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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Goldfinches’ transformation into a yellow and black bird

In spring, American Goldfinch males transform from a dull olive green into brilliant sunny yellow birds. Their look is accented with dapper black caps and black wings and tails edged in white to attract the females. The more mature the adult male, the more extensive the bright white patches are on their tail feathers. The white on females and younger males is less extensive and drabber.

Female American Goldfinches are a duller olive green shade all year with hint of slightly more yellow after the spring molt. The young males in their second year get some of the yellow coat of feathers, but will not turn bright yellow until their second summer. But all of the goldfinches’ legs, feet and bill change from a dark grayish brown to a buffy yellow orange color even though their breeding season doesn’t begin until July.

What is so special is that most birds only go through one molt in the fall. The American Goldfinch is the only member of its family to complete two full molts a year. Marsh Wrens and Bobolinks are two other species of birds that have a two complete molts.

Molting is the process of replacing old feathers with new feathers. As the new feathers begin to grow, they push upward on the old feathers, causing the old feathers to loosen and eventually fall out. This feather replacement takes a great deal of energy.

The goldfinches’ requirement of a large amount of nutrients for their spring molt may be one reason they aren’t able to nest earlier in the season. Another reason they are late nesters is because the native thistle plant bears food sources as well as nesting material in the fall. After the male has serenaded the female with canary-like songs in late July or early August, goldfinches begin to nest for the first and only time of the year. Then they switch back to their drab winter coat.

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

Related Articles:
- When Do the Goldfinches Return? http://bit.ly/ytfupb
- Why birds molt http://bit.ly/zvLuu3
- Feeding Goldfinch http://bit.ly/yptDDi
- Goldfinch Fun Facts http://bit.ly/yWunjT
- How to Attract More Goldfinches http://bit.ly/zgmwRk

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eastern Phoebes nest under porch

I have a pair of Eastern Phoebe nesting on my back porch. I live in Fayetteville, GA, just south of Atlanta. Is this unusual for these birds. This is the second year they have nested on my back porch. I would love to hear if this is abnormal for this breed. Thank you. Lisa.

Baby Phoebes photo by Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Phoebes breed in wooded areas (particularly near water sources) that provide nesting sites—typically human-built structures such as eaves of buildings, overhanging decks, bridges, and culverts. Before these sites were common, phoebes nested on bare rock outcrops and still do occasionally. They seem to choose nest sites with woody understory vegetation nearby, possibly to make the nest site less visible or to provide perches near the nest for the adult.

They like their nest to be in niches or under overhangs, where the young will be protected from the elements and fairly safe from predators. They avoid damp crevices and seem to prefer the nests to be close to the roof of whatever alcove they have chosen. Nests are typically less than 15 feet from the ground.

Phoebe fledgling photo by Wikimedia Commons
Only the female builds the nest, often while the male accompanies her. She constructs the nest from mud, moss, and leaves mixed with grass stems and animal hair. Nests can take 5–14 days to build and are about 5 inches across when finished. The nest cup is 2.5 inches across and 2 inches deep. Unlike most birds, nests are often reused in subsequent years—and sometimes used by Barn Swallows in some years.

The eggs are white with little gloss, and they may have a few reddish-brown dots on one end. Incubation lasts about 16 days, less for the second brood which occurs in summer. Incubation is carried out solely by the female, and the male does not feed her while she sits. Most clutches will hatch within a 24-hour period, and the female removes the eggshells from the nest immediately afterwards. Though the chicks are able to fly by day 15, they usually do not fledge until day 16 or 18. Both males and females feed the young. The young are capable of breeding in their first year.

The Eastern Phoebe is a good bug catcher, consuming mostly flying insects such as wasps, ants, flies and wild bees. Invertebrates such as grasshoppers, airborn spiders, hairworms from the water and even small fishes from shallow water round out their diet.

Flycatching is its main means of obtaining food, usually done from a perch less than 10 meters off the ground. It also occasionally chases flying insects to the ground, pounces on insects on the ground, and picks insects from trees while hovering. Its most active foraging period occurs in the morning.

Sources:

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Where Ruby-throated Hummingbirds nest

I love your blog and send out posts on twitter and facebook. I try to support Michigan businesses. What kind of trees/shrubs do hummingbirds nest in here in Michigan? I want to make sure I have food and a place for them to live when they visit. ~ Mary

