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.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Poles to hang or mount your bird feeders or houses

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 27, 2019

Northern Cardinal song

There is still a lot of snow on the ground but you may have noticed that as the days get longer, the birds are beginning to sing more. A key part of a bird’s brain is affected by seasonal change. When birds are exposed to longer days, the cells start to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone, previously associated only with growth and metabolism. It indirectly stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete further hormones called gonadotrophins, causing male birds' testicles to grow and results in increased singing during breeding season.

Listen for 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. The major activities of birds, like reproduction, raising young, molting, and surviving the winter, are guided by internal clocks that coincide with the appropriate season.

So now is the time to be thinking about providing nesting material and nesting boxes to attract wild birds in your yard because there is nothing like birds’ songs to herald the approach of spring.

Related Articles: https://youtu.be/C9LNexIoCW0
- How Birds Sing http://bit.ly/xxf2vn
- How Birds Mate http://bit.ly/wYSqwb
- How Birds Court http://bit.ly/A2qGqS
- Dryer Lint is a NO NO for Nesting Material http://goo.gl/31x9i
- 5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
- When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Photo Share: Ruffed Grouse in the apple tree

I send these photos of grouse tippy toeing through our Hawthorne tree trying to reach the little wild apples. They come every day just before sundown. Jack and Sandi Crandall

Found mainly in woodlands with small clearings, the Ruffed Grouse is a year round resident of Michigan. A group of grouse has many collective nouns, including a "chorus", "covey", "leash", "grumbling", and "drumming" of grouse.

They differ from other grouse species in their courtship display by relying entirely on a non-vocal acoustic display, known as drumming, a rapid, wing-beating. Drumming can occur at any time of year, but peak drumming activity in Michigan is usually late April or early May. Displays are most frequent just before and after sunrise and on moonlit nights.

While firmly perched on a log, or other slightly raised stage, with his tail braced, a male spreads his wings and rotates wings forward, then quickly backward. They begin with 2 or 3 slow beats, then gradually increase the speed up to 50 wing beats in about an 8–11 second display. The thumping sounds aren't produced by the beating of the wings against the chest, but a sudden compression and release of air pressure, which produces the drumlike sound. It is actually the rushing of air into a momentary vacuum, creating a miniature sonic boom. Grouse drumming serves for both territorial defense and mate attraction and even in thick woods it can be heard for a quarter mile or more.

Thank you for sharing your photos! If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com and I'll put it on the Friday Photo posts.  

Related Articles:
Bird of the Week: Ruffed Grouse http://goo.gl/fS3p2E
Audubon's First Engraving of a Bird Discovered http://goo.gl/LY2cor
Where birds sleep http://goo.gl/h1mt1z
The Birds of the Song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" http://goo.gl/fidsVW
The answer for which came first, the chicken or the egg https://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2015/12/scientists-have-answer-for-which-came.html

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Providing calcium for wild birds

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

What are birds doing when there are high winds

There are some advantages to being small. Songbirds may not be able to fly in the gale force winds we had in mid-Michigan yesterday but they can bend down to lock their toes on the protected side of the tree or seek shelter deep inside thick hedges.

Fortunately many birds can detect subtle changes in air pressure, which can indicate an approaching storm and prepare. So if they think they are going to have to hunker down for awhile, birds must stuff themselves with high fat, high energy foods to get them through the period of inactivity.

Make sure your feeders are full today too. The songs that filled the air at dawn were very reassuring. Even though there were trees down all over the neighborhood, the birds flocked to the feeders this morning to refuel.

A seed blend with sunflower seeds and peanuts is great to offer year-round. It has a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. At Wild Birds Unlimited that would be our most popular WBU No-Mess Blend or WBU Choice blend.

Suet or seed blocks are also great foods to offer. Suet is a high energy, pure fat substance which is invaluable when birds need many more calories to keep their bodies running stong. I would recommend our peanut butter suet.

