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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Photo Share: Practice for #GBBC

Thought you might like to see some of the friends in my yard. Paula Rolling on the floor laughing
This is a great snapshot of backyard bird-life! I hope everyone is watching their birds and practicing for the Great Backyard Birdcount. To learn more about how to join the count visit www.birdcount.org.

Thank you Paula for sharing your wonderful 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 30, 2014

A closer look at Northern Cardinals

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

A red bird that is common on Christmas cards, the male Northern Cardinal is recognized easily by most people. Except for a black mask and throat, the male cardinals are red all over including their bill. The females are less recognizable. They are shaped like the male but are a duller grey brown color and have only warm red accents on the tips of their crest, wings and bill.

The Cardinals stay in Michigan year-round and don’t migrate but can expand their range while foraging for food. Older previously mated pairs will join flocks of about four to twenty birds depending on the area, time of year, weather, and available resources.  Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and can join different flocks away from their natal territory in search of food and possible mates for spring.

Cardinals prefer to feed on the ground so if you can "raise the ground" by feeding cardinals on tray feeders, hopper feeders or any feeder that gives them a comfortable feeding position they'll be happy. Their favorite food is oil sunflower, nuts, safflower and fruit. Wild Birds Unlimited has a wide variety of cardinal friendly feeders.

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A closer look at Dark-eyed Juncos

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Dark-eyed Junco male by Simon Pierre Barrette
Dark-eyed Juncos have a slate colored head, back, tail and throat and a white belly. Right before they perch or when they face another bird, they raise and fan their tails, flashing white outer tail feathers.

It is common to see juncos hopping under Michigan feeders in the winter first thing in the morning and right before sunset. They are a very social birds after nesting is complete during the autumn and winter months. Winter flocks tend to be small, typically 15 to 25 individuals.
You’ll see Dark-eyed juncos wintering in the same area year after year. The flock stays in an area roughly 10 to 12 acres in size, but not all members of the flock are together all of the time.

There is a social hierarchy within the winter flocks. Males tend to be dominant over females and adults are dominant over the younger birds. Because males are dominant over females in winter flocks, females have less access to food. Therefore, they do not fair well in flocks composed of many males. Females tend to winter farther south away from the males.

Dark-eyed Junco female by Simon Pierre Barrette
Males need to risk harsh winters in Michigan in order to be closer to their breeding grounds. Females do not need to compete for territories in the spring and can take their time returning from southern states. The younger males winter the farthest north and must work hard to claim a breeding spot in early spring.

Juncos, like many other members of the sparrow family, eat a variety of insects and seeds mainly on the ground. What seeds they prefer can differ across the country.

Black oil sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract juncos to tray or ground bird feeders. You’ll also see the juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.

Related Articles:
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/Bc2uGD
- Fun Facts About Juncos http://bit.ly/pgewJn
- What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/puRjIr
- Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/nURO99
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/pwEqIz

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A closer look at American Goldfinches

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Winter Plumage
It is below zero in the Chicago area and the goldfinches have been missing from my feeders for a few days now. The nyjer seed is fresh, fresh water is available but the temperature with the chill factor is about -20. Have the goldfinches actually migrated south? Did they go into a torpor state in a snow cave? Did they die? I have never seen them leave before.

Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year. They have bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall. The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt too. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a buffy yellow orange color.

American Goldfinches are partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually and if it is a rough winter they can become nomadic. Their winter range includes southern Canada and stretches south through the United States to parts of Mexico. During heavy snowstorms they may move further south to find food only to move back when the weather clears.

Summer Plumage
To stay warm on a cold winter’s night, American Goldfinches have been known to burrow under the snow to form a cozy sleeping cavity. They will also roost together in coniferous trees or roosting pockets. But they'll awake in the morning famished.

American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds. I have dozens of goldfinches right now attacking my window feeder full of No-Mess Blend, a seed blend full of sunflower seeds without the shell.

When your goldfinches return they will appreciate the heated bird bath. The goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water because of their almost exclusive diet of seeds.

