses to any human they came near, and were associated with witchcraft. Many Medieval Germans believed themselves to be cursed if a black cat crossed their path from left to right.

Black cats, however, have also served as symbols of good luck in numerous cultures. In the British Islands, black cats are often believed to bring wealth to any house they occupied. In Japan, they are also considered to bring good luck. And in Ancient Egypt, black cats were worshiped as sacred.

Source: How Black Cats Came To Halloween

Related Articles:
My Favorite Weed: All About Catnip http://goo.gl/txqoL
The Trials of Living in a Bird Store http://goo.gl/1hzvES
Cats Indoors! http://goo.gl/B64Go
Do You Take Your Cats Home at Night? http://goo.gl/gm8mP
A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats http://goo.gl/iWHHo

Monday, October 27, 2014

Why blackbirds are a sign of impending bad luck

Why are birds with black plumage the subject of so many unpleasant stories and superstitions all over the world?

The only conclusion that I can come to is because a lot of these black colored birds are clever enough to out smart people. Crows, Grackles, and Starlings are very intelligent birds and tend to work together in family groups to get what they want and what they want is a lot of food generally.

When they go after birdseed we’ve designated for Cardinals only there is always a problem. They can empty a feeder in a day and a suet feeder in minutes. But that doesn’t mean they are any less deserving.

I wonder if they were brilliant red or indigo blue if they would be more loved or excused of their “bad habits"? Most of the black colored birds aren’t beautiful songster either, but they can learn to imitate human speech. Although that didn't help the image of the bird in Edgar Allen Poe's poem "The Raven".

Most blackbirds are also good scavengers and clean up many road kills or garbage littering the roads. In the fall you can watch them gather in large roosts. This sometimes includes millions of birds that blanket groups of trees or fly in intricate patterns across the sky.

Now that Halloween is approaching let's look again at our black feathered friends and see if we can find something nice to say about the much maligned black birds.

Related Articles:
Myths surrounding owls http://goo.gl/A8lL3w
The origin of pumpkins and Jack O'Lanterns http://goo.gl/vH4FqL
Share the fall harvest with the birds http://goo.gl/0CMJr8
Photo Share: Mother Nature's clean up crew http://goo.gl/9RQnEG

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Myths surrounding owls

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tufted Titmouse: Not shy but introverted

As cold weather moves in and the active bug population decreases we get to see more sightings of the Tufted Titmice at the feeders! This self-contained little bird is often found foraging with flocks of chickadees during the winter months. They do not migrate extensively. In fact most live their entire lives within a few miles of their birthplace.

The big black doll eyes of this small gray bird make them irresistible. They are attracted mainly to feeders that offer suet, nuts or sunflower seeds. If you have sharp eyes you may spot them as they slide by unnoticed among the branches of the trees and hanging upside down while searching beneath twigs for insects.  

Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. The titmouse family bond is so strong that the young from one breeding season will often stay with their parents long enough to help them with nesting and feeding duties the following year.

Tit is an old English word meaning little and mase meant small bird. The name titmase morphed eventually into titmouse. This was probably because the bird's coloring does sort of remind people of a small mouse. But actually the meaning of the name Titmouse is small, little bird.

Related Articles:
Bird of the Week: Small gray and white bird with tuft http://goo.gl/6dRVfF
Tufted Titmouse’s song is a fast-repeated, clear whistle http://goo.gl/cF55yP
Titmice Fun Facts http://goo.gl/nggZtM
Why offer peanuts to birds http://goo.gl/QK4t7K

Friday, October 24, 2014

How bug eating birds survive the winter

Chickadee rides a flower head while examining it for seeds
From sunrise to sunset, the chickadee spends most of its time feeding. The natural diet of the Black-capped Chickadee consists of 50% insects, insect eggs, larvae and pupae, as well as spiders, and 50% seeds and berries in the winter. Every time I fill the feeder, little woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees are around to let me know they are doing their best to reach the end of my bottomless buffet of birdseed.

Goldenrod Gall
Birds are excellent food foragers. They don’t need a feeder to survive normally, but I enjoy watching them up close, so I provide them with ample seeds and suets. I also provide them with lots of trees, bushes, flowers, and vines that produce fruits, nuts and berries.

