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.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC) Is Just Around the Corner

Join the 21st Great Backyard Bird Count

Bird watchers around the world take part, February 16-19
News Release: A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 21st annual GBBC is taking place February 16-19 in backyards, parks, schools, offices and anywhere else you find birds.

Anyone can participate in this massive global citizen science project. All it takes is a 15 minute break. Count the birds you see and then enter that checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contributes to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes over the years.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”

One of the most obvious changes observed in bird populations is due to the varying weather conditions. eBird reports show many more birds are remaining further north than usual because of warmer winters. In mid-Michigan sightings of Carolina Wrens, Northern Flickers and Eastern Bluebirds are becoming commonplace when ten years ago it was very rare for them not to migrate further south. Participants also noted that they were seeing fewer birds at their feeders, compared to other years during the GBBC. That may also have something to do with milder weather. The birds may be finding more natural sources of food and visiting feeders less as a result.

Last year the warm weather in February also kicked off early migration that started around GBBC time. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are well-known to arrive in early March in mid-Michigan. In 2017 however blackbirds were even more widespread than normal and their returning numbers continued to build through February’s final week. Comparing the 2017 GBBC map to the January 2017 map from eBird shows how much migration was already underway by mid-February. 

If the warm weather continues, we could see the earliest spring ever for bird migration in the eastern United States: watch for waves of Tree Swallows, Eastern Phoebes, Pine Warblers, and Chipping Sparrows next!

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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Am I too old to join a band?

Music Monday – A New Beginning!

A new semester of music is starting and I feel like I’m a kid back in school. It has been a few years since I had to think about the start of a new school year for myself. There were always mixed emotions. Excitement for seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a while, excitement about new classes. The mixed emotions part came as I stressed about grades and taking tests. I haven’t had to take a final exam in decades but I still get a knot in my stomach when I see the back to school sales every year. I have school aged kids so I’m not so removed yet from the annual cycle and I still get the same excitement and dread when their school year starts. And NOW I’m starting a new semester of school!?

Starting in the New Horizons Band is different though. It is like going to high school the first day and finding out your schedule includes just gym, art or other fun classes. There are no final exams and your grade is based on… well there is no grades. It is just an opportunity to learn a subject without any of the associated negative stress.

I can imagine that learning a new instrument could be a little stressful for some people, but for me it was always exciting to try to learn to make music. Several years ago when my kids were in elementary school they had to learn the recorder. I thought I could do that so I bought a book and learned with them. What fun! A band instrument may be a little more intimidating, it often has a few more parts to it and can cost more which makes me think it must be more difficult. But in some ways it can be easier to gain a basic level of competence because most band instruments have readily available teachers, books and schools that can help you get started. And in this computer age, you don’t even need that because there are hundreds of videos online that will teach you all the basics if you want. I think I am still a little “old school” though because I prefer to learn from real people that I can interact with. I play a saxophone that I bought back in 1984. I’ve taken a few lessons over the years but when I started playing it again in the NHB after almost 30 years away, it took a little while to relearn all the fingerings. I started last spring and I can remember trying to relearn just 2-3 notes a day for a couple weeks before class started. Even today, a year later, I am still adding some alternate fingerings to my playing skill set. I am mostly learning from the people around me. It is keeping me sharp. That is what is truly amazing and fun about NHB. I get to learn, have fun playing music with a really nice group of people and keep my mind active learning something that I enjoy. And there are no tests!

The new semester for the NHB at Michigan State University Community Music School starts January 22, 2018 and anyone is welcome. If you are not sure about an instrument or your playing skill, come visit during a class and talk with us. You can also contact me directly at zarkadan@gmail.com if you would like my opinions about the class or contact the Community Music School for info about classes. Bring your instrument if you want to try playing along with the NHB. The semester starts January 22, but you can visit any time during the semester. See the flyer for class times.

Related Articles:
Music Monday http:/music-monday.html
MSU Community Music School http:/msu-community-music-school.html
At one time, everyone was a beginner http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/music-monday-at-one-time-everyone-was.html

Sunday, January 21, 2018

#SquirrelAppreciationDay: Portrait of a Gray Squirrel

Credit: Don Freiday/USFWS Gray squirrel
Close-up of an Eastern Gray Squirrel's head; note the brownish fur on its face, the gray fur on its back and the white fur on its underside.

