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

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Photo Share: Cardinals sing and Hawk pellet dissection

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Simple bird house pole

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Where birds go when it rains

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:
How can birds fly in the rain? http://goo.gl/JOeMVM
How to Help Keep Your Birds Warm http://goo.gl/GNaFLo
Product Highlight: Solid Seed Cylinders http://goo.gl/HbISQR
Why Don't Birds Freeze After They Take a Bath in the Winter? http://goo.gl/5ydpvy

When nesting begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Photo Share: Natural Nesting Materials

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

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

Even though I live in Fargo, ND I'm a regular reader of your blog and have learned a lot from your posts. I enjoy the photo share offerings! Kerry
If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

Best nestsing material

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

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

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

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

Or you can collect: twigs, cotton or wool yarn cut less than 3 inches, human hair or animal fur (cat or dog), feathers or dried decorative grasses.  We DO NOT recommend dryer lint. Lint hardens after getting wet providing a poor nest for baby birds. Thread, plastic material and lint are the 3 big no, nos for nesting material.
Offering birds construction material to build a nest is just one more way for you to attract a wider variety of bird activity to your yard!
Related Articles:
5 Tips to Attract Birds to Nest in your Bird Houses http://bit.ly/xETceZ
Common Bird House Problems http://bit.ly/wrWzyN
Which Way Do You Face a Birdhouse? http://bit.ly/AD43TW
Don’t use treated lumber to build a birdhouse http://bit.ly/x2pIG0
When do birds begin nesting? http://bit.ly/wbJ3kE
DO NOT Collect Dryer Lint for the birds to use as nesting material! http://bit.ly/wC5HcO

Monday, February 19, 2018

#MusicMonday – Overcoming Stage Fright

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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Simple Way to Help Birds This Weekend

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

To learn more about what scientists discovered the past 21 years and how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit birdcount.org. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

Photo Share: Cardinals and Crabapples

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

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

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

If anyone else would like to share a photograph of nature send it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it on the Friday Photo.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why birds count and Why count birds

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

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

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

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