Related Articles:
- Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
- European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
- Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
- Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a

Monday, January 27, 2014

A closer look at House Finches

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

House Finches are native to the western part of the United States. In the 1940's a shipment of house finches was illegally introduced into Long Island, New York. Eventually the population became established and spread throughout the eastern portion of the United States and now are seen in almost every state.

House Finches are small songbirds about the same size as House Sparrows. Males are buff colored birds with light brown stripes all over that are touched with rosy-pink on the head, throat and rump. Females are buff colored birds with light brown stripes all over and normally have no red.

House finches are socially monogamous. Where you see the male you usually see the female nearby. They are not territorial. In fact, they often nest in close association, and commonly occur in small groups or flocks. In groups, males and females usually establish dominance hierarchies, in which females are typically dominant over males. Throughout most of their range, house finches do not migrate. They are year-round residents in Michigan.

As the House in their name implies, they like to nest near humans. They are common nesters in wreaths, hanging plants or bushy landscape plants from March to August.

At the feeders I’ve found their favorite seed is safflower. They will also eat Nyjer (thistle), Sunflower Chips, and Oil Sunflower Seed.

Related Articles:
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan: http://bit.ly/oL3iCF 
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/Bc2uGD
- 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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A closer look at House Sparrows

Get to know your birds before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

House Sparrows can be found all across the world. They are so common in most cities that they are sometimes overlooked. Their name House comes from their success with the living near human habitations.

Male House Sparrows have a rusty-brown colored back and wings with black streaks, a gray head, buff cheeks and belly, and a black bib. Females are a plain buffy-brown overall with striped buff, black, and brown back.

House Sparrows were introduced to New York, USA in 1851 and are considered by many to be a nuisance species because they are an aggressive competitor with native birds for nesting habitat.

In many other parts of the world the house sparrow has been in decline since the 1970’s. They are even considered an endangered species in the Netherlands. Similar drops in population have been recorded in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Finland.

In rural areas, changes in farming practices are thought to have affected house sparrows. But in urban and suburban areas the causes have been more complex, with everything from cats to air pollution and pesticides being blamed.

House sparrows avoid predation by foraging in small flocks so that there are many eyes watching out for potential predators. However I’ve witnessed several species of hawks and owls feeding on sparrows.

At the feeders you will see the House Sparrow eating mainly sunflower seed, millet and cracked corn.  

Related Articles:
- Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
- How to get rid of sparrows http://goo.gl/9tAwkY
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/Bc2uGD
- Book Recommendations for Michigan Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/x5t2gv
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ywWdfL

Saturday, January 25, 2014

People who care about birds can change the world

From Michigan to Mongolia, bird watchers from more than 100 countries are expected to participate in the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), the second weekend in February.

Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count days and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org.

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 Wild Birds Unlimited, as a sponsor!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit www.birdcount.org.


Your GBBC Tool Kit:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Photo Share: Red birds feasting on safflower cylinder

People ask me all the time, "What bird likes the safflower seed?" This is a great photo that shows a couple of birds that savor safflower.

Safflower is a bitter seed that most mammals, like squirrels and raccoons, will avoid. The starlings and blackbirds don't like it either but I've found that a lot of red birds like safflower. Along with the Northern Cardinals and House Finches I've found woodpeckers, chickadees, and nuthatches also like safflower.

This safflower is in the shape of a cylinder and held together with gelatin. It is a great way stop birds from scattering seed. They actually stick around longer too because they have to work to get a seed off the cylinder.

Thank you Lynnette 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, January 23, 2014

LoveHearts: A great little treat for your bird friends

These cute bird seed hearts are handmade with ingredients the birds in Michigan love! The seed & nut or straight safflower LoveHearts come with raffia bow for easy hanging and are bagged individually for easy gift giving.

Decorate a tree in your own backyard or pass them out to your friends and family so they can enjoy the birds in their yard. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing will have them only for a limited time.

Related Articles: 
- Let's all share Nature's bounty http://bit.ly/tgPkrv 
- Edible ornaments for the birds http://bit.ly/tXDnSB
- Decorate a Tree for Your Birds http://bit.ly/t3QtGV
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/tUElnw

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Michigan Robins in January

Me and my family were just was wondering why robins would be here in Michigan in January and even while we were experiencing arctic air!  My sister and brother-n-law saw over hundred in their yard, they came flying in and trying to eat off of the trees and ground around the trees where there was no snow. We usually do not see our first robin here until March! The snow and the temperatures have been bad here so I can’t imagine why they came here unless it was even worse up in Canada. We live in Southwestern lower Michigan in Buchanan. Any thoughts?

