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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

House Sparrows: Learn more before #GBBC

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature and make a difference for birds. It’s free and easy. To learn more about how to join the count visit www.birdcount.org.

Get to know the House Sparrows before the Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Female House Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons
House Sparrows can be found all across the world. They are so common in most cities that they are sometimes overlooked. Their name House comes from their success with the living near human habitations.

Male House Sparrows have a rusty-brown colored back and wings with black streaks, a gray head, buff cheeks and belly, and a black bib. Females are a plain buffy-brown overall with striped buff, black, and brown back.

Between 1874 and 1876 a few House Sparrows were brought over from England and were released in Jackson and Owosso, Michigan to control insect infestations on crops. They quickly multiplied into thousands as they raised three to five broods per year regularly, each brood averaging around five babies.

Male House Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons
However in many other parts of the world the house sparrow has been in decline since the 1970’s. They are even considered an endangered species in the Netherlands. Similar drops in population have been recorded in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Finland.

At the feeders you will see the House Sparrow eating mainly sunflower seed, millet and cracked corn.

Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one and enter their sightings at www.BirdCount.org. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers like you helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with Wild Birds Unlimited, as a sponsor!

Related Articles:
- Why should we care about birds? http://goo.gl/4iD8a
- How to get rid of sparrows http://goo.gl/9tAwkY
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://gbbc-is-coming
- Book Recommendations for Michigan Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/x5t2gv
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ywWdfL

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Choosing seed to attract the most birds for #GBBC

February is National Bird Feeding Month because it is one of the most difficult months in much of the U.S. for birds to survive in the wild. And February 12-16, 2016 is the Great Backyard Birdcount (GBBC). That is a citizen science project where everyone can take 15 minutes to count what birds they see in their yard and submit their observations to gbbc.birdcount.org.

 To prepare your yard for the big count, I've made a little cheat sheet on bird seed to help you attract the most birds. When choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds I always make sure sunflower is the first ingredient. I also like seed blends with nuts. Sunflower seed is the favorite of most seed eating birds like cardinals, finches and titmice and the peanuts will attract bug eating birds like chickadees, wrens, jays and woodpeckers.

To make the most of your birdseed budget, choose seeds that attract the birds you want to watch. The following shows the results of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studies on food preferences of birds:
a) Black oil – Fresh oil sunflower seed is attractive to most seed eating bird species.
b) Striped – The larger shell is harder for some birds to crack but Tufted Titmice and Blue Jays prefer.
2. Peanut pieces – Are attractive to numerous species. Lots of bug or suet eating birds choose peanuts for their high protein and fat levels.
3. White Proso Millet – Is the preferred food for ground feeding birds like juncos, doves and sparrows.
4. Safflower seed – This was not included in USFWS studies but is a favorite of red birds like Cardinals and House Finches and is considered acceptable to most other bird species except blackbirds and starlings. (Squirrels don't seem to care for it either.)
5. Nyjer (Thistle) - Is not related to weed thistles. The high fat content and small seed shape makes it attractive to finches.
6. Cracked Corn - Eaten about one-third as often as white proso millet and attracts blackbirds.
7. Red Proso Millet – It can be used as a substitute for white proso; however, not as preferred
8. Golden (German) Millet – Is the least preferred of the millets
9. Milo (sorghum) – Large red round seed found in a lot of cheap blends. It is unattractive generally to all species. Jays, cowbirds, and grouse may eat it in Michigan. More of the western ground feeding birds might eat milo.
10. Oats - Only starlings found hulled oats attractive.
11. Wheat – Unattractive to most species.
12. Canary seed - Unattractive to most species. House Sparrows and cowbirds will eat canary seed.
13. Flax seed - Almost completely ignored.
14. Rape seed (canola seed) - Least attractive feed in the study. Quail and doves may eat.

Where to Purchase Seed
We have tons of fresh seed delivered every week to our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. Our seed is also sifted to take out all the sticks and field debris. Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love. We also carry a wide variety of other bird foods—suet, seed cylinders, mealworms and more.

What is your best blend?
For the East Lansing  Wild Birds Unlimited store, customers’ preference by far is WBU No-Mess Blend. Our unique No-Mess Blend contains sunflower seeds, peanut pieces and white proso millet without the shells. No shells on the seeds make for a tidier feeding area, since there's nothing on the ground to clean up. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything happily.


