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, February 19, 2017

#GBBC: Tufted Titmouse

Get to know Tufted Titmouse for the The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)
Tufted titmice are about 6 inches long and have wingspans of about 10 inches. Both males and females have white undersides, gray backs, rusty-brown sides, pointed crests on their heads, and large dark eyes. They do not migrate extensively and are common year-round in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

#GBBC: Blue Jay

Get to know Blue Jays before the The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)
It was so beautiful this morning I couldn't wait to walk to the Wild Birds Unlimited store. I heard a lot of bird songs; Cedar Waxwings over the school, cardinals, chickadees and goldfinches in the trees, and is that a Red-tailed Hawk I hear? Can't fool me! It was a Blue Jay in the tree right next to the sidewalk. I told the jay, "I mean no harm jay, just enjoying the day."

The Blue Jay is a large common songbird at most mid-Michigan bird feeders. With their perky crest, blue, white, and black plumage and a large variety of noisy calls. Like other members of the corvid family, jays are pretty good mimics; they commonly impersonate Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. But their most common call is a loud jay jay along with other clear whistled notes and gurgling sounds.

Sometimes I give a whistle as I fill the feeders to alert a scout bird that their is food available. He reports back to the family with his whistle and soon I have a family of jays visiting, along a whole community of other birds. I fill my many different feeders regularly with the best Wild Birds Unlimited Seed Blends along with nuts, sunflower seeds, and suet.

Related Articles:
- Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/w4vRPP
- Blue Jays aren't blue http://bit.ly/roVPVX
- What Feeder Do You Recommend for Blue Jays? http://bit.ly/txd8ja
- Blue Jay Fun Facts http://goo.gl/wJgMmJ
- Do birds know winter is coming? http://goo.gl/EilIa6
- Why Blue Jays go bald in the fall http://goo.gl/gAX3x

Grow a miniature garden

Mini Woodland Planters

Spring may come early this year and now you get a jump start on a mini garden. For a limited time Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing has a couple cute items that let you watch some greens grow.

Cat tested and Dolly approved, these cute little planters come with a peat pellet and wheat grass seed. Grass can be an attractive addition to your home, and a welcome treat for your indoor cat, year around.

Once the grass is gone you can grow more or use the planter to hold pens or other miniature plants.

For those with green thumbs or not so green, just to add water and watch it grow. Choose one or bundle all three together!

Friday, February 17, 2017

#GBBC: #Photo Contest

Take a look at some of the 2016 GBBC photo contest winners! 
                     Overall                                                                          Behavior                                         Composition
The Great Backyard Birdcount has a Photo Contest that celebrates the beauty and diversity of wild birds seen during the count from around the world. Images will be judged in six categories. You choose which category you want your photo to be judged. Check out the Updated Photo Contest Rules.

Overall: top-notch in all respects—composition, lighting, clarity
Habitat: a bird or birds are in the photo, but the habitat is an equally important part of the picture
Behavior: birds in action—eating, drinking, bathing, fighting, flying
Group: multiple birds, from a few to massive flocks
Composition: a pleasing arrangement of all the features within the photo
People: people watching birds in cities, forests, parks, backyards, anywhere

To be considered for the contest, photos must be uploaded separately with a link on the GBBC website home page which will appear when the count begins. http://gbbc.birdcount.org/

Thursday, February 16, 2017

#GBBC: European Starling

Get to know the European Starling before The Great Backyard Birdcount (#GBBC)

Adult starlings are about 8.5 inches long. Both males and females have similar black iridescent green glossed feathers with a veneer of green and purple. In winter, the tips of the feathers have a white or cream colored "flecking" that erodes away by spring and summer.
European Starlings are omnivorous and can adapt to numerous kinds of food. In the spring starlings require large quantities of bugs, suet or nuts to meet their high protein needs. You will see them patrolling the lawn for invertebrates in the soil. Their pointed bill is adapted perfectly for probing food from the ground and catching insects.

In the winter a starling’s diet switches. Their intestines lengthen, and the wall of the gizzard increases in thickness to better absorb the nutrients from more fruits, nuts, berries and seeds. As spring approaches you will begin to see more and more starlings at the seed and suet feeders. 
Starlings always rank among “most numerous” during the Great Backyard Birdcount and you might find it difficult to give an accurate count when a flock descends on the lawn.
eBird has developed two bird counting tutorials to help you learn how to estimate numbers. The best technique to use when encountering large flocks of birds is to carefully count a sample, or section, of the flock then extrapolate your count to come up with an estimate. Check out these tutorials:
Related Articles:
- Do birds warm their feet on telephone wires? http://bit.ly/t7k91r
- Fun Facts About European Starlings http://bit.ly/rSQtFD
- How do thousands of European Starlings fly without colliding? http://bit.ly/vwM3Ra
- Amazing moment bald eagle chases down & catches a starling http://bit.ly/tnPo6z
- Starlings stealing shiny money from machine http://bit.ly/uKaP8b

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

#GBBC: Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawk

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 14, 2017

Photo Share: Cat spiller in the sun

Confounded spellcheck! Woolly Caterpillar in the sun! Isn't it too early? When are woolly caterpillars suppose to appear in spring?