Related Articles: 
How birds survive cold, windy winter nights http://how-birds-survive-cold-windy-winter.html
Birds travel in the eye of the storm http://birds-travel-in-eye-of-storm.html
Can birds predict the weather? http://bit.ly/w3bhs8
Where birds go when it storms http://bit.ly/xpvtC0
How can birds fly in the rain? http://goo.gl/EkW48

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The bluebirds are back in town looking for housing

I saw a bluebird at my seed cylinder feeder. Should I put out anything else for the them?
The Eastern Bluebirds gather in large family flocks at the end of nesting season and live more in the woods. They forage on fruit, nuts, and berries, exactly what is in the Wild Birds Unlimited seed cylinders. If you have fruiting trees or bluebird feeders and a reliable source of water, you may also host the bluebirds year-round
Providing food for bluebirds during the winter and early spring helps increase their chances of survival in bad weather. Most people that feed bluebirds give them mealworms. Besides mealworms, they will also eat seed cylinders, suet nuggets, or nuts.

Wild Birds Unlimited (Athens, GA)
With the day getting longer, the birds are becoming more active. Nesting season is just around the corner. Make sure your houses are ready and feeders and baths are full. If your yard looks welcoming they may just stay around to raise a family.

Related Articles:  
What do American Robins eat in the winter? http://bit.ly/wQh59Q
Bird of the Week: American Robin http://bit.ly/pnUKqk
Bird of the Week: Eastern Bluebird http://bit.ly/xgm1V4
Ultimate Bluebird House http://bit.ly/A4kliS
The Migration of Eastern Bluebirds http://bit.ly/yCLcQH

Friday, February 22, 2019

Black and reddish bird on the ground

Photo from Wikimedia commons
Eastern Towhees live in Michigan from late March to mid-November. But this bird might be another bird sticking around mid-Michigan all winter due to climate change. I've had several customers come in asking about a strange black and reddish bird under the feeders.

About the size of a Robin, the male and female Eastern Towhees have dark plumage on their heads and backs and rusty-orange flanks on a white belly. The males, head, neck, throat and back are black while the females are dark brown. The scientific name Piplo is derived from the Latin pipo, meaning “to chirp”. Erythrophthalmus is derived from Greek words that mean “red eye.” Eastern Towhees in Michigan have red eyes, but white-eyed birds are common in the southern states.

They are often heard before they are seen. The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist Mark Catesby. During the spring nesting season the males sing 'drink your tea' loudly from exposed perches and their call when disturbed is a loud 'towhee'. A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" and a "teapot" of towhees.

Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance. They are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food. They use this same technique on the forest floor and underneath feeders even when the seeds are clearly visible. If your feeders are near dense underbrush you may attract towhees with peanuts, sunflower seeds, millet or cracked corn.

Related Articles: https://youtu.be/mWVa08fpnXg
Oversized sparrow of the East http://blackandbrownbird.html
Wild brown bird in Michigan with orange under bellies. http://wild-brownandblackbird.html
Birds that Eat Apples http://birds-eat-apples.html

Thursday, February 21, 2019

How to store suet

It is best to store suet in a cool, dry place. Cases of suet in a cool basement secured in a steel can or in an extra freezer/refrigerator extends the shelf life of suet. You don't have to worry about birds eating frozen suet. In fact we recommend freezing suet to keep it fresh and make it easier to remove from the package.

Woodpeckers are some of the toughest birds in the backyard. As their name suggests, they frequently peck on the wood of trees to look for or hide tasty treats, and to build nests. In addition to drilling holes, woodpeckers will knock their heads on anything that will make a noise to send sound signals. Frozen suet wouldn’t be any challenge at all.

Suet is beneficial to birds year-round. In spring, it meets the increased energy demands of nesting birds. In the summer months, it helps assist parent birds to feed their families, especially in years when insects are not very plentiful. In fall, suet helps wild birds change feathers and store fat to prepare for migration or the coming winter. And of course, in winter, suet replenishes depleted stores of energy and nutrients, to help birds survive the long, cold months. So, bring out the suet!

