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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What birds do to survive blizzards

Surviving Winter, the Bird Way
Just as we rely on coats, hats and mittens to keep us warm in the face of winter's icy grip, most birds will adjust their feathers to create air pockets that will help them keep warm. You will often notice the birds look fatter or "puffed up" during cold weather. This is because the birds are fluffing up their feathers; the more air space, the better the insulation.

The small birds like chickadees fly as little as possible and try to wait out storms in patches of dense vegetation or roosting boxes that give protection. Some birds perch on one leg at a time, drawing the free leg to their breast for warmth. Most birds will shiver for short term adjustments to the cold. Shivering converts muscular energy into heat for the short term, but the energy must be replenished shortly thereafter.
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This is when they appreciate feeders the most. During storms birds may think of your feeder as a known source of food. Birds don't feel like foraging for food in bad weather.
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Food is the most essential element, providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need. An ample supply of high-calorie foods such as sunflower seed, nuts and suet is crucial to a bird's survival.
Stop by Wild Birds Unlimited today and let us show you which high-energy foods, shelters, and baths are available to help your birds brave the cold snap!

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Photo Share: Female Cardinal in Winter

Hi Sarah, here is a cardinal on a crisp January morning.
Thank you for sharing your photo. You can see more of Rodney Campbell’s work at: http://rodney-campbell.artistwebsites.com/art/all/birds/all 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 29, 2015

What is a Seahawk?

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as a sea hawk, fish eagle, river hawk, or fish hawk, is a fish-eating bird of prey. According to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black, they eat fish exclusively and are found near water on every continent except Antarctica.

While hunting, an Osprey will survey waterways from the air. Its white belly makes it hard for fish to see them while flying above. The Osprey's dark feathers around their eyes blocks the glare from the water, enabling it to spot a slowly moving shadow or flash of silver near the water's surface.

Folding its wings, the Osprey hurls itself in a headfirst dive toward its target. An instant before striking the water, the bird rights itself and thrusts its feet forward. With two toes facing forward, two toes facing backward and barbed pads on the soles of the birds' feet, even the slipperiest prey can't get away from their grasp. Watch the YouTube Video at: http://youtu.be/nA3LtXnNIto?t=44s
Related Articles:
The Bald Eagle as the National Symbol http://bit.ly/ythN8H
Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://bit.ly/A7TrNc
The Great Backyard Bird Count Instructions http://goo.gl/mSQA7
Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
Who Bird Watches http://goo.gl/vX9j5
Sports Illustrated Birdwatching edition http://goo.gl/RuJQQX

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bluebirds in blizzard

http://youtu.be/aNWtqHf1zhw?t=6m28s 
Winter is the time when high fat foods become more critical in a bird’s diet. Every night up to three-quarters of a bird’s fat reserves are used up; reserves that must be replenished the next day. When fat reserves are depleted, protein — mostly scavenged from muscle tissue — is depleted to keep up with energy needs.

Keeping your feeders filled with high energy, high fat foods can provide your birds with the critical nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of best choices to meet this nutritional need is suet and mealworms.

Seeds also provide fats, but in varying degrees. Peanuts provide 412 fat calories per 100 grams, sunflower chips (429 fat calories per 100 grams) and niger seed (342 fat calories).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Feeding birds in the winter

Do birds eat more in the winter? - East Lansing, Michigan

There are a lot of factors that effect how many birds show up at the feeders.

Year-Round Feeding
If you feed year-round you may have noticed birds seem to frequent feeders more at certain times. The most crucial time in the life of many birds may be late winter and early spring when seeds that occur naturally are scarcer. Unfortunately this is when a lot of people stop feeding.

In the spring and summer, birds are very busy. New birds are migrating up to Michigan, choosing territories, mates, and preparing to have young. Females incubating eggs on the nest take advantage of a convenient feeder for a quick bite. Later parents bring young birds to the feeder as a first step into the world. It is fascinating to watch the parents show their young how to pick up the seeds.

Some birds, like the Dark-eyed Juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatches leave us in the spring while others like the warblers, orioles and the hummingbirds, are only summer residents in Michigan.

