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, October 21, 2016

Photo Share: Killdeer

Killdeer are a shorebird you can see without going to the beach. We had one nesting in the runoff ditch across the street from the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing. You usually hear their familiar Kill-deer call before you see them, especially if you aren't expecting to see them on the edge of a parking lot.

Killdeer are surprisingly unobtrusive even with their yellow legs, white belly, two black necklaces and a brown face marked with black and white patches. They spend their time walking along the ground or running ahead a few steps, stopping to look around, and running on again as they look for earthworms, snails, crayfish, grasshoppers, beetles, and aquatic insect larvae.

They are found all across the US but only nest in Michigan. By the end of October most have moved further south. Killdeer that breed in the southern half of the US and along the Pacific Coast are year-round residents. But those that breed in the northern US and Canada, where winter conditions are more severe, migrate south to Mexico and Central America. Because the northern Killdeer fly south, right over the region where other Killdeer reside year-round, they are known as leap-frog migrants.

Related Articles:
- Killdeer nest abandoned http://goo.gl/qNkf3w
- What bird makes a ground nest in Michigan? http://goo.gl/2yc02
- What Do I Feed Baby Killdeer? http://goo.gl/fXiYD
- Nesting Questions http://goo.gl/pNt7V

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cute squirrel pictures

We have a new friend hanging around the store. Dolly thinks we should let her in with open arms. She's just a little thing, new to the neighborhood and learning the ropes. She's already got her cute face down pat.

Not Feeding Squirrels 
People either seem to love squirrels or hate them. Many people complain that the squirrels are eating their birds’ food. The number one selling feeder at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing is the squirrel proof feeders. We can also help you create a squirrel proof set up with baffles or choose a seed to deter squirrels.

Feeding Squirrels 
For some people, feeding squirrels is actually fun or provides a distraction to deter squirrels from bothering their bird feeders. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing has several feeders and food for squirrels. It is recommended that people who feed the squirrels place food away from window sills or door steps so as to discourage squirrels coming through screens.

Relocating Squirrels 
If you or anyone you know is trapping and moving squirrels, please let them know that it is illegal to move wildlife in Michigan without a permit. And you may be doing more harm than good. Squirrels live in territories and every time one is removed, another will take its place. Moving squirrels that are pregnant or that have babies waiting for their mother could result in death. And in the fall squirrels hide food for later. If they are relocated it may be too late for them to start over. However, if you leave the squirrels that you have, alone they will keep other squirrels away. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing can show you how to squirrel proof your bird feeding station so that you and the squirrels, can live in harmony.
Related Articles: 
- Squirrel proof bird feeder reviews http://bit.ly/waJs9o 
- How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders? http://bit.ly/yiZsML 
- Why are Squirrels Called Squirrels? http://bit.ly/yhktkr 
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb 
- How high can squirrels jump to bird feeders? http://goo.gl/XuvwNe
- Found! New squirrel species discovered. http://goo.gl/LUxzA0

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Downy woodpecker hides winter food

The crisp mornings, bright colored leaves, and excited bird activity all herald winter’s approach. While some bug, fruit, and nectar birds migrate south, other birds that over-winter in Michigan may switch their diet to berries, nuts, crab-apples, and seeds.

I have numerous nuthatches, jays, chickadees and woodpeckers at the window feeder. They are not only eating lunch they are taking doggie bags away from my window restaurant. Extra seeds and nuts will be secreted away for them to retrieve and eat at a later time. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to help them survive if food sources become scarce.

Each seed is placed in a different location and to remember where each one is, neurobiologists have discovered that the part of the brain that processes spatial information increases in the birds’ that hoard food. They can find each hiding spot accurately even a month later.

Chickadees are the most frequent customers at my feeder but this Downy Woodpecker was a little easier to catch on camera. He would pick up a nut from my No-Mess Nutty Mix at the feeder and then I caught him hiding it in the crack of the trumpet vine.

Related articles:
- Birds Move Trees http://bit.ly/oPqFgG
- Screech Owls cache uneaten prey items in cavities http://bit.ly/pJ7jCP
- Red-Bellied Woodpecker stores its food in the barks of trees http://bit.ly/nqYS7j
- Mine! All Mine: Why Squirrels Hoard http://bit.ly/qFANnl
- Michigan’s Top 20 Winter Backyard Birds http://bit.ly/qq5xu1
- What birds migrate from Michigan? http://bit.ly/ngkPX3

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Help save the Monarchs in Michigan

Michigan DNR Press Release

Fall is here, and with the cooler temperatures and lessening daylight, many different species have begun to migrate. One remarkable insect that makes such a journey is the monarch butterfly. Monarchs from Michigan typically travel south to Mexico to overwinter. Unfortunately, this remarkable insect has had a 90-percent decrease in its eastern population over the last 20 years.