Like many members of the family Sciuridae, the eastern gray squirrel is a scatter-hoarder; it hoards food in numerous small caches for later recovery. Some caches are quite temporary, especially those made near the site of a sudden abundance of food which can be retrieved within hours or days for reburial in a more secure site. Others are more permanent and are not retrieved until months later. Each squirrel is estimated to make several thousand caches each season. The squirrels have very accurate spatial memory for the locations of these caches, and use distant and nearby landmarks to retrieve them. Smell is used partly to uncover food caches, and also to find food in other squirrels' caches. Scent can be unreliable when the ground is too dry or covered in snow.

Related Articles:
Special squirrel adaptation http://squirrel-adaptation.html
Where squirrels sleep at night in the winter http://squirrels-sleep-at-night.html
Squirrel Dancing http://squirrel-dancing.html
What squirrels eat in the winter http://squirrels-eat-in-winter.html
Red Squirrel facts & figures http://squirrel-funny.html
Where flying squirrels live http://flying-squirrels-live.html
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food http://squirrels-like-to-work-for-their-food.html
How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr

Saturday, January 20, 2018

#SquirrelAppreciationDay: Fun Facts on #squirrels to share

There are 279 species of squirrel worldwide including tree squirrels, ground squirrels, and flying squirrels. 8 species are found in Michigan.

On average, our backyard squirrels eat about 1-2 pounds of food per week. They eat much more than nuts. Squirrels are omnivores and eat fungi, seeds, nuts and fruits, as well as eggs, small insects, caterpillars, and small animals.

Squirrels plan ahead and bury nuts and seeds at various locations and return to them throughout the year when food is scarce. They put on elaborate bogus food burying displays to deceive onlookers.

Tree-dwelling squirrels such as the grey squirrel live in tree hollows, bird houses or build dreys (similar to bird’s nests) made of twigs high in trees. They are lined with grass, bark, moss and feathers for added comfort and insulation.

Although a single male can fertilize an entire litter, usually there is varying paternity, so a single litter could have multiple fathers. A typical grey squirrel litter consists of four offspring born about an inch long, naked, with closed eyes and ears.

Related Articles:  
How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb
Black Squirrel History & Facts http://bit.ly/AxiqPz
"Frisky" Fox Squirrels http://bit.ly/AndeTw
Why squirrels chew http://bit.ly/AjVzFW
Black squirrel with a blonde tail http:/black-squirrel-with-blonde-tail.html
Origin of National Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg
Fascinating Squirrels facts http://squirrels-in-mid-michigan.html
How squirrels were introduced into the neighborhood http://squirrels-were-introduced.html
How squirrels remember where they've buried nuts http://squirrels-remember.html
Invasion of American Killer Squirrels http://invasion-of-american-killer-squirrels.html
The World's Largest Squirrel http://largest-squirrel.html
What Happens after you Hang up the #1 Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder? http://what-happens.html
People Interrupt Mr. Squirrel's Holiday Shot! http://people-interrupt-mr-squirrels-holiday.html

Friday, January 19, 2018

Backyard squirrels

They may have a reputation for making bird feeding less enjoyable, however, squirrels aren’t going away any time soon. Perhaps by looking at them from a different perspective, you can begin to appreciate, if not enjoy, squirrels and their behaviors.

Squirrels are one of the most curious and adaptable animals to be found anywhere and they are unmatched in their problem-solving ability to defeat many so-called "squirrel proof" feeders!

Squirrels can jump up to five feet vertically and ten feet between trees or structures. They have the ability to cling from objects with their back foot toes (with support from their tail) which allows them to hang upside-down and eat.

So, if you want to keep squirrels from bothering your bird feeding setup, Wild Birds Unlimited has tested and determined the best foods, feeders and accessories to confuse and confound even the most brilliant squirrel in your neighborhood.

And if you decide to raise the white flag and enjoy their amazing antics, we have lots of fun and functional squirrel feeders that will brighten up both their day and yours, too.

Visit us soon, and we’ll help you feed the squirrels if that’s your thing, or we’ll help you defeat ’em once and for all.

