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

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Photo Share: Odd white-winged sparrow

We have an interesting house sparrow visiting our feeder here in Lansing with white feathers on the side of its wings as well as in its tail. When it flies, you can really see the flash of white in both wings and tail. Odd!- Jennifer Otto

Cool! I have a similar male House Sparrow in front of the Wild Birds Unlimited store (https://bird-with-no-tail.html). He started out with no tail and it grew back white. Occasionally a bird will lose feathers in a close call with a predator. When this happens the new feathers sometimes grow in white and then change back to the normal color at the next regular molt.

Or this kind of white coloring could also be leucism. Leucism refers to an abnormality in the deposition of pigment in feathers. There is some disagreement as to whether the condition is genetic or caused by pigment cells that were damaged during development. Whatever the cause, the condition can result in a reduction in all types of pigment, causing pale or muted colors on the entire bird. Or like your bird the condition can cause irregular patches of white, and birds with these white patches are sometimes described as “pied” or “piebald."

Thanks for the info. I'm more inclined to think it is leucism as each wing is identically white on the outside edge.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Birds by the numbers: How long do songbirds usually live?

How long do songbirds usually live, for example the chickadee?

The lifespan of songbirds can vary. Most common backyard birds on average live between 2 and 5 years. However, the maximum lifespan recorded for many of these birds is much higher.

To look up a particular bird, I go to the University of Michigan's site (https://animaldiversity.org/). It gives a lot of averages. For example it's estimated that the Black-capped Chickadee has an average lifespan of 2.5 years with the oldest on record being 12.5 years old, based on information they've gathered from the Bird Banding Laboratory.

While chickadees are one of the more adaptable birds and 12 years in impressive, during that first year there is a steep learning curve. Then once they reach breeding age, their survival chances are better. Premature deaths can be caused by window collisions, toxic chemicals, including pesticides, accidents, diseases, loss of food sources due to habitat destruction, predators, or many other factors. And let's not forget about weather.

Chickadees choose to be year-round residents in Michigan. This choice means they expend more energy than tropical birds and even more than migrating birds to survive. The cheery chickadees make the winter blues less blah. That's why as the temperatures dip and natural food sources may become covered with snow or locked in ice, I am happy to offer them a few treats to make the day easier for them.

Related Articles:
What to feed birds in the winter http://bit.ly/rCdQqM
What is Bird Banding? http://bit.ly/tcXuhs
Migration vs. Hibernation http://bit.ly/szXjkl
What Do Black-Capped Chickadees Eat? https:/chickadees-eat.html
Why do some birds live longer than others? https://some-birds-live-longer.html
How many birds die during migration? https://birds-die in migration.html

Friday, January 18, 2019

Photo Share: Preparing for snow

Watch for birds flocking to the feeders before bad weather. Are you ready for the first snow of the new year? Studies show the average bird forages for food about five hours per day to meet their energy requirements. In severe weather bird feeders can be important. 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.

Also if there is an available source of open water, birds can conserve their energy for heat and survival during cold winters. Besides helping birds digest food properly, water helps birds keep their feathers clean and in top condition for effective insulation.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

When does nesting begin?

Squirrels are acting squirrelly and I am hearing the starlings squabble and squawk in the rafters of the Wild Birds Unlimited store. These are just a couple signs that the new year of nesting has started.
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, Eastern Bluebirds, and woodpeckers may begin scouting out bird houses soon. 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 by the end of February 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 leave 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 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 your bird houses are ready for occupancy too.

Video of bird looking good: Starling changing over to yellow bill and losing his stars in anticipation of nesting season: https://youtu.be/HmG2DBQwCqk

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Introduction of squirrels to the neighborhood

January 21 is National Squirrel Appreciation Day and I was watching the squirrels acting squirrely in the yard today. January and February is when squirrels begin looking for mates. You'll see them zig zagging around the yard with the males following females and fighting with other males.

People tend to react to squirrels in one of two ways, either they see them as cute and entertaining, or they make it a lifelong quest to keep the critters out of their bird feeders. Songbirds and squirrels have similar tastes in food, so it’s no surprise that they are constant companions to backyard bird feeding.

You can blame urban planners for the introduction of squirrels into the neighborhood. It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1800’s squirrels were shy little woodland creatures that supplied meat for early settlers. Overhunting and clearcutting the land for development nearly decimated nesting populations.

Then as cities developed and people moved away from caring for farm animals, public green areas were developed. Numerous naturalists, zoo directors, educators, park designers, and poets persuaded the public of the squirrels' value as members of the urban community. Because squirrels appeared to be responsive to human charity, they held a special place in the community. And by the early twentieth century, Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) had become the most visible non-domesticated mammals in American cities. The arboreal rodents were protected, sheltered, and fed by the humans who treated them as public pets.

The urbanization of the squirrels in the United States between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was an ecological and cultural process that changed the squirrels' ways of life, altered the urban landscape, and adjusted human understandings of nature, the city, and the boundaries of community. Even the East Lansing black squirrels were introduced in the 1960s at the request of MSU President John A. Hannah to add character to the campus. They have now spread widely past the campus borders to bring their natural charm to your neighborhood (which I hear about daily).

The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the U.S: http://jah.oxfordjournals.org
Black Squirrel History at MSU: http://goo.gl/k1H1p5

 Related Articles:
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML
- Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o
- Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb  
- Squirrel Fun Facts http://goo.gl/M3mT2M
- Why squirrels chew http://bit.ly/AjVzFW

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

How big is a squirrel’s brain?

