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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When birds eat from feeders

You can feed birds year-round. I love my winter birds. The puffed up chickadee, the brilliant red cardinal and the drab but sunny songed goldfinches entertain me during the long cold months.

But I can’t wait to put out extra plates for the spring and summer birds; Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, wrens, hummingbirds, orioles, Song and Chipping Sparrows to name just a few. My reward is the extra bright songs and colors right outside my window.

Birds don't take a Spring Break. It is the hardest time for them to find food as many prime food sources are depleted. Bird feeders provide an easy source for birds after a long winter or arduous migration. Many birds migrating to their nesting grounds may see yards with lots of bird activity as a safe stop-over point. The numbers and variety of birds appearing in your yard can actually change every morning all the way to the end of May as species such as warblers, vireos, tanagers, gnatcatchers, kinglets and sparrows all migrate north.

In the spring, birds have a long “to-do” list and a short time to accomplish it. They claim territory, seek out mates, build nests and begin to raise their young. With so many birds arriving there’s a lot of competition. Offering foods makes everything a little easier to accomplish.

Birds that have survived winter in good health are best suited for getting reproduction going as soon as possible. A wide variety of studies have shown that providing supplemental foods permits birds to begin reproduction earlier with better success. The additional food helps them have more eggs per nest, bigger eggs, better hatchability, faster nestling growth, and lower nestling mortality. Feeding is especially helpful in years when storms and other natural disasters happen.

Backyard bird watchers can enjoy a variety of birds up close and wait eagerly for the new babies to arrive at the feeders and baths. In the summer, even if there is a lot of food available for birds, believe me, energy requirements are high when you have many mouths to feed and sometimes they just appreciate a night out at the feeders.

Related Articles:
What seed is best for attracting the colorful birds? http://goo.gl/SAA35
What are the differences between the Wild Birds Unlimited seed blends? http://goo.gl/lF0rr
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://goo.gl/MjUCA
When should I feed the birds? http://goo.gl/IvocS

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Headbanging birds

There are varied signs of spring: migrating birds passing through, new songs in the air, and the earth slowly waking up from its long winter nap. And there is another sign that is just as predictable which you may have noticed, the bird battles.

This morning a few sparrows were streaking across the sky in a chattering air battle. The testosterone levels in male birds is up in the spring, territories are being determined, and battles break out. House sparrows chasing each other or in a seemingly endless wrestling match is not uncommon. It’s usually a bloodless battle that ends when they are distracted or one bird taps out.

Cardinals and Robins are also choosing their nesting territory. Their winged battles are usually short lived with a clear winner decided. The exception is when they spot a competitor that is about the same size and coloring. I’m already getting calls about cardinals and robins attacking their reflection in the window. This is also a territorial behavior.

They are usually unattached birds without a mate to direct them in a productive direction. Most birds do stop after a couple weeks of window pounding in the spring, but it's better to try and deter the birds just in case it turns out to be an action that is performed so often that it becomes almost an involuntary response.

Some tips to deter bird window attacks:

• Cover the window with screens
• Shut the blinds on your windows when you are not at home and at night.
• Rub the window with a bar of soap or squirt with liquid soap to decrease the reflection.
• Hang balloons or Flutter Scare tape.* Anything that moves and repels the bird from that area will be effective.
• Post a spider web window cling outside a window.* The image of a sticky web will keep birds from flying towards your window.
• Install a window feeder.* This breaks the reflection and other birds interrupt the birds battles with himself.

*Available at Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing, MI

Monday, March 20, 2017

Spring Birds of Michigan

Spring is here officially! With spring’s arrival, the pace of migrants returning increases with swallows, killdeer, blackbirds, and sparrows. Long distance travelers like the orioles and hummingbirds are on the move but still way down south.

Orioles usually hit my mid-Michigan feeder at the beginning of May with a big song and dance. I'll put my feeder up on the window at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store by mid-April just in case he arrives early. You can watch their journey north on a fist sighting map:  http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/

I also put up my hummingbird feeder mid-April. You can track the migration of the Ruby-throated hummingbird on www.hummingbirds.net.

The hummingbirds we see in April probably won’t stick around but continue on to nest in the Upper Peninsula or Canada. The hummingbirds that choose to nest in our area (the regulars) usually arrive by Mothers Day, the second Sunday in May.
Related Articles: 
The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/FQ9iGc
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/FQ9kxU
How Do I Keep Bees Off My Hummingbird Feeder? http://bit.ly/Aj07oq
Facts on the Baltimore Oriole http://bit.ly/GzSTbi
Where do orioles winter? http://bit.ly/GAeWv5  
Favorite Oriole feeders http://t.co/OjG4Lz4

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gray Fox in Michigan

We had a Gray Fox visit our bird feeder at dawn! He was tiny. Maybe a little over a foot high and two feet long including his fluffy tail. In Michigan we have the Gray and Red Foxes. Red is spotted more often but that may be because the gray blends in so well with the surroundings. I only spotted him because I saw fast motion from the pond to the feeder and then a head that made jerky, secretive back and forth motions. As the sun rose I could see he was working slowly and deliberately, on a seed block but paused frequently to scan the yard. He blended in perfectly with the trunks of the trees.

