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, June 30, 2014

Green & White all around! #MSUSMDay

Immature Ruby-throated males lack the ruby red throat and look similar to the females, like the one pictured above. About 3 inches long, she has metallic green back feathers and a white belly.

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, June 29, 2014

Large sparrow like bird

The Red-winged Blackbird male is unmistakable for most Michigan residents. The pure black bird with bright red shoulder patches edged in yellow is hard to miss. The female and juvenile are less obvious. They have heavily streaked under parts and mottled brown upperparts and can look like large sparrows.
Female Red-winged Blackbird
As one of the most common, widespread, and numerous birds in North America, little is done to protect red-winged blackbirds from the effects of development. They thrive in wetland areas but it is likely that this species will begin to feed more at bird feeding stations with the loss of natural habitat.

Male & female Red-wings from Wikimedia Commons
As highly generalized foragers, they can have a great impact on their environment. For the most part, red-winged blackbirds feed on whatever they can find, feasting on insects and feeding on seeds and plant material. This helps control insect populations and weed populations through the consumption of seeds.

However, red-wing blackbirds have also been known to cause great agricultural damage due to their colonial roosting habits and taste for agricultural products.

After breeding season is over for red-wings, they will begin to gather in flocks of all male or all female birds. Northern populations will begin to migrate south to the southern United States and Central America as early as August.

Related Articles:
- Red-winged Blackbird facts http://bit.ly/yQPs61
- Blackbird Battle http://bit.ly/xFsHIN
- Red-winged blackbirds attack hawk http://bit.ly/yaudwu

- Watch for the Red-winged Blackbird to announce spring http://goo.gl/ADQLp3

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Different Goldfinches in America

Male and female American Goldfinches
Together the American Goldfinch and their relatives the Lesser Goldfinch and Lawrence's Goldfinch, form a group of goldfinches in America.

Goldfinches can be found throughout most of North America. In Michigan we are lucky enough to have the American Goldfinches year round in our area. These bright yellow and black birds have the largest range and can be found in most areas of the United States and the southern regions of Canada.
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The other two goldfinches in the U.S. are found more in the southwest. The Lesser Goldfinch lives in the larger portion of the western States and Mexico and the Lawrence's Goldfinch breeds in California and Baja California and winters in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
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Lesser Goldfinch male
Fun Facts on Goldfinches:
- Due to their almost exclusive diet of seeds, the goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water during dry periods.
- Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, in the spring before breeding and after nesting in the fall.
- Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries, but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
- The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.”
- Goldfinches are vegetarians and are dependent on flower seeds for food and even use plant down to line their nests.
- Young goldfinches are dependent on their parents for at least three weeks after fledging. Be sure to watch and listen for their energetic begging as they harass their parents for food at your feeders.
Lawrence's Goldfinch male
- Male Lesser Goldfinches in the eastern part of their range in the U.S. tend to have black backs. Along the West Coast, their backs are green, with only a black cap. Elsewhere, the amount of black varies, with many birds having partly green backs. South of central Mexico, all of the males are black-backed.
- The Lesser Goldfinch is the smallest of the North American goldfinches at 4.5″ compared with the slightly larger Lawrence’s and the American Goldfinch at 5″.
- Lawrence's Goldfinch was named by John Cassin in 1850 for his colleague George Lawrence, a New York businessman and ornithologist.
- Unlike most migratory birds, Lawrence's Goldfinch moves mostly to the east and west, rather than northward and southward, between seasons.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Photo Share: Sunset at National Wildlife Refuge


Sunset at Laguna-Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Thank you so much Steve  for allowing me to share this photo! 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, June 26, 2014

Natural transitions in the bird world

June is officially a month of transitions. With the summer solstice on June 21, the transition from spring to summer is certified, at least according to the calendar.

In the early part of the month, the dawn chorus of bird song is so loud as to wake you up, but it will no longer disturb your slumber as July approaches.

At night, lightening bugs increasingly brighten the darkness as the month progresses and the din of mosquitoes and squabbling juvenile raccoons will become almost inescapable.

The birds in your yard are making transitions, too. Nesting is in full swing early in the month and as the weeks go by, more and more young birds make appearances at your feeders as they harass their parents for an easy meal.

The question of, "where are all of my hummingbirds" is finally answered as a new crop of youngsters leave the nest and descend on the feeders.

Even the birds' appearance starts to change. As the molting season begins to take hold, their once brilliant, well-groomed breeding plumage gives way to a messy, disheveled look.

Be sure keep your eyes and ears open during this month of transition, and visit us for the expert advice and quality hobby products you will need to weather all of the changes.

Source: WBU Nature News

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Oriole baby food

This is the first year that we have managed to keep Baltimore Orioles around throughout the breeding season (we think that we have 3 pairs). Your article states that they're feeding their young, insects and I don't question that.... Recently, we can't keep our jelly feeders filled, they are ravenous and it appears that they are leaving the feeders with jelly in their beaks, both male and female....Is it possible that they are feeding their brood the jelly, in addition to the insects? Additionally, I have photos from early July last year where the Orioles are teaching their young to eat the berries in our Serviceberry trees (the first time I saw Orioles in the area). - Jack in Milford

Good question. Baltimore Orioles eat insects, fruit, and nectar. The proportion of each food varies by season: in summer, while breeding and feeding their young, much of the diet consists of insects, which are rich in the proteins needed for growth. In spring and fall, nectar and ripe fruits compose more of the diet; these sugary foods are readily converted into fat, which supplies energy for migration.

Baltimore Orioles eat a wide variety of insects, including beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, moths, and flies, as well as spiders, snails, and other small invertebrates. Many pest species are also devoured by orioles, including tent caterpillars, gypsy moth caterpillars, fall webworms, spiny elm caterpillars, and the larvae within plant galls.

I offer mealworms, jelly, sugar water, and fruit. As I watch throughout the day from the Wild Birds Unlimited store window, the mealworms are by far the most popular once the babies arrive. He sometimes shows up with his own creepy crawly that he has plucked from a tree and mixes it in with the mealworms. He then lines up mealworm, mealworm, creepy crawly, mealworm in his bill and carries them away.

Babies need a well rounded diet and my birds seem to be doing a good job of mixing it up. They start with smaller bugs and then graduate to larger bugs as the babies grow. It's possible your oriole may have decided to give his baby a sweet treat. As the chicks grow older, orioles may offer ripe fruit like apples, mulberries, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes or serviceberries too.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Red oriole in Michigan

I just saw an oriole that was different from my normal orange orioles. It looked something like a blend between a robin and oriole. Maybe he just ate something to make him darker? - St. Johns, MI

Darker than a Baltimore Oriole, breeding Orchard Oriole males have dark orange or brick red bodies and a black hood, back and wings. The wings also have chestnut epaulets and a white wing bar and tips.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Once seen mainly in fruit orchards, more and more Orchard Orioles have been seen venturing to feeders since orchards are now heavily sprayed and manicured.

Orchard Orioles spend summers in open woodlands and areas of scattered trees across the eastern United States and southern Canada. Look for them along river edges, in pastures with scattered trees, and in parks.

Orchard Orioles are relatively easygoing toward each other or other bird species, nesting in close quarters with Baltimore Orioles, Bullock’s Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds, American Robins, and Chipping Sparrows. The aggressive kingbirds may be useful neighbors because they ward off predators and cowbirds (which lay their eggs in the nests of other birds).
Related Articles:
- There are two oriole species found in Michigan http://goo.gl/mOugo7
- Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5
- Close-up of Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GAf6T7
- When can I expect my orioles to arrive? http://goo.gl/OHrCc

Monday, June 23, 2014

Floating cottonwood seeds gather

I like my flowers but it looks like I’m a crazy gardener that’s packing them all lovingly in cotton. In between constant rain showers, floating cottonwood seeds are gathering all over. The Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) can be either male or female. It is the fluffy white seeds produced by the females during early summer that give the tree its name.

The seeds are only a couple millimeters long, which is quite remarkable considering that they can become one of the largest trees in North America, up to 100 ft. high with massive trunks over 5 ft. in diameter.

But before we curse all cottonwoods for covering gardens and screens, let’s look at their benefits. Eastern Cottonwoods are important to many species. The fluff makes a good nest lining and the tree itself provides potential nesting habitat for many birds, including the Pileated Woodpecker (in tree cavities), Baltimore Oriole, Warbling Vireo, Northern Parula, and Yellow Warbler (in young trees).

Some birds also eat the buds and catkins on the tree during the spring as well as feast on all the insects that feed on the tree. Many caterpillars use Eastern Cottonwood as a food source to develop into beautiful butterflies and moths. White-Tailed Deer browse on twigs and foliage of this tree, as does the Cottontail Rabbit when seedlings are within reach. Squirrels sometimes eat the buds during the spring. Beavers use small trees as a source of food and as construction material for their dens and dams.

Finally, although messy, you have to admit the seeds are pretty as they parachute down in the wind.

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- There are Ducks Nesting in My Tree! http://goo.gl/wE13hE
- Let's all share Nature's bounty http://bit.ly/syPNzh
- Maple seeds dropping http://goo.gl/lMY2PM

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Winter ranges of the Baltimore Oriole

Where do the orioles go in the winter. - Lansing

Most Baltimore Orioles spend the winter in Florida as well as Central and South America. Their journey north begins at the end of April. They usually hit my mid-Michigan feeder at the beginning of May with a big song and dance. I have my feeder on the window at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store and he'll sing right to the customers when he's happy and give me the look if I haven't had a chance to fill his jelly feeder.

Then in June his visits are less frequent as he's busy incubating eggs and then sourcing out bugs for his babies and only stops by occasionally for a quick bite. Last year I put out mealworms in June and he continued to feed regularly. Then he brought up all his babies to feed right out side my window.

baby oriole waiting for a mealworm treat
In July he becomes more secretive. As Baltimore Oriole babies become independent, parents begin their fall molt and are more susceptible to predators as they grow a new set of feathers. Peak migration is August and September but some begin as early as July if they are done nesting.

Besides molting, birds also have to fatten up before they leave and wait for just the right weather conditions. Birds have internal barometers and can actually feel changes in air pressure in their inner ear. When a storm approaches, the air pressure goes down and the birds eat a lot more in anticipating of bad weather. Then these smart birds will take advantage of the strong tailwinds for the long journey south.

October through February most orioles hang out in the tropics. In March and April some orioles begin moving north again. On average, they probably travel about 150 miles each night in flocks, flying at about 20 miles per hour. If the weather is favorable, it will take an oriole about 2-3 weeks to complete his migration north to reach my window again by May.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Baby birds at the feeders

Blue Jay just fledged from the nest
The best thing about feeding in the summer is watching the baby birds. Just as parents across the country will take their children on family adventures this summer, bird parents are leaving their nests to take their families out on vacation/survival training.

All this week I’ve been watching the jays. When the Blue Jay family first came to the feeders last week with their family in tow, their babies were about the size of an average apple. Little round blue fluffs of feathers followed their parents from feeder to feeder, snatching goodies from their parents’ mouths.

Big Blue Jay juvenile
Now these big, ten inch “babies” are still following their parents and giving the most pathetic cries for food, “but mom, just feed me, feed me, feed me,” flutter, flutter. No luck. They have to learn sometime and my feeders have some of the best Wild Birds Unlimited food in town. It’s irresistible and I’ve already caught some of the babies eating from the feeders between begging.

I’m also watching baby cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, sparrows, starlings and more at the feeders trying to figure out what they were supposed to do with the food in front of them. This is the time of year when fledglings leave the nest and are taught how to forage for food by their parents. It's a fascinating interaction that is fun to observe.

The fledglings follow their parents and either wait quietly or call incessantly and flutter their wings until fed. After one to three weeks, the parents will stop feeding their fledglings and may even peck at them if they persist in begging for food.
Downy Woodpecker daddy feeding baby

You can make your backyard "bird family-friendly" by continuing to offer high-protein bird foods, such as WBU No-mess blend seed, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, suet and mealworms. These energy-packed foods will entice birds and their young back to your feeders so you can watch them up close. Make sure to keep all your feeders clean and also offer a water source to help them in the dog days of summer.

You can usually tell which baby bird belongs to which family based on the adult bird from which they are begging. Cardinals, one of the most sought after backyard birds in our area because they're so handsome, have some of the most ragtag looking children. Some customers are shocked by how dissimilar the babies look to the parents at first. The video below captured how even the ugliest baby is beautiful: http://youtu.be/H6h1ScdvkdU
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- Feeding and Raising Bluebirds http://goo.gl/MKRPn
- How Do I Know If It's a Baby Hummingbird? http://bit.ly/IHzCSh