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

After nesting season has ended, they usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts.  

You can feed robins chopped apples, suet, mealworms, or nuts on a tray feeder. I like to put out a Wild Birds Unlimited Cranberry Fare seed block that is full of pecans and fruit when the robins visit.

They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

Read more at: What in the world are the Robins still doing here? http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2010/01/what-in-world-are-robins-still-doing.html

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Camera disguised as egg takes unexpected trip by way of bird of prey

http://jdp.co.uk/programmes/penguins-spy-in-the-huddle

Read more about the EggCam, the SnowCam, and the Underwater PenguinCam
With their feisty nature, penguins can bring up their young against the most extraordinary odds. Penguins – Spy in the Huddle, a wildlife film from BBC and Discovery, spends nearly a year in their close company, deploying 50 spy cameras to capture the true character of what it’s really like to be a penguin.

The spycams are disguised cleverly as life-size penguins, eggs and snowballs to infiltrate the penguins’ colonies secretly. They chart the challenges penguins face from the moment they emerge from the sea to raise their chicks to their final return to the water.

Along the way a Striated Caracara, a bird of prey, becomes intrigued by a spy egg-cam and decides to steal it. The following video is the first ever aerial footage of a rockhopper penguin colony shot by a flying bird.

Related Articles: 
Video of Crow sledding on jar lid http://goo.gl/fWZKSz 
Crows: Are they Feathered Apes? http://bit.ly/LvWgge  
Do penguins make good pets? http://goo.gl/LUOnt4

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Bald Eagle continues to overcome adversity

- Bald Eagles, due mostly to human interactions, have been on the 'endangered species' list, moved to the 'threatened' list and have been recovering well with breeding pair introductions in many states.
- The Bald Eagle lives throughout a large part of North America, primarily in the US and Canada, and is usually found near rivers and bodies of water.
- Bald Eagles are opportunistic feeders and usually prefer to eat fresh fish. During winter, they will eat more birds, mammals and carrion.
- Bald Eagles usually hunt from a high perch and glide down to catch their prey. They will strike from the air and are known to wade into shallow streams or rivers for fish.
- Bald Eagles are pulled into the water occasionally while trying to catch large fish and then, using their wings to mimic a motion that is similar to the butterfly stroke, break free from the water.
- Eagle pairs perform dramatic aerial displays. The most impressive display involves two eagles flying to great height, locking talons and then tumbling perilously toward the earth, breaking apart just before they would hit the ground.
- Bald Eagles generally mate for life. They renew their pair bonds each year by adding new sticks and branches to their massive nests in which they usually lay two to three eggs.
- Bald Eagles have the largest nest of any North American bird and it can take months to build. Average nests measure about 5 feet wide and 3 feet tall and are made of sticks and branches. The biggest recorded Bald Eagle nest was about 9 feet wide and 18 feet tall.
- Male Bald Eagles help the females incubate the eggs, and both care for the young after they hatch.
Both parents are very careful around the eggs while in the nest. They will even clench their toes to possibly prevent the eggs from being punctured by their talons.
- Babies hatch in about 35 to 46 days and will leave the nest in 10 to 11 weeks. However, they will still be fed for a month after fledging.
- Juvenile Bald Eagles gradually spend time on their own away from their parents and learn to hunt by trial and error. They may eat a lot of carrion, especially fish, till they master hunting live food.
- Bald Eagles do not mature until their forth or fifth year, only then receiving their characteristic white head and tail plumage.
- Immature Bald Eagles have been known to explore vast areas for multiple years. Some Floridian young have been seen in Michigan, and some Californian young have gone as far north as Alaska.

For more information about Bald Eagles, visit All About Birds- the Cornell Lab of Ornithology online bird guide.

