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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Track bird migration with online maps

New birds are arriving every day! There are several neat websites that follow bird migration up to Michigan:

The Journey North website studies wildlife migration and seasonal change. It tracks the coming of spring through the migration patterns of the Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and other birds and mammals. You can look at the past seasons to predict upcoming visits or watch the Spring maps as people report their sightings of birds on the way north.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association also has migratory maps. Several reports have already been submitted for sitings of the purple martins in the southern states.

And the website I check most frequently in the spring is Hummingbirds.net. The maps of the Migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are updated daily and like the other websites it has lots of useful information.
As a quick reference:Below is a list of the most frequently asked about birds and their migratory arrivals and departures:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hummingbird migration map

The most frequently asked question in the spring is when to put out the hummingbird feeders? In mid-Michigan you have to pay your taxes and put out your hummingbird feeders on April 15th. You can track the migration of the Ruby-throated hummingbird on www.hummingbirds.net.

The hummingbirds we see in April probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.
Snapshot of Migration map from http://www.hummingbirds.net/map.html
Hummingbirds are truly one of the most fascinating groups of birds on the planet. Out of all birds, they have the fastest metabolism, the largest heart in proportion to body size, the fastest heart and wing beats, the most brilliant feather iridescence and one of the highest rates of nesting success. Hummingbirds are the lightest bird at just 1/10th of an ounce, have the smallest bird brain, can fly up down, forward and backwards but are virtually incapable of walking.

They can consume up to twice their body weight in nectar every day. In order to accomplish this amazing feat, hummingbirds' bills and tongues have evolved into incredibly efficient feeding tools. Despite popular belief, hummingbirds do not feed on nectar by sucking it up with their bills; instead, they actually lap it up with their tongues. They feed by dipping their forked, open-grooved tongues into nectar at up to 12 times a second. Then they use the flexible tip of their bill to capture insects and insect eggs from the ground and on plants. They love spiders and spider eggs.

A great way to see this amazing tongue in action is to use a Wild Birds Unlimited Hummingbird Feeder or a WBU Window Hummingbird Feeder. With their clear plastic bases, you will be able to witness the rapid lapping action of these fascinating hummingbirds.

Related Articles: 
- The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/FQ9iGc
- How Many Species of Hummingbirds are There in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yCeR1c
- Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/FQ9kxU
- When did people start to feed hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/yhfoMG
- How to Stop Your Hummingbird Feeder from Dripping. http://bit.ly/yROgU5
- How Do I Keep Bees Off My Hummingbird Feeder? http://bit.ly/Aj07oq

Saturday, March 29, 2014

What robins eat if there are no worms

"Captured this robin late this morning outside my window.
First time I have seen a robin at my holly bushes." - Greg
Winter is over and now the American Robins are dispersing from their winter flocks and choosing their nesting territories. But winter still has a slight grip on mid-Michigan and the ground is just now beginning to thaw. Several customers at the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store are worried about the robins in this cold weather and what they will eat if there are no worms. Food is more important than shelter. Food fuels the robin's metabolism, giving it the fat and energy to stay warm and survive.

As many of you have noticed, the North American population of robins overwintering in Michigan is increasing each year. When robins are in their winter flocks they concentrate on berry bushes and fruit and nut trees. I always see them eating from my crab apple, Mountain Ash, and flowering pear trees, as well as under my feeders looking for peanuts and pecans.

Greg has sent a wonderful photo of his robin eating from his holly bushes. Robins also eat walnuts, acorns, apples, cherries, and dogwood fruit from trees and the berries of poison ivy, poison oak bayberries, blackberries, blueberries, greenbrier, honeysuckle, juneberries, juniper, madrone, mountain ash, mulberry, pokeberry, pyracantha, raspberry, sassafras, serviceberry, spiceberry, sumac, viburnum, and woodbine.

If a robin has chosen your yard to spend the spring and you want to supplement his diet you can put out a tray of apple slices, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, or cherries. They will also eat suet, suet nuggets, mealworms, and nuts.

And don’t forget the water. Birds need to drink and bathe too, even in cold weather. Dirty feathers lose much of their insulating properties, so a clean bird is a warm bird. A heated birdbath on cold days or a fresh bowl of water on warmer days is a big help.

Related Articles:
- Why Robins are Attracted to Water http://bit.ly/qP9aTs
- Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
- Fun Facts About The American Robin http://bit.ly/n9CSni
- Why robins are called Robin Redbreast and not orange breast http://goo.gl/OB4iT

Friday, March 28, 2014

Photo Share: Cardinals conversing over dinner

In February Northern Cardinals formalize their choice of mate for the nesting season. The female chooses a male and they sing to each other. Both sexes sing clear, whistled songs, which are repeated several times, then varied.

Some common phrases are described as purdy, purdy, purdy…whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit and what-cheer, what-cheer…wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet.

By March territories have been decided and you will often see mated pairs at the feeders together. They like to eat next to each other and the male cardinal often shares his meal with the female in a mate-feeding behavior.

By April, if all goes as planned, they usually have started to raise their first of two broods.

Thank you Larry for sharing your photo with us! 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, March 27, 2014

Help your birds deal with their own March Madness

While you might be inside watching basketball games, outside birds are seeking food, mates and a place to rear their young. The weather is unpredictable as sunny, days can change quickly into cold, damp conditions that challenge birds' survival skills.

In March, birds' natural food supply is at its lowest point of the year. Insect populations are still low, and there are few remaining edible wild fruits, berries and seeds.