Bugs and bug larvae are also hidden but available if you know where to look. Sometimes they are buried in the fallen leaves or in the crevices of tree bark. Another tasty treat for bug eating birds is the Goldenrod Gall Fly larva. You may have noticed golf ball sized growths on dried goldenrod stems. Did you think maybe it was some weird seed pod development? It’s actually a spherical gall bed for larva to develop.

The female Goldenrod Gall Fly lays her eggs on young goldenrod stems in the spring. In about 10 days the eggs hatch and larva burrows down into the plant stem. The larva's saliva, which is thought to mimic plant hormones, results in the plant producing exaggerated plant growth or galls to provide the larva with both food and protection over the winter.

Woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice and nuthatches can peck into the galls to extract the tasty and energy rich larva inside. In some areas, it can be a very important food source for birds.

Related Articles:
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/nImz5g
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men 
- What is the best bird feeder? http://bit.ly/qVr7i8

Photo Share: Eastern Bluebirds and the last hummingbird

Here are some pics for you...

Thank you for sharing. If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Photo Share: Fall Colors

We went on a canoe ride in Lansing, MI last Sunday. The colors were beautiful! We also saw wood ducks, herons, turtles, deer, salmon and lots of other stuff.

Thank you for sharing. If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to select the best bird seed

I'm feeding No-mess bird seed. Is that the best blend for winter?

No-mess is the only blend I use personally and Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess bird seed is our most popular blend with our customers by far. I have to order so much that it is sometimes hard to find a place to stack the extra tonnage on the floor.

No-Mess Blend is unique because it 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 with the hulls removed, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet, also with the hulls removed. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything.

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. All our Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends have been formulated regionally 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, jays, 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.

Each of our blends is mixed to attract the widest variety of 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.

Related Articles:
What birds like peanuts? http://bit.ly/zispJK
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP
Why pay more for seed at Wild Birds Unlimited? http://bit.ly/xJZMFe
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Leave the goldfinch feeder up for winter finches

Am I supposed to leave the goldfinch feeder up during the winter? I thought they migrated south.
I love the American Goldfinches and mid-Michigan is lucky enough to have these birds year round. If you enjoyed watching them in the summer and fall, they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.

Winter also brings down some Canadian finches like the redpolls and siskins.

And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to smash it with a spoon on white paper and see if any oil spots are produced. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Finally, remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the finches love.

Related Articles:
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/pEuMKo
- House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/opD7kb
- Bird of the week: Pine Siskin http://bit.ly/qNqIuK
- Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
- Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan http://goo.gl/C9WUqx
- Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4

Monday, October 20, 2014

Where birds go when it rains

I'm wondering when it is raining really heavy, where do the birds go? I don't see or hear them in the trees. Where do they shelter themselves? - Ricky

Roosting pocket make a cozy shelter
You need to look a little lower for birds when it storms. Many birds take shelter in a dense group of bushes lower to the ground or even in leaf or brush piles. I had a little finch on my front porch taking shelter behind a pumpkin.

Bird houses and roosting pockets also give protection during a storm. Wrens, chickadees, sparrows, woodpeckers and bluebirds often pop in bird houses when shelter is required from heavy rains or snow.

The small birds fly as little as possible and try to wait out storms. This is when they appreciate bird feeders the most.
During storms birds may think of your feeder as a known source of food. While not dependent on feeders, birds don't feel like foraging for food in bad weather. Feeders make it easier for wild birds to brave a storm and refuel. 

Related Articles:

How can birds fly in the rain? http://goo.gl/JOeMVM
How to Help Keep Your Birds Warm http://goo.gl/GNaFLo
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy

Please Miss, can you spare a nibble?

After filling the feeders, I sometimes give a Blue Jay call to alert the birds that their dinner is served. However sometimes I give a little "chip, chip, chip" call to alert little ground beggers that I just might have spilled a little food for them to clean up.

Chipmunks get their name because they are often seen perched 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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Climate change alters cast of winter birds

A mix of birds gather around a snow-covered bird feeder during a winter day. According to UW researchers, birds typically found in more southerly regions are gradually pushing north. Photo: Martha Allen/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Over the past twenty years, the common birds at eastern North America’s backyard bird feeders in winter have changed subtly, most likely as a result of a warming climate. In this week's journal Global Change Biology, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife biologists Benjamin Zuckerberg and Karine PrincĂ© document that once rare wintering bird species are now commonplace.
Photo: Carolina wrens
Carolina wrens have greatly expanded their wintering range
Photo: Michele Black/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Using more than two decades of data on 38 species of birds gathered by thousands of “citizen scientists” through the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, the researchers show that birds typically found in more southerly regions are moving north gradually, restructuring the communities of birds that spend their winters in northern latitudes.