Related Articles:
- Bald Eagle Information http://t.co/o4ugzs2
- Nesting Eagles http://t.co/vpj99ZV
- Terrified Geese Have Eyes on the Sky http://t.co/pqsWQqE
- Amazing moment bald eagle chases down and catches a starling in mid-air http://t.co/U3CT5Sh
- Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles http://t.co/A9R33zI

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Carolina Wren overwinters in Michigan garage

I leave the garage open sometimes and there is a wren that keeps moving in. I didn’t even know that we had wrens here in the winter. Is he OK? ~ Mason, MI
Carolina wrens can be found year-round in mid-Michigan but are very sensitive to cold weather. Severe winters result in a marked decline in their numbers. Having a known source of food is essential for providing wrens with the energy, stamina, and nutrition they need to survive. For this reason, it is a good idea to put out a feeder to help these birds (and other bird species as well) survive the winter.

Carolina Wrens are primarily insect eaters, but suet, peanuts, and mealworms are good substitutes for scarce insects during winter. They can be attracted to your feeders by providing a brush pile close to your feeding area. They feel more secure with a place to seek refuge nearby.

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

Related articles:
- 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
- Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy
- Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/jrpDX

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New research discovers why birds fly in V formation

PRESS RELEASE: A new study published in the journal Nature has found evidence to suggest that certain birds adopt a V formation while in flight to improve aerodynamics and conserve energy.

In order to fly, birds push air downwards with regular wing movements that generate a vortex within the air; this includes an updraft from the wings that provides lift, while air flowing from the bottom of the wing pushes downward.
Birds time their wing beats to exploit the the vortex and catch a lift from the bird ahead to save energy. Ultimately, geese can increase the maximum distance traveled by as much as 70 percent.

When in this flight pattern, the birds are constantly changing position. The lead bird, eventually, drops to the back when tired and another assumes its place at the front of the V formation. In addition, this setup allows the birds to retain visual contact with each other, ensuring members of the flock are traveling in the correct direction.

The new study gathered information form Portugal and an endangered species of bird – the northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), also known as the Waldrapp. The birds are raised in captivity to increase their success and then reintroduced and taught to follow their natural migration route.

Portugal’s research team observed the birds raised in a zoo in Vienna, Austria. In order to “teach” the birds, the team used a parachute aircraft to show them the correct migration route, towards Italy, over the course of several weeks. Before this lesson was delivered, the 14 birds were fitted with small, light-weight data loggers, specially designed by the Structure and Motion Laboratory to collect GPS and acceleration data. This informed the researchers about the position of the birds and what they were doing.

When adopting the V formation, trailing birds would fly along the wingtip path of the bird in front to catch their upwash, thereby easing their flight to reduce energy output. However, when positioned directly behind another northern bald ibis, they do entirely the opposite; under these circumstances, the bird will flap “off beat” to the bird ahead – an action that helps to circumvent the detrimental influence of downwash.

Previously, this form of flight wasn’t considered possible, since it requires – according to the research team – “… complex flight dynamics and sensory feedback.” Precisely how the birds achieve this feat is yet to be definitively confirmed. However, it has been suggested that the ibises employ a combination of highly sensitive wingtip receptors (filoplumes), reflex reaction circuits in the brain and vision to coordinate their movements.

The research could even have implications for the aviation industry. Airlines are dedicating time and money to determine how birds use updraft to their advantage, in the hope that they can use this knowledge.

Sources:
Press Release
Nature Journal
Smithsonian
AFP
CSM
Waldrappteam
Birdlife

Friday, January 17, 2014

Photo Share: Minimoon!

If you looked at the moon last night, it probably looked really big, but it is actually the smallest full moon of the year. Last June 2013 we had a Supermoon, about 12 percent larger than usual in the sky. January’s Minimoon is a full moon at its farthest point from Earth and makes it the smallest full moon of 2014.