There is no particular tree species in which hummingbirds prefer to nest. They first look for a territory that supplies enough bugs and nectar to support them and their babies. Next they look for a tree that provides proper camouflage and protection from predators.
Hummingbirds usually return to the same general area they were hatched. Female hummingbirds build their nests all alone even before they mate. Male hummingbirds take no part in raising the young. Older females can even return to the location of last year’s nest and rebuild it if the nest has survived the winter.
An attractive nesting tree will have some pencil thin flexible branches that slope downward slightly. The tiny golf ball sized nest, constructed below a leaf canopy and above a fairly open area, starts with spider silk to attach the nest and make it flexible. Lichens camouflage the outside, and the inside is lined with cotton from nesting material, dandelion, cattail, or thistle down.
Courtship is very brief and then two white, pea-sized eggs are laid two or three days apart, which the female will incubate from 60 to 80 percent of the day for 10-14 days. After the babies hatch, the nest stretches to contain the growing nestlings. When they leave the nest, 18-22 days later, the chicks are twice as large as their mother which was stressed by raising them.
If a Ruby-throat nests near your feeder she may appreciate quick bites to eat while incubating eggs. When the chicks hatch, they need lots of protein, so their mother spends a lot time foraging for small insects and spiders. Throwing old banana peels in the garden as compost will attract fruit flies for the hummingbirds and fertilize your garden.
After the chicks leave the nest, mommas will bring these newly fledged hummers to feeders and you can watch them check out everything to see if it is food. It usually takes them awhile to figure out what’s food so fledglings are fed by their mother for another 10 days.
Young hummingbirds will look similar to a female, but as young males begin to mature in late summer look for a few random red iridescent feathers on the throat. And the young are very healthy looking. Their feathers are full and shiny whereas the parent birds look a little haggard.  
If you keep your feeders filled and fresh you should have hummers visiting from April until usually the end of October.
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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Little brown diving bird with a striped bill

I saw this little guy resting behind the willows this morning and need help in identifying it. It was quite a diver.

Ahh, what a cutie! The Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is found in ponds throughout Michigan in the summer. Other names of this grebe include American dabchick, Carolina grebe, devil-diver, dive-dapper, dipper, hell-diver, pied-billed dabchick, thick-billed grebe, and water witch.

Allaboutbirds.org describes them as, “A small diving bird with a chicken-like bill, the Pied-billed Grebe is common on lakes and ponds across North America. It is rarely seen flying and prefers to sink out of sight when danger threatens.” 

The binomial name is derived from Latin Podilymbus, a contraction of podicipes ("feet at the buttocks", from podici-, "rump-" + pes, "foot". It refers to the way the bird’s feed are located toward the back of its body. In flight, the feet extend beyond the tail and help the bird to steer. 

I also looked him up the Ted Black’s Birds of Michigan field guide. He wrote, “The Pied-billed Grebe is an extremely wary bird and is far more common than encounters would lead you to believe. It tends to swim inconspicuously in shallow water of quiet bays and rivers. Only occasionally voicing its strange chuckle or whinny. These grebes build their floating nests among sparse vegetation, so that they can see predators approaching from far away. When frightened by an intruder, they cover their eggs and slide under water, leaving a nest that looks like nothing more than a mat of debris. A pied Billed Grebe can slowly submerge up to its head, so that only its nostrils and eyes remain above the water.”
 
Thank you Greg for sharing your wonderful photographs! If anyone would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Featherless Cardinal in spring

I read your article on bald Cardinals. I had a bald female Cardinal at my feeder this morning - April 23rd. I live in Mason, MI.  Would the bird have a mite problem being so early in the season?  You do a wonderful job and I love your store.

Poor bird! There are a lot of bald bird reports in the fall during their annual molt. Some birds will drop all their head feathers all at once instead of the normal staggered molt. After a few weeks the feathers grow back and the birds are fine.

Other causes of feather loss in birds:

- Mites, lice, bacteria, and fungal infections - Normally, the birds would pick off mites by preening, but birds cannot preen their own heads effectively. And foot scratching can actually make things worse! Once the mites have destroyed their food source on the birds' heads, they must either move on to a new bird or take a chance and venture lower on another area of their host's body. Keep your feeders clean and full of fresh seed and hopefully your bird will recover quickly.
- Hormonal imbalances - Sometimes a malfunctioning thyroid gland, ovaries, or testicles can result in feather picking. Blood tests or biopsies are needed to confirm that diagnosis. 
- Dietary deficiencies - A lack of protein, fatty acids, certain vitamins or minerals can result in feather loss and/or feather picking. Even though the bird is eating well it might not have the ability to utilize the nutrients in the food. 
- Injury-An injury or illness can prevent birds from preening properly. 
- Psychological problems - Over preening turned to feather plucking might be due to the stress after a shock.

Related Articles:
A select few birds go bald every year http://goo.gl/O1oixe
Why should we care about birds? http://bit.ly/KnwOxf
Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles http://bit.ly/KnxQJu
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://t.co/Br4EnlB
Stop baby birds from crashing into windows http://bit.ly/KUVpe5

Friday, April 25, 2014

Photo Share: Tree Swallows fighting and Ospreys Nesting

Hi Sarah, The tree swallows just recently arrived at the Hawk Woods Nature Center in Auburn Hills, MI. The nature center has built a number of nesting boxes that the swallows return to year after year.