Pollinators, like butterflies and bees, are responsible for approximately one-third of the world’s food source. Imagine that one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinating insects’ services. 

There are many ways that you can help pollinators, even in your own backyard! Creating habitat for pollinators is a great place to start. Milkweed is important for monarchs, because this is where they lay their eggs and where their caterpillars get nutrition as they grow. Other flowering plants are important to have around too, as they provide nectar sources for adult monarchs and many other types of pollinators.

Other ways to help:

Monday, October 17, 2016

Ravens in Michigan

Common Ravens are considerably larger than American Crows, although this difference can be hard to judge on its own if you don't look at size and shape. Look for the Common Raven's heftier bill, shaggy throat feathers, more slender, pointed wings, and longer, wedge-shaped tail.

They nest in the UP and upper part of Michigan but can come down to mid-Michigan from October to May. Ravens prefer wild areas with open landscapes, such as  riverbanks and scrubby woodlands whereas their crow cousins tend to be found more in cities and suburbs.

Related Articles:
Crow vs Raven's in Michigan? http://ravens-in-michigan.html
Crows: Are they Feathered Apes? http://bit.ly/LvWgge
Raven is the largest songbird in North America http://goo.gl/7W6uF
How Do I Deter Crows at the Feeder? http://bit.ly/LWbhMB
Crow sliding down snow covered roof http://goo.gl/qMsD4
Why are “black” birds considered bad by most people? http://bit.ly/LWbxe

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Juvenile delinquent hawk

Photo via Wikimedia Commons
I don't know if we have a juvenile delinquent hawk, just young and inexperienced hawk or a hawk with ADHD. When I come home from work he breezes through, making all the birds panic. He doesn't do the usual patient perch and pounce tactic of older hawks. He flies in perches for two seconds and then is off again, only to return a couple minutes later to repeat the mad flight pattern.

We had a really good year for cardinals. I have at least 50 feeding in the morning and evening. They chip, chip, chip excitedly after I fill the feeders. Then this hoodlum hawk makes his appearance and whack. It is inevitable that one hits a window as it tries to make a quick get away. One cardinal took a knock on the head, but he recovered quickly. Fortunately there have been no fatalities. Although I don't mind if the hawk feeds, I just wish he would figure out how without causing all the havoc.
He hasn't been around for a couple days, so I hope he's moved on to a new territory.

Related Articles:
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk comes for a visit http://bit.ly/w1fDRM
Can You Scare a Hawk Away? http://bit.ly/w3vz5B
Small birds attack hawk http://bit.ly/sH68yB
Frozen Woodpecker http://bit.ly/ubSCTR
Is it safe to feed the birds out in the open? http://bit.ly/rBErxI

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Learn what bird is singing with the bird songs audio book

I’m so excited one of the most innovative bird books is back in print! The Backyard Birdsong Guide by Donald Kroodsma is the book for any nature lover, both new and experienced. This book is also great in forming a love of birds and bird songs with young people.

So what is so great about this guide? It not only gives you vivid descriptions of birds, their behaviors, and exquisite illustrations and range maps, it also has digital audio of the birds’ calls and songs! It is an audio field guide. Listen to the songs of the most common birds in your area while learning about their habits and hang outs.

Find out what Black-capped Chickadees are thinking as they give their unmistakable namesake call, or why many songbirds have dialects that vary from region to region. Or what about the common House Sparrow? Most human listeners might call their cheep monotonous and tiresome. Yet listen closely and you’ll hear a subtle but treasured variety of cheeps there.

The author Donald Kroodsma discovered birds in a local Michigan marsh during his last semester at Hope College. That summer he attended University of Michigan “Bug Camp” at Pellston, taking both “baby birds” and “big birds” courses simultaneously. He was asked to record a few birds for Cornell’s Library of Natural sounds which started him on a life-long journey to understanding birdsongs.

And as with all Cornell Lab Publishing Group books, 35% of the net proceeds from the sale of Backyard Birdsongs supports projects at the Cornell Lab, such as children’s educational and community programs.