Bird-Feeding Myths
Some people believe that once you start bird feeding, it should be continued. Or that feeding your birds in the summer will make them too lazy, too dependent or keep them from migrating at the appropriate time. All of these old myths have been dispelled by modern research and observation. Bird feeding is a fun and educational hobby. Birds appreciate the food but never become dependent on your feeder unless there is a severe storm that prevents them from foraging.

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining and educational pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults.

Related Articles:
Attract new birds to your yard http://bit.ly/xYtIN9
Is it too late to start feeding the birds this winter? http://bit.ly/w1dKZb
How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/AlJkKQ
How to Prepare Your Yard for Spring http://bit.ly/zYHZyV
Would the birds starve to death if I stopped feeding them? http://bit.ly/xOFgb9

Monday, January 26, 2015

Do you know Michigan's state symbols?

Happy Birthday Michigan!

On January 26, 1837, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill making Michigan the nation's 26th state. "Michigan" is believed to come from the from the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigami, meaning "great water" and referred originally toLake Michigan itself. The Great Lakes account for one-fifth of the world's surface freshwater supply.

In 1836 a pair speculators from Lansing, New York sold land to a non-existent city in mid-Michigan known as "Biddle City." The New Yorkers arrived to discover that the plots they had purchased were located in a marsh or underwater. Some of the pioneers stayed, and developed a village in what is now Old Town Lansing a mile north of the non-existent "Biddle City."

In 1847, the legislature passed a law to locate the state capital in mid-Michigan because many were concerned about Detroit's proximity to British-controlled Canada, which had captured Detroit in theWar of 1812. Unable to publicly reach a consensus because of constant political wrangling, theMichigan House of Representatives privately chose the Township of Lansing as the capitol out of frustration. The sleepy settlement of fewer than 20 people transformed quickly into the seat of state government and individual settlements began to develop along the Grand River.

State Symbols:
Bird - American Robin
Fish - Brook Trout
Reptile - Painted Turtle
Wildflower - Dwarf Lake Iris
Flower - Apple Blossom
Tree - White Pine
Stone - Petoskey Stone
Fossil - Mastodon

Fun Facts:
Michigan is simultaneously known for its cities, supported by heavy industry, and its pristine wilderness. Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state. It is home to a number of areas maintained by the National Park Service with 78 state parks, 19 state recreation areas, and 6 state forests.

Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the nation's first land-grant university and was the first institution of higher learning in the nation to teach scientific agriculture.

Michigan was the first state to provide in its Constitution for the establishment of public libraries and the first state to guarantee every child the right to tax-paid high school education.

Vernors ginger ale was created in Detroit and became the first soda pop made in the United States. In 1862, pharmacist James Vernor was trying to create a new beverage when he was called away to serve our country in the Civil War. When he returned, 4 years later, the drink he had stored in an oak case had acquired a delicious gingery flavor.

The Kellogg Company has made Battle Creek the Cereal Capital of the World. The Kellogg brothers accidentally discovered the process for producing flaked cereal products and sparked the beginning of the dry cereal industry.

The Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in America to feature cageless, open-exhibits that allowed the animals more freedom to roam.

Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes, more than 36,000 miles of streams and 116 lighthouses and navigational lights.

The Upper Michigan Copper Country is the largest commercial deposit of native copper in the world. Detroit is known as the car capital of the world. Alpena is the home of the world's largest cement plant. Rogers City boasts the world's largest limestone quarry. Elsie is the home of the world's largest registered Holstein dairy herd. Michigan is first in the United States production of peat and magnesium compounds and second in gypsum and iron ore. Colon is home to the world's largest manufacture of magic supplies. Grand Rapids is home to the 24-foot Leonardo da Vinci horse, called Il Gavallo, it is the largest equestrian bronze sculpture in the Western Hemisphere.

Sources:
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Owl recycles old eagle nest

Introducing a New Owl Cam

 

The newest Cornell Lab Bird Cam just went live—Great Horned Owls from Savannah, Georgia.

This cam was initially planned to broadcast from an established Bald Eagle nest nearly 80 feet above the coastal Georgia salt marshes. But last month a pair of Great Horned Owls moved into the nest instead. So, we'll go with the owls.

Great Horned owls start nesting in January, raising their families in the dead of winter. The female will incubate the eggs while her mate brings her food. Within a month, up to five eggs will hatch and the owlets will be closely guarded by their parents. Six weeks after hatching, the owlets will leave the nest and walk around. In another three weeks, the young owls with already have learned to fly. The parents will continue to feed and care for their offspring for several months, often as late as October.

Right now the female is incubating two eggs, which should hatch around the end of January. Don't miss your chance to get to know these secretive denizens of the darkness as they raise owlets in the coming weeks.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

First bats to die from white-nose syndrome in Michigan

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced recently that it has received the first reports this winter of bats dying from white-nose syndrome. Members of the public found dead bats outside the opening of an abandoned copper mine near Mohawk in Keweenaw County and reported it to DNR field staff.
Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) with white-nose syndrome, New York
White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first documented in bats in New York in winter 2006-2007. The syndrome was named for the white fungus that sometimes develops on the muzzle of the bat, giving the appearance of a white nose. The syndrome was first discovered in Michigan in late winter 2014 in Alpena, Dickinson, Keweenaw, Mackinac and Ontonagon counties. Widespread die-offs of hibernating bats are expected in all of these counties, and potentially others, this winter.

“We understand the public will be concerned, and we share their concern for the plight of these bats,” said DNR wildlife veterinarian Dan O’Brien. “Unfortunately, there is nothing that the public can do to help the bats that are now dying."

WNS primarily affects bats during hibernation. Infected bats awaken prematurely from hibernation, deplete their fat reserves rapidly, and are unable to survive the winter. The public can help bat populations by staying out of mines and caves where bats hibernate.

The DNR asks that bat die-offs this winter be reported on the DNR website or by calling 517-336-5030. For more information on bats and white-nose syndrome, visit www.michigan.gov/wns and www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Battle For Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome from Ravenswood Media on Vimeo.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Photo Share: Dispute over species of bird

I say this is a Veery, my friend says it is a Hermit Thrush. Please advise. If you like this photo, feel free to share or use. Richard

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, http://www.allaboutbirds.org, is a good website to compare different birds that look alike.

At first glance there are a few similar thrushes in the genus Catharus, but careful observation can help you tell them apart. For instance, Hermit Thrush is the only one of these species that lives in the U.S. in winter. 

Hermit Thrushes have a warm brown tail that contrasts with a duller brown back. They also habitually perform a frequent tail-lift, quickly raising the tail and slowly lowering it; no other Catharus thrush does this. The underparts are pale with distinct spots on the throat and smudged spots on the breast. With a close look you may see a thin pale eye ring (not a bold one).

The Veery  is similar to Hermit Thrush but more slender and longer-winged. Veeries have uniformly warm brown upperparts, indistinct spotting on the chest, and fairly plain faces with very little eye ring.  
Comparison of similar birds from: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Hermit_Thrush/id#similar

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How to feed birds while on a vacation

Holly has sent us some wonderful photos of her birds on her seed cylinder feeder. Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Cylinder Feeders attract a variety of birds. They're low maintenance and easy to fill. Just slip on a medium (1.75 lbs) or large (4.5 lbs) seed cylinder and watch the birds feast for weeks.
The cylinder seed cakes are held together with gelatin and can withstand the winter weather really well. They also deter the house sparrows from scattering all the seed like they might from a loose seed style feeder. The birds have to stay at the feeder longer to work the seed free. This gives you more time to observe the birds up close.

There are several seed cylinder flavors. Holly is using the Cranberry. Our Large Cranberry Fare Seed Cylinder is packed with pecans, sunflower chips, peanuts, safflower, black oil sunflower and cranberries - everything you need to help your birds survive the winter. Larger seed cylinders are ideal for using when you’re away on vacation, can accommodate a large amount of bird activity and requires you to refill your feeders less often
Thank you Holly for sharing a snapshot from your yard. It looks like you need a refill. Hope to seed you soon!

Related Articles:
How to get the chickadees to stay at the feeder longer http://goo.gl/Bn5G2u
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Best Large Capacity Bird Feeder http://goo.gl/fqmDby
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In honor of hard working Squirrels everywhere

Many animals prefer working for their food, rather than getting it for free, defying standard economic theory.

In honor of January 21st Squirrel Appreciation Day I would like to share a scientific theory on why those pesky squirrels work so hard to eat bird food.