Related Articles:
How do I stop woodpeckers from pecking on my house? http://bit.ly/KGItqF
What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/tcKasp
Michigan made suet feeders: http://bit.ly/rbKskX
Fun Facts about Woodpeckers http://bit.ly/tQ5lwt
How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Best bed for birds: We DO NOT recommend dryer lint

Nesting season is just around the corner. Many birds use man made houses while others construct their own nest. All songbirds need material to create the best bed for their baby birds. The wren starts his nest with a bundle of sticks that is lined with soft material, the chickadee likes a lot of soft fluff on top of a moss base, the bluebird uses grasses and pine needles, and the tree swallow gathers large bird feathers to line a shallow nest of grass and roots. Usually there is no lack of these materials in the wild, but it's fun to provide natural materials for the birds to collect right outside our windows.

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 natural Cotton Nesting Balls,
HummerHelper™ and Birdie Bells full of grasses, cotton, animal hair and feathers.

Or you can collect: twigs, cattail fluff, cottonwood down or Canada Thistle fluff, 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 proper 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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Keep sparrows out of house

Photo from Our Wild Birds
Do you sell sparrow spookers?

Studies have shown sparrows are spooked initially by shiny ribbon flown above bird houses but bluebirds will fly under if they have already claimed a box for nesting. Basically once the bluebirds are committed to a nesting site you hang "scare tape" (a reflective ribbon found at our stores) above the roof to keep sparrows from claiming the box as their own. For more detailed plans to make your own sparrow spooker, click HERE to visit the very informative Sialis.org website.

Other tips to Deter Sparrows from your Bluebird Houses

House Sparrows are very clever and very persistent. You must repeatedly remove any nests that sparrows have built and leave the clean out door of the house open until the sparrows give up guarding the house.

The Peterson's Bluebird House, designed by Dick Peterson of Brooklyn Center, MN is a relatively new design that mimics natural woodpecker nests, a bluebird’s preferred nesting choice. It has an oval-shaped opening, narrow width and the small floor size to expedite nest completion. Many customers swear it is the best house for bluebirds.

The only house I’ve found to deter sparrows some of the time is the Slot Box nest. The Slot Box design, as the name suggests, has a small slot below the roof for birds to enter instead of a round or oval hole. According to research at the University of Kentucky, bluebirds will use a slot entrance while sparrows prefer the round opening. In addition, sparrows don't like these shallower boxes and bluebirds don't seem to mind. Another advantage, is that the slot design makes it much easier for bluebirds to escape from the house in case a house sparrow enters to attack the bluebird. However field experience has shown that sparrows can adapt to many nesting locations and the slot box won’t deter all sparrows.
Another possibility is to put two bluebird boxes back to back or within a few feet of each other. Bluebirds defend large feeding territories around their nests from other bluebirds. Experts recommend that bluebird boxes be spaced at least 300' apart. However when you pair bluebird houses within 10 feet of each other, it is possible to get a bluebird in one and a Tree Swallow in the other. Together the birds can coexist and battle any predators or interloping sparrows. More information on this technique can be found HERE.
Related Articles: https://youtu.be/Bkir2NkdQ-I
Ultimate Bluebird House http://bit.ly/xeGs0e
Feeding and Raising Bluebirds http://bit.ly/A39dAh
How to Protect My Bluebird House http://bit.ly/zI48Ts
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/yNT6Ye
When is the best time to put up a bird house? http://bit.ly/yAI123
Bluebird House Designs http://bit.ly/w7FWRE

Monday, February 18, 2019

Bring more music into your life

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

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Explore The #GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC) data


GBBC eNewsletter 

February 17, 2019
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Red-breasted Nuthatch by Ruth Blair, Ontario, Canada, 2019 GBBC.

Count Update

The checklists are pouring in for the Great Backyard Bird Count and as of Sunday morning in the United States, more than 67,000 tallies have been entered. Those lists include more than half the bird species in the world with about 5,500 species reported!

There's a lot to explore. To get started, click on "Explore Data." Then you can search for a particular species you're curious about and see where it has been reported. You can also search by location. For a great overview of what's happening with the count worldwide, click on the "Major regions" link and choose "World."

As of this writing, Colombia is in the lead for the number of species seen, with more than 800! Here are the top five species superstars:
Colombia 803
India 717
Ecuador 711
Costa Rica 638
United States 617
Data as of Feb. 17, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, U.S.
Vermillion Flycatcher
Vermillion Flycatcher by Elizabeth Joanne Amstutsz, Arizona, 2019 GBBC.

How Is Your Town Faring?

If you're curious about the reports coming in closer to home, "Explore Data" is still the place to start. In the search box for the "Explore a Location" tool, start with your state or province. The page you see first gives an overview, but don't forget to look under the "Counties" tab across the top. When you click on your county you can find all the species that have been reporter there so far. On the right side of the page, you can also click on a link that will take you to the top 100 participants in your county--you may see yourself there!

The GBBC is
February 15-18, 2019


GBBC participation certificate
Participation Certificate

Don't forget to download and print your participation certificate to commemorate your participation in the GBBC this year. The certificates are available in English, French, and Spanish. It's a formal way of recognizing your contribution and another way to say, thank you!
Wild Birds Unlimited
Visit Wild Birds Unlimited, a sponsor of the Great Backyard Bird Count!


With so much traffic over the four days of the GBBC, there are bound to be some technology issues. If you're having trouble getting into your account and entering lists, that's OK. Just continue to count your birds, try again periodically to sign in, but don't worry if you don't succeed right away. You can still enter data via the GBBC website through March 1. After that, you can enter via eBird.org, choosing the GBBC dates for your lists.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The #GreatBackyardBirdCount (#GBBC) Is This Weekend

A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 22nd annual GBBC is taking place February 15-18 in backyards, parks, schools, offices and anywhere else you find birds.

Anyone can participate in this massive global citizen science project. All it takes is a 15 minute break. Count the birds you see and then enter that checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contributes to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes over the years.
“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”
One of the most obvious changes observed in bird populations is due to the varying weather conditions. eBird reports show many more birds are remaining further north than usual because of warmer winters. In mid-Michigan sightings of Carolina Wrens, Northern Flickers and Eastern Bluebirds are becoming commonplace when ten years ago it was very rare for them not to migrate further south. In the next 10 years will it be normal to see blackbirds year-round in mid-Michigan?

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

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

Photo Share: Roosting Chickadee

Hi Sarah! I didn't notice that the water level in the heated bird bath was really low the other evening
before I went to bed, and that meant it was nearly dry by morning. So when I went to let my dog out for his morning relief just before sunrise, I was treated to the sight you see in the photo. It was a sweet little Chickadee roosting *in* the heated bird bath, still very much asleep! The dog really needed to go, so I decided it was better for me to wake the bird gently than for him to scare it half to death. I squatted a short distance from the bath and talked to the bird, who blinked at me sleepily. It wasn't especially cold that night (the low of 19 degrees was happening as I made the discovery), but that smart bird sure found the warmest spot around to roost! :) -MS in RI

I think chickadees are smart because they are born with big, black thinking caps strapped on tight. They know that finding a good insulated place to spend the night is just as important as finding food.
It takes a lot of energy to prevent their one inch cube body from turning into an ice cube by morning.

Black-capped chickadees have a wonderful assortment of adaptations for the winter, perhaps most remarkable of all, the ability to go into nightly hypothermia, to conserve large amounts of energy. Their ability to go into a regulated hypothermia or mini hibernation enables them to actually lower their body temperature, in a controlled manner, to about 12 or 15 degrees F below their normal daytime temperature of 108 degrees F. The deep sleep slows all their body functions down to allow the bird to conserve almost 25 percent of their hourly metabolic expenditure during freezing temperatures. That's probably why he took a little bit of time to get back up to speed.

Thank you for sharing your picture and curious observations. 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 14, 2019

My Valentines were seeds


I gave a hundred Valentines.
A hundred, did I say?
I gave a thousand Valentines
one cold and wintry day.

I didn't put my name on them
or any other words,
because my Valentines were seeds
for February birds.

by Aileen Lucia Fisher (September 9, 1906 – December 2, 2002) Born in Michigan, a writer of more than a hundred children's books, including poetry, picture books in verse, and prose about nature.

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The #GreatBackyardBirdcount (#GBBC): Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks

Sharp-shinned (Accipiter striatus) and Cooper’s (Accipiter cooperii) hawks can be hard to ID. The birds have a lot of variation in plumage and size and there is no single field mark that distinguishes one species from the other.

Size is one defining factor, but that’s sometimes hard to judge with a single bird. The rule of thumb is that a Cooper’s Hawk is about the size of an American Crow and the Sharp-shinned Hawk is more the size of a jay.

Get to know the Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

The following are ID tips from Project Feeder Watch for the Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cooper's Hawk:

1) The tail feathers of Sharp-shinned Hawks appear squared with a notch in the center, whereas a Cooper's Hawks tail looks rounded.
Cooper's Hawk
2) Cooper's Hawks have a barrel shaped chest. Sharp-shinned Hawks are widest at the shoulder and get distinctly narrower down to the hips.
3) A Sharp-shinned Hawk's head looks small compared to the body, and a Cooper's Hawk's head looks large.
4) Cooper's Hawks are usually larger than Sharp-shinned Hawks.
5) A juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk has very thick, rufous stripes that extend down the lower belly while the Cooper's Hawk has very thin, dark vertical streaks that fade away on the lower belly.
6) Sharp-shinned have very thin toes and legs, compared to the Cooper's Hawk.
7) The color of the nape of an adult Cooper's Hawks is pale with a clear contrast to a dark cap. Juveniles of both species can show a pale nape, however.

More identification tips and challenges can be seen on Project Feeder Watch's Accipiter Photo Gallery page: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/accipiterphoto.htm 

Related Articles:
Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count http://GBBC.html
Coopers's Hawk http://bit.ly/ylsupp
Hawks at Feeders http://bit.ly/zfOiVV
Sharp-shinned Hawks http://bit.ly/zhi4Ng

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Bird love is in the air

February is the month of love, perhaps inspired by some interesting behaviors exhibited by our bird friends. There was a popular notion in England and France during the Middle Ages that birds started to look for their mates on February 14. The reason for this assumption might be related to the fact that the birds started singing again sometime in mid-February. Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400), an English poet mentions this belief in his Parlement of Foules (1382):
“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
[Translation "For this was Saint Valentine's Day, when every bird comes there to choose his mate."]

Bird courtship displays are integral to mating and raising young. Female birds often choose suitors based on appearance, the ability to provide food, evidence that the male can build the strongest and safest nest and other characteristics. If you have woodpeckers in your yard, you probably have heard the rat-tat-tatting on phone poles to attract their mates. Other species flash pretty feathers to females, touch bills or groom each other during courtship. Jays and cardinals often present food gifts to their potential mates while doves fluff up their feathers and “dance.”  And as the days get longer there will also be more birdsong in the air, to attract mates and stake out territories.

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, chickadees, woodpeckers, bluebirds, and robins are some of the common backyard birds that spend nesting seasons together 'til death do they part. Even cowbirds which lay their eggs in other birds nests are largely monogamous.

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

The #GreatBackyardBirdcount (#GBBC): Black-capped Chickadee

Get to know your birds before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

All chickadees wear caps and Michigan's Black-capped Chickadee is no exception. Their cap and bib are black, which sets off their white cheeks and belly. Their soft gray back and wing feathers complete their dapper outfit.

The Black-capped Chickadee's chick-a-dee call is easy to recognize, but as we near Valentines day listen for the loud whistled chickadee fee-bee-beeyee (like they are singing hey sweetie). This call is used to attract mates or strengthen pair bonding. As we head in to spring chickadees begin to explore potential nest sites (bird houses) so that as soon as the flocks begin to break up for breeding, each pair can claim a territory within their home range.

As chickadees dispute territory rights, the loud whistled fee-bee-beeyee songs become a familiar sound. You’ll hear male chickadees engage in prolonged fee-bees battles with their male neighbors. Besides defending a territory a male must woo his mate by feeding her tasty treats. The female receives her gifts with a broken dees vocalization made exclusively by the females.

Mid-Michigan's chickadees are non-migratory and will be around all winter. Keeping their little half ounce body working efficiently requires a lot of fuel. From sunrise to sunset, the chickadee spends most of its time feeding. An ample supply of foods, such as good seed blends, suet, seed cylinders, or nuts, provide a lot of calories to produce energy in cold weather.

Related Articles:

- Where Do Birds Go At Night? http://goo.gl/bEl3h 
- Chickadees don’t leave home without their caps https://chickadees-all wear caps.html
- Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://goo.gl/jAtN5 
- Fun Facts about the different Chickadees in North America http://bit.ly/zIDkCi 
- Not a Shy Bird: How the Black-capped Chickadee Communicates http://goo.gl/1rlnh

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The #GreatBackyardBirdcount (#GBBC): American Robins

Good day, Back in 2014 I sent you a question concerning robins that had shown up in February. After not seeing them since that winter, they're back. They gather around the heated birdbath I've placed on the ground to provide a source of open water for the winter (used by rabbits, various birds, squirrels, feral cats). The attached picture shows them yesterday (2-9-2019) when the temperature was -10. They were gathered all day, and I had to refill the birdbath. They're back again today (2-10-2019, temp +11) en masse. Fun to watch them, glad I can be of service to them. Feel free to use this information and pictures as you see fit. Paul

It does feel strange to see the American Robins in our backyards during the winter months. Fun fact, a group of robins are collectively known as a "worm" of robins. In the winter, robins have a nomadic lifestyle, wandering widely looking for food and water that isn't depleted or covered in snow. If you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of American Robins reported in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero.

Their diet changes from mostly worms and insects to fruit, nuts and berries. I’ve seen them devouring our crab apples, Mountain Ash tree berries, and sometimes under my feeders looking for nuts or dried mealworms. They also appreciate open water in the winter as you've discovered. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up intermittently for afternoon drinks.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about birds, but there is a way to help personally. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event in February that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are all over the world.[1] 

From the past bird counts, researchers at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology have an unprecedented wealth of data to create a snapshot of bird distribution and the effects of weather. BirdScope magazine wrote “food availability may be the primary factor influencing some species’ winter ranges, but snow cover may also play a role. Results from the GBBC and other continent-wide monitoring projects show that American Robins overwinter across North America in a patchy mosaic, primarily reflecting their opportunity to forage on fruits and berries. When snow cover is high and food is difficult to find, American Robins move farther south. When snow cover is low and food is more readily available, they seem to overwinter in northern locales in higher numbers.” [2]

Thank you for sharing your observations and beautiful photographs. 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

1. Wild Birds Unlimited helps sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/
Related Article: 
Photo Share: Mottled Robin http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2014/03/photo-share-mottled-robin.html

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The #GreatBackyardBirdcount (#GBBC): Michigan Woodpeckers

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”.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Photo Share: Polar Vortex birds

Attached are a couple bird photos you may use on your website. Saw these two woodpeckers at my feeders during the polar vortex. 

This is the second year I have seen the sapsucker...she seems to only come when the weather is very harsh. 

I occasionally see the flicker, but he is a much more frequent visitor during harsh weather. - Karen Patterson

Those are great observations. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photographs. 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 7, 2019

Hand-painted bird houses

Nesting season will be here before you know it, and Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing just brought in the most adorable Michigan-made, hand-painted bird houses that are all properly designed!

As soon as the ice melts 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