About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Natural egg color

The size, color and patterning of birds’ eggs can vary a lot. Most scientist believe that birds, like reptiles, used to lay only white eggs. It’s thought that the different colors of eggs happened later as more camouflaged eggs survived from predators’ attacks or shielded them from solar radiation.

Many birds still have white eggs. Woodpeckers and other birds that nest in dark holes or ducks which use brush to hide eggs, or hawks, owls, hummingbirds, and other birds that incubate their eggs immediately, all have white eggs. These birds either don’t need pigments or can’t produce the pigment due to the food they eat or energy required to produce color.

Pigment glands in the wall of oviduct deposit successive layers of color as the egg passes through. Spotted or streaked eggs develop when pigment is deposited as they rotate through the oviduct. Rapid rotation and decent results in more streaking and slower movement leads to more spotting. The large end of the egg travels through the oviduct first and often picks up more color. (1)

You also may notice, closely related birds species have similar colored eggs. For example, bluebirds and thrushes all have blue-colored eggs. Blue eggs develop after the deposit of biliverdin in developing eggshell during the last 5 hours before the egg is laid. Biliverdin is a breakdown of hemoglobin and diverting these chemicals for the use in coloring eggs may be costly for females.

Biliverdin is a potent antioxidant and recent research shows that its absorbance in the eggshell also reveals the health status of the female bird. Healthy females lay more colorful eggs. Young or unhealthy bluebirds may have pale blue, white, or even pink eggs. (2)

1. Cornell Lab of Ornithology Handbook of Bird Biology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/homestudy/
2. Egg coloration is correlated with female condition in eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) http://www.springerlink.com/content/73q742n71m1258u1/

Friday, March 30, 2018

Photo Share: Robin joins the doves for early breakfast

One of these birds is not like the other. I threw a handful of Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess blend out for the doves and a robin showed up to partake of a few peanuts.
Even with the latest rains, there aren't enough bugs for a full meal around here. American Robins often supplement their diet with nuts, fruits, and berries until the bugs pop.

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, March 29, 2018

When do squirrels dig up their nuts?

I am seeing some squirrel digging up a lot of nuts right now. Do they find them by smell?

Early spring can be tough for squirrels. Winter food like apples, nuts, berries, and fungi are being consumed by many animals and new food isn't available yet. Fortunately many members of the squirrel family, hide food that they can recover on rainy days. Some food is cached for short periods, 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 Gray 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. However, scent can be unreliable when the ground is too dry or covered in snow.

Related Articles:
- Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
- Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb
- How high can squirrels jump to bird feeders? http://goo.gl/XuvwNe

- How squirrels remember where they've buried nuts https://goo.gl/65ESYa

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A quick high protein meal

Which suet should I use in the spring?
Spring is a time when a lot of birds fly thousands of miles to return to their nesting grounds. When they reach your yard they are exhausted and looking for a quick high protein meal to help them recover. With some cold days still ahead, expect different warblers, grosbeaks, wrens and your regular woodpeckers to stop by to fuel up on your suet feeder. Another good reason to always keep that feeder full!

To choose a suet that attracts the widest variety of birds, the first ingredient should always be rendered beef suet. Some people feed straight suet only. Straight beef suet will deter starlings and blackbirds at the suet feeder if they become overwhelming. If you want to offer more protein and flavor the next ingredient should usually be peanuts or tree nuts.

Never, never buy suet where milo, oats, wheat, processed grain by-products or artificial flavorings are in the ingredients. These filler ingredients are used to make a cheaper cake but the birds have to pick around and pick out all this filler to reach a little suet.

All of the suets at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI store are made with only the highest quality processed beef kidney fat. It is the most concentrated source of energy you can offer wild birds. Our best seller is the peanut butter suet cake, which has only three ingredients: rendered beef fat, chopped peanuts and peanut butter.

If you have a problem with squirrels or other wildlife eating your suet try our Hot Pepper Suet. It has rendered beef suet, ground peanuts and capsicum pepper. Capsicum contains capsaicin, a chemical that that doesn’t harm but can produce a strong burning sensation in the mouth of squirrels. Most mammals find this unpleasant, whereas birds are unaffected. 

Related Articles:
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/Gmn0b
- Do we stop feeding suet in the summer? http://goo.gl/KM80C
- Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1
- Warblers in Michigan http://goo.gl/WMMGs
- Best starling and blackbird resistant suet feeders

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mourning Doves getting darker feathers

My Mourning Doves look darker. Have you noticed this with your birds? I've pointed this out to several people. Every year my doves seem to get darker feathers and I wondered if there was a reason. Unfortunately it looks like it is the side effect of pollution.

It isn't soot or dirt on the wings that makes them darker but an actual pigment change in the feathers due to the presence of more metal toxins in a bird's bloodstream. These toxic metals tend to bind to melanin pigments, a specialized group of cells that control the darkness of bird feathers.