“Fifty years ago, cardinals were rare in the northeastern United States. Carolina wrens even more so,” explains Zuckerberg.

The researchers measured the changes over time in the abundance of 38 bird species at feeders in eastern North America, over a 22-year period on the flocks of birds that gather at backyard feeding stations.

Zuckerberg says. “Birds have always been very good indicators of environmental change.” PrincĂ© notes that other environmental changes, such as the pervasive human impact on landscape, may also be exerting an influence on the observed changes in the composition of birds attending winter feeding stations in eastern North America. “Climate change should not be viewed as the sole driver of changes in winter bird communities, but this signal is a pretty strong,” she explains.

Journal reference: Global Change Biology
Provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison

Related Articles:
Cardinals move north: http://goo.gl/kiMcIW
Everyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/WM83on
House Wren didn't migrate this winter http://goo.gl/2JlaCz
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://goo.gl/kPTb9v

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Strange looking cardinal

My mom has strange looking cardinals in her backyard. They seem to have crossbred with another variety. Some have dark beaks some have mottled red-brown feathers. Have observed a red male northern Cardinal feeding a young with a dark beak. Any ideas?

Photo from WunderPhotos
These are late season juvenile cardinals. Babies always have dark beaks and look like they've been rolled in ashes. As the baby boys mature, more colorful red feathers will appear until they look like normal adults.

Right now they are looking for a lot of weed seeds, fruits, nuts and berries in the wild. At the feeders you can provide highly nutritious and protein packed foods like sunflower and safflower seeds as well as peanuts.

Related Articles:
Northern Cardinal Fun Facts http://bit.ly/twE6NV
How the Northern Cardinal bird was named http://bit.ly/tSKZYs
Cardinal Bird Feeders Made in the USA: http://bit.ly/qXJPFM
How to Attract Cardinals: http://bit.ly/pjh7mO
What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/rAArXw
What are the different types of cardinal birds? http://goo.gl/CUI43

Friday, October 17, 2014

Photo Share: Savannah Sparrow

Not all streaky brown birds are impossible to identify. The Savannah Sparrow, an understated but distinctive sparrow, has a short tail, small head, and telltale yellow spot before the eye. One of Michigan's most common open-country birds, they are often seen and heard in open fields or on the side of highways looking for food.

The Savannah Sparrow’s name sounds like a nod to its fondness for grassy areas, but this species was actually named for a specimen collected in Savannah, Georgia.

Few overwinter in mid-Michgan. Most will move further south by the end of October.

Related Articles:
Different sparrows in Michigan http://goo.gl/Y2B5HH
Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1
How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/rquunU
Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/0qggF
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Share the fall harvest with the birds

Now is the time for fall harvest. As you start preparing for the holidays, don’t forget about your birds! Here are a few ways to take advantage of seasonal items to attract birds to your yard:
1. Squash and pumpkin seeds Whether you are carving a pumpkin, or preparing a pumpkin pie, set aside the seeds. Nuthatches love them, and many other birds will eat them as well. You also may have noticed squirrels rearranging the face of your Jack O’Lantern as they have quick nibble.
2. Apples When you are making apple pies don’t throw away the apple cores. There are a number of birds which may be attracted to apples, including Cardinals. You can also roll birdseed in with extra pie dough and bake it in the shape of a bagel. When cool hang from trees. The pie crust usually has lots of fat which is substitute for the insects that birds eat but are not plentiful in cold weather.
5. Nuts Many insect eating birds greatly appreciate this high protein food. Too much salt isn’t good for the birds, but a few leftover party nuts mixed with other bird seed can be a treat. You can also collect nuts from the trees in your neighborhood, including acorns and walnuts.
6. Peanut Butter Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk. You’ll be surprised how many cute birds this will attract up and down your tree. Or spread Peanut butter on pine cones, old bread, or cookies. Then roll them in birdseed and hang them on your bushes with raffia string.
7. Ornamental Corn Autumn decorations for your home can also provide the birds with food. Blue Jays and Squirrels will enjoy ornamental corn.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How to identify baby chipmunks

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
How come we never see baby or very young chipmunks???? - Cheers, Peter
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Mommas raise babies alone. At birth the young are 2.5 in long, blind, naked, and weigh about 0.1 oz. She nurses them and feeds them in her underground burrow until their eyes open at 30 days. Young chipmunks then begin to emerge from the burrow at 40 days looking like brand clean, skinny adults.

