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, December 31, 2014

How to help birds expend less energy

Birds can use snow and ice as a source of water but it expends precious caloric energy to convert it to water. If there is an available source of open water, birds can conserve their energy for heat and survival during cold winters. Besides helping birds digest food properly, water helps birds keep their feathers clean and in top condition for effective insulation.

You can use a heated bird bath or add a heater to your existing plastic, metal or stone bird bath to make some water available even on the coldest day and attract birds that may not visit feeders very often. Heated birdbaths do not create warm water, but just keep it from completely freezing.

Related Articles:
- What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/tfT7Ca
- Where Do Birds Go At Night? http://bit.ly/uoQOBw
- Help Birds Beat Their Winter Woes http://goo.gl/ZlDTw
- Are there heated birdbaths that are solar? http://bit.ly/tnTrK4

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Changing faces of starlings

European Starling in Summer
•In 1890’s, 100 starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park. It is said that Eugene Schieffelin wanted all of New York to see the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare. Until that time, starlings were not native to North America.

•Since its introduction into North America, European Starling populations have grown to over 200 million birds and they can now be found coast to coast and in Alaska.

•When European Starlings molt their feathers in the fall, the new feathers have white tips, giving the appearance of “stars”. Over the winter, sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look as the tips wear off and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.


European Starling in winter
•The European Starling also has a seasonal change in bill color (yellow in the spring, black in the fall).

•European Starlings have a highly adaptable diet and eat a wide variety of foods, such as snails, worms, millipedes, and spiders, in addition to fruits, berries, grains, and seeds.

•To glean insects and invertebrates, you can watch starlings poking their beaks into the ground, opening wide to spread the soil and then picking out exposed larvae and earthworms.

• Baby starlings almost look like a different species. They are a dark gray and then start to grow a black and white spotted vest. Eventually they get their adult feathers before winter.

A juvenile European Starling (also known as Co...Image via Wikipedia
Juvenile European Starling
•In Starlings, the length of the intestinal tract actually varies depending on the season. It is shorter in the summertime when birds are mainly eating protein-rich insects and larger in wintertime when they are mainly eating seeds, which are rich in carboyhydrates.

•Starlings, as members of the Sturnidae family, are cousins to the Mynah bird and are outstanding mimics. Individuals have been known to mimic many calls and can even mimic human speech.

•Bird banding records show the longest known life-span for a Starling in North America to be over 15 years old.

• A group of starlings has many collective nouns, including a "constellation", "filth", "murmuration", "scourge", and "vulgarity" of starlings.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How to spot owls more easily

How do I quickly spot owls at night or during the day?

Nature centers, sometimes offer “owl prowls” or guided walks. These outings are led by a local owl expert and include visits to areas where owl sightings are likely to occur. These programs are an excellent introduction to the basics — where to go, how to listen, when to go and how to look. You can contact Harris or Fenner Nature Centers for the next walk.

Where to go
In our mid-Michigan area the Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech owls are all common on small woodlots or edge of forest areas. Most owls do not migrate and can be found in the same territory throughout the year, and winter is a great time to go owling.

How to listen
Late December to January, owls are calling more frequently to attract mates or claim their territories. http://www.allaboutbirds.org is a good website that will give the typical sounds owls produce.

When to go

Owls are nocturnal birds and the best time to see them is when they are more active hunting at dawn or dusk. A full moon at night can also help provide more light for effective owl spotting.

How to look

Owl pellets are about 2 inches and include fur, feathers, claws,
teeth, bones, exoskeletons of insects and other undigested parts.
Owls have superb camouflage, and when they are perched high in the tree or in tree hollows they are almost impossible to see unless they move. But other birds that might become their prey keep their eyes open for owls and sound the alarm. I looked up when I heard a chickadee sending out alarm calls and spotted a Barred Owl perched at the very top of a nearby deciduous tree.

When I looked below the tree I spotted several owl pellets. Since most owls usually eat their prey whole, the undigested parts (bones, bill, teeth, skull, feathers, or fur) are compressed into a pellet and regurgitated. The larger the owl, the larger the prey it takes and the larger the pellet. Owls typically regurgitate two pellets each day, usually one at their daytime roost and one at their nighttime feeding site.

Another thing to look for during daytime walks is white excrement, down through the branches below the owl’s perch. If you’re lucky, the owl will be sitting motionless, camouflaged in the branches.

Owling ethics

Resist the urge to pull out your smartphones and apps that can reproduce a species songs. Imitation calls during an owl’s breeding season can stress a bird unnecessarily.

If you discover an owl, remain quiet and do everything in slow motion. Do not disturb trees an owl chooses as its perch or nest.