Related Articles:
- Supermoon! http://goo.gl/oy8NjG
- Groundhog’s Day on Feb. 2 is a "cross-quarter" day. http://bit.ly/vUF7Qk
- Singing Birds Herald The Arrival of Spring. http://bit.ly/uJbzCe
- Why do they call it Indian Summer? http://bit.ly/twFccE
- What’s the difference between a full moon and a new moon? http://bit.ly/tKg5gO

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Wild Birds Unlimited seed blend for Wildlife

Wildlife Blend Bird Seed - 20 lbs pictureAbout our seed:
Each of Wild Birds Unlimited blends is locally selected to meet the regional and seasonal needs of the birds or wildlife. We do not include filler grains like oats, wheat and milo that decrease the price per pound of a mix. Because there is no wasted seed, our blends actually end up costing less.

Food for wildlife:
Our Wildlife Blend is a mix of Whole Corn, Oil Sunflower seed, Peanuts in the Shell, Shelled Peanut Pieces, and Striped Sunflower that is bound to satisfy wildlife and birds alike.  

Attracts:
Birds: jays, crows, woodpeckers, turkeys, ducks and more.
Wildlife: squirrels, raccoons, deer, chipmunks, and more.

Feeders:
Interactive Squirrel Feeder, tray feeders, fly-through feeders, ground feeders

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Real Michigan wolverines are hard to find

The Wolverine Gulo gulo (Gulo is Latin for "glutton") is the largest land-dwelling species of the family Mustelidae (weasels). They grow to about 25 pounds but are ferocious enough to fight off bears and wolves.
Juvenile Wolverine photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org

They once ranged across the northern and western United States but now are limited mostly to northern Canada, Idaho, Alaska and some occasional sightings in other northern states. Until recently, the last confirmed sightings of wolverines in Michigan were by fur traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

In 2004, a wolverine was photographed in Ubly, Michigan, 90 miles north of Detroit. DNA testing of this wolverine showed that it was from Alaska. Unfortunately in 2010, this wolverine was found dead south of where it was originally sighted.

The world's total wolverine population is not known. The animal exhibits a low population density and requires a very large home range. The range of a male wolverine can be more than 240 square miles, encompassing the ranges of several females which have smaller home ranges of roughly 50–100 square miles.

Adult wolverines try for the most part to keep nonoverlapping ranges with adults of the same sex. Radio tracking suggests an animal can range hundreds of miles in a few months.

Follow the link if you would like to watch an episode of NATURE as they take viewers into the secretive world of the largest and least known member of the weasel family, revealing it to be one of the most efficient and resourceful carnivores on Earth. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/wolverine-chasing-the-phantom/full-episode/6078/

Related Articles:
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb 
- Black Squirrel History & Facts http://bit.ly/AxiqPz 
- Red Fox in the neighborhood http://goo.gl/u0CUqc
- Do opossums hibernate during winter? http://bit.ly/u4ORP6 
- Feb. 2nd groundhogs end their hibernation http://bit.ly/vPHVtx
- Do skunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/xVKDXP

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How to get a bird out of the house

When we first decided to open the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI, we thought it was a good sign that there was a wild bird literally living in the store before we opened. Very bird friendly area for sure!

Now we have starlings as regular visitors. When I hear the “tick, tick, tick” of them walking on the ceiling tiles, I pop a corner up. They come in and out through the outside vent but if they get confused I let them in the store and take them out the front door.

Starlings are one of the most common birds that find a way into a house through vents, chimneys, garages, or any 2 inch opening. They are especially curious in January and early spring when they are scouting out new nesting areas.

Yesterday the person that works at Goodwill next door came in a little panic and asked, “Can you help me? There’s a bird in the bathroom.” That was a very easy location to catch a bird. I shut the door, and swooped in with no hesitation and grabbed the bird in front of his wings.

If you make a little circle with your thumb and pointer finger, a bird can fit his head through but not the rest of the body. I put the rest of my hand gently over the wings and a second hand under the body and walked him outside. It’s best to act quickly so there is less stress all around. The birds won't hurt you. You have to be more careful that you don't hurt the bird.

The customer that came in just after I released the bird said it was good luck. She said when you release a bird from your house it means you will be freed from an unpleasant situation.

If you have a bird in the house it’s best to contain it to one room if possible and of course remove any pets. If a window or door can be opened for easy release, do that. And if you haven’t studied with as many Master Cat hunters as I have to perform my pounce and release technique, a towel and box can come in handy.