In urban areas, car exhaust, road runoff, and lawn chemicals have made it hard for birds to find food without toxic metals in them. Once in the bloodstream some of the toxins are pushed to inert body parts such as feathers, to facilitate body detoxification.

The birds with darker feathers seem to have a selective advantage in polluted areas. This could explain the higher success rate for birds like pigeons, doves, sparrows, and starlings in urbanized areas. Paler songbirds' inability to store as many toxic metals in their feathers compared with darker birds could lead to many adverse effects such as laying fewer eggs or having weaker chicks.

More information: The adaptive function of melanin-based plumage coloration to trace metals, Biology Letters, Published 26 March 2014 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0164

Related Articles:
Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/w0U1M6
Dirt baths help birds stay clean http://bit.ly/rJR7Ex
Why birds molt http://bit.ly/rGaqRL
Mourning Dove nesting facts and figures https://goo.gl/DSoRYW
Birds Don't Sweat: http://goo.gl/zerp7

Monday, March 26, 2018

How to invite robins to your 'hood

In early spring American Robins are looking around for the best neighborhood to start their families. There a few steps you can take to make your yard more attractive.
Things you can do to attract American Robins.
1. Water - A clean bath full of fresh water is a good way to draw robins to the yard. Water is a powerful attraction and will increase the number and variety of birds visiting your yard.

2. Food - You can feed robins chopped apples, suet, mealworms, or nuts on a tray feeder. I like to put out a Wild Birds Unlimited bugs, nuts, and berries seed cylinder that is full of pecans and fruit when the robins visit.

3. Landscape - For roosting and nesting, robins like evergreens and they like to eat a variety of fruits and nuts in the winter. Some fruit and nut trees are pecans, walnuts, acorns, apples, cherries, and dogwood fruit from trees and the berries of blackberries, blueberries, greenbrier, honeysuckle, juneberries, juniper, madrone, mountain ash, mulberry, pokeberry, pyracantha, raspberry, sassafras, serviceberry, spiceberry, sumac, viburnum, and woodbine.

4. Nesting material - The American Robins choose their Michigan nesting territories in March and they are excited to start nesting. That means they need a lot of Nesting Material like grasses and mud to build the perfect nest. The nest is usually located 5 to 15 feet above ground in a dense bush or evergreen, in the crotch of a tree, or on window ledges or other human shelves. Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI also has nesting platforms.  Mount the shelf on a building in a sheltered site, under the eaves or soffits, or over a light fixture.

5. Chemical free lawn - In the spring the robins' diet changes from mostly fruit, nuts and berries to insects and worms. According to the (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center, many birds die each year from landscape pesticides, when they eat pesticide granules or eat poisoned insects. To reduce or eliminate your use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides use disease- and pest-resistant plants, cultivate native plant species, and reduce the lawn area. If you manage your yard naturally, you can increase natural insect predators like ladybugs, praying mantises, frogs, toads and of course birds. Leaf mulches and compost also add nutrients to soil and eliminate the need for weed killers and fertilizers.

Related Articles:

Why are the Robins Attracted to Water? http://bit.ly/qP9aTs
Fledgling Robins Find Their Way http://bit.ly/pqrhSL
Fun Facts About The American Robin http://bit.ly/n9CSni
Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
Why robins are called Robin  http://why-robins-are-called-robin.html

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Birds can replace pesticides

The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. As a cavity nester they will use holes in trees, buildings, or artificial nest boxes. However, their numbers have been declining nationwide for reasons that are not clear. Now farmers are turning to them to help them reduce pesticide use, and in some cases, increasing yields.

Birds of prey like kestrels can keep pests away from their crops. "Our research demonstrates that predators like American kestrels consume numerous crop pests and reduce crop damage, which are important ecosystem services," said Catherine Lindell, a scientist at MSU who led a study appearing in the current issue of the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. For example, installing nest boxes in Michigan orchards encourages feathered hunters to consume many species that cause damage to crops, including grasshoppers, rodents and European starlings.

The next steps for Lindell and other scientists are to hone in on the best practices and better measure the overall impact of specific improvements. Nest boxes, perches and making landscape enhancements that attract vertebrates work better than attracting birds through providing food resources.

"Answering these questions will increase our understanding of the interactions of predators and their prey, the ways in which these interactions provide ecosystem services, and the role of humans in encouraging these interactions," Lindell said.

Other MSU scientists contributing to the study include Rachael Eaton, Phil Howard and Steven Roels.--  Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734 cdybas@nsf.gov
--  Layne Cameron, MSU (517) 353-8819 layne.cameron@cabs.msu.edu

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Bird house entrance hole for a White-breasted Nuthatch

How big should the door be on the bird house for a White-breasted Nuthatch?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Nuthatches need an entrance hole of at least 1 1/4 inches, the same as Black-capped Chickadees. They like to nest in old woodpecker nests in trees or natural tree hollows but might be tempted to nest in a box if you live in a wooded residential area.