The following is adapted from The Upside of Irrationaity: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely, HarperCollins (2010).

"Contrafreeloading," a term coined by the animal psychologist Glen Jensen, refers to the finding that many animals prefer to earn food rather than simply eating identical, but freely accessible, food found in a dish nearby.

To better understand the joy of working for food, Jensen first took adult male albino rats and tested their appetite for labor. Imagine that you are a rat participating in Jensen's study. After a few days of having a nice man in a white lab coat giving you lab crackers precisely at noon, you learn to expect food at noon every day, and your rat tummy begins rumbling right before the nice man shows up -- exactly the state Jensen wants you in.

Once your body is conditioned to eating crackers at noon, things suddenly change. Instead of feeding you at the time of your maximal hunger, you have to wait another hour, and at one o'clock, the man picks you up and puts you in a box with bar that you accidentally press, and immediately a pellet of food is released. Wonderful! You press the bar again. Oh joy! -- another pellet comes out. You press again and again, eating happily, but then the light goes off, and at the same time, the bar stops releasing food pellets. You soon learn that when the light is off, no matter how much you press the bar, you don't get any food.

Just then the man in the lab coat opens the top of the cage and places a tin cup in a corner of the cage. You don't pay attention to the cup; you just want the bar to start producing food again. You press and press, but nothing happens. As long as the light is off, pressing the bar does you no good. You wander around the cage, cursing under your rat breath, and go over to the tin cup. "Oh my! It's full of pellets! Free food!" You begin chomping away, and then suddenly the light comes on again. Now you realize that you have two possible food sources. You can keep on eating the free food from the tin cup, or you can go back to the bar and press it for food pellets. If you were this rat, what would you do?

Assuming you were like all but one of the two hundred rats in Jensen's study, you would decide not to feast entirely from the tin cup. Sooner or later you would return to the bar and press it for food.

Jensen discovered that many animals- including fish, birds, gerbils, rats, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees-tend to prefer a longer, more indirect route to food than a shorter, more direct one. That is, as long as the animal doesn't have to work too hard, he'll frequently prefer to earn his food. In fact, among all the animals tested so far the only species that prefers the "lazy" route is the commendably rational cat which prefers to be served.

The general idea of contrafreeloading contradicts the simple economic view that organisms will always choose to maximize their reward while minimizing their effort.
Watch the video: http://youtu.be/Y0NxxZWMOMQ
For more information:
3. NPR interview of behavioral economist Dan Ariely about his new book, The Upside of Irrationality.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flying Squirrels in Michigan

Although they can be found throughout the state, few people have had the opportunity to view Michigan's most elusive mammal, the flying squirrel. Two species of flying squirrels are found in the state. The northern flying squirrel (G. sabrinus) inhabits the northern Lower and Upper Peninsulas, while its close relative, the southernflying squirrel (G. volans), inhabits the southern Lower Peninsula.

Flying squirrels are entirely nocturnal, inhabiting mature forests and parks, as well as other woodlands. They utilize the many cavities that are found in mature trees for nesting and winter denning. Unlike bats, flying squirrels do not really fly. They have a loose membrane of furred skin attached between their front and back legs. The membrane helps these squirrels glide from tree to tree.

Flying squirrels readily visit bird feeders. One way to view these creatures after dark is to use a red light to illuminate the feeder. The red light does not bother the feeding squirrels but allows you to see their activity after dark.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons
While relatively abundant, researchers have been noticing a change. Northern flying squirrels are no longer being found in their historic range. Yet researchers are finding not only higher numbers of flying squirrels but in areas they had not been found previously.

The question for researchers is why it seems that the northern flying squirrel population is retreating while the southern flying squirrel is increasing. Some evidence suggests that the continued existence of the northern flying squirrel in the Lower Peninsula is at risk.

Researchers from Michigan State University will be establishing survey plots to document the range of the two species and compare this to historical information, as part of a project funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund.

Source: Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus & G. volans)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Start collecting pet hair now for the birds

The Tufted Titmouse Baeolophus bicolor is an attractive bird with big black eyes. Its feathers are gray above, white below, with red/brown side flanks. This makes perfect camouflage. The adults also have a black area above the bill that the juveniles lack.