Related Articles:

Special squirrel adaptation http://squirrel-adaptation.html
Where squirrels sleep at night in the winter http://squirrels-sleep-at-night.html
Squirrel Dancing http://squirrel-dancing.html
What squirrels eat in the winter http://squirrels-eat-in-winter.html
Red Squirrel facts & figures http://squirrel-funny.html
Where flying squirrels live http://flying-squirrels-live.html
Squirrels Like to Work for Their Food http://squirrels-like-to-work-for-their-food.html
How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#BirdYourWorld Photo Share

Sarah, these are mostly your feeders that I gave my son near Maple City, MI. He gets lots of birds up there.

It looks like he has a finch feeding frenzy and one lone chickadee making his way through the suet.

Thank you for sharing! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Special squirrel adaptation

A lot of squirrel territory is the vertical, navigating up and down the trunks of a trees. They find a nut on the ground and run to a tree trunk to eat out of the view of predators. Because they have the treat in their hands, they only have their feet to secure them to a safe perching area. Fortunately they have well-developed claws in both the front and hind feet to latch on to rough surfaces.

They also can feed comfortable headfirst down trees by swiveling their back ankle joints. Squirrels can maneuver quickly and gracefully thanks to a special adaptation where their ankles, or wrists, articulate. The squirrel may be heading down the trunk but its feet and claws point upward, enabling a good grip on the bark and a speedy dexterous descent.

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Robins stay here all year long

I have just seen a large group of Robins here in in Coastal South Carolina and I was somewhat surprised. Do they stay here all year long? - Cheryll
Yes, some America Robins migrate but if you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common. When I hear their chirp in the crab-apple tree in the dead of winter, it always takes me by surprise!

Robins head off to the woods in large flocks in the fall and winter to eat fruits, nuts, and berries. You'll see them occasionally foraging at certain trees that produce fruit, usually after a snow. They can fly miles to forage for food in the winter. You may see them in your yard for two or three days devouring a crab apple tree's fruit and then not see them again the rest of the winter.

At the end of winter when natural supplies run low, they start to show up at my feeders looking for mealworms, suets, seed cylinders, and picking out the nuts in my no-mess blend birdseed. And make sure you have water. Birds need to drink and bathe too, even in cold weather. Dirty feathers lose much of their insulating properties, so a clean bird is a warm bird. A heated birdbath on cold days or a fresh bowl of water on warmer days is a big help. Thank you for sharing your observation!

Related Articles:
What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/tfT7Ca
Cavity nester birds http://cavity-nester-birds.html
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/uKZs6v
Build a nest box in winter, and watch baby birds in spring http://nest-box-in-winter.html 

Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Attracting Birds with Roost Houses http://roost-houses.html

Monday, January 15, 2018

Music Monday – At one time, everyone was a beginner

Like many people, I’ve always had a love of music. My interest in music though was not just listening, but wanting to play instruments. I can distinctly remember even as a very young kid wanting to play something. Part of that was just my natural interest in trying to understand how things worked. Probably a negative associated with my interest was that I didn’t have the attention to stick with one thing for very long so I understand the basics of a lot of instruments but I’ve never stuck with any long enough to become very competent on any. Even now as I have begun to play my saxophone again after many years of being away, I have to quash the urges to take up the tuba or trombone or bass clarinet. They are all so interesting and if I had all the time (and money) in the world, I would try my hand at them all. But for now, I am going to work on the saxophone. Fortunately, being able to play in the New Horizons Band at the MSU Community Music School has given me some direction and incentive to practice and become a better musician on the instrument I have. And yes, I do practice. Probably not as much as I should or would like to but I still have a full-time job. NHB does have many people still working as well as many that are retired. It is a mix of all ages and skill levels. That range of skill levels makes NHB unique in its ability to accept new members all the time. All you need to join, is a willingness to learn and a love of wanting to play music.

I feel that on the range of skill levels, I am still a beginner, maybe a seasoned beginner since I have been with the band for about a year now. And I have to continually remind myself that being a beginner is OK, that it takes time to learn anything new. That everyone starts out as a beginner. Before I started in the band I did what I think is very common. I started asking questions like “how hard is it to take up an instrument as an adult”. If you search on Google with that question, the results frequently landed on sites from music teachers or schools where they say that is the most frequently asked question from every adult that they work with. As an adult, we often feel very accomplished in our own field of endeavor but have forgotten how many times we had to overcome challenges before we became competent. To learn an instrument as an adult, you have to think like a child. Don’t be embarrassed by small failures, let them be learning experiences. I frequently miss notes and struggle with syncopated rhythms or cut time. I circle those sections on the music sheet as we play and when I go home, I work through those sections so that maybe I will be able to play through them in class next time. It is part of my personal journey to become better doing something that I have always loved. I remind myself that I am not trying to become a professional musician, I am doing this because I enjoy playing music. NHB has given me the opportunity to do something I have wanted to do since I was a kid and to have fun doing it with a group of other like-minded individuals.