Nest construction can begin as early as mid- to late March. However, egg laying typically is delayed until the end of April and into May.

They prefer to nest on the edge of a woodland of mature pines with mixed deciduous trees. Houses can be mounted on poles or on the side of trees, the higher the better (5 to 20 feet). In the colder zones like Michigan, the entrance hole should be facing south to make it more attractive. You can find out more information about White-breasted Nuthatches at the Sialis or NestWatch Web sites.

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
Guidelines for Birdhouses: Important Do's and Dont's
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

Friday, March 23, 2018

Photo Share: Red sparrow ready for take off

During spring and summer, House Sparrows switch from a more of a seed diet to insects. During nesting season they can catch over 1000 bugs a day. They catch insects in the air, by pouncing on them, or by following them as they pass their perched spot.

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, March 22, 2018

Bluebirds look for houses

Photo by Wild Birds Unlimited (Athens, GA)
In the spring bluebird family groups break up and previously unattached males and females move to new territories. The young will move from the parental territories eventually to another location before choosing a mate. This natal dispersal reduces the chances of inbreeding.

Older birds can quickly re-establish their connection and begin nesting as soon as the weather permits. Young birds at the beginning of nesting season start singing loudly from tree tops to attract a mate and announce his presence to neighboring males.

Once a male attracts a female, the songs become quieter and is used more as a communication between pairs. You may also observe different visual displays. The wing-wave is where a bird sort of twitters his wings like a baby bird to get a females attention, usually near a nestbox. They also use a lopsided flight or hover flight to show off a potential nesting site.

Nest building can begin immediately or not. They may check out several sites or even begin to nest and then stop. Make sure you are ready with your bluebird house before nesting season begins.

Related Articles:
Kissing Cousins? How do birds choose a mate that isn't related? http://bit.ly/HGyJHD
How to Protect My Bluebird House http://bit.ly/xllml1
More on the Eastern Bluebird http://bit.ly/yLOSIm
How to Attract Bluebirds http://bit.ly/wVzVID
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://bit.ly/ypyvNe

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Other birds that use bluebird houses

If I don't have any bluebirds will other birds go in a bird house?

If you live in the suburbs a “bluebird” house could also house some other common backyard birds like House sparrows, wrens, chickadees, titmice, woodpeckers, and Tree Swallows. Wild Birds Unlimited also has homes for flickers, Purple Martins, Screech Owls, American Kestrels, Wood Ducks and nesting platforms for robins and doves.

March is a great month to take stock of what repairs need to be made on old houses and where you can place new ones. Properly designed nest boxes, placed in the appropriate habitat can truly benefit the birds and also provide a focal point for people (big and little) to learn about nature. It’s great fun setting up the boxes and then monitor all of the nesting activity throughout the season.

Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing has a variety of houses right now. There are some pottery, wood, recycled plastic and more to choose from. Most of the wood houses are made out of hand chosen white cedar scraps from right here in Michigan. You couldn’t ask for better quality and at a great price. Look for homes with an easy clean out, proper ventilation, drainage holes, and with the proper design.

HummerHelper™ helps a hummingbirds line a nest
And don't forget the nesting material. Whether they nest in a box or in a tree, most songbirds still need something to line the nest to make it soft for the chicks. There are several different nesting materials that we recommend. You can purchase Natural Cotton Balls and Birdie Bells full of feathers, straw, and cotton at our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. Or gather clean pet hair or cotton yarn cut no longer than 3 inches. We DO NOT recommend dryer lint. There may be perfumes and soap residue, but more important it isn’t a good nest building material. Lint hardens after getting wet providing a poor nest for baby birds.

In the end, whether the birds choose your birdhouse or are collecting twigs, leaves, feathers, cattail fluff or cottonwood down, moss, bark, pine needles, mud, spider webs or the nesting material we offer, it's fun to watch different birds begin their families.

Related Articles:
Building bird houses http://bit.ly/wUogMl
How to Protect My Bluebird House http://bit.ly/ylogXa
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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cute chickadee eats with his feet

Bippity boppity boo, the chickadees go back and forth from the feeders to a perching spot at least 10 times before cardinal makes even one trip. Chickadees like to grab a sunflower seed from a feeder and fly to a nearby tree to crack it open and eat it. They hold the seed with their feet while cracking it open with a few quick thrusts of their bill. It can be fun to watch them flying back and forth from tree to feeder, and back again.