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
Why pay more for seed at Wild Birds Unlimited? http://bit.ly/xJZMFe

Friday, January 29, 2016

Photo Share: Evening Grosbeak

Photo by Simon Pierre Barrette
Evening grosbeaks are social birds, often found in flocks, particularly in winter when they feed on seeds, berries, and buds of trees and shrubs. When their population is high or the seed food crop is low in Canada, they become “irruptive” winter migrants, making erratic movements far south of their normal winter range into the continental United States including northern Michigan.

You might hear their running patter of call notes before you see them. They are a songbird without a song, having no complex sounds to attract a mate or defend their territory. Just a small repertoire of simple calls, including sweet, piercing notes and burry chirps, is emitted.
  
Related Articles:
Fun Facts About Evening Grosbeaks http://goo.gl/JCzRq5  

House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/opD7kb
Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
10 Winter Finches in Michigan http://goo.gl/C9WUqx
Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4

Thursday, January 28, 2016

#GBBC is coming!

Look for El Niño Surprises During the Great Backyard Bird Count

For release: January 2016
Orange highlights the above-normal warmth of equatorial surface waters in the Pacific that are driving the current El Niño. Image courtesy of NOAA.
With the El Niño weather phenomenon warming Pacific waters to temperatures matching the highest ever recorded, participants in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), may be in for a few surprises. The 19th annual GBBC is taking place worldwide February 12 through 15. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced to El Niño storms and unusual weather patterns.

"We've seen huge storms in western North America plus an unusually mild and snow-free winter in much of the Northeast," notes Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. "And we're seeing birds showing up in unusual places... We’re curious to see what other odd sightings might be recorded by volunteers during this year’s count."
Northern Cardinals by Michele Black, OH

Though rarities and out-of-range species are exciting, it’s important to keep track of more common birds, too. Many species around the world are in steep decline and tracking changes in distribution and numbers over time is vital to determine if conservation measures are needed. Everyone can play a role.

Learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count at birdcount.org. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Related Articles:
Why is it Important to Count Birds? http://goo.gl/rC1qS
1-2-3, How Many Birds Do You See? http://bit.ly/z3EOrM
Book Recommendations for Michigan Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/x5t2gv
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ywWdfL

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Do cardinals mate for life

Photo by Steve Baker I never paid attention
to the birds chirping but recently
have begun to notice what bird
was singing their song.
Male cardinals start singing the last week of January, triggered by hormones and increasing daylight. Most cardinals form pair bonds around February-April. Males and females that have paired up in previous seasons are often the first to pair up as the new breeding season begins, sometimes even as early as January.

About 40% of adult cardinals die each year. Most die during the winter when food supplies are low. February is the toughest month for birds to find food. If a cardinal has lost a mate from the previous season a search will begin for a new mate.

As the courtship continues both the male and female begin to sing duets. Cardinals can sing several different song types but during the duets they coordinate songs. Scientists think this is another way for the female to determine her potential mate’s quality. Listen for them singing cheer, cheer, cheer or birdie, birdie, birdie.

Next the males bring tasty treats that they feed to the females. A male’s ability to forage efficiently and provide good quality food is an important consideration for a female that depends on a male to provide food for her while she is incubating eggs and later feed her babies.

Source: Wild Bird Guides-Northern Cardinal by Gary Ritchison

Related Articles:
Why Birds Keep Attacking the Window? http://bit.ly/z0Z8Va
How to Attract Cardinals http://bit.ly/zdXWDV
Why Cardinals Flock http://bit.ly/zocRzC
How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/zRvpJ1
Why Cardinals are Different Colors http://bit.ly/xonnDU
Cardinals weren't Always Residents of Michigan http://bit.ly/ycWUCm

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

East Lansing considering deer kill

Hi, This is Cheryl from Nottingham Nature Nook. I wondered if you would be willing to share the post I wrote today on deer on facebook and twitter? It is my understanding that East Lansing is still considering shooting deer in two areas of East Lansing and I believe people need to understand the social structure of deer, in order to make better decisions on their management. Thanks so much! Cheryl
From Nottingham Nature Nook Facebook
Many people do not realize the important social structure that exists between deer. Here at Nottingham Nature Nook, Mistletoe (a 2 year old doe) adopted our five fawns (Dash, Blue, Viceroy, Skipper and Mona) when they were released in the fall. 

This group became a family unit that remains together on a daily basis. Mistletoe guides these young deer on bedding sites, and shows them what natural vegetation provides the best digestibility and protein content. This group is also joined by Opal (a 3 year old Doe) and her 3 fawns from last spring as well as Yarrow and Tansy (2 year old does raised with Mistletoe). 