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

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

I personally enjoy squirrel watching almost as much as bird watching. A 2010 study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive, or paranoid, behavior. When squirrels are being watched by other squirrels or birds like jays, they’ll construct fake caches. They pretend to bury a nut, going through the whole act of digging a hole and patting it down while all the time concealing the nut in their armpit to hide elsewhere.

And research conducted at Princeton University's biology department discovered that squirrels are far from squirrelly when it comes to food. It was assumed previously that gray squirrels couldn’t remember where they buried their nuts. However the study revealed they were not only good at locating buried food by odor, they can also remember the individual locations of nuts they have buried personally.

The study suggests that squirrels bury food in a series of locations, near landmarks, that help them form a cognitive treasure map in their head. Squirrels will also often dig up and rebury food to determine whether the food stored is still good or perhaps to help refresh their memory. 

Related Articles:
War between squirrels and jays https:/squirrels-and-jays.html
Birds hide food for rainy days https://birds-plan-ahead.html
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

Monday, January 14, 2019

Not Just for Birds: Wildlife Blend

To survive the winter months, squirrels stash pinecones, tree nuts, fruits, and berries that they can eat later. These clever creatures also eat mushrooms. They'll hang the fungi out to dry between tree branches so that it keeps better over the winter. Squirrels have an interesting adaptation that allows them to eat mushrooms containing deadly amanita-toxins with no ill effects.

A supplemental treat for them would be the Wild Birds Unlimited specially formulated Wildlife Blend. It's a blend of whole corn kernels, oil sunflower, peanuts in the shell, shelled peanuts and striped sunflower. This blend attracts a wide variety of bigger birds, as well as squirrels.

Related Articles:  
Groundhog or Woodchuck? http://bit.ly/z5FPoV
Hibernation: A nightmare or pleasant dream? http://bit.ly/y2OGr6
Origin of Squirrel Appreciation Day! http://bit.ly/AhqkBg 

Wildlife Blend http://wildlife-blend.html
Thoughts on the angry squirrel http://squirrel-funny.html

Sunday, January 13, 2019

American Goldfinch food

The American Goldfinch has a varied diet. Mainly a seed-eater, the birds have an abundant natural food supply for much of the year, including seeds of grasses, thistle, dandelion, ragweed, mullein, cosmos, goatsbeard, cone flowers, and sunflowers. At the feeders they prefer Nyjer® (thistle), or sunflower seeds.

People are always amazed that I recommend the Wild Birds Unlimited mesh feeder as my favorite choice. "How do they land on it to get the food out?" is frequently asked. Actually, mesh feeders imitate the natural flower seed heads. Goldfinches use their feet extensively bopping from flower heads to grass stalks, grasping delicately to extract seeds from plants swaying in the wind. In the spring the American Goldfinch feeds on the catkins hanging from birches and alders by pulling them up with their beak and using the toes to clamp them down on the branch. Their dexterity with their feet and bill, combined with low body weight, enables them to take advantage of food sources relatively inaccessible to some potential competitors.

Even though they lose their sunny color in the winter they still have a cheery call that sounds like, to me, they are saying Honey Bea. And they let you know when there is an impending storm by their frenzied manner at feeders. They are so small that they must put on a significant amount of weight before and during a storm to increase their chance of survival if they have to hunker down and can't make it back to a food source for a few hours.

Related Articles:
European Goldfinches http://bit.ly/Q2Cu37
Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/MzGSPD
Are Goldfinches here in the winter? http://bit.ly/PZu5ML
Goldfinches: The Last Birds Nesting http://bit.ly/PZuejj
Bird of the week: American Goldfinch http://bit.ly/PZum2a

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Photo Share: Winter Tufted Titmouse

Fun Facts About Tufted Titmice

Though the large, dark, fluid black eyes of titmice seem to be their defining characteristic, these birds exhibit a number of behaviors that make them unique.
  • Tufted Titmice have an alarm call that seems to fade off into the distance, giving the impression that the bird is moving from one place to another. Birdwatchers and predators alike can be fooled into chasing this ghost call while the titmouse stays securely hidden out of sight.
  • Tufted Titmice are one of just a few perching birds that can use their feet to hold seeds while they break them open.
  • During the winter, Tufted Titmice forage together with chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and Brown Creepers.
  • The Tufted Titmouse has been expanding its range northward since the 1940s and is now found almost to the Canadian border across most of its range. Speculation for the expansion suggests warming winter temperatures and the increase in mature woodland habitat.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Can Robins survive winter?

Some America Robins migrate but if you look at the range map you’ll see that there are winter populations of Robins in most states year round. Robins are surprisingly hardy birds, capable of surviving temperatures well below zero. But that doesn’t mean sightings are common.

After nesting season has ended, they usually form large nomadic groups that roost at night in the woods. 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. They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Frosty birds keep warm

Small birds face many challenges during the winter, including short days and long nights, tough weather conditions and food shortages, along with the risk of becoming a meal for hungry predators. In North America there may be some local movements in response to weather changes but House Sparrow populations do not migrate extensively. The hunker down in thick bushes and bird houses to wait out a storm.

Fortunately birds have many adaptations to stay warm in the winter. When fluffed up, feathers act as a buffer from the winds and wet; think downy coat. Then there is a gland at the base of most bird species tails that produces a special oil. When a bird preens they spread this on their feathers with their bill to help them become weather proof and shed water.

Also birds’ feet are made up of mainly bone, tendon, and scaly skin. And unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze.
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