Help Chickadees Feel at Home
Chickadees are among the easiest birds to lure into your yard. Here are a few tips to help attract them:
1. Chickadee food: Put out fresh sunflower seeds, peanuts, seed cylinders or suets.
2. Chickadee feeder: Almost any bird feeder will attract chickadees if it offers good food. I like to use the no-mess blend which has sunflower chips and peanut halves.
3. Chickadee habitat: Chickadees like natural cover near feeders to pop into and avoid predators or harsh weather.
4. Chickadee house: A small birdhouse with a 1 1/4-inch entrance hole, placed in heavy natural cover, will provide a the perfect nesting shelter for the birds.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Squirrels tearing up feeders

I need a finch feeder that is attractive and also that flying squirrels cannot eat through and virtually destroy the feeder.  Suggestions? 

Wild Birds Unlimited finch feeders have a Quick-clean base, are easy to fill, and have a lifetime guarantee. There are two popular styles. One is a stabilized, polycarbonate tube that has a perches for the birds to stand on and pick a seed from a slit in a tube. Or my favorite is the Quick-clean Nyjer Mesh Finch Feeders where finches cling to any open spot, to allow a dozen birds to feed at once!

Make sure to use only straight Nyjer® (thistle). It does not grow, attracts mainly goldfinches, and deters squirrels and raccoons. Most commercial finch blends contain canary seed, rape seed or flax seed. Studies show these cheaper seeds are not popular with the birds but do attract rodents.
Feeders are the easiest way to attract American Goldfinches but you can also garden for the birds. These little vegetarians eat a variety of flower seeds like Marigolds, Zinnias, Cosmos, Brown eyed Susans or Coneflowers. And those dry seeds always make a body thirsty. Set up a shallow bird bath and you will see the finches zip by for sips throughout the day.

And if all else fails, you can always bring your feeders in at night. You might be able to spot them at dusk as they whip around the yard looking for food but most flying squirrels are nocturnal.

Related Articles:
Prevent soggy seed in your bird feeder http://goo.gl/kfTpi
Nyjer (thistle) isn't related to Canada Thistle http://bit.ly/Nt8Xxu
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a
How to Attract Goldfinches http://bit.ly/A6CwjB
How often do you clean a bird feeder? http://bit.ly/wTk0c7
Where do you place finch feeders? http://goo.gl/avIs2

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Feathers as nesting material

Along with grasses, animal hair, fluffy cottons and other soft plants, some birds like to line their nests with feathers to insulate and protect the chicks. One study found that female sparrows will invest more energy into laying eggs according to the male's ability to line the nest with feathers.

According to their results, female House Sparrows prefer males that are able to provide more feathers in a nest. The researchers took away and added feathers to the nests of the fifty pairs of sparrows during these birds' different mating seasons.

They observed that when the females noticed there were feathers missing they animatedly called the males and the male sparrows responded by bringing more feathers and dancing around the female on his return to the nest.

Ninety per cent of sparrows mate for life and keep the same partner from one year to the next; however, numerous factors influence the choice of mating partner. For example, the size of the black patch on the males' chest, commonly known as the bib, indicates their biological quality.

Source: de Hierro, L., Moleon, M. and Ryan, P. Is Carrying Feathers a Sexually Seleted Trait in House Sparrows? International Journal of Behavioural Biology, 119: 199-211, 2013.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Photo Share: Groundhog announces spring

Look who just woke up! - Lansing, MI
Most woodchucks emerge from their burrows in mid to late March in mid-Michigan. Many home owners dislike woodchucks because their borrow systems can cause damage. However, they are also extremely important members of the ecosystem. They serve as food for many predator species, their burrows serve as shelter for a variety of other animals, and their digging and foraging activities help shape the composition of soil. So we are Lucky that woodchucks live here in North America and announce when spring has arrived!

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

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.

Creating stopover sites for migrating birds

Indigo Buntings arrive late April to early June
As you might imagine, migration takes a toll on the birds. It is not uncommon for birds to lose one-fourth to one-half of their body weight as they migrate thousands of miles. Before the journey north to their breeding grounds most birds accumulate fat to help maintain their energy reserves. Sometimes, however, reserves are not enough. That’s where you can help by creating “stopover sites” in your yard with plenty of food, water and shelter.

At this time of year the numbers and variety of birds appearing in your yard can actually change every morning as many small songbirds migrate through the night. Species such as warblers, vireos, orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, buntings and sparrows all migrate overnight.

Some reasons are to avoid the heat of the day, windy conditions, and predators. Many species use the stars in the night sky to guide them, and there is some evidence that, perhaps, magnetic fields at the poles help guide them.

Other large-winged birds such as hawks, eagles, vultures and even pelicans migrate during the day, as they rely on thermals and updrafts to fuel their flight. They are efficient flyers and use very little energy during migration, allowing the wind to fuel their flight.

When you think about migration facts, it is astonishing to learn of the amazing feat that many birds accomplish twice each year as they move between their summer and winter range and back again.