Wait calmly for the bird to sit and gently throw a towel over him. The bird can't fly under the towel. Then pick up the bird very, very gently, so it is still under the towel, and put the bird in a cardboard box, using the towel as a cover and take him outside.

If the bird seems injured call a rehabilitator for help before releasing the bird.

The following is a small list of the local rehabilitators:
  • East Lansing, MI ♦ 517.351.7304 ♦ Cheryl Connell-Marsh ♦ birds and small animals, deer
  • Lansing, MI ♦ 517-646-9374 ♦ Tiffany Rich ♦ white tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons; Vet. Tech. on center.
  • DeWitt, MI ♦ 517.930-0087 ♦ Wildside Rehab and Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Eaton Rapids, MI ♦ 517-663-6153 ♦ Wildside Rehab and Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Holt, MI ♦ 517-694-9618 ♦ Carolyn Tropp cctropp@aol.com ♦ Waterfowl, small birds and mammals
  • Howell, MI ♦ 517-548-5530 ♦ Howell Conference and Nature Center ♦ All wild animals except bats, skunks, starlings, raccoons, pigeons, or house sparrows.
  • Bath, MI ♦ 517-819-0170 (day) 517-641-6314 (evening) ♦ Denise Slocum ♦ Small mammals
For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/
Or to search for a local wildlife rehabilitation group by zip code at: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hummingbirds winter in warmer territories

Where are my ruby-throated hummingbirds in December? ~ East Lansing, MI
Right now our Michigan Ruby-throated hummingbirds are probably somewhere down south, sitting near the water, sipping something sweet and sunning themselves.

Their spring breeding habitat is throughout most of eastern North America and the Canadian forest edges, orchards, and gardens. Then they spend most of the winter in Florida, southern Mexico, Central America, and as far south as extreme western Panama, and the West Indies.

Related Articles:
- When to take hummingbird feeders down and many other FAQ http://goo.gl/KKI3CJ
- What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://goo.gl/MK3AU
- Fun Facts about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds http://goo.gl/jcjcr
- The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/L4yY3i   
- Why the color on a hummingbirds’ throat flashes http://bit.ly/JZ31qX
- When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mammals have amazing strategies to cope with winter's cold

What do the mammals do to keep warm in the winter? ~ Jackson

Mammalian adaptations to the stresses of winter generally take on three different strategies; migration, hibernation, or by developing mechanisms to minimize the impacts of both the stresses of the cold and lack of food sources.

White-tailed deer change from grazers to browsers in winter. Their gray-brown winter coat has hollow hair shafts and a dense, wool-like under fur, providing effective insulation and they have special muscles that can adjust the angle of their hair shafts to obtain maximum insulation. And some deer populations will migrate to lower elevation grounds and congregate for more protection from predators.

Bats in Michigan usually move further south too and are capable of hibernation in winter. Hibernation is a successful winter survival strategy for many warm-blooded mammals in cooler climates. Hibernation is when an animal alternates between torpor (deep sleep) and arousal while holed up in a winter den. The state of torpor is defined as a coma-like state where body temperature, heart rate, and breathing are lowered drastically.  

Ground squirrels, woodchucks and, to a lesser extent, chipmunks hibernate. Although chipmunks wake periodically and eat stored food, while the ground squirrel and woodchuck use stored fat for maintenance energy during hibernation. 

Tree squirrels like the Fox and Gray/Black Squirrels prepare for winter by bulking up and hiding food. The squirrels spend less time foraging when the temperatures drop and it is common for several squirrels to huddle together in a drey to keep warm. A drey is a type of nest, in the forks of trees that they build with dry leaves and twigs. They will also hole up in tree crevices and I have an owl nestbox that is a very popular winter hangout as well as nesting area for squirrels.

Red squirrels cache cones and nuts in "middens", a secret store house for their food treasures. And they hang fungi in trees for easy winter sustenance.

Voles and mice build communal nests and tunnels under the insulating blanket of snow and eat from a cache of seeds and nuts or eat bark and roots. They occasionally pop up from the tunnels for more food and become vulnerable to attacks from hawks, owls and other predators like foxes.

Red foxes stay warm by growing a long winter coat. An adult fox rarely retreats to a den during the winter, but will instead curl into a ball in the open, using its bushy tail to wrap around its nose and footpads. Many times, they can be found completely blanketed in snow.  

Rabbits are awake all year too. They venture out from wood and brush piles at dusk and dawn to find herbaceous and woody foods such as raspberry twigs, stems of wild rose and the bark of sumac.

Skunks, raccoons, and opossums do not hibernate but can hole up in their burrow or under decks for weeks at a time if the weather is not good for foraging. One extensive burrow system documented in Michigan was even occupied simultaneously by an opossums, woodchucks, raccoons, rabbits and striped skunks.

Related Articles:

- When do bats hibernate? http://goo.gl/IES4Bt
- Do Voles Hibernate? http://bit.ly/rTcbQI
- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/uGhBOB
- Do opossums hibernate during winter? http://bit.ly/u4ORP6
- Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/sixWTH
- Feb. 2nd groundhogs end their hibernation http://bit.ly/vPHVtx
- Do skunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/xVKDXP

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where birds go at night

Do the birds sit in nests or burrow in brush during the coldest times? I live in Coleman Michigan and have 5 feeders and 2 suet cakes out, but have never known where they go at night.
Sleeping habits can change with the seasons. For instance, birds often sleep on their nests, during the breeding season but now in the winter might sleep communally in large roosts in trees or dense shrubs out of a predator’s reach.

I have a lot of backyard birds that like to sleep in the pine trees near the feeding stations. As dusk approaches there is a feeding frenzy. The goldfinches at my house sometimes stay too long. I watch them feeding furiously and then see them look up and notice sun went down. Some find shelter quickly in nearby bushes while others have been known to spend the night on a feeder or if it's windy, huddled in a corner close to the house or even burrow into the snow.
Starlings and pigeons can roost under bridges. Ducks often sleep while floating. Cavity nesting birds like House Sparrows, chickadees, and woodpeckers can go into a bird house or a natural tree cavity to spend the night.

When the temperature drops below zero, sleeping birds need bellies full of high calorie foods to keep their little bodies warm right before bed and the first thing in the morning.

Related Articles:
- 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
- Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy

Friday, January 10, 2014

Photo Share: Sandhill Crane in Michigan

We live in Saugatuck Township on Indian Point near the Kalamazoo River and marsh/bayou. In past years we have heard the Sandhill Cranes year-round. I thought they migrated south to Tennessee or something, but they've been year round here. So as usual we heard them a few times a couple of weeks ago. Then, since this Arctic Vortex and snow came in -- heard nothing. Are they dead, frozen in the bayou? Or did they somehow know to fly south?
Sandhill Crane migration is mobile. They are able to move from one place to another usually based on weather. Starting in October the cranes start to gather in large groups in preparation for their flight south.

If the winter is mild enough they can stay the whole winter in Michigan. But once the water freezes they move further south to Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky or all the way down to Florida.

I'm sure your cranes headed south before the storm. In March they'll come back to their breeding grounds to begin nesting.

Related Articles:
- Whooping Crane Migration http://goo.gl/avz5lG
- Photo Share: Crane and Grouse http://goo.gl/Unsqy8
- Sandhill Crane breeding: http://goo.gl/9GkgEH
- Lucky Duck saved from frozen pond: http://goo.gl/HClYGP


Thank you Rodney Campbell for sharing your photo.  If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wild Birds Unlimited Interactive Squirrel Feeder

For those who feel sorry for the squirrels and would rather feed them than defeat them we have the Wild Birds Unlimited Interactive Squirrel Feeder. This stained pine feeder provides you with the opportunity to witness the problem-solving skills of those furry little critters in action. Squirrels must push on the weight-activated paddle to open the lid and allow them access to those tasty treats like our specially developed Wildlife Blend that squirrels crave.

Related Articles:
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
- Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
- Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr
- Black Squirrel History & Facts http://bit.ly/AxiqPz
- "Frisky" Fox Squirrels http://bit.ly/AndeTw
- Why squirrels chew http://bit.ly/AjVzFW
 
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Who is Jack Frost?

Jack Frost is an elf from Scandinavian legend that was named Jokul Frosti, meaning Icicle Frost by the Norse Vikings. The son of the Nordic wind god Kari, he became Jack Frost after his story arrived in England. He is renowned for his artistic talents of painting beautiful frost designs on windows and plants late at night.

Other cultures have their own folklore. Japanese legends name Frostman and brother Mistman as keepers of the frost and dew. In Finland Frostman and Frostwoman control the weather and must be placated with sacrifices. Then Russian legends identify frost as Father Frost, a blacksmith who binds the earth with his chains of ice. While German folklore tells of Old Mother Frost who shakes feathers from her bed that become frost as they float to earth.

Scientifically, frost can be defined as the ice crystals that form when water vapor adheres to freezing surfaces. The fancy frost that decorates our windows is called fern frost and forms when a glass pane is exposed to very cold air on the outside and moderately moist air on the inside. Water vapor condenses on the glass and as it freezes ice crystals grow forming feathery, lacy, patterns on our windows.

Hoar frost or white frost is the white ice crystals that loosely cover everything outside when temperatures dip below freezing and there is an ample source of water vapor.

Another less common form of frost is called rime frost. Rime frost appears as needles or spikes. It can develop more quickly than hoar frost, especially during windy conditions when liquid water droplets come into contact with freezing surfaces. Rime frost is the white extensions that you see on the crab apples pictured. It doesn't have a crystalline structure, and is more matte and less sparkling than hoar frost.
 

Related Articles:
- Best food for birds in the winter http://goo.gl/MVFcbl  

- Why birds don't drink snow for their water http://goo.gl/1BEcVL
- Birds in icy weather suffer http://goo.gl/M7h6vc
- What is the Largest Recorded Snowflake? http://bit.ly/tvi9yv
- Fun snow facts: http://goo.gl/ZbWjOm

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Starlings don't migrate but their diets change

Today I have what appears to be a young Starling in my bird feeder. He is larger than the other birds and is eating but not leaving. I've never seen one in the winter before. He is dark brown with speckles. Don't they normally migrate?

photo from Wikimedia Commons
The European Starlings are year-round residents in Michigan.

In 1890 about 60 starlings were imported to the United States by a group who wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned by William Shakespeare in his plays. Shakespeare chose to talk about the starling’s ability to mimic speech in Henry IV: “The king forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer. But I will find him when he is asleep, and in his ear I’ll holler ‘Mortimer!’ Nay I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but Mortimer, and give it to him to keep his anger still in motion.”

The birds multiplied rapidly and now there are over 200 million starlings found coast to coast year-round.

I noticed them a lot right before the storm flying low and lining up on power lines. Most birds have a special middle-ear receptor called the Vitali organ, which can sense incredibly small changes in barometric pressure. So if the activity at feeders suddenly becomes much more intense or birds are flying low, this could indicate swiftly falling air pressure and a storm approaching.

I often get questions on starlings. In the fall when they molt, their new plumage is a glossy iridescent black with purple and greens and all their feather tips are white, giving the appearance of many stars. By spring the white feather tips have worn away, so that they are a more uniform dark bird. And the Starling in winter has a dark brown beak that changes into yellow as breeding season approaches.

In the spring starlings require large quantities of bugs or suet to meet their high protein needs. You will see them patrolling the lawn for invertebrates in the soil. Their pointed bill is adapted perfectly for probing food from the ground and catching insects. And of course once their babies appear the suet at the feeders disappears faster.

In the winter a starling’s diet switches. Their intestines lengthen, and the wall of the gizzard increases in thickness to better absorb the nutrients from more fruits, nuts, berries and seeds. Like the robin we rarely see them visit the feeders in the winter unless there is a winter storm that covers their natural resources.

You can check out the range map and read more at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/european_starling/id

To deter starlings you can switch up your bird food choices:

- Use pure beef suet with no seeds
- Switch to straight safflower seed: Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.

Related Articles:
- Do birds warm their feet on telephone wires? http://bit.ly/t7k91r
- Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
- How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
- Amazing moment bald eagle chases down & catches a starling http://bit.ly/tnPo6z
- Starlings stealing shiny money from machine http://bit.ly/uKaP8b