The female weans and abandons her litter once they come above ground, by either moving them to a nearby burrow, or by leaving her young in the natal burrow while she moves to a new one. In either case, the young disperse about two weeks later.
Potential life span for an adult chipmunk is 8 years, but few adults live longer than 2-3 years. Most of the chipmunks you see in June are probably very young.

Thank you so much Sarah.  We moved to the country several years ago and have Chippies as neighbours. However, never been able to figure out the large ups and downs in their number from year to year and how come we never see babies like we do with the raccoons. We did see one get picked off by a hawk right in front of our car which was not a pretty sight! - Cheers, Peter

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/X4Sqf

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New bird in the neighborhood warns cold weather coming

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big, round gray papery ball not an oriole nest

Good morning, I was all over the web this morning trying to identify a bird nest we saw in our backyard today. As the leaves were falling off the tree, we noticed this giant nest. Based on your description, we think it is oriole nest. May I ask what you think? - Diana in Aurora, CO

In Michigan we have Northern Paper Wasps that make these nests. Out west it might be a Bald-faced Hornet nest or some other yellow jacket wasps nest. The insects chew up fibers from dead wood and plant stems, and mix it with saliva to construct water-resistant nests that look like gray or brown papery material.

Wasps feed their young liquefied bugs, with caterpillars, flies and spiders comprising the largest food groups in the insects diet during most of the summer. The food demands of growing colonies are so great that it has been estimated that more than 2 pounds of insects may be removed from a 2,000-square-foot garden a day.

However in late summer, wasps start looking for flower nectar and other sources of sugar, which are necessary nutrients for the next season’s queens. Fewer young are being raised in the nests, which leaves many individuals with little to do. At this point they may wear out their welcome as they swarm hummingbird feeders.

Predators of adult wasps include birds (at least 24 species are known to eat wasps, including blackbirds, magpies, starlings), spiders and frogs. Raccoons, fox and skunks will also rip nests open in the fall, when they aren't as active to eat adults, pupae, and larvae.

A Baltimore Oriole nest looks different. The female weaves the nest, usually 3 to 4 inches deep, with a small opening, 2 to 3 inches wide, on top and a bulging bottom chamber, 3 to 4 inches across, where her eggs will rest. Construction materials can include grass, strips of grapevine bark, wool, and horsehair, as well as artificial fibers such as cellophane, twine, or fishing line.

We had received a call back from our pest control company that informed us that it was a paper wasp nest. They are coming next week to remove it. I was actually glad it was not a bird nest as it looked so ominous.

In response to the photo posted, I saw this empty nest last Saturday, it shows what the nest looks like on the inside.  Interesting!  Kerry

Related articles:
Bird Nest Basics http://bit.ly/sqNq0u
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/uWN7fE
Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/GRg910
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/GGuobs

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Why birds eat ash

Why are my sparrows eating barbecue ashes?? - Via Twitter

Ashes can supply the birds with a number of important minerals, especially calcium. Some songbirds in search of calcium may have started to look in unusual places because pollution has depleted it in the environment.

Another explanation for birds rummaging in charcoals is for grit. The gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of some birds and is used to grind up food. A lot of grain eating birds swallow small stones, shells, and sand occasionally to break apart hard seeds as they pass through the ventriculus also known as the gizzard. The grinding stones in the bird's gizzard wear down eventually and pass through the bird but are replaced with new stones the bird swallows.

Finally birds may be looking for any food scraps. While most of our backyard birds visit seed feeders some also enjoy animal fat. Birds can be found pecking the fat off a dead deer's body, investigating road kill, looking for fat drippings in a barbecue or eating a suet cake in a feeder.

This was a very good observation. Thank you for sending in the question.

Related articles:
How birds chew food without teeth http://goo.gl/DbpvMc
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/vn2HK3
Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/jrpDX
Keep the birds from pecking the paint off your house: Put out eggshells http://goo.gl/2SCldN

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Birds look for highly nutritious foods

A bird’s diet must fuel a metabolism that can require up to a whopping 10,000 calories a day (equivalent to a human consuming 155,000 calories). A bird’s inner furnace burns especially hot during flight, the breeding season and on the coldest days.