Animated migration map of Indigo Bunting from https://ebird.org/

Related Articles:
- The Journey North: Bird Migration Maps http://bit.ly/pbk4Eb
- Great Horned Owl Singing at Night http://bit.ly/qKeKDM
- Are Horned Larks Common in Mid-Michigan? http://bit.ly/qmAbt7
- How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/qa0CVU

Friday, March 16, 2018

Photo share: The Song Sparrow and the Dark-eyed Junco

It was so windy last night the birds were struggling to fly. Most took cover but I did see a little Song Sparrow foraging in the grass under the feeder, and hopping to the edge of the pond. He wasn't very shy. With a cat in my arms, we watched through the window as he took his time drinking around some left over snow. Then a little Dark-eyed Junco came around the tree and joined the sparrow. Both species like to forage mostly on the ground, sometimes scratching the soil.

We have Song Sparrows year-round in Michigan but we will also start to see some Canadian ones that spent the winter further south passing through from mid-March to mid-April on there way back to their breeding grounds.
Juncos have a similar migration schedule. The boys leave Michigan first in March and the girls are sure to follow later in April.

I was glad I got to see them loading up before dark. If they were rested and fed enough, they may have left soon after to fly further north. The Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows migrate at night at very low altitudes, which unfortunately makes them vulnerable to collisions with communication towers or other structures. My little stopover site may have been very important for these little birds to meet energy requirements.

Related Articles:
Song Sparrow http://song-sparrow.html 
Savannah Sparrow http://savannah-sparrow.html
Hearty little Field Sparrow http://field-sparrow.html
Be on the lookout for White-throated Sparrows http://white-throated.html
Sparrow bird with white head and black stripes http://white-head-and-black.html
Dark-eyed Juncos leave mid-Michigan http:/dark-eyed-juncos.html 
Do I need to change my bird seed when the seasons change? http://my-bird-seed-when.html

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl live cam

Who's (Back) On Cam For You?

Nestled into a wooded backyard in central Indiana, a pair of owls have returned to breed for a fifth consecutive season on the Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl cam. Beneath the down feathers of the female owl are three white eggs laid on March 5, 7, and 9.  For the last four years, the owls have had great success raising their young, fledging a total of 11 owlets from 11 eggs. Watch cam.

What to watch for: For the next 4 weeks or so you can listen to the sounds of spring arrive in the forests as the female incubates her eggs. At night, watch as the male owl delivers a steady stream of interesting prey items (like this crayfish) to the nest box and listen for the Barred Owls' classic "whoo-cooks-for-you?" hooting duets. After hatching, it takes only 4 to 5 weeks for the downy, closed-eyed hatchlings to transform into fierce, sometimes clumsy owlets ready to explore the world (check out these highlights from previous years for a sense of what is yet to come.)

New this year: A second camera has been installed to give views of the nest box opening from the outside so viewers can observe the owls' comings and goings, as well as the nestlings once they begin peering ouside. (Check out the crayfish delivery via the outside camera: https://youtu.be/USHDl715X7I). To toggle between the two camera views, click the "switch camera" icon in the lower right of the livestream player, next to the settings wheel. 

Barred Owl Fun Facts
· The Barred Owl is slightly smaller than the Great Horned Owl in size.
· Male and female plumage is identical throughout the year, but females can be about 30% heavier than males.
· Barred Owls maintain their territory throughout the year and are believed to maintain a monogamous pair bond for life.
· Though the size of their territory varies greatly with the type and quality of habitat, a Barred Owl’s home territory is approximately 700 acres.
· The prey (food) of Barred Owls is primarily small mammals, such as squirrels, chipmunks, voles and mice. Barred Owls will also prey in lesser amounts on small birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish.
· Predators of the Barred Owl include Great Horned Owls, Northern Goshawks and climbing mammals such as raccoons and weasels.
· Barred Owls nest only once per year and lay an average of two or three eggs per nesting.
· Only the female incubates the eggs. Incubation lasts for 28-33 days and starts when either the first or second egg is laid.
· The young will be covered with a fine down and will begin to beg for food a few moments after hatching.
· The female will brood the young almost continually for about two weeks. During this period, the male will deliver all the food for her and the young to the nest.
· The young owls will leave the nest at approximately four to five weeks of age and remain in the branches of the nest tree until they are able to fly at around 10 weeks of age.
· The young owls will stay together with their siblings throughout the summer and are fed by their parents. Then, the young will strike out on their own in early fall when the parents slowly wean them from feedings.
· According to bird banding records, the oldest known Barred Owl living in the wild was at least 24 years old. However, most Barred Owls would be lucky to reach even half this age.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Simple trick to keep crows away

Will a dove ever build a nest in a box? For the last 3 years crows have destroyed the nest and babies

Doves don't use nest boxes. Their nest is usually a fragile, shallow platform of twigs. They will nest on the branch of a shrub, tree or even sometimes on the ground. Wild Birds Unlimited does have nesting shelves or platforms that can be installed on trees and the sides of houses to help Doves and Robins with nesting.