Breeding pairs like to remain close together year round, even when they join small multi species flocks for winter survival. They do not migrate.

In the spring when nesting season begins, place bunches of pet hair or your own hair from brushes inside a suet cage. If you’re fortunate enough to have titmice in the area, they would love to incorporate your offerings into the lining of their nest. They've even been known to help themselves to horse hair and dog hair while it’s still attached to the animal.

Related Articles:
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Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short? http://bit.ly/yds9Mm
Tufted Titmouse fun facts http://bit.ly/AfIA7H

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What a mild winter means for bird watchers

My friend and I wonder where are the birds that used to feed at our feeders. Mine in St. Joseph and hers in Holland. This is the first year that this has happened. I have sighted very few birds this winter in St. Joseph and only in one place do I hear song. My friend shares the same experience. Is there a reason? Thank you for your help in answering our question.

There are several reasons you may not have as many birds this year. With the warmer-than-usual conditions more birds are finding it easier to forage for food naturally. It's estimated that only about 20% of a backyard bird's daily energy intake comes from feeders and because we haven’t had a lot of snowfall in Michigan, there still might be a lot of natural food sources available.

Also this year we've had no major bird irruptions. According to the Finch Forecast the seed crops in the boreal forest for 2015 are average. That means more birds will stay up north this winter with little chance of irruptive migration of birds to Michigan.


Other things to check if you don’t have birds at your feeders:
1. Choose quality food. Birds are remarkably proficient at assessing potential food items for nutritional content and quality. Fresh sunflower seed, peanuts, white proso millet, safflower, Nyjer thistle seed and high quality suets are some of the best choices. Feeders with low-quality foods may have the seed discarded on the ground or just avoided. Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess bird seed is the only blend I use personally. The first ingredient is sunflower seed with the hulls removed, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet, also with the hulls removed.

2. Make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this is to smash the seed on a piece of white paper and see if any oil comes out. On cold days where every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

3. Clean feeders keep birds healthy. Dirty or moldy feeders can be dangerous to the birds. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh™ (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using something like WBU Weather Guard.

4. Look for predators. Hawks or cats can deter birds from feeding in your area.

You'll probably notice that the bird activity will increase at the feeders before a storm.

Related Articles:

- Common winter birds in Michigan and their food preference: http://bit.ly/yp9YQA
- How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
- How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
- How to winterize your bird feeding station http://bit.ly/xucuF8  
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/vZ6gzM
- Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/5FpPr7

Saturday, January 17, 2015

More Bald Eagles fly over Michigan

The Bald Eagle continues to overcome adversity and fascinate nature lovers.

Forty years ago, our national symbol was in danger of extinction throughout most of its range. The Endangered Species Act, the federal government’s banning of DDT, and conservation actions taken by the American public have helped bald eagles make a remarkable recovery.

When America adopted the bald eagle as the national symbol in 1782, the country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting eagles. The first major decline of the species probably began in the mid to late 1800’s, coinciding with the decline of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other prey.

Although they primarily eat fish and carrion, bald eagles used to be considered marauders that preyed on chickens and domestic livestock. Consequently, the large raptors were shot in an effort to eliminate a perceived threat. Coupled with the loss of nesting habitat, bald eagle populations declined.

In 1940, noting that the species was “threatened with extinction,” Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which prohibited killing, selling, or possessing the species. A 1962 amendment added the golden eagle, and the law became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Shortly after World War II, DDT was hailed as a new pesticide to control mosquitoes and other insects. However, DDT and its residues washed into nearby waterways, where aquatic plants and fish absorbed it. Bald eagles, in turn, were poisoned with DDT when they ate the contaminated fish. The chemical interfered with the ability of the birds to produce strong eggshells. As a result, their eggs had shells so thin that they often broke during incubation or otherwise failed to hatch. DDT also affected other species such as peregrine falcons and brown pelicans.

By 1963, with only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles remaining, the species was in danger of extinction. In addition to the adverse effects of DDT, some bald eagles have died from lead poisoning after feeding on waterfowl containing lead shot, either as a result of hunting or from inadvertent ingestion.
 
Today, there are almost 10,000 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous United States. Bald eagles have staged a remarkable population rebound and have recovered to the point that they no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

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

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