High-energy foods, like our No-Mess Blend contain sunflower seeds and nuts without the shell that are loaded with fat and protein. They're wonderful substitutes for the insects many birds would eat if they could find them. Suet and Seed Cylinders also provide the nutrition required to keep birds healthy.
Hopefully you have already cleaned out last year's birdhouses, but if you have some that need to be replaced or you just want to add to your housing collection, Wild Birds Unlimited has a wide selection functional bird houses to keep your birds happy.

And if the ground ever thaws you can set up a wonderful Advanced Pole System to replace any feeding stations that were ruined in the December ice storm.

Related articles:
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
- The Wild Birds Unlimited Advanced Pole System http://goo.gl/N4jgZ7
- Feeding the birds will not make them "lazy," or "dependent." http://goo.gl/gCXCf
- Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/teuxFh
- What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
- How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Violet-backed Starlings

The Violet-backed Starling male photo from Wikimedia Commons
The common European Starling is beginning to hit the feeders again in mid-Michigan now that it is early spring. So I thought it would be fun to look at another species of starling in the Sturnidae family. The Violet-backed Starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster), also known as the Plum-colored Starling or Amethyst Starling is found widely in the woodlands and savannah forest edges of mainland sub-Saharan Africa.

Starlings are small to medium-sized perching birds. The male Violet-backed, like their name suggest has bright violet feathers on his back and a white belly. The female however has a brownish back and a white belly with brown streaks.
While their coloring is different, both starlings have strong feet, a direct flight pattern, are very vocal and eat insects and fruit. The Violet-backed Starlings like to nest in old woodpecker nests and spend most of their time in the trees. 
 
The Violet-backed Starling female photo from Wikimedia Commons
Instead of grazing the grass for insects like our starlings, Violet-backs spend a lot of their time “hawking” for insects. This is a technique of bursting from a perch to snatch an insect out of the air and then returning to the perch. The term “hawking” comes from the similarity of this behavior to the way hawks take prey in flight, although, raptors usually catch prey with their feet, and hawking is the behavior of catching insects in the bill.

Related Articles:
-
Spotted Wren-babbler http://goo.gl/AvNc98
- Superb Fairy-wren http://goo.gl/7iTmNc
- Eurasian Jay http://goo.gl/TR5HM3
- Why we call a brown bird with an orange belly Robin Redbreasts http://goo.gl/KJi3zm
- The Bald Eagle is the National Symbol of the USA: What are some other Countries' National Birds http://goo.gl/6Ef30Q

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why birds scratch in the dirt

photo from Wikimedia Commons
I watch the Juncos browsing everywhere other birds DON'T go, under the trees and bushes, in the dirt next to the house, and on top of the snow. What are they eating? and how do they get any nutrition out of, what appears to be thatch?- John in Milford

Juncos eat grass seeds or insects on the ground that they find by scratching at leaf litter. The scratching behavior is common to a lot of ground feeding birds. Like mini chickens, it is their way of finding bugs and seeds buried previously by the wind or other creatures.

They also could be looking for little stones or grit. The grit is swallowed and remains in the part of their digestive system called the gizzard to help grind up their food.

Thank you Sarah....We just love all of our creatures, it sure has been a tough winter for all of them! 

Related Articles:
-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
-Do the same birds show up at the same feeders year after year? http://bit.ly/GMaOYV

Monday, March 24, 2014

Upside-down gray bird with pointy bill

White-breasted nuthatches communicate using vocalizations and visual cues. They are quiet generally during the summer and their breeding season. They vocalize most during the very early spring and the winter. White-breasted nuthatches sing several different songs, each consisting of several notes. Most of their songs are used for territorial defense and assertion. There are 13 different calls known at this time: Hit and tuck, Tchup, Quank, Quank quank, rapid quank, rough quank, Chrr, Phee-oo, Squeal, Brr-a and Whine. Each call has a different purpose.

Thank you Lynn for sharing this fabulous photo.

Related Articles:
- Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/d0VzDD
- Bird of the week: Red-breasted Nuthatch http://bit.ly/sXqKVH
- Fascinating Nuthatch Bill-Sweeping & Wing Fanning http://bit.ly/s4MWlV
- Facts every backyard birder wants know about Nuthatches http://bit.ly/tBbDbQ
- Black and white bird walking upside down on a tree trunk http://goo.gl/RUCT6O

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Great Blue Herons return to Michigan

This is a Heron in my yard on the first day of spring, in Shelby Twp., MI - Greg 
How you found your way back I cannot comprehend. 
On this first day of spring, you have returned!  
Welcome back, my feathered friend. - Greg

The Great Blue Heron is North America’s largest and most abundant heron. With its long stilt like legs, long neck, and spear shaped bill, it is well equipped for wading in water and catching fish.

Many Great Blue Herons migrate south for the winter, but return to Michigan as soon as the ice melts by the end of March. The cold weather doesn’t have as big an effect on a birds’ survival as their ability to find food. They eat lots of fish, amphibians, small mammals, aquatic invertebrates and reptiles so open water for hunting is a must.

This heron may have it rough in the beginning of spring, but the first birds back have the chance to be the first to choose the best nesting territory. Breeding occurs in Michigan from March to May. 

These 3-5 feet tall birds like to build nests in trees with other herons in colonies close to lakes or wetlands. The female lays three to six pale blue eggs and both male and female take turns incubating the eggs for a month.

Both parents take turns feeding until the babies fledge 60 to 81 days later. After they leave the nest, the parents continue feeding the babies for a few weeks while they teach them to hunt.

The average lifespan for the Great Blue Heron is 15 years. As with most animals, they are most vulnerable when they are young. More than half (69%) of the great blue herons born in one year will die before they are a year old. After 22 months they reach their sexual maturity and look for a mate.

Thank you Greg for sharing your wonderful photograph! 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.