However there is one simple trick Wild Birds Unlimited customers have used to protect their baby doves, bluebirds, and robins from crow attacks. Find a decorative crow (maybe from a past Halloween) and hang it upside down where the crows will see it. Just like hanging the American flag upside down, in the crow world this is officially recognized as a signal of distress. You may hear cawing for several minutes as the word is passed and then they leave the area.

Of course crows are smart so it may not be 100% effective. I love the doves but accept that they are an easy prey bird. They help feed many raptor and corvid babies as well as many mammal species. Fortunately, Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. Mourning doves may breed several times in a breeding season, from February to October. While the average longevity for a typical adult is only about 1.5 years, realistically the mortality rate of juveniles can be as high as 70% in their first year of life. But they can also be the longest lived bird found in North America. Bird banding research recorded one dove more than 31 years old.

Related Articles:

Nesting platform for doves and robins
Keeping the crows at bay https://goo.gl/65U6ea
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://bit.ly/wMKEKF
How Do You Keep Doves From Dominating a Feeder? http://bit.ly/zDAwR2
Birds taught the military about camouflage http://bit.ly/zij0Lm
Birds freeze or fly at the approach of a predator http://bit.ly/wwJTpT

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The show must go on: Red-wings arrive!

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Only a few more days until spring! We started the week by losing an hour of sleep and then we get another winter storm in mid-Michigan. On the bright side, there is a bright side. I come home from the Wild Birds Unlimited store and it is still light enough to watch birds. (Woohoo!) I saw cardinals and robins pairing up, and saw and heard my first the Red-winged Blackbirds!

The redwings are among our earliest spring migrants. March is when the male Red-winged Blackbirds arrive in mid-Michigan. The females will arrive a little later. Some people don’t like to have the Red-winged blackbirds at their feeder in the spring because they are loud and messy and eat a lot. While there’s some truth to that, Red-winged blackbirds also consume large numbers insects and weed seeds, so they have their good points as well. And when the rains come in the spring, the bugs are sure to follow and then we’ll be happy they eat so much.

The snow shouldn't hurt these early migrating birds. They are equipped with several layers of fluffy, insulating down to trap heat. As long as they find a source of food and water, they can produce enough energy to survive bad weather. 

High on the list of best choices to meet the nutritional needs of birds is suet and certain seeds like peanuts, sunflower seeds and nyjer seed. Our most popular Wild Birds Unlimited No Mess Seed Blend is filled with many of these high fat seeds and nuts making it an ideal food, along with suet, to offer your birds.

The Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess Seed Cylinder is another way to offer sunflower chips, peanuts, tree nuts, and fruit to all the seed, nut and fruit loving birds. No-Mess Seed Cylinder is a tidy dining option that a lot of birds will enjoy. No shells means no mess and no wasted food, making this seed cylinder a great value. This 100% edible cylinder is great near flower beds patios and decks.  
Related articles:
- Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/z7Eurx
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods http://bit.ly/xbZ9lR
- Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
- Choosing the best bird seed http://goo.gl/jrpDX
- How can birds survive this cold weather? http://goo.gl/4v2d4

Monday, March 12, 2018

#MusicMonday – Clawhammer Banjo Tune

I spent too much time watching birds this week and didn’t really get around to writing anything for the blog for the week. So I am going to steal something that was written a while ago and just reprint it here, or really not print it but play it. It is written in a different language but I think you will understand the language.

Music is a language of its own. Sometimes a rather complex language at that. Often similar to poetry, sometimes prose, there is usually some structure to it and although the music may be written in one language, it is often interpreted differently by the individual “reading” the language similar to how each individual reads the meaning of a poem. The poem that I am playing in the video, “Sandy River Bell”, is a simple piece performed with the structure AABB. When I play banjo, it is just for fun and to relax and because of that, I mainly play pieces that would be considered light reading. So here is my entry for the blog today: https://youtu.be/KGHG6SwrTQQ

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What sandhill cranes feed on

What do Sandhill Cranes eat?

Sandhill Cranes are mainly herbivorous, but eat various types of food, depending on availability. They often root around for seeds and variously berries, small mammals, insects, snails, reptiles, and amphibians, in shallow wetlands. During migration, cranes may eat cultivated foods such as corn, wheat, cottonseed, and sorghum.

Sandhill Cranes are very social birds that mate for life. On migration, their flocks number into the hundreds and are composed of mated pairs and close family members. While migrating, they communicate constantly with one another. Interestingly, males and females often sing duets as they fly.

It is always a special treat to find a flock of sandhill cranes on the ground. Look for them during migration late or early in the day in large fields or open, shallow wetlands. Only then can you appreciate their size and beauty. Sandhills are a tall, long legged, long necked gray bird with a bright red crown. From wingtip to wingtip their outstretched wings can measure up to 7 feet.