If you find a nest or roost site, visit infrequently. Study the site from a safe distance with binoculars or a scope, so the owls are not alarmed by your presence. Do not disturb them by getting too close, even for photos. You don’t want to be the reason a nest fails or a roost is abandoned.

Using basic birding etiquette, you can observe owls in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Black and white bird hanging up-side-down

White-breasted nuthatches are small birds that can often be spotted climbing up and down the trunks of trees. Their black and white body and long bills make them easy to identify. Their bills are nearly as long as their heads and White-breasted nuthatches have black crowns on their heads, with white cheeks and white undersides.

They are found year-round in Michigan and do not migrate. In the winter it’s not unusual for a group of mixed species to fly together for protection and to forage for food.

They get their common name from their habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then whacking them with their sharp bill to “hatch” out the seed from the inside. White-breasted Nuthatches may be small but their voices are loud, and often their insistent nasal yammering will lead you right to them.

It is easy to attract the White-breasted Nuthatches to your yard, with a suet or peanut feeder as well as our Wild Birds Unlimited seed cylinders.

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Old Christmas trees can make a great bird shelter

"Life is a series of little deaths out of which life always returns." ~ Charles Feidelson, Jr.

Last week was the Winter Solstice, the day the Earth's Northern Hemisphere has the shortest day, and longest night, and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The birds might consider it the beginning of the "real" New Year. I did too! It’s the day when the whole annual cycle begins all over, and I can look forward to the gradual lengthening of days.

It's hard not to admire our hardy winter birds in Michigan. When I go out to fill the feeders in the morning and hear the nuthatches and woodpeckers “laughing,” I feel happy that they’ve made it through the night.

And remember if you feel a little guilty about just throwing away your Christmas tree, its usefulness can be extended by placing it outside near feeders for added shelter against the weather and predators. In a matter of minutes, the old tree is providing a new natural cover.

The birds had an advantage with the milder November and early December which allowed them to seek natural foods. Though it might seem strange to humans, wild birds prefer to forage over visiting feeders (with the possible exception of the House Sparrows).

However, as the temperatures dip and natural food sources may become covered with snow or locked in ice, the supplemental food and water we provide is more widely appreciated and has a bigger impact on the birds’ survival.

I hope everyone is enjoying this holiday season and I wish everyone a future filled with great birding experiences. Happy New Year!

Related Articles:
Edible ornaments for the birds http://bit.ly/tXDnSB
Decorate a Tree for Your Birds http://bit.ly/t3QtGV
Let's all share Nature's bounty http://bit.ly/syPNzh
The Tradition of feeding the Birds at Christmas Time http://goo.gl/7ODaQ
How the Christmas tree tradition started http://goo.gl/LFmtk
What is winter solstice? http://goo.gl/OFplO

Friday, December 26, 2014

Photo Share: Small red finch

According to allaboutbirds.org "As energetic as their electric zapping call notes would suggest, Common Redpolls are active foragers that travel in busy flocks. Look for them feeding on catkins in birch trees or visiting feeders in winter. These small finches of the arctic tundra and boreal forest migrate erratically, and they occasionally show up in large numbers as far south as the central U.S. During such irruption years, redpolls often congregate at bird feeders (particularly nyjer thistle seed), allowing delightfully close looks."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Winter #Birds - Entertainment for you and the #Cats

Photo from Seahue video on YouTube
I hope everyone is having a relaxing day. Today I'm sharing a video from one of my (the cats') favorite YouTube channels.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Tinsel: The weird Christmas tradition inspired by spiders

Ukraine - spider web ornament
Tinsel, the thin sparkling strands that drape over Christmas trees, first appeared in Germany around 1610 and were originally thin strips of material extruded from real silver. Tinsel was placed on Christmas trees to accentuate the glow of lit candles, and only the wealthiest people could afford the garlands.

There are several legends that the tinsel was originally spider webs. The Ukrainian version is that a poor but hardworking widow once lived in a small hut with her children. One summer day, a pine cone fell on the earthen floor of the hut and took root. The widow's children cared for the tree, excited at the prospect of having a Christmas tree by winter. The tree grew, but when Christmas Eve arrived, they could not afford to decorate it. The children went to bed sad. Early the next morning, they woke up and saw the tree covered with cobwebs. When they opened the windows, the first rays of sunlight touched the webs and turned them into gold and silver. The widow and her children were overjoyed. From then on, they never lived in poverty again.

The German version says a mother was cleaning every corner of the house to get ready for Christmas. The spiders retreated to the attic to keep from being swept outside into the cold. Once the house was clean, the family put up the perfect Christmas tree and covered it in decorations. The spiders came down and inspected the tree excitedly but left behind several webs. When St. Nick came to leave presents for the kids he noticed the webs and turned them into solid silver and gold to make the tree glitter in the light.