Related Articles:
- Attracting Michigan Songbirds http://goo.gl/Cfgc6b
- How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/rquunU
- Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1
- What are the Best Binoculars: How to Choose Optics http://bit.ly/vZW26j
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/vUZynL

Friday, October 14, 2016

Photo Share: Fall Colors

Many factors that play a role in the magnificent color of fall tree leaves are cooler temperatures, changes in rainfall, and most of all, the shortening of daylight hours. Arborist, Rex Bastian of The Davey Tree Expert Company explains, “As chlorophyll production wanes and leaves begin to shut down, turn color, and drop from the tree in the fall, other pigments become visible. The yellows, oranges, and browns were always there, only hidden. The red, pink and purple pigments, however, must be manufactured in leaves during the fall. These colors are the most variable from year to year, because their formation is the most dependent on favorable environmental conditions.”

Related Articles:
Mother Nature Puts on Her Fall Wardrobe http://bit.ly/vSLJcA
It's time to Prepare Your Yard for Fall Bird Feeding http://bit.ly/twtTbC
Do birds know winter is coming? http://bit.ly/uVAtWL
Why are the birds eating so much in the fall? http://bit.ly/v0OC23
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/vSdpFt

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, October 13, 2016

Canada Geese migrate at night

Twice yesterday I heard the familiar honking of Canada Geese flying over the house. This wouldn’t register as unusual except it was at night. When it gets dark we think of most birds tucking in a bushy spot or tree hollow to sleep. But during the spring and fall migration many birds take flight at night including geese.

Geese fly at both night and day but most usually begin at dusk. They move in a V formation, with experienced individuals taking turns leading the flock. Migrating flocks include loose groups of families generally.

Geese have excellent memories and vision especially with the full moon, allowing them to spot and remember landmarks on the ground and in the sky. Their ability to see in the dark is 12 times greater than ours.

Their autumn migration can be seen from September to the beginning of November. We usually see some Canada Geese year-round in mid-Michigan as long as there is unfrozen water. However some geese that breed in the High Arctic fly through Michigan to the southern United States for winter.

Related Articles:
- Have you ever heard of a wedge of geese? http://goo.gl/2oDPB
- Goose Gaffe? http://goo.gl/sDx9H
- Strange deer and goose pairing http://goo.gl/im8Pj
- Why geese sleep in the water http://goo.gl/X9gV9
- Why do geese fly in a V formation? http://goo.gl/h1icv

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Small gray bird with white belly

I just saw a Junko!!!

Male Dark-eyed Junco
I've been seeing juncos too! Dark-eyed Juncos are neat, flashy little sparrows that live in mid-Michigan from the fall, all through the winter. Adults generally have gray heads, necks, and breasts, gray or brown backs and wings, and a white belly, but can have a confusing amount of variation in plumage details. But the white outer tail feathers flash distinctively in flight and while hopping on the ground and the bill is usually pale pinkish. Males tend to have darker slate colored backs and the females have browner backs.

The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. Studies show winter junco flocks are 80 percent male in Michigan and 72 percent female in states further south. Males risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring.

Female Dark-eyed Junco via Wikimedia Commons
So as the weather changes we may wake up to a flock of females one day and males the next until the birds settle in for winter. Juncos migrate at night at very low altitudes in flocks up to 100 individuals. Other birds like fox and tree sparrows may accompany the juncos. Flock composition can change from day to day during migration. Juncos prefer to forage and roost in groups during the day and may depart en masse at night but do not stay together during flight.

Juncos, like many other members of the sparrow family, eat a variety of insects and seeds mainly on the ground. What seeds they prefer can differ across the country.

Sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract juncos to tray or ground bird feeders. You’ll also see the juncos scratching for grass seeds or insects in leaf litter and pine needles.

Related Articles:
Fun Facts About Juncos http://bit.ly/pgewJn
What birds like Safflower seed? http://bit.ly/puRjIr
Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/nURO99
Do the same birds show up at the same feeders year after year? http://bit.ly/GMaOYV

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How to Attract Winter Finches

Do I need to continue to feed thistle in the winter?

I love the American Goldfinches and mid-Michigan is lucky enough to have these birds year round. If you enjoyed watching them in the summer and fall, they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.

Winter also brings down some Canadian finches like the redpolls and siskins.

And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to smash it with a spoon on white paper and see if any oil spots are produced. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Finally, remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the finches love.

Related Articles:
- Goldfinch Migration http://bit.ly/pEuMKo
- House Finches: Those Year-round Red Heads http://bit.ly/opD7kb
- Bird of the week: Pine Siskin http://bit.ly/qNqIuK
- Birdwatching: Look for the Out-of-Towners http://bit.ly/q6Pkco
- Comparing House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf
- 10 Winter Finches in Michigan http://goo.gl/C9WUqx
- Where do you place finch feeders? http://bit.ly/p4XHU4