The tree swallows frequently squabble over nesting boxes and nesting materials. The two in the photo were a few feet from a nesting box that was probably the cause of the dispute.

There are also a pair of nesting Ospreys at Kensington Metro Park. There nest is visible from the road. If you take the Milford road entrance the nest is in the first lake on your right. This is a shot I got of the male bringing a branch to the nest.

Thank you again for sharing your photos! You can see more of Rodney Campbell’s impressive work at: http://rodney-campbell.artistwebsites.com/art/all/birds/all. And 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, April 24, 2014

Best Mesh Finch feeders

I need your advice. In your expert opinion, what is the best finch feeder?  - Mason, MI

In the spring our American Goldfinches need a lot of energy to change into their bright spring coats. My feeders have been covered in hungry birds.

Our Wild Birds Unlimited Copper Mesh Nyjer (Thistle) Feeder is a finch magnet. I have three of these feeders. The Stainless Steel mesh tube not only lets finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but it also allows air circulation to keep your seed as dry and fresh as possible, something that's very important to our picky eaters.

The Copper top and bottom are beautiful but still designed to be easy to clean and fill. I just slide the outside clip to fill or the inside clip to clean. Filled with nyjer seed, the birds will flock to your feeder. It holds 1 quart.
  • Stainless steel screen
  • Copper top and bottom
  • Center seed diverter
  • Easy to fill and clean
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • Made in the USA
Related Articles:
- What to do if you have soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
- Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
- Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a
- How to Attract Goldfinches http://bit.ly/A6CwjB
- How often do you clean a bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wTk0c7
- Where do you place finch feeders? http://goo.gl/avIs2

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Time to get your Hummingbird Feeders up!

Hello, I need help from a Wild Birds Unlimited expert! Here is my dilemma. I will be away from home May and June and all I can think of is my hummers. I normally begin feeding at the end of April. Will they die when I'm not there to feed them? Is there another source of diet for them apart from my sugar water? I have no idea what to do. Should I begin to feed them and then wean them off or not feed at all this summer? I would really appreciate hearing anything. Thank you! – Okemos, MI

There is no need to worry. Hummingbirds are very smart and do not rely on your feeder to survive. If you want to watch the hummingbirds up close in your yard, now is the time to find where you’ve stored your hummingbird feeders and fill them with fresh nectar. The hummingbirds have been sighted in mid-Michigan! If you have to leave for several weeks take your feeder down and let them find another source of food. There is no reason not to start feeding or wean them off. Birds do not depend on feeders to survive.

Nectar is not much more than sugar water. Throughout the day a hummer drinks more than its half its body weight in nectar. But they can't live on sugar alone, and the birds must supplement their carbohydrate-rich diet with daily helpings of insects to get necessary fats and amino acids that they aren't getting in nectar.

Besides feeders, hummingbirds drink nectar from a variety of flowers as well as sap from trees and eat a lot of insects and spiders. They are excellent hunters. (Sometimes I suggest throwing old fruit or banana peels near your hummingbird feeders to attract fruit flies for the hummers.) Hummingbirds can catch insects in flight, or pluck them from leaves, or catch spiders from their webs. While migrating, hummingbirds can follow behind Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers because these woodpeckers drill shallow wells into trees to release sap that lots of birds can drink. Sap also attracts and traps insects for birds.

Related Articles:
- When to take hummingbird feeders down and many other FAQ http://goo.gl/eIPsU
- Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/FQ9kxU
- What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/H7xvp3
- 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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Cardinals divide territories

Why do I have fewer birds at the feeder? I started with 6 pairs of cardinals & now I'm down to 2.

That is an excellent observation. You may also have noticed in the spring, Northern Cardinals become very aggressive towards other cardinals or even attack their reflections in the window, in order to claim the perfect nesting territory and ample foraging areas for a potential mate. Cardinals don’t nest in colonies like some other birds. So it is very normal to see fewer Northern Cardinals at one time at the feeders.

Northern cardinals breed from March until September. If all goes as planned they usually raise two broods a year, one beginning around March to April and the second in late May to July.

By late summer, nesting is over and Northern Cardinals relax their defense of their territory boundaries. The birds sing less and flocks of cardinals begin to form. The Cardinals don’t migrate but can expand their range while foraging for food.

Young cardinals don’t have a set territory and can move around together freely in search of food. Older cardinals can join these young flocks for a time but drop out once it leaves their normal range.

These ever changing fall and winter flocks can consist of about four to twenty birds depending on the area, time of year, weather, and available resources.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Orioles will migrate when the conditions are right

We live in Virginia Beach, VA and have had the pleasure of hosting two female Baltimore orioles in our yard since December and have kept them supplied with grape jelly, etc.  For the past two weeks, we have seen only one oriole.  Isn't it time for these beautiful birds to be migrating north.  Should we stop feeding to urge her to leave or will she instinctively know when to leave?  Thanks for your advice.