New Horizons Band at the MSU Community Music School is now recruiting New Members. If you would like to talk to me in person or have questions about joining, I will be at the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store this Saturday (January 20, 2018) from 10am to about noon and would be happy to answer any questions. You can also write me with questions at zarkadan@gmail.com. The new semester starts the week of January 22 and you are welcome and encouraged to visit during any practice to see what we do. You can also visit the Community Music School Sunday January 21, 2018 between 3-5pm during their Open House to get more information.

Related Articles:
Music Monday http:/music-monday.html
MSU Community Music School http:/msu-community-music-school.html

Sunday, January 14, 2018

What birds will do in the cold

During these windy, cold nights you might wonder where the birds that don’t migrate south for the winter sleep. Birds that nest in cavities like chickadees, woodpeckers, wrens, and nuthatches tend to sleep in tree hollows, man-made nest boxes or roosting pockets far away from many predators. Other birds like cardinals, jays, doves, juncos and finches roost in dense brush or foliage. I have a lot of backyard birds that like to sleep in the pine trees near the feeding stations. If the wind is blowing, they go to the other side of the tree and avoid it.

Most birds will fluff up their feathers to cover their feet and create air pockets that will help them keep warm like a down jacket. Birds that perch also scrunch down to sleep because that automatically makes the toes grip their perch and stay locked. In the legs of most tree-dwelling birds, tendons extend down the leg behind the ankle to attach to the tips of the toes and when their knees bend, the tendons are pulled taut, making the toes on their feet clench. Even on windy nights, this grasp cannot be released until they wake up and their limbs are straightened again.
Another way birds combat the cold is by shivering. This converts muscular energy into heat for the short term, but the energy must be replenished shortly thereafter. By keeping your feeders filled with high energy, high fat foods you can provide your birds with the vital nutrition they need to survive. High on the list of best choices to meet this nutritional need is suet or seed blocks and certain seeds like peanuts, sunflower  and nyjer seed.

Related Articles:
What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/tfT7Ca
Cavity nester birds http://cavity-nester-birds.html
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/uKZs6v
Build a nest box in winter, and watch baby birds in spring http://nest-box-in-winter.html 

Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Attracting Birds with Roost Houses http://roost-houses.html

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Photo Share: Bald Eagle in Lansing, Michigan

Can you spot the eagle?
During Michigan winters, bald eagles are seen throughout the state of Michigan, and while they nest mainly in the Upper Peninsula, we have begun to see some eagles nest in Lansing. The eagles in the photo hang out along the river in my sister backyard in Lansing.

If she's lucky, during the beginning of the breeding season, from mid-February to mid-March, she might be able to see some mating displays. The mating "cartwheel" display begins high in the air with the two birds darting and diving at each other, until they lock talons and drop in a spinning free fall, until the last possible moment when they separate.

Nests are usually located in the tallest tree in the area, often a white pine or dead snag. They are usually made of sticks with a lining of grass and moss. Nests may be refurbished each year until they reach enormous sizes, up to ten feet in depth and 20 feet across.

Last year a pair built a nest a little way from Potter Park Zoo and fledged two eaglets. They were one of  nearly 1,000 active nesting sites around the state.

Related Articles:
Why Bald Eagles nest in the winter http://why-eagles nest-in-winter.html
Nesting Eagles facts and figures http://t.co/vpj99ZV
A closer look at our National bird http://bald-eagle-facts.html
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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Anna's Hummingbird Nesting Season

It's funny to think about it when we are having snowy whiteout conditions in mid-Michigan, but way out west it is the beginning of nesting season for the Anna's Hummingbirds. The question I received yesterday via email was: I live in San Diego and just purchased a hanging nesting material hanger. Is there a certain time of year I should put this out? When do hummingbirds start to build their nests in San Diego?

According to San Diego State University:

"Few birds have taken to man-made surroundings more thoroughly than Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna. In its range, Anna’s is by far the most abundant hummingbird in gardens and at feeders while still remaining common in native sage scrub, chaparral, and riparian and oak woodland. Where feeders and ornamental plants fuel it year round, Anna’s Hummingbird is a permanent resident; in natural habitats, many birds depart for the fall. During winter they return, and some begin nesting as early as December. Anna’s Hummingbird nests earlier than any other San Diego County bird."

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Birds like hulled sunflower seeds

I feed your seedless bird food? Should I also have a feeder with the regular stuff too?

Sunflower seeds can come with or without the shell. Birds prefer the seeds without the shell (Sunflower chips) because every minute at the feeder is a minute a predator can attack. I prefer sunflower chips because they don't leave much debris on the ground to clean up and usually don't sprout.

Sunflower seeds in or out of the shell are considered the number one choice to feed and attract the greatest variety of birds. No-Mess Blend blend (or as many people call it "seedless") is unique because it features a perfect blend of attractive, high-energy seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left.

The first ingredient in the No-Mess blend is sunflower chips, then peanut pieces, and finally a little millet, also with the hulls removed. Peanuts are for your bug eating birds like chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, wrens and more. Millet attracts the ground feeding birds like the juncos, sparrows, buntings, and doves. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells. The birds eat everything!

If you want to give your birds additional variety at your bird feeding station you could offer Seed Cylinders or Seed Bells. There are multiple kinds, some even have mealworms and fruit. Or Suet and Nyjer® (thistle) feeders to attract more woodpeckers and finches. And don't forget the Bird bath! All birds need water even those that aren't "feeder birds".  At Wild Birds Unlimited we will help you choose the right seed – and the right tools – for the birds you are trying to attract.

See the proof in this video:  https://youtu.be/fEb5VBzPTUA
The chickadee picks up and drops the sunflower in the shell first, the safflower in the shell second, but finally chooses to keep the sunflower chip.
Related Articles:
Sunflowers Up-close: The Strange Journey of an American Plant http://bit.ly/uFlz65
Which seeds are preferred by wild birds? http://bit.ly/zchLgB
How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/rTLSqJ
Seed Storage Cans and WBU Seed Scoops http://bit.ly/uBaSwO

What birds like peanuts? http://bit.ly/zispJK
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Safe solution to keep seed dry

Ugh!!! Why does wet-cold feel so much colder? And it can be a mess with the seed in the wild bird feeders too. These are Feeder Fresh days. The question I'm asked most about the product is "does it work?". Yes, Wild Birds Unlimited sells it but I use it in my feeders too. A little goes a long way.

I pour a cap-full in a four pound bag and stir it in, maybe 2 cap-fulls on rainy days like today. Any moisture that makes its way to the seed is immediately absorbed and leaves the seed free to flow for the birds to eat. Birds usually just leave the feeder fresh in the feeder to continue working until I fill the feeder again. One bottle can last for a month or more depending on the weather.

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/smZrpg_VM0A

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Why Great Horned Owls have tufts

Great Horned Owls are named for the tufts of feathers that sit on top of their heads, called plumicorns (Latin for “feather-horn”). There are currently about 225 living owl species, and of those about 50 have these feathers that look like horns or ears like the Long- and Short-eared Owls. However they have nothing to do with horns or ears. An owl’s large ear openings are at the sides of its head.

Scientists don’t know why some owls developed the tufts, but they do have a few theories. They  might help members of their own species to recognize each other among the forest around them, or assist in non-verbal communication. They may also use the tufts to blend into their surroundings, making them look more like broken tree branches. Or tufts along with their large eyes they may enhance an owl’s ability to mimic a mammal like a cat and appear more frightening to predators.

Related Articles:
- Owls in Michigan http://where-owls-live.html

- Snowy Owls http://bit.ly/ylJmQq
- Eastern Screech Owl http://bit.ly/wMQBZj
- Great Horned Owl http://bit.ly/zmlFqY
- Barred Owl http://bit.ly/yAoDx8
- Great Gray Owl http://bit.ly/tAewYm
- Fun Facts on Owls http://bit.ly/z9q3Dg

Monday, January 8, 2018

MSU Community Music School

Music Monday – The birds make music, so can you! Now Recruiting Members for the New Horizons Adult Community Band.

I had seen the flyers for years when my kids went to their music lessons at MSU Community Music School. I was interested in playing in a band but I hadn’t touched my instrument for decades. I wasn’t even sure I remembered how to play. Then last spring there was a signup sheet at the school to get more information. A few days after I signed the sheet, I heard back from Mary Ann, one of the members. It sounded like this band really could be something I could do, even though I hadn’t played in years. The New Horizons Band at Michigan State University really is a band for anyone with any level of experience that would like to play in a concert band. And the group is what makes this band different. Forget about Facebook and Twitter to get your “Social” fix. This is the old-fashioned way to meet and interact with people. While the opportunity to play music is the draw for me right now, NHB is designed for learning music and for social interaction and during a 2-hour practice, we take a 15 minute break half way through for snacks and conversation. I’ve met some wonderful people in the time I have been in the group and I may introduce some in future blogs.

Unlike some of the members of NHB, I did not play when I was in high school. I played in my school orchestra in junior high school but we didn’t have a high school orchestra. I decided not to try as a beginner to join the band in high school because most of those students had been playing for five years already, so I didn’t get my music fix and I have always regretted that I didn’t get to play in a concert or marching band. Never-the-less, I remembered hearing a saxophone in junior high and decided I would try it when I graduated from high school. I took private lessons for about a year, until my teacher moved away and then I played one semester in a college non-major concert band. I liked that but was too busy to keep up with it and my other courses. I put the sax away and only occasionally thought about it. In January 2017, I finally decided to sign up for the NHB. There are always excuses of being too busy to join and I did think about that but then decided I was just making excuses. I wanted to play and so I would make the time to play. I actually joined the group a week after the semester started because I did need to talk myself into it. There is definitely a fear factor of being new to playing in a group after being away for so long. But now I tell everyone that that should not be a reason. You are welcome here. If you are still unsure, send me an email and I can tell you more about the group. You can visit for a practice or two and see what we do. You don’t have to commit to anything. Bring your instrument and play along for a bit. You still do not need to commit but you will want to. If you have never played or want to try a different instrument you can sit with a section and see and talk to others before deciding. You will not be forced to do anything. There are no auditions, no first chair competitions, no forced solos. Just a chance to play music in a fun group. When I joined, I brought my instrument so I could try to play. I don’t think I did very well but I enjoyed the chance to play and now my only regret is that I waited so long to join.

If you would like to talk to me in person or have questions about joining, I will be at the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store this Saturday (January 13, 2018) from 10am to about noon and would be happy to answer any questions.
The new semester starts the week of January 22 but you can visit any day before or after during a practice to see what we do. You can also visit the Community Music School Sunday January 21 between 3-5pm during their Open House to get more information.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Newton #cat is making new friends!

Newton is enjoying the new feeder. He did this repeatedly until the birds stopped coming for a while.
A customer came in to return a used feeder on Saturday. I couldn't resell it, so my brother thought a window feeder would entertain Newton and also help deter birds from trying to fly through this particular window. A very happy resolution!

Related Articles:
A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats http://window-feeder-entertain cat.html

Tips and tricks to make your suction cups stick. http://bit.ly/uvCI3o
Which seeds are preferred by wild birds? http://bit.ly/tZKjjf 

Close-up of oriole at the window feeder: http://bit.ly/rIMsv2
Hummingbirds at the window: http://bit.ly/s5Y3WJ
What says eh-eh, yank-yank? http://bit.ly/vvh2lm

Where squirrels sleep at night in the winter

Why aren't the squirrels hibernating?
Not all squirrels hibernate. Ground squirrels, woodchucks and, to a lesser extent, chipmunks hibernate. Although chipmunks wake periodically and eat stored food, while the ground squirrel and woodchuck use stored fat for maintenance energy during hibernation.

Tree squirrels like the Flying Squirrels, Red squirrels, Fox Squirrels and Gray/Black Squirrels prepare for winter by bulking up and hiding food.

In really cold weather they may hole up with several other squirrels together in a den, drey, tree crevices, or man-made boxes to keep warm. A den is created in the side of a tree and is typically constructed using moss and leaves for bedding. Dens can be built into abandoned woodpecker holes or the natural cavities of a tree. A drey is that mass of leaves you see  in the forks of trees that squirrels build with dry leaves and twigs. I have an owl nestbox that is a very popular winter hangout as well as nesting area for squirrels.