In Michigan, sandhills nest in solitary nests on the ground near or over shallow water in marshes and bogs. They nest by heaping plant debris into a low mound. Two eggs are laid; the young follow the parents soon after hatching, fly in about 70 days, and stay with the parents for nearly a year.

Their numbers were much reduced by habitat loss and shooting in the early part of this century but have grown in recent decades. A two year survey funded by the Nongame Wildlife Fund confirmed 805 breeding pair statewide. Most breeding pairs in the Lower Peninsula were found in a six county area near Jackson and Ann Arbor. Highest concentrations in the Upper Peninsula occurred in the eastern counties. 

Related Articles:
- Whooping Crane Migration http://goo.gl/avz5lG
- Photo Share: Crane and Grouse http://goo.gl/Unsqy8
- Sandhill Crane breeding: http://goo.gl/9GkgEH
- Lucky Duck saved from frozen pond: http://goo.gl/HClYGP

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How to stop birds hitting windows

Spring is the beginning of bird migration throughout the area and unfortunately the change in light and the unfamiliar surroundings cause birds to fall victim to window strikes. Millions of birds are killed each year from flying into windows. Now you can help prevent these collisions with a simple, easy to apply window decal.

Wild Birds Unlimited – East Lansing has WindowAlert static-cling decals that contain a component which brilliantly reflects ultraviolet sunlight.

This ultraviolet light is invisible to humans, but glows like a stoplight for birds. WindowAlert decals help birds see windows and avoid striking the glass. To the human eye, the decals appear as frosted or etched glass. WindowAlert decals come in many shapes including leaves, hummingbird, butterfly, hawk and snowflake.

If you do have a window strike and the bird is injured CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

If the attack on windows is a regular occurrence and not just an accidental window strike, the likely behavior is a reaction to the bird interpreting its reflection as an intruder on its territory. Some birds are highly territorial and defend their nesting area vigorously in the spring. The Warning Web is a patented method of getting birds to avoid the window thinking that it is a spider web. And yet to our human eyes it practically disappears when on window.
Related Articles:
Emergency Numbers for injured birds http://bit.ly/KLhavK
How to stop the Mad Cardinal Attacking My Window. http://bit.ly/KLhESM
How do Birds Migrate? http://bit.ly/nNCI6d
Follow spring migration patterns online http://goo.gl/WLGiu

Friday, March 9, 2018

Photo Share: Like having a unicorn visit

For me, having an opossum visit my yard is like seeing a unicorn. These sweet-natured and adorable creatures are the only marsupials in North America. This means that they are mammals that give birth after only 13 days gestation to tiny gummy bears about the size of grains of rice. These babies then have to make their way to their momma's belly pouch to finish developing. An average litter is eight or nine joeys, and the average time they stay in their mother's pouch is about two-and-a-half months, before eventually climbing on her back. Their eyes open in 58 to 72 days and they are weaned and on their own at approximately 5 months of age. The breeding season for our opossums can begin as early as December and continue through October with most young born between February and June.

The opossum is also unique because it is the only mammal in the United States with a prehensile tail, which can be used for grasping like a hand. Young opossums sometimes even hang by their tails. And they are the only mammal that has four fingers and an opposable thumb on each of its hind feet that works like a human thumb. All nails are nonretractable, except for the thumb.

From Wikipedia: Marsupials are any members of the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, possums, opossums, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Some lesser-known marsupials are the potoroo and the quokka.

Marsupials represent the clade originating from the last common ancestor of extant metatherians.  Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur on the Australian continent. The remaining 100 are found primarily in South America, but thirteen in Central America, and only the
Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in North America.

Opossums are very necessary animals to our environment. They are scavengers and help keep the earth clean. They feed on carrion, or road kill, invertebrates, seeds, fruits, nuts and small vertebrates. Opossums also keep rats and cockroaches at bay by eating them if they find them in their territory. Opossums are mostly immune to rabies, and have partial or total immunity to the venom produced by rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and other pit vipers. They tend to go about their business mostly at night and have a solitary life. They are usually non-aggressive and prefer to “play possum” or fake death.

So if you see one crossing the road slow down to let them pass. And if they visit your yard just let them do their business. Studies give less than a 50% chance of survival to relocated animals. The Virginia opossum, should be viewed as the great “groundskeeper.”  When left alone, the opossum does not attack pets, chew your telephone or electric wires, spread disease, dig up your flower bulbs or turn over your trash cans. On the contrary, the opossum does a great service in insect, venomous snake, and rodent control. He takes as his pay only what he eats, and maybe a sheltered place to sleep.

“Attacks” by opossums are simply non-existent. When they get too close, or move under the deck just let them be. If you are lucky enough to have one of these guys come around, you can rest assured he is cleaning up what he can, and will soon move along.