This means birds must make highly efficient choices about what they eat. A backyard feeder is an especially efficient place to forage because it mimics what scientists call a “resource patch,” a cluster of food much like a fruit-laden apple tree.

But don’t worry that birds will become too dependent on your feeders. Evolutionary pressures encourage birds to continuously sample a wide variety of foods because any bird that becomes dependent on a single patch or type of food will perish if it runs out.

The National Wildlife Federation did a 2005–2008 study on which foods attract the most birds and keep them the healthiest. Fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, white proso millet, safflower, Nyjer thistle seed and high quality suets are some of the best choices.

The study also emphasizes that for birds, eating is not only about nutrition but about consuming a lot of food very quickly while avoiding predators. This makes the easy to eat, already shelled no-mess blend, very attractive to the birds.

No shells on the seeds makes the no-mess blend attractive to me, since there's no debris or weeds on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, this blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells and the birds eat everything.

Related Articles:
- Common winter birds in Michigan and their food preference: http://bit.ly/yp9YQA
- How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to winterize your bird feeding station http://bit.ly/xucuF8
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/vZ6gzM
- Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/5FpPr7

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hummingbird flying south and flower divided in color

Good morning, Here are a couple pictures for you, but as you can tell, I’m not a very good photographer. I’m from southern Indiana.
The hummingbird was taken through a window, this is why the photo is somewhat fuzzy. He is enjoying the early morning just as the sun was rising, sitting on the very top of my viburnum bush; the post in the background is my hummingbird mister.

The zinnia I found in my butterfly garden.
Thank you, Lori 

Hello, The viburnum was the favorite perching spot for my hummers too. I haven't seen them here for a couple weeks and the males have been gone much longer.

I found an explanation for the half and half colored Zinnia in a video talking about transposon activity in plants if you are interested: http://youtu.be/4BSf2F2L_P4

I'm excited to share your very interesting photos on the Friday Photo post. Thank you for sharing your observations. If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

5 Tips to Meet Birds' Winter Food Needs

Studies show the average bird forages for food about five hours per day to meet their energy requirements. As the seasons change, consider the following tips to meet your wintering backyard birds’ nutritional needs as well as attract some migrating visitors.

1. Look for Fresh Seed

Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) sells the best and freshest seed year round formulated especially for the local mid-Michigan birds. We receive tons of it delivered weekly.
2. Offer Birds Preferred Blends
WBU blends contain no wasted "filler" seeds so it attracts more of the birds that you want to watch. For birds in Michigan, studies indicate that Sunflower seed, Peanuts, White Proso Millet, Safflower, and Nyjer® Thistle are among the most preferred seed types.  
3. Choose Food that Produces Less Mess
For the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend. This Blend features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. No hulls on the seeds means 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.
4. Discover Foods that Last Longer
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 weeks and a larger cylinder can last a month or more.
5. Attract Different Birds
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, nuthatches and titmice. The 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, or other filler ingredients!

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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Baby goldfinches spread their wings (but don't always go very far)

A Birdy with a yellow bill hopped upon my windowsill. Very exciting! BJ watches the bird. Sage is there too but she doesn't show. - Lansing, MI

If you've ever wondered why the goldfinches go through so much Nyjer® (thistle) in the fall, it may be because you are lucky enough to see the parents bringing their babies to your feeder. Goldfinches don't mate in the Spring like most birds - they begin nesting at the end of Summer, and raise their babies through the end of October. So for every two American Goldfinches you may have had at your Feeders during the Spring and early Summer, you probably now have another four hungry babies tagging along.

Weather has turned chilly fast this year, so along with learning how to find food and water, they also have to find their way in this wide world. It's common for baby finches just learning how to fly to bump into windows or find perches in unusual spots.

I'm glad your bird watchers are indoors. Thank you for sharing your observations.

Related Articles:
European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting http://bit.ly/PZuejj
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

20 miles by foot is shortest recorded bird migration in USA

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Migratory birds exhibit great variation in the distance of their migratory journeys, with some short-distance migrants moving just a few miles and some long-distance migrants traveling several thousand miles.

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
Solving the Mysteries of Migration with Wind Tunnels http://bit.ly/qg0F53
How many birds would you say die or get injured during migration? http://bit.ly/r5o3NQ