If either Mistletoe or Opal were killed this herd would face a traumatic change without the guidance of these does. By removing one deer you endanger the lives of all the others who depend upon them, and more importantly care for them.

You can write, call or email Mayor Mark Meadows about your concerns and opposition. East Lansing business and residents will have the greatest influence.
Address: 410 Abbot Road, East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone: (517) 319-6904 
Email:  mmeadows@cityofeastlansing.com

How you can help wildlife today:
The Nook is also having a Winter Wildlife Food Drive. Cheryl has raised, rehabilitated and released hundreds of birds and animals. During the winter months the wildlife released still need food in order to survive the cold weather. The Nook spends approximately $300.00 per week for food for both indoor and outdoor wildlife. All of the proceeds from this fundraiser will be used to purchase food through the end of March 2016.

You can donate through www.youcaring.com/ or the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store will collect cash or checks for the Nottingham Nature Nook.

As a thank you, every person that donates personally at the Wild Bird Unlimited store in East Lansing by February 29, 2016 will receive a  FREEdSeed Heart.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Heartwood Architectural birdhouses

From www.eheartwood.com: Heartwood’s story began some 20 years ago in the small town of Star, Mississippi, when two brothers began the odyssey that transformed them from builders of homes for people into builders of homes for birds.

Heartwood Means GREEN: Heartwood doesn't cut trees. Ever. They utilize small pieces of cypress and mahogany that would otherwise be discarded or used to fire kilns.

Cypress is naturally rot and decay-resistant, a perfect wood to construct a shelter for birds. Heartwood only purchases short pieces of cypress, 4-6’ long, which would otherwise be chipped and burned that has been harvested in accordance with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) guidelines.
Brothers Jerry and Larry Glass

Guilt-free mahogany. Everyone appreciates the beauty and durability of mahogany furniture, but behind that beauty is an impossible standard of perfection. That means a lot of wood is rejected. The salvage stock has a lot of unique knot holes which is perfectly natural and attractive to birds.

We just received our spring shipment of handcrafted houses from Heartwood at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store. These one of a kind houses go fast! If you see something you like don’t wait.

Related Articles:
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
Common Bird House Problems http://bit.ly/wrWzyN
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://bit.ly/AD43TW
Don’t use treated lumber to build a birdhouse http://bit.ly/x2pIG0
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE
DO NOT Collect Dryer Lint for the birds to use as nesting material! http://bit.ly/wC5HcO


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Chickadee Sweeties!

Photo by Robert Nunnally
Even though nesting season is still a couple months away, this morning I heard the loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee chickadees use to attract mates or strengthen pair bonding. In the Wild Bird Guides: Black-capped Chickadee, Susan Smith writes the loud fee-bees actually involve three notes. The first (fee) is high, the second (bee) is low, and the third (bee) is slightly higher in pitch than the second, like they are singing hey sweetie.

In the fall young chickadees leave the territory they were hatched and join non-family flocks to forage for food together all winter. The flocks usually are equal in the numbers of males and females and pairs form. This monogamous pair formation is an essential part of flock formation and may last a lifetime.

Females choose their mates so males must woo females with song and tasty treats. Chickadees are year-round residents in mid-Michigan. This gives them an advantage in finding a good nesting territory. At the end of January it is not too early to see chickadees begin to explore potential nest sites (bird houses) so that as soon as the flocks begin to break up for breeding at the end of February, each pair can claim a territory within their home range.

In March, as chickadees dispute territory rights, the loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee songs become a familiar sound. You’ll hear male chickadees engage in prolonged fee-bees battles with their male neighbors.

Related Articles:
What the 'dee' in Chick-a-dee means http://goo.gl/8rde3a
A closer look at the fee-bee song of the chickadee http://goo.gl/X4qLRV
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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

eBird animated migration map

An animated map of the Western Hemisphere shows the paths of more than 100 bird populations as they migrate throughout the year.

The map was created by researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who plotted the routes of these groups to understand their paths across land and the open ocean.

As revealed in the moving map, the team found wide similarities in the migration routes of different groups of species.

Color-coded dots show the trajectories of these birds as they head southward in the fall. Dark blue dots show the birds during January, with light green representing June-July, and red showing December.

The team used data from eBird to track the movements of 118 species of birds from January to December, according to Cornell’s online hub for bird enthusiasts, All About Birds.

In the map, color-coded dots show the trajectories of these birds as they head southward in the fall.

Dark blue dots show the birds during January, with light green representing June-July, and red showing December.