Don't cut them off. They are planning on a long trip and that means they will need to fatten up before they leave.

It is still pretty cold up here and there aren't many blooms or bugs yet. When the winds are blowing in the right direction and warmer weather comes, the orioles will know when to migrate.

Females are always behind the males. They aren't in as big a rush to stake out breeding territories like the males.

It takes 2 or 3 weeks for an oriole to prepare for migration. On average, an oriole probably travels about 150 miles each night, flying at about 20 miles per hour. If the weather is good, and they do not stop for long and it can take up to 3 weeks to complete their migration, depending on where it started from and where they are going in the spring.

You have answered my questions and eased my worry about these beautiful birds!  Thanks again. 

Related Articles:
- What's the Best Way to Attract Orioles http://bit.ly/IGsyWp
- Fun Facts about Orioles http://bit.ly/IGsJB4
- Where are the orioles? http://bit.ly/IGuqOJ
- Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5 
- Close-up of Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GAf6T7 
- Favorite Oriole feeders http://t.co/OjG4Lz4

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Easter egg bird

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Todies’ general shape and colorful plumage remind me of an Easter egg.

They are Caribbean birds in the forests of the Greater Antilles: Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba, and the adjacent islands, Hispaniola, has two, the Narrow-billed Tody in the highlands and the Broad-billed Tody in the lowlands.

The Broad-billed Tody (Todus subulatus) has bright green plumage above, with a red throat and washed out yellow on the breast. Todies eat small prey insects like grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, bugs, butterflies, bees, wasps, and ants and they also eat lizards. They nest in tunnels, which they dig with their beaks and feet in steep bank or rotten tree trunks. 

Related Articles:
- Spotted Wren-babbler http://goo.gl/AvNc98
- Superb Fairy-wren http://goo.gl/7iTmNc
- Eurasian Jay http://goo.gl/TR5HM3
- Indian Robin like our robin in some ways http://goo.gl/3rqV2r
- Violet-backed Starlings http://goo.gl/sJTPIo

A closer look at Hoppers

Can you explain what are Hopper Feeders? – Abernant, Alabama
Hopper bird feeders look like a house and attract a wide range of seed eating birds, big and small. It is called hopper because when you lift the roof, you pour seed into the “hopper,” a container for a seed that tapers downward and is able to dispense its contents at the bottom.

The first hoppers were built for farm animals. Wild Birds Unlimited took the original idea and built a better hopper for the backyard birds. In fact, it is so much better there is a patent on our design.

From a functional point-of-view, the following characteristics are built into The Wild Birds Unlimited Classic Hopper bird feeders: 

• Curved sides so birds can be viewed at all angles
• The removable screen bottom is treated with EcoClean® Antimicrobial Product Protection and makes it easy to keep the feeders clean.
• Patented removable seed tray also has a seed diverter to keep seed flowing and provide excellent drainage to keep the seed dry.
• Angled perch lets empty seed hulls be blown away by the wind
• Large roof protects seed but is easy to lift to fill hopper with loose seed
• It may be hung or pole-mounted easily
• Clear acrylic panels allow easy view of seed level
• It is sturdy and weathers well
• Classic EcoTough feeders are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs.
• They are all made in the United States of America

All Wild Birds Unlimited bird feeders are built with quality materials using patented designs that keep birds safe, protected and well-nourished. Our innovative feeder designs look good but are built to attract more birds to your yard.

The EcoTough bird feeders, built with poly-lumber, made proudly from recycled plastic and milk jugs, carry a lifetime guarantee to never crack, split or fade and are constructed with stainless steel screws.

Our wood hoppers are constructed with 7/8" inland red cedar for long lasting outdoor use and all-screwed construction using weather-resistant plated deck screws. Both the recycled and wood hoppers have fully routed edges, aluminum rust-resistant hinges and thick heavy-duty acrylic panels.

Wild Birds Unlimited is the first name in the best bird feeders ever built.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Photo Share: Woodpecker eating on the ground

Greetings from Shelby Township. I saw this bird feeding along the banks of the lake I am on. Can you help in identifying? Exciting to see new arrivals!

Hello, You've captured some great shots of a male Northern Flicker. Unlike other woodpeckers they spend about 75% of his time foraging on the ground for ants, termites, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, other insects, and spiders. They also like peanuts and suet at the feeders.

Northern Flickers are medium sized woodpeckers with black-barred brown back, white rump, and black tail. Flickers in mid-Michigan have black polka dots on the belly and a black bib under their long bill. The males also have a black “mustache.” And as your top photo shows the birds have a gray crown with a red chevron on the back of the head and have yellow underwings and undertail. Females resemble males but lack mustache stripes. 

Thank you Greg for sharing your photos 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.