That's why it's popular to put tinsel on the tree and every tree should have a Christmas spider in it's branches!
 
Related Articles:
Edible ornaments for the birds http://bit.ly/tXDnSB
Decorate a Tree for Your Birds http://bit.ly/t3QtGV
A closer look at the holiday wreath tradition http://goo.gl/Y3cJ5g
The Tradition of feeding the Birds at Christmas Time http://goo.gl/7ODaQ
When did Reindeer Learn to Fly? http://bit.ly/veTLpT
How the Christmas tree tradition started http://goo.gl/r92VN
Holly's symbolism http://goo.gl/Dj5nOy

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Random cool facts about birds

1. There are over 9,500 species of birds in the world. Scientists typically group them into 30 categories. Birds are the most widespread of all animals around the world.
2. Characteristics that are unique to birds are 1) feathers, 2) bills, and 3) a furcula (fused collarbone, or “wishbone”).
3.  Approximately 2/3 of all the bird species are found in tropical rain forests.
4. To make them more lightweight, most birds do not have bladders to store urine. Rather than producing liquid urine to get rid of wastes, they produce a white, pasty substance.
5.  Many birds consume 1/5 of their body weight in food every day to get the energy they need to fly.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why chickadees are so friendly

How come the chickadees aren't afraid of me at the feeder? 

Chickadees are among the most popular birds in North America, due to their regular visits to feeders, ability to nest in urban gardens, and willingness to take food from people's hands.

Winter can be a tough time for chickadees. The cold temperatures requires them to expend a great deal of energy to maintain their body temperature the shorter days also means a shorter time to forage for food.

Add to that, their smaller size. In a winter flock of birds, the little chickadee is lowest on the pecking order. The larger Hairy Woodpeckers are more dominant over the smaller Downy Woodpecker which is more dominant than the White-breasted Nuthatch, which can be more dominant then the titmouse which is always more dominant than the chickadee. By the time it’s the chickadees time to feed the pickings might be slim.

But clever birds that they are, they wait for humans to fill a feeder to grab a quick bite before the others can claim their turn. They are also confident in their ability to flit away and avoid a predator's capture. So confident, in fact, they may even come down to your open hand full of food.

Related Articles:
Best Bird Houses http://bit.ly/AuLTJt
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Why don't chickadees stay to eat at the feeder? http://bit.ly/AkKThH
After chickadee babies have fledged http://bit.ly/yAYbP4
Fun Facts About Chickadees http://bit.ly/zIDkCi
What Do Black-Capped Chickadees Eat? http://bit.ly/zxi04X
Bird of the Week: Black-capped Chickadee http://bit.ly/A1YFQ4

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Eagles reuse their nests

I live on Hood Canal in Seabeck, WA. The photo I attached was taken on our beach June 1, 2014. We have a breeding pair of eagles that remain here on the property all year. Last year they had two babies and I could swear they are still here or at least nearby. They will be a year January 2015.

We are on a migratory hunting route for Bald Eagles, hence the photo. My question is will our eagle pair use the same nest each year? I see their droppings and a piece of the nest fell so I could see what it is made of (very interesting) some folks down the road think that they are nesting in one of their trees. I still here them almost daily here but could they be moving their nesting location after all of these years?

Our pair are territorial when all the eagles show up in Spring. Our eagles do not let other eagles hunt from our trees, so they have to go to other people’s trees at night. I was just curious. I have many great photos of the eagles here, in case you are interested.   Ky

If an eagle's nest was successful they will probably reuse their nest. It just becomes larger each year as the eagles return to breed and add new nesting materials to shore up the old nest. Eventually, some nests reach sizes of more than 10 feet wide and can weigh several tons.

Both sexes bring materials to the nest, but the female is usually in charge. They weave together sticks and fill in the cracks with softer material such as grass, moss, or other soft plant materials. The inside of the nest is lined first with lichen or a fine woody material, then with downy feathers and sometimes sprigs of greenery.

Female Bald Eagles seem to be the ones who choose the territory and the nesting tree. Bald eagles mate for life, but when one dies, the survivor will not hesitate to accept a new mate. If the female that nested in your tree died, the male could have found a new mate and moved next door.

After fledging, young eagles stay near the nest for six to nine weeks practicing their ability to fly and hunt. Juveniles have to learn how to hunt by watching the parents and practicing. During this time, they seem to spend more time looking at prey than they do actually attacking it.


Until the first winter after they fledge, young eagles live near the nest are often still fed by their parents, but have little other interaction. Although a young eagle has the instincts to hunt, it lacks the skills. Eventually, they begin to soar, spot prey and hopefully survive and thrive for many years. 

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
A closer look at the National Bird of the USA http://goo.gl/tfpR9Y