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:
Related Articles:

Friday, January 22, 2016

Photo Share: Mourning doves coo

Photo by Alex
Mourning doves are monogamous, some pairs stay together through the winter. Males perform a number of displays, along with a courtship "coo", on a display perch. They will drive other males away from their display perch but do not otherwise establish a territory until after mating. Females land near the male on his display perch, causing the male to begin an elaborate series of courtship maneuvers.

Related Articles:
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://bit.ly/wMKEKF
How Do You Keep Doves From Dominating a Feeder? http://bit.ly/zDAwR2
How Mourning Doves defend their nests http://bit.ly/LiE7TH
Do Birds Sip or Slurp? http://bit.ly/N6syCY
Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/N6sL9h

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Squirrels and suet feeders

When you come into Wild Birds Unlimited you can choose from a variety of high quality seed and suet cakes that will attract a wide number of different bug eating birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and wrens.

The East Lansing store’s best seller is the peanut butter suet cake, which has only three ingredients: rendered beef fat, chopped peanuts and peanut butter. This is my favorite suet cake too (for my birds, I mean). I don't usually have any squirrels on this suet but if I did I would switch it up a little.

To repel squirrels and other mammals you can use the straight beef suet cake or the hot pepper suet cake. Most mammals will leave those two cakes alone. The hot pepper suet has Capsaicin as an ingredient. Capsaicin is the main chemical that makes chili peppers hot. However, birds don’t have the same receptors as mammals and will not be repelled by it.

Birds will eat the hottest of hot chili peppers happily, a fact so well known that some varieties are popularly known as "bird peppers." When small birds consume the fruits of wild peppers, the seeds pass through the gut undigested and, due to the birds' flight range, are deposited in distant places where they can grow with less competition. If the fruits were consumed by larger mammals the seeds would either be digested, or deposited much closer to the parent plant. Studies have shown that the seeds of wild peppers are in fact dispersed almost exclusively by birds.

Related Articles:
- What birds eat suet? http://bit.ly/q2Sfje
- Can I make my own suet? http://bit.ly/rsc1JT
- How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods: http://bit.ly/ob0NIq 
- Can I feed suet year-round? http://bit.ly/I4Ow8l

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Squirrels in mid-Michigan are fast

Photo by Dawn Huczek
Failed the audition for "Got Milk". He did not understand.
I kept saying, it needs to be on your upper lip!
January 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day and I was watching the squirrels acting squirrely in the yard today. January and February is when squirrels begin looking for mates. You'll see them zig zagging around the yard with the males following females and fighting with other males.

Other Fun Facts on Squirrels
How fast are squirrels?
The backyard tree squirrels in mid-Michigan are fast. They chase each other around and avoid predators at an average speed of 10-20 miles per hour. They have long, muscular hind legs and short front legs that work together to aid in leaping. They can jump 10 feet from a tree to a bird feeder or straight up an average of 4 ft. The hind legs of squirrels are double-jointed. This helps them run up and down trees quickly.

Why are they called squirrels?
Wikipedia explains that the word squirrel came from the early 14th century Anglo-Norman word esquirel and from the Old French escurel, which is the reflex of a Latin word sciurus. This Latin word was itself borrowed from Ancient Greek word σκίουρος, skiouros, which means, are you ready… shadow-tailed. This is probably because the squirrels use their bushy tails to shade themselves.

So for everyone who thought squirrel meant “clever creature sent to drive me crazy” or “batty rat that can figure out any bird feeder” now you know it means "beautiful beastie with a bushy tail".

Why do squirrels chew on everything?
Squirrels, nibble, gnaw and chew on anything and everything to sharpen and shorten their teeth that grow continuously. Squirrels’ teeth grow very fast and they wear them down by cracking nuts, trimming trees, and attacking bird feeders. If they didn’t, we’d have saber toothed squirrels running around.

How big is a squirrel’s brain?
You are what you eat. A squirrel’s brain is about the size of a walnut, one of their favorite foods. They can eat their own body weight (approximately 1.5 pounds) every week. Squirrels are mostly vegetarian but sometimes they do eat small insects.

To celebrate National Squirrel Appreciation Day, come in to the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store for some Wildlife Blend which is  full of nuts and seeds the squirrels love on January 21.

Related Articles:
What's the Difference Between a Groundhog & Woodchuck? http://bit.ly/z5FPoV
Singing Birds Herald The Arrival of Spring. http://bit.ly/uJbzCe
Love and the Birds: The Origin of St. Valentine's Day http://bit.ly/w5ra8B
Is hibernation more of a nightmare than a pleasant dream? http://bit.ly/y2OGr6
Origin of National Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg