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.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Photo Share: Cardinals sing and Hawk pellet dissection

My car was the victim of a vicious pothole. Actually it wasn't so much a pothole as it was a place where the road buckled to create a solid ridge just enough to knock something loose. The good news is that it is now light enough in the morning that it is possible to walk safely to and from work.

All the way in I heard the cardinals staking out territories through song: "This is my yard, My yard, My yard" and a return of  "No it's not, No it's not". Song plays are an important role as male cardinals establish territorial boundaries. Neighboring males often engage in countersinging (singing at the same time or alternately) to convey information. Sometimes one cardinal will match a song of a particular cardinal neighbor so that he knows the song was directed at him to stay off my territory. If that doesn’t work the intensity of the message can increase with longer songs and a greater number of syllables and ending with a harsh trill. These grrrrr trills are added to songs when other males approach too closely. If one or the other doesn’t back down, a chase may ensue. It is pretty early in the season yet so I didn't hear anything so intense. For me it was just a lovely serenade on my walk to the store.

When I made it to the front door of Wild Birds Unlimited I saw the bird bath had frozen over night, and someone left me a little surprise on top of the ice! We had a young Cooper's Hawk visit earlier in the week and I think this was his pellet. Dolly (cat) and I did a little paperclip dissection of the pellet and found some feathers, leg bones, and what looked like the gizzard and seeds from the remains of a House Sparrow.
A pellet, in ornithology, is the mass of undigested parts from some bird species' meals that are occasionally regurgitated. The contents of a bird's pellet depend on its diet, but can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, bills, claws, and teeth. Hawk and owl pellets are grey or brown, one to two inches long, and range in shape from spherical to oblong shaped. If you find a pellet it is recommended to microwave it first to sterilize it before study.
Wild Bird Guides-Northern Cardinal by Gary Ritchison
Wikimedia Commons Pellet
Watch Northern Cardinal singing on the edge of spring https://goo.gl/p78xER

Related Articles:
How birds chew food without teeth
Where birds go when it rains https://goo.gl/An12ea 
When do Northern Cardinals Nest? https://goo.gl/jwbh9q 
Cardinals begin singing for mates https://goo.gl/mh4gTJ 
Do cardinals mate for life https://goo.gl/WiMg8f

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Simple bird house pole

Millions of people like having birds in their yards for the beauty, song, and entertainment. But of course they are also beneficial to us in several ways. Observing birds raise a family is very educational, and the birds that live in bird houses devour pesky insects by the thousands each day. This is not only nice for us but very good for your garden too.

To attract a bird family to nest in your yard you can hang a bird house off a fence post or on a tree but depending on where you live, this may not provide enough protection from predators. The best way to put up small nest boxes is on free-standing metal poles. The advantages of Poles are that they can be moved to the perfect habitat, can be equipped with predator guards, and when installed they are the perfect height for easy monitoring of bird nests.

Wild Birds Unlimited has a selection of simple to install poles to hang or mount your bird feeders or houses. The exclusive, patented Advanced Pole System® (APS) offers a 6' Bluebird Pole with Flange that is perfect for larger houses. To install just twist the pole into the ground using the convenient corkscrew auger. Tests show the pole stays straight in up to 35 MPH wind gusts. Then attach your mounting flange to the house and thumbsrew in place.

For smaller wren and chickadee houses Wild Birds Unlimited has 6' Spiral Pole that also has a flange that attaches to the house and is removable from the pole to make it easier for maintenance. This hand made heavy duty wrought iron is 1/2" square spiral pole with a black powder coat finish. It is erected effortless by stepping it into the ground.

In Michigan songbirds can begin looking for house as early as January and February. Make sure to put your houses as early as possible to have the best chance for a nesting family to move in this year.

Related Articles:
- Best bird houses at Wild Birds Unlimited http://goo.gl/A1dMF
- Product Highlight: Advanced Pole System http://bit.ly/uKRdrZ
- How to Protect My Bluebird House pole: http://bit.ly/vcPUb7
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/A8OFNi
- 5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/x16Dqr
- When do you clean bird houses? http://bit.ly/zpTAiX

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Where birds go when it rains

Birds take shelter from rain in bushes, brush piles, tree hollows, and man made bird houses. But when the rain keeps coming and coming they eventually need to venture out to eat. This is when feeders help a lot. Having a known source of food available like a bird feeder or fruit bearing tree can help birds gain enough energy to survive the bad weather. 

After the rain stops take a few minutes to clean your feeders and put in fresh seed with a little Feeder Fresh to keep the seed dry. The birds should be very hungry!

While wet birds can fly, at least short distances, it expends more energy, they aren't as steady, and when they land it is harder for them to keep warm. This morning I'm watching the birds flocking to the feeder.

Before they hit the feeders they were probably perched in the tops of trees or the ends of branches with their tail and wings spread out to take full advantage of the drying breezes and vigorously shaking themselves now and again to remove any excess water. Most bird feathers are somewhat water resistant, but this recent downpour soaked them through. I just had a hawk swoop in and do a little twist and swish to remove water. I'm sure he's had a hard couple days too with all his food hiding.

Related Articles:
How can birds fly in the rain? http://goo.gl/JOeMVM
How to Help Keep Your Birds Warm http://goo.gl/GNaFLo
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

When nesting begins

As the weather warms and the days get longer birds get excited. Nesting season can vary depending on the species of bird, the weather conditions, food availability, and many other variables. Some larger birds like owls, hawks, and eagles may begin courting in December and nest in January and February.

Other birds that winter in Michigan may begin to sing and scout for good nesting territories as early as late January. A reliable source of food like bird feeders may contribute to a bird deciding to nest early in your yard.

Black-capped Chickadees and Eastern Bluebirds are probably already scouting out bird houses for their first clutch. Starlings and sparrow have also been scouting. Northern Cardinals and American Robins usually nest anytime from March to August. In some areas the Mourning Doves nest almost year round because they feed their young “crop milk”. And soon we'll get calls about birds making their nests in holiday wreaths. Anyone who places hanging plants on a covered porch in the spring or leaves a holiday wreath hanging on the door may find that by April a female House Finch has begun to build a nest in it.

If a bird starts to nest and a cold front moves in, they may suspend their nest building activities for a couple weeks and then continue when the weather is more favorable. This may happen especially with inexperienced and excited first year nesters. Research has found that the basics in nest construction are primarily instinctive, but birds’ nesting skills improve through trial and error.

Other birds that migrate in to nest in Michigan usually begin nesting in May. Birds like House Wrens, Tree Swallows, Baltimore Orioles, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come in hungry but get right down to business and begin nesting as soon as possible.

To help the birds you can keep your feeders clean and full of fresh seed. Stressed birds are susceptible to disease. Make sure to put out nesting material and have bird houses are ready for occupancy too.

Related Articles:
Bird Nest Basics http://bit.ly/sqNq0u
Is it too early to put up a birdhouse? http://bit.ly/tmN9rj
How do you know when a nest is abandoned? http://bit.ly/usMPY8
Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting http://bit.ly/sqafTq
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/uWN7fE
Common Backyard Bird Nest Identification http://bit.ly/sVfipj

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Photo Share: Natural Nesting Materials

Your post today (nesting material) reminded me of a photo I took back in 2016. I filled a suet block feeder with hair I combed out of my dog, Walter. The hair was very popular with the sparrows nesting in my birdhouse! Walter was happy to contribute!

What a wonderful photograph! I've found light colored hair is preferred the most by birds but it all eventually goes. Walter's looks especially fluffy. Just think how many baby heads were pillowed comfortably by Walter's kind donation. That's what I tell Dolly when I pluck her long white mane hair. Thanks for sharing, Sarah

Even though I live in Fargo, ND I'm a regular reader of your blog and have learned a lot from your posts. I enjoy the photo share offerings! Kerry
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.

Best nestsing material

I want to put nesting material out to help with the nest building. How early should I start doing so? – Thanks

You should put materials out early in spring, when the first robin starts to patrol your yard for worms. You can continue to offer nesting materials as late as August, because some birds nest two or three times over the course of the summer and the American Goldfinches don't even begin to nest until late summer.

The birds that winter in our area, (chickadees, bluebirds, titmice, house finches, sparrows, and cardinals) may begin collecting nesting material as early as March. Other birds that migrate north to Michigan to nest (wrens, hummingbirds, swallows, orioles, buntings, grosbeaks, and warblers) begin nesting in May.

At Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI store we have cotton nesting balls, bison down bags, alpaca wool, and Birdie bells full of grasses, cotton, animal hair and feathers.

Or you can collect: twigs, cotton or wool yarn cut less than 3 inches, human hair or animal fur (cat or dog), feathers or dried decorative grasses.  We DO NOT recommend dryer lint. Lint hardens after getting wet providing a poor nest for baby birds. Thread, plastic material and lint are the 3 big no, nos for nesting material.
Offering birds construction material to build a nest is just one more way for you to attract a wider variety of bird activity to your yard!
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

Monday, February 19, 2018

#MusicMonday – Overcoming Stage Fright

Music is meant to be performed. But what do you do when you have stage fright. I like to play music for myself but sometimes have an urge to share, but I have terrible stage fright. So what to do. One of the easiest ways to share the music is to play in a band. The New Horizons Band at the MSU community music school allows me to practice music for myself and also to perform in a group with support from all of my fellow musicians. But I like to play some music that is different from the band. Some music just wouldn’t work for a band or orchestra. I still play for myself. I even sometimes record myself (see an example here) to see how I sound from in front of the instrument – it is recorded in an old timey format to match the old timey music. It can be quite different when you hear yourself perform for yourself. But it is different than sharing music with an audience. What I have found to be the best cure to stage fright is to simply practice to overcome stage fright like you would practice an instrument. That means going out and playing music. It doesn’t have to be on a stage in front of a large audience. In the summer, I like to play on my front porch for the neighbors as they walk around the neighborhood. During the winter, I occasionally play in the Wild Birds Unlimited store. I am going to try to practice overcoming my stage fright for the next few weeks on Saturday mornings around 10am at the East Lansing store on my tiny stage. In the band I play saxophone but for these tiny stage performances, I’ll bring my travel banjo. I hope to see you there.
Wildwood Flower: https://youtu.be/VwibHSyWhlE

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Will sing for food: If you feed more, birds will sing more!

The thing I miss the most during the winter months is waking up to birdsong. This morning a cardinal was outside my window chipping and warbling good morning. And the goldfinches were tweet, tweeting hello. You can hear the birds' excitement about the days getting longer with the increase in singing. A key part of a bird’s brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to longer days, hormones stimulate the pituitary gland indirectly to prepare birds’ bodies for the upcoming breeding season and results in increased singing.

Goldfinches are getting ready to put on their yellow feathers!
Birds can sing at any time of day, but during the dawn chorus their songs are often louder, livelier, and more frequent. Early morning, light levels are too dim for birds to do much foraging but it’s a great opportunity to sing.

Also singing loud and proud first thing in the morning tells everyone within hearing distance that you were strong and healthy enough to survive the night. This is attractive to potential mates, and lets your competitors know you’re still around and in charge of your territory.

If you feed more, birds will sing more
In a recent study, early morning songs of two groups of birds were recorded and compared; one group had received supplemental food and the other had received no additional food. “The researchers found that well-fed birds sang more than the birds left to fend for themselves. This suggests that singing is an announcement or a “badge of status” based on the conditions the bird finds itself in. The dawn chorus is a social network, the bird’s version of Facebook, where they update their neighbors and potential mates about what is happening in their lives.”

So keep your feeders full. Food is the most essential element, providing birds with the energy, stamina and nutrition they need. Some birds are starting to choose nesting territories already and will be looking for food, water, nesting material and nesting boxes. In return, for our support, we receive beautiful bird song and a backyard that is bird family-friendly.

Related Articles:
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/H42e6s
- What seeds wild birds eat http://goo.gl/Un35yR
- What to do if you have soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
- Early birds also get the best mates http://early-birds-also-get-best-mates.html

- How Birds Sing http://how-do-birds-sing.html

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Simple Way to Help Birds This Weekend

Dark-eyed Junco (slate)
by Sue Barth
This weekend, February 16 to 19, 2018, you can help scientists learn more about birds to better protect them. How? By counting birds for as little as 15 minutes! Join the Great Backyard Bird Count wherever you see birds—whether that’s in your backyard, at the local park, or even just looking out the window at your feeder. Enter your sightings online or on the mobile app. It’s that easy and can make a big difference for birds.

To learn more about what scientists discovered the past 21 years and how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit birdcount.org. The Great Backyard Bird Count 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 founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

The 21st GBBC is additionally notable because it is the February call-to-action for the Year of the Bird, a 12-month celebration of birds to raise awareness of how people can help birds by taking simple actions each month. The Year of the Bird is led by National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, and more than 100 participating organizations. Learn more about Year of the Bird at www.birdyourworld.org.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Photo Share: Cardinals and Crabapples

A lot of people wonder what Dolly (cat) does in the back room most of the day. Well morning duty entails watching birds in the burning bush on the side of the Wild Birds Unlimited store. As the sun shifts she switches to the back window to watch the birds in the crab apple tree.

Natural foods, such as fruits, nuts and seeds provided by trees, shrubs, grasses, and flowers will attract a variety of songbirds! Cardinals, House Finches, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings and woodpeckers are just a few of the regular visitors we've watched in the crab apple tree all winter. The tree this year was especially full of fruit. Right now the top and middle of the tree has been picked clean and so they are working on the edges.

These birds have survived a long hard winter and they know an apple (or more) a day keeps sickness away. Apples contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help improve their health. Crab apples also help Northern Cardinals develop brighter plumage because they contain carotenoids.

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, February 15, 2018

Why birds count and Why count birds

1.  Eat pests: Birds are technologically advanced, highly motivated, extremely efficient, and cost-effective, insect-pest controllers.
2.  Pollinate: Animals provide pollination services for over three-quarters of the staple crop plants that feed human kind and for 90% of all flowering plants in the world. 
3Disperse seeds: Some plants take advantage of birds pooping all over the place to disperse their seeds.
4.  Unite a nation: The United States started the trend for national birds when it made the Bald Eagle its avian representative over 200 years ago.
5.  Help win wars:  Birds taught the military about camouflage, flight, sentry systems, and during World War I and World War II, the U.S. military enlisted more than 200,000 pigeons to conduct surveillance and relay messages. 
6.  Save people: Birds act as "sentinels" for environmental health hazards by providing early warning of human health hazards in the environment. During the 1960s, when birds of prey began dying, people were alerted to the dangers of agricultural chemicals such as DDT.
7.  Promote conservation and environmentalism: The Passenger Pigeon, once the most common bird in North America, went extinct by 1914 due to over hunting which aroused public interest in the conservation movement and resulted in new laws and practices to prevent many other species from going extinct.
8.  Feed people: Eggs and meat from birds have sustained people for centuries. 
9.  Clothe and comfort: Feathers provide fashion, warmth, and comfortable cushion.
10. Entertain: The antics of our garden birds keep us amused and may inspire future scientists to make further discoveries about these ancient creatures that might one day save the world.
The Great Backyard Bird Count gives you the opportunity to make them count even more than ever by participating in this annual event which links citizens with scientists in an effort to collect important data about backyard birds.

The GBBC is a joint project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society and is sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited. It takes place each February. Count the birds in your backyard, and then simply report the information online. Your information becomes part of an extensive data base that is analyzed by scientists to better understand important trends in bird populations, range expansions, habitat changes and shifts in migration patterns.

Make your backyard count even more for the birds when you participate in this year's GBBC. And to ensure the birds all show up to be counted, visit our store for the widest variety of great bird food products!

With the 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count coming up this Friday, it's time for a last-minute check that you've got everything you need and that you can get into your existing account or create one if you've never participated in the GBBC before.
You can also check out the GBBC FAQ section and the eBird Help section.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Choosing a proper mate: Do birds fall in love?

A bird's ability to have many healthy offspring may depend on choosing the right mate. In North America most birds form bonds for at least a single nesting. These pairings allow birds to split domestic duties for protecting eggs and caring for hatchlings.

Other pair bonds include mating for life, either by pairing up again each breeding season or remaining with each other year-round. Cardinals, jays, doves, and robins are some of the common backyard birds that spend several seasons together with the same partner.

Even cowbirds which lay their eggs in other birds nests are largely monogamous.

One exception to the social pattern of monogamy with backyard birds that comes to mind is the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. After a brief courtship and mating, the female builds a nest and raises her family alone. Male hummingbirds do not help raise the young.

Related Articles:
Can birds predict your Valentine? http://bit.ly/ztZyzK
Love and the Birds: The Origin of St. Valentine's Day http://bit.ly/zJnkV2
What are Lovebirds? http://bit.ly/xnq0Hz
Do Birds Mate For Life? http://bit.ly/ysg81B
How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/zRvpJ1

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the Tufted Titmouse

Get to know the Tufted Titmouse before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Tufted titmice are about 6 inches long and have wingspans of about 10 inches. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes. They do not migrate extensively and are common year-round in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Tufted titmice are active birds often seen flitting about in trees and searching beneath twigs for insects or bug larvae. They travel and roost during the winter in small mixed flocks of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, Brown Creepers, and woodpeckers.

At the feeders they are attracted to striped and oil sunflower seeds, nuts, suet, seed cylinders and mealworms. Tufted Titmice typically select one seed from a feeder at a time. They shell it and hide the kernel within 130 feet of the feeder from which they obtained it under bark or under objects on the ground.

Males are dominant over females and they form pairs that persist until the death of one of the mates. The titmouse family bond is so strong that the young from one breeding season will often stay with their parents long enough to help them with nesting and feeding duties the following year.

Related Articles:
- Is it “Titmice” or “Titmouses”? http://bit.ly/yImBcF
- Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short? http://bit.ly/yds9Mm
- Tufted Titmouse fun facts http://bit.ly/AfIA7H
- Bird guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/d0VzDD
- How to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://goo.gl/Bc2uGD

Monday, February 12, 2018

#MusicMonday: Mind Challenge

Here is a riddle to start your Monday. What can you sit on, sleep on, and brush your teeth with? A lot of people like to be challenged but are embarrassed to admit when they don't know the answer. Learning to play an instrument as an adult or relearning after a break is the same thing. The idea of the challenge to learn the instrument is intriguing. It puts a goal in front of you. But you are afraid to fail. To a young person learning, it is an everyday occurrence, a challenge that must be met head-on whether they want to or not. Learning new things all the time in school is their life. To an adult, a professional who has been out of school for a while, it is a forgotten feeling. Many of us wish to be young again but we don't want to go through the challenge or embarrassment of having to learn new things again.

Back to the riddle. The answer to this one is very simple but you have to change the way you think about the question and break it down to its parts. Playing music is not a simple endeavor either, there are many small steps to become accomplished. Each note you learn is an advance. Each piece of music you play moves you forward. Each solved riddle keeps you learning, keeps your mind young and you feel good about accomplishing your goal and overcoming the challenge. Michigan State University Community Music School’s New Horizons Band is still recruiting new members. If you’ve never played before, there is someone in NHB to teach you what you need to know to solve the riddle. If you’ve ever wanted to have fun making music, now is the time to learn. You can look for me when you get to class and I’ll make sure you get the answers to your riddle. The answer to today’s riddle, by the way, is a chair, a bed and a toothbrush. Simple.

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
Am I too old to join a band? http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/am-i-too-old-to-join-band.html
The perfect saxophone sound. http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/musicmonday-perfect-saxophone-sound.html 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Photo Share: #Caturday bird watching

Coralee LOVES watching the birds on the window feeder!

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.

Related Articles:
Newton #cat is making new friends! http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/newton-cat-is-making-new-friends.html
Goldfinch at window http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2017/11/female-goldfinch-winter-plumage.html
#NationalCatDay: #Cats at the window feeder http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2017/10/nationalcatday-cats-at-window-feeder.html
Photo Share: Dolly is making new friends! http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2017/07/photo-share-dolly-is-making-new-friends.html

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the Blue Jay

Get to know the Blue Jay before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

The Blue Jay Cyanocitta cristata is a large common songbird at most mid-Michigan bird feeders. With their perky crest, blue, white, and black plumage and noisy calls, jays seem to polarize people into either hating or loving them. Their name “Jay” has its origins from the Latin “gaius” meaning “gay or merry.” The species name cristata originates from the Latin word crista, meaning “crested.”

I am a lover of the jays. After I fill the feeders I whistle to the jays. They give a return call and by the time I’m settled back on the couch with my tea and cat, a family of Blue Jays has appeared at the feeders for me to watch. Blue Jays are known for their intelligence and complex social systems, and have tight family bonds. They often mate for life, remaining with their social mate throughout the year.

Blue Jays make a large variety of calls. The most often heard is a loud jay jay. They also make clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds. The whistle I give in the morning is probably heard by a scout bird looking for breakfast possibilities. He reports back to the family with his whistle of what is available in my yard. I fill my many different feeders regularly with the best Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Blends along with nuts, sunflower seeds, seed cylinders, and suet.

The jay family isn’t the only one listening either. Their discovery of good feeding sight is announced loudly enough that a whole community of birds eventually shows up to take their turn at the feeders. Jays also are very good at giving early warnings of hawk, cats, or other predators in the area. 
Related Articles:
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/w4vRPP
- Blue Jays aren't blue http://bit.ly/roVPVX
- What Feeder Do You Recommend for Blue Jays? http://bit.ly/txd8ja
- Blue Jay Fun Facts http://goo.gl/wJgMmJ
- Do birds know winter is coming? http://goo.gl/EilIa6
- Why Blue Jays go bald in the fall http://goo.gl/gAX3x

Friday, February 9, 2018

#GBBC: Woodpeckers With Red Heads

Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced unusual weather patterns.

Get to know the woodpeckers before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)
In a side-by-side comparison it's not as hard to tell the difference between the smaller Downy Woodpecker and larger Hairy Woodpecker. The Downy is about half the size of a Hairy and the Downy’s bill is shorter than its head, whereas the Hairy’s bill is as long its head.
1. Downy Woodpecker - At about 6 inches, it’s smallest woodpecker in North America and the most frequent visitor to backyard feeders year-round. They have a white belly and back and their black wings have white bars. The males have a red patch on the back of the head. The Downy’s name refers to the soft white feathers of the white strip on the lower back, which differ from the more hairlike feathers on the Hairy Woodpecker.
2. Hairy Woodpecker – At about 9 inches, these medium woodpeckers look like their smaller downy woodpecker cousins. They aren’t as common at suburban birdfeeders.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers have a similar silhouette. Red-bellies have more red on their head while the flickers only have a "V" of red on the back of their head and polka dots on their chest.
3. Red-bellied Woodpecker - They are common throughout most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula year-round. People often call the Red-bellied woodpecker by a list of common misnomers like red-headed or ladder-back woodpecker because of their gleaming red caps and striking black and white barred backs. Since virtually all woodpeckers are black and white with patches of bright colors on various parts of their bodies, the Red-bellied was named for the unique pinkish tinge on the belly, common to both genders.
4. Northern Flicker – Unlike most woodpeckers, this species spends much of its time on the ground, feeding mostly on ants. They are more commonly sighted at suet feeders in the winter. Both the male and females have a red chevron on the back of their heads, black bibs, speckled chest, and a brown, barred back and wings. The males have a black “mustache”.
5. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are mostly black and white with boldly patterned faces. Both sexes have red foreheads, and males also have red throats. Sapsuckers are seen more and more often in mid-Michigan during the winters, but most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. They drill lines of shallow wells that fill up with sap that the sapsucker laps up with their brush-like tongue (not sucks). He also eats any bugs that happen to get trapped in the sticky stuff.
6. Red-headed Woodpecker – These woodpeckers have an unmistakable bright red head, black wings and white belly. They spend the summers in all of Michigan but are the least common at mid-Michigan feeders
7. Pileated Woodpecker – Hard to mistake this bird if it drops down on to your suet feeder. They are Michigan's largest woodpecker at sixteen and a half inches in length and a wingspan up to 30 inches. The males have a characteristic red "mustache," which is actually a stripe near the beak. The female's stripe is black. There is no real consensus on whether this bird’s name is pronounced “pie-lee-ated” or “pill-ee-ated”.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the Carolina Wren

Get to know the Carolina Wren before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Carolina wrens can be year-round residents of mid-Michigan. Both males and females are a bright, reddish-brown above and warm buffy-orange below, with a long white eyebrow stripe, dark curved bill, and white chin and throat.

The “Carolina" refers to the Carolinian Zone, an area which includes much of Eastern United States and extends south to the Carolinas. The climate of this area is also moderated by our Great Lakes, so it is able to support animal and plant species usually not found in other northern parts.

Our Carolina Wrens do not migrate but are very sensitive to cold weather. Severe winters result in a marked decline in their numbers. Having a known source of food is essential for providing wrens with the energy, stamina, and nutrition they need to survive. For this reason, it is a good idea to put out a feeder to help these birds (and other bird species as well) survive the winter.

Carolina Wrens are primarily insect eaters, but suet, peanuts, seed cylinders and mealworms are good substitutes for scarce insects during winter. They can be attracted to your feeders by providing a brush pile close to your feeding area. I have a pine tree and a bushy viburnum to give the birds cover. They feel more secure with a place to seek refuge nearby.

I also have a wren house that it can sleep in at night. A good idea to encourage Carolina wrens to stay and feed in or near your yard is to provide houses or roosting pockets near the bird feeders. Roosting pockets are little shelters, much like birdhouses (but smaller and not meant to be used as a nesting site), where the birds can roost and hide from the wind chill. The combination of roosting pockets and bird feeders during winter is one sure way to attract Carolina wrens in your area.  

Related Articles:
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/yAR4pm 
- Quick Fun Facts on Wrens http://bit.ly/v5XVoU
- Surviving Winter, the Bird Way http://goo.gl/SF0Yga
- Roosting Pockets: Warm Shelter from Frosty Winds http://goo.gl/QOPbMw

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Can I count birds at my feeder

I think I want to try this bird count you keep talking about. Is it okay to count at the birds on my feeder? 
How to do the Great Backyard Bird Count
Yes, this wonderful news! Anyone can count birds in any location. People that have bird feeders and share the numbers and species that are showing up contribute immensely to the study of bird populations.

Some stories I am hearing at the Wild Birds Unlimited store are that the woodpeckers aren't eating as much suet this year. The annual WINTER FINCH FORECAST 2017 - 2018 by Ron Pittaway reported that besides the warm weather we also had the best cone crop in a decade or more along with abundant seed, nut, and fruit crops. This means more woodpeckers have a lot of food available and a perhaps a better chance of surviving the winter. It will be interesting to compare this year to last year to see if woodpeckers visit our feeders as much.

The 21st Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place February 16 to 19, 2018. To participate, bird watchers count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at birdcount.org.

You may find it helpful to print a regional tally sheet so you have a list of birds you’re likely to see in your area in February. Get it here: http://gbbc.birdsource.org/gbbcApps/checklist or you can find Michigan’s most common backyard birds at http://most-common-winter-birds-in-michigan.html
How's it work:
  • WATCH: Count birds at any location for at least 15 minutes—or more if you wish. You can be at home, in a park, or looking out your office window.
  • TALLY: Write down only the highest number of each species you see at any one time to avoid counting the same birds more than once. For example, if you see 8 cardinals as you start your count period, then later you see 12, and later still you see 3, you’ll only report 12--the highest number you saw together at once. Please do not add the numbers together.  
Bird watchers worldwide can take part this year. Make sure to pass this information out to all your friends and family. Thank you for joining the Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited.

Bird ID Help
Check out our archived webinar for everything you need to get started! https://youtu.be/

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the Cedar Waxwings

Get to know the Cedar Waxwings before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Last year produced an abundance of crab apples on the trees surrounding the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, Michigan. As a result we have had an abundance of fruit eating birds like the House Finches, Northern Cardinals, American Robins, woodpeckers, and today a noisy bunch of Cedar Waxwings!

Male and female Cedar Waxwings look similar to human eyes. They are sleek grayish birds with a pale yellow breast and belly, a black mask around their eyes, and a crest on top of their head. They also have bright red wax-like spots on their wings and a bright yellow band at the tip of their tail. 

Waxwings are social birds that you’re likely to see in flocks year-round. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. You might hear the waxwings before you see them. They have a very distinctive thin, high-pitched warbled "zeee" or "zeeet" call that is hard to forget.

If you are lucky enough to have waxwings visiting during the Great Backyard Birdcount and find it difficult to give an accurate count when a flock descends, eBird has developed two bird counting tutorials to help you learn how to estimate numbers. The best technique to use when encountering large flocks of birds is to carefully count a sample, or section, of the flock then extrapolate your count to come up with an estimate. Check out these tutorials:
Related Articles:
Bird of the Week: Cedar Waxwing http://goo.gl/gwQma2
Red Maple flower make a tasty treat for Cedar Waxwings http://goo.gl/Lo72NS
Cedar Waxwing Nesting Season Begins in the Summer http://goo.gl/F3erQl
Keep your eyes open for Bohemian Waxwings! http://goo.gl/Bu67BV

Monday, February 5, 2018

Repetitive sounds and music on the brain


I was listening to the radio as I was driving into work last week and I heard a story about a research study that showed how the brain can turn any repetitive sound sounds our speech into music. This could be just any sound when it is repeated, like the sound of dripping water or a shovel scraping or a phrase in a speech, that gets morphed into a musical phrase by your brain. I guess it is not really that surprising, but I just hadn’t really thought about it objectively before. I didn’t hear the full story and tried to find it online but was not able to do it. I did, however, find a similar page here. A short way down that page is a strange example of what they call a speech to song illusion. When ordinary speech played repetitively transforms into music when heard in its normal context.

I was thinking of these stories of repetitive sounds and how your brain interprets it as music as I was searching YouTube for a duet that I could play on my saxophone. The songs that I kept getting drawn into were ones that seemed fairly simple but had a repetitive, hypnotic sound to them. A perfect example is demonstrated with this nice performance of a flute and saxophone duet. Now I have to look up the sheet music for this one because I've heard it so much I want to play it.

I’m also going to start thinking more objectively about the pieces we are playing in the MSU New Horizon Band and why some seem fun to play and others are just not. Just thinking about the past semester, I am realizing that the most fun songs to play were the ones that had some easily recognizable internal repetition or were songs that I had heard many times before. Even something like the MSU Fight Song is a series of short repetitive phrases. Maybe this was obvious to everyone else but I had never really thought of it as a structural design feature of music or the reason why some songs become hits and others don't. It takes some of the mystery out of music interpretation and helps me understand what is going on. As I am writing this my neighbor is shoveling the snow off the sidewalk but I am hearing music as he shovels. I am hearing music in the repetitive scraping.

Flute and Alto Saxophone Duet YouTube video:  https://youtu.be/vQ84c06XWD4
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
Am I too old to join a band? http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/am-i-too-old-to-join-band.html
The perfect saxophone sound. http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2018/01/musicmonday-perfect-saxophone-sound.html 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the White-breasted Nuthatches

Get to know the White-breasted Nuthatches before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

One of the most common birds that visit my window feeder in the winter are the White-breasted nuthatches. These small, cute birds can often be spotted climbing up and down the trunks of trees. Their black and white body and long bills make them easy to identify. Their bills are nearly as long as their heads and White-breasted nuthatches have black crowns on their heads, with white cheeks and white undersides.

They are found year-round in Michigan and do not migrate. In the winter it’s not unusual for a group of mixed species to fly together for protection and to forage for food. They like to eat nuts, suet, mealworms, seed cylinders and sunflower seed.

The nuthatches don’t stay long at the feeders though. They prefer to grab a seed and hide or cache their food to retrieve and eat at a later time. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to keep their stash a secret from competitors and help them survive during bad weather and when food sources are low.

Related articles:
Birds Move Trees http://bit.ly/oPqFgG
Screech Owls cache uneaten prey items in cavities http://bit.ly/pJ7jCP
Red-Bellied Woodpecker stores its food in the barks of trees http://bit.ly/nqYS7j
Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard http://bit.ly/qFANnl
Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/qq5xu1
What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/ngkPX3

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Photo Share: Hummer on Christmas Lights

This is a photo that I took of a hummer sitting on a string of Christmas lights. I like to think the light gave off just enough heat to keep him warm during his watch. The resolution is poor, but then it was shot with an iPhone, thru a kitchen window, into the shadow of an overhang. Made a terrific Holiday card; I colored in the lights. Giggle. 

This morning I saw a resident Anna hummer perched on a clothespin I’d randomly clipped to something near the feeder. I’m going to put a few more clothespins out near the front feeder, as an invitation. T. Sawyer - Seaside, OR

Thank you so much for sharing your photo! You could also put out some nesting material. Hummingbirds' tiny golf ball sized nests, are made with stretchy spider silk lined with cotton nesting material, dandelion, cattail, or thistle down. There is a good video at https://www.facebook.com/Cottonball 

Friday, February 2, 2018

#GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC): Learn about the American Goldfinches

Get to know the American Goldfinches before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

The 21st annual GBBC is taking place worldwide February 16 through 19, 2018. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced unusual weather patterns.
Winter Plumage

Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year. They have bright, attractive yellow feathers in the spring before breeding and much denser olive brown feathers after nesting in the fall. The color of the legs, feet and bill of the American Goldfinch change with each feather molt too. In winter plumage, their legs, feet and bill are dark grayish brown. In breeding plumage they change to a buffy yellow orange color.

American Goldfinches are partial migrants, meaning only part of the population migrates annually and if it is a rough winter they can become nomadic. Their winter range includes southern Canada and stretches south through the United States to parts of Mexico. During heavy snowstorms they may move further south to find food only to move back when the weather clears.
Summer Plumage

American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors and prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds. I have dozens of goldfinches right now attacking my window feeder full of No-Mess Blend, a seed blend full of sunflower seeds without the shell.

They also appreciate the heated bird bath. The goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water because of their almost exclusive diet of seeds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

Related Articles:
- Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
- European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
- Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
- Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a