Related Articles:
- When do bats hibernate? http://goo.gl/IES4Bt
- Do Voles Hibernate? http://bit.ly/rTcbQI
- When do Chipmunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/uGhBOB
- Do opossums hibernate during winter? http://bit.ly/u4ORP6
- Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/sixWTH
- Feb. 2nd groundhogs end their hibernation http://bit.ly/vPHVtx
- Do skunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/xVKDXP

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Brown bird with stripes on belly

House finches are a welcome visitor to backyard bird feeders. While the male is a brown bird with bright red head, throat, and rump, the female at his side is sometimes overlooked. Her brownish overall appearance with stripes down her chest help her blend in with her surroundings. Watch for them as they mix in with sparrows at the feeders looking for sunflower, nyjer (thistle), and safflower seeds. I always know they are at the window feeder because both the male and female House Finches give a fussy little cheep call as they position themselves at the feeder.

They are year-round residents in mid-Michigan. They get their name "house" because they like to hang around our houses. In fact by the end of March make sure to take down any winter wreaths or you may find a finch family claiming it as the perfect place for a nest.

Related Articles:
Compare House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/vn2HK3
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/rT5Hfj
Why male and females are a different color http://bit.ly/ueILUf
House Finch feeding his baby http://goo.gl/g4svn
Remove all winter wreaths before finches begin nesting in them http://goo.gl/OeyOS

Friday, January 5, 2018

Photo Share: Bluebird eats sunflower hearts in winter

Under harsh conditions such as prolonged period of chilly, wet weather, or snow & cold, or when ice coats most of the wild berries, bluebirds will benefit from receiving feeder food.  Meal worms, suet, sunflower hearts, softened fruits, and seed cylinders can all be fed to bluebirds.

If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Black-colored birds in the yard

I've had several customers come in because they have had a wave a "black" birds make a sudden attack on their feeders. Most blackbirds leave mid-Michigan for warmer temperatures further south. The black-colored birds that are being reported are usually European Starlings. They are year-round residents but aren't seen commonly at the feeder at this time of year because they switch their diet in the winter to mainly fruits, nuts, and berries. During the day you can see them hanging out on wires along the roadside.

After nesting they gather in huge flocks and are hit or miss at the feeders depending on the weather. The extreme cold may have forced them to come to feeders looking for some extra high-energy foods.

To deter starlings you can switch up your bird food choices:

- Use pure beef suet with no seeds
- Switch to straight safflower seed: Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust. Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.

or change your feeders:
Squirrel Buster Plus- This feeder is guaranteed Squirrel and large bird proof. You can exclude large nuisance birds with this feeder by rolling in the perches to make them short. You can also adjust the tension on the spring mechanism to have the feeder ports shut when large birds land. Blackbirds weigh twice as much as cardinals.
Upside Down Suet Feeder- a feeder that dispenses suet from the bottom doesn’t phase a woodpecker but will deter most blackbirds.
Finch Feeders- I’ve never had a problem with the blackbirds on any finch feeders that are filled with straight nyjer thistle seed. 

Related Articles:
- Do birds warm their feet on telephone wires? http://bit.ly/t7k91r
- Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
- How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
- Amazing moment bald eagle chases down & catches a starling http://bit.ly/tnPo6z
- Starlings stealing shiny money from machine http://bit.ly/uKaP8b

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

How birds will find my feeder

How are the birds going to find my new feeder?
How Birds Find The Feeder
Birds are amazing creatures and can find new feeders several different ways just like humans find restaurants. Everyone has a friend that likes to tell you about the new "hot spot." Some birds fly in flocks and may send out a scout bird to forage for new feeding sites.

Or if you see a line around the block for a restaurant, you may get in line yourself to check out the food. Some solitary birds see a lot of birds at a feeder and go see what all the fuss is about.

Where to Place Feeders
Feeders can be placed throughout the yard at different levels to attract a variety of birds. Just remember to place the feeder where you can watch the birds easily.

A place that's sheltered from the wind and away from cats and other predators is always good. And the closer your feeder is to the window, the less likely birds will be hurt if they mistake the clear glass as a fly-through. 

How Long Does It Take
It may be a matter of hours before birds discover new feeders or a matter of weeks. The variation depends on habitat, number of nearby feeders, and the kinds of birds in the area. Chickadees, and House Sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders. Also if you switch feeders the birds may be cautious to try that feeder. Give cardinals and woodpeckers a little more time to try a new feeder, maybe up to a month or more. To encourage the birds to use new feeders, tempt them with scattered seeds on the ground.
Good luck and enjoy the new feeder!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Seed Bells are a great way to attract more birds into your backyard

As temperatures dip early in the new year, birds will be looking for reliable sources of food. You can also supplement your regular feeders with a little seed bell to feed a few extra feathered friends in your yard.

Seed Bells are an ideal way to offer your birds a high-energy supplement throughout the year. They are solid, compact mix of birdseed, fruits and nuts and can be hung on outdoor trees, porch hooks, or shrubs as a treat for clinging birds. They usually last between 2 to 4 weeks depending on the activity. Attract finches, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, titmice, woodpeckers and many more.

And new this year is a Flaming Hot Feast, a seed bell that keeps the squirrels, deer, and raccoons away.  What makes this bell special is the sunflower hearts, peanuts, golden safflower, and mealworms are coated in a secret sauce that is extra spicy. Birds don't taste the hot but most mammals will avoid it.

Related Articles:
My Favorite Feeder http://my-favorite-feeder.html
The Best Peanut Feeders http://best-peanut-feeders.html
Northern Flicker more common at feeder http://flicker-at-feeder.html
Bell full of nesting materials http://nesting bell.html

Monday, January 1, 2018

Music Monday

Something a little different from the normal Wild Birds Unlimited Blog, a Guest Blogger (my brother Dan)...

One of my New Year resolutions is to become better at playing a musical instrument. As part of that resolution, I’m going to try to write a Monday Music Blog to relate my experiences and also to encourage YOU to join a musical group. After all, one of the reasons to watch and feed birds is to experience their musical talent. But birds are not born with the gift of music, they have to learn their songs just like the rest of us. And if a little ol' bird can learn then I figure we can too.

One of the best ways to learn an instrument is to play with a supportive group. If you are in the Lansing Michigan area, a great group to try is the New Horizons Band because they are set up to support those of us that are just learning or wanting to play for fun. If you are not nearby, New Horizons has bands all over the world or you can set up a band in your area. Check out New Horizons here. I joined the band in 2017 and to find out more about my experiences you can continue reading on upcoming Mondays, but first, a brief pitch for the New Horizons Band at MSU.

My son has a background on his computer that says “Better days are coming, they are called Saturday and Sunday.” I like my weekends, but the days I look forward to most are Monday and Tuesday. Those are the days when I get to play music in the New Horizons Band at Michigan State University Community Music School. If you are not familiar with the New Horizons Band (NHB), it is a band for adults who want to learn to play a band instrument for the first time or for those who wish to relearn an instrument. NHB at MSU has members that range in age from late teens to their early nineties, with many like me in their 50s, or 60s and 70+s. Some have been playing an instrument for years and others are absolute beginners but the environment is welcoming to any level of playing ability and help is available to teach those that would like it. Frequently, what you will hear is someone saying they played when they were in high school but haven’t touched an instrument since then. Some people will take some private lessons for a month or so just to refresh note reading or fingerings. It does help but just playing in the group is probably the most helpful and others around you will assist if you ask. And you don’t have to be perfect. One of the often-repeated ideas is that if you cannot play the whole thing, at least try to play one note. Every time that note comes up in the music, you can play and contribute to the song. Once you've mastered that note, add another. And in no time, you are playing all the notes.

Where the NHB really excels is in providing encouragement and support from others in the band. Because if you are like me, you are going to miss a note or few but others in the group are there to cover, and the finished product actually sounds pretty good (listen to video of the MSU fight song), NHB has no musical requirements for admission except for a desire to have fun learning to play music. If you would like to learn more NHB at MSU, you are welcome to send an email to me at zarkadan@gmail.com, but I also encourage to check out the Community Music School at Michigan State University link for NHB (http://www.cms.msu.edu/el/adults/horizonsBand.php) – they also have great private instructors. Listen to a sample: https://youtu.be/qCJx2DNduRg

(P.S. There has been some quiet conversions about adding a New Horizons String Orchestra to the program and if you are interested in strings more than a wind instrument, send me an email so that I can relate the level of interest for this.)