Related Articles:
Opposums are natural predators of ticks https://goo.gl/UqEBqn
What do Opossums eat? http://what-do-opposums-eat.html
Mysterious Regurgitated Nuggets Left Behind at Birdfeeder http://regurgitated-nuggets-left.html
Do turkeys eat ticks or carry ticks? http://turkeys-eat-ticks.html  
How to attract robins to your yard http://attract-robins-to-your-yard.html

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, March 8, 2018

Give birds extra calcium before nesting

Providing calcium is a great way to help your birds have healthy bones, beaks, feathers, and healthy eggs and babies. Many birds obtain calcium from mineral deposits in the dirt. Unfortunately, acid rain has leached calcium out of the soil making it harder for birds to get the required amount.

As nesting season approaches, calcium consumption becomes more important. In the spring, food and calcium availability can determine the total number of eggs that a female can lay. Eggs that lack the proper amount of calcium can have shells that are too thin and break or embryos that die due to excess evaporation through the thinner shell. Chicks also require extra calcium for growing bones. If given a choice between two foods that are identical in every respect except calcium level, young birds and laying females will select a calcium-adequate food more frequently than a calcium-deficient one.

How can I provide my birds more calcium?
Ask for the purple bag. You can offer Wild Birds Unlimited’s No-Mess NM CD. It is sunflower seed with No-Messy shells, Calcium and Diced Peanuts. The hulled sunflower seed is for all the seed eating birds. The chopped peanuts is for all the bug eating birds and the calcium for all the feeder birds. The source of calcium is from finely ground and easily consumed oyster shells or limestone. This also gives them a source of grit, something else birds need to digest food.

You can also offer your wild birds crushed eggshells. Eggshells are about 95% calcium carbonate.

Learn more about serving crushed eggshells: http://recycle-eggshells.html
Learn more about the Lab’s research on acid rain and its effects on breeding birds: http://songbird-population-declines-linked-acid-rain

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What a female oriole looks like

Photo by Pam Gors - Female Baltimore Oriole showing her brood patch
Baltimore Orioles will soon be arriving in Michigan. The striking black and orange plumage of the male makes them easy to detect but what about the female? Typically, the female is a less colorful blend of orangey yellow and grayish black. Interestingly, the male Baltimore Oriole only obtains his striking plumage in his second year.

Photo by Pam Gors
So first-year males can look very similar to females. Or should I say some females can look like first-year males? This was the dilemma I had last summer. A bird that looked like a first-year male but didn’t act like it. My dominant male was fine with this bird eating out of the feeder near him and even flying to the same tree. Normally, he would chase out any other males in his territory.

Comparing pictures of the bird with the field guides to determine gender were inconclusive. It wasn’t until I was able to get a picture of the brood patch that I could confirm this was a female. The brood patch is a bald area of the abdomen that develops when the female is incubating the eggs. It allows the body heat exchange from the mother to the eggs to keep them warm. Since the male doesn’t take a turn incubating, he doesn’t develop a brood patch. Be sure to watch the social interactions of your birds! It’s fascinating what you can learn from the way they interact.

Photos and story by Pam Gors
Wild Birds Unlimited of Macomb #454
20241 Hall Road
Macomb, MI 48044
(586) 229-2798

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Titmouse calling

The Tufted Titmouse can slide by unnoticed among the branches of the trees but their song is so loud it’s like an opera singer projecting their song to the cheap seats. In the spring you can even hear their first mating songs through the closed windows.

The Tufted Titmouse’s song is a fast-repeated, clear whistle: purdy-purdy-purdy. The birds repeat this up to 11 times in succession or up to 35 songs delivered per minute. Females occasionally sing a quieter version of the song.

There are also 10 different known calls of tufted titmice. The calls are divided generally into 2 groups that are nasal and mechanical. One group is made up of calls that have a very low frequency and the others have a very high frequency.

The three calls in the group of high-frequency calls are usually associated with aggressive behavior. A scratchy, chickadee-like tsee-day-day-day is the most common. Tufted Titmice also give fussy, scolding call notes and, when predators are sighted, a harsh distress call that warns other titmice of the danger.

The big black eyes of this small gray bird make them irresistible. They are regulars at backyard bird feeders if you feed sunflower seeds, suet, peanuts, or mealworms.

In the spring you can keep them in your yard by putting up nest boxes. Tufted Titmice often line the inner cup of their nest with hair, sometimes plucked directly from living animals. The list of hair types identified from old nests includes raccoons, opossums, mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, livestock, pets, and even humans. March is a good time collect clean cat, dog, or human hair and present it to the nesting birds on the end of an evergreen.
Related Articles: 
- Is it “Titmice” or “Titmouses”? http://bit.ly/yImBcF  
- Camouflaged Titmouse Fits Right In http://bit.ly/w0f2us
- What Do Titmice Eat? http://bit.ly/weAiDB
- Why is the Titmouse Tongue So Short? http://bit.ly/yds9Mm 
- Tufted Titmouse fun facts http://bit.ly/AfIA7H