All right I've give up. We are just not going to have Winter this year. Welcome Spring, may you be normal and greening!

The banded Woolly Bear larva emerges from the egg in the fall, hatches, eats, grows and sheds its skin several times. When cold weather arrives they hide in the trunks of trees or leaf litter and freeze solid. Usually in the spring when it warms up, to the high 40’s and 50’s Fahrenheit, the caterpillar thaws out and becomes active again. Hopefully it will find enough green leaves to eat, gain the energy to spin a loose, net-like cocoon, and pupate for a few months. Then it will emerge as an adult Isabella Tiger Moth. The adult moth will only live for one to two weeks. In that time, it will need to find a mate, and lay its eggs to complete the life cycle.

Related Articles:
Punctuation Butterflies: The First Butterfly of Spring! http://bit.ly/JHUpG1
Black butterfly with orange lines and white spots http://goo.gl/tqztI
How Fast Does a Monarch Butterfly Fly? http://bit.ly/ywhpZr
Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings? http://bit.ly/x04qEi
Small, creamy white butterflies with a spot on the wing http://bit.ly/yRuhBX

Monday, February 13, 2017

#GBBC: Woodpeckers With Red Heads

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”.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

#GBBC: Carolina Wren

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

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

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

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

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

I also have a wren house that it can sleep in at night. A good idea to encourage Carolina wrens to stay and feed in or near your yard is to provide houses or roosting pockets near the bird feeders. Roosting pockets are little shelters, much like birdhouses (but smaller and not meant to be used as a nesting site), where the birds can roost and hide from the wind chill. The combination of roosting pockets and bird feeders during winter is one sure way to attract Carolina wrens in your area. 
Related Articles:
- What’s the best suet for Michigan wild birds? http://bit.ly/yAR4pm 
- Quick Fun Facts on Wrens http://bit.ly/v5XVoU
- Surviving Winter, the Bird Way http://goo.gl/SF0Yga
- Roosting Pockets: Warm Shelter from Frosty Winds http://goo.gl/QOPbMw

Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to Use eBird: Help fledge a new birder

eBird is a website people from around the world use to report the birds they see in their backyards, parks, on vacation or even in your office parking lot. Some people just like to count birds as a way to keep track of personal lists, and others use eBird’s tools to report rare birds or better understand the occurrence of birds close to home and around the world.
Northern Cardinal. Photo: Lesley Val Adams/Great Backyard Bird Count
On February 17-20, 2017, Cornell Lab of Ornithology teams up with eBird for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), an online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds. Wild Birds Unlimited is helps sponsor the event and we encourage you to take just 15 minutes on any or all the days to submit reports of the birds you see.

All bird observations are valuable, and every sighting--no matter how common the species--is important for understanding where and when birds occur around the globe. Your observations appear with others from the eBird community on eBird’s maps and graphs. Researchers download the data to make more informed conservation decisions.

To get started you go to eBird.org and create a new account. There are privacy settings at http://ebird.org/ebird/prefs that allow you to submit reports anonymously.

To enter your data into eBird:
  1. Go to the "Submit Observations" tab at the top of the page.
  2. Enter your State in the "Find it on a Map" search option.
  3. On the map that opens, type the address of sighting.
  4. Next they will ask you a) The Date b) How you went birding. In other words, were you walking a trail, watching out a window, etc. c) The time of the observation, d) How long you were observing, and e) The number of people watching
  5. On the checklist page, you can use the "Jump to Species" box to type in the bird name or scroll down until you find the birds you want to report and enter the number you saw. Write down only the highest number of each species you see at any one time to avoid counting the same birds more than once. For example, if you see 8 cardinals as you start your count period, then later you see 12, and later still you see 3, you’ll only report 12--the highest number you saw together at once. You do not add the numbers together
  6. At the bottom right there is a very important question: "Are you submitting a complete checklist of the birds you were able to identify?" It is best if you try to give a full picture of what you see. By submitting a complete checklist of birds they can learn more about where a species occurs with regularity, but equally important they can begin to say with certainty where it does not occur. 
  7. Click Submit and then you have done your bit to help with bird conservation! It is so easy I hope you help fledge a new birders!!
More helpful information:
Get started by following our quick start guide: http://ebird.org/quick-start-guide
Links to bar charts, recent sightings, and the best local birding hotspots: http://ebird.org/ebird/places 
See eBird Science Use for more information:  http://ebird.org/science-use
Complete checklists vs. incomplete checklists: http://ebird.org/reporting-all-species.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Photo Share: Little Chickens

Something must have knocked some seed out of the feeder because all the "little chickens" were eating on the ground today. And the flicker was back at the suet after being gone during the warm weather.
Thank you for sharing your photos! 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.