With more light I could see a little red around the neck but he was mostly gray. The gray fox has pale feet and legs, and a black tipped tail. The red fox, of course, is redder and has black stocking feet and a white tipped tail.

According to http://www.biokids.umich.edu: "Gray foxes breed once a year in March. Both male and female gray foxes take care of their offspring. Before birth, males do the majority of hunting, and females look for and prepare a den. Females nurse their young for 2 to 3 weeks. Pups begin eating solid food around 3 weeks of age, and this food is mainly provided by the father. Parents teach pups how to hunt at around 4 months of age. Until then, both parents hunt for food separately, and pups practice their hunting skills by pouncing and stalking, which is primarily taught by the father. Pups depend on their parents for defense until about 10 months of age. At this point, they are capable of reproducing and they leave their parents."

Gray foxes are omnivorous. They prey on small vertebrates, and also consume fruit and invertebrates. In my yard he seemed to be interested in the nuts. (And maybe that is why I haven't seen any bunnies lately.)

Gray foxes prefer to live in deciduous forests interspersed with brushy, woodland areas. But with more areas being developed, animals are being forced to share human territories more and more.

Related Articles:
- Red Fox in the neighborhood http://goo.gl/u0CUqc
- How many species of squirrels are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/yYt6Nb
- Black Squirrel History & Facts http://bit.ly/AxiqPz
- Do opossums hibernate during winter? http://bit.ly/u4ORP6
- Do skunks hibernate? http://bit.ly/xVKDXP

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Why Bald Eagles lay their eggs in the winter

Hi, I have a question about Bald Eagles and was hoping you could help...Why do Bald Eagles lay their eggs during the winter months? Is there a specific reason? Thank you.
Good question. Eagles have to lay their eggs early so there is enough time to raise their babies before the next winter.

It takes eagles about 7 days to build or refurbish a nest. Then a few days to lay a couple eggs, and 35 days for incubation until they hatch. Then the young remain in the nest for about another 77 days until they fledge (fly from the nest). They still are not able to fly distances. With more and more practice to and from the nest and surrounding trees over the next 45 days they exercise their wings and gain experience in flying and foraging. That is a minimum of 5 ½ months in the breeding area. It is not until late summer, early fall that the eagle babies become independent.

Related Articles:
Bald Eagle Information http://t.co/o4ugzs2
Nesting Eagles http://t.co/vpj99ZV
Terrified Geese Have Eyes on the Sky http://t.co/pqsWQqE
Amazing moment bald eagle chases down and catches a starling in mid-air http://t.co/U3CT5Sh
Michigan DNRE asking drivers to watch out for bald eagles http://t.co/A9R33zI

Friday, March 17, 2017

Photo Share: Goldfinches powering up!

The American Goldfinches are chowing down on the No-mess CD! The calcium enriched, fresh sunflower hearts are powering them up. They are almost ready to bloom their bright yellow feathers for spring. I love my window feeder.

Related Articles:
How to provide extra calcium supplement for birds http://No-Mess CD.html
How to get a suction cup to stick http://how-to-get-suction-cup-to-stick.html
A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats http://window-feeder-entertain.html
Look for peeks of yellow as American Goldfinches molt http://peeks-of-yellow.html
Attract goldfinches to your garden http://attract-goldfinches-to-your-garden.html

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Flock of robins in my yard

Robin outside the store collecting some apples off the ground.
What should I do? I think the robins came back too soon. There is still snow on the ground and no worms. Will they starve?

Don't worry we have American Robins year-round at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. The store is surrounded by different kinds of crabapple trees. The robins seem to know when the apples on each tree reach that yummy squishy stage. Then bye, bye apples. That tree is stripped of fruit in a couple days.

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.

You can feed robins chopped apples, suet, mealworms, or nuts on a tray feeder. I like to put out a Wild Birds Unlimited Cranberry Fare seed block that is full of pecans and fruit when the robins visit.
They also appreciate open water in the winter. If you have a pond or heated birdbath they may show up for afternoon drinks.
Read more at: What in the world are the Robins still doing here? http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/2010/01/what-in-world-are-robins-still-doing.html

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Why geese honk in flight

I've watched Canada Geese landing on water for years and was aware of considerable honking as they glided to a pond or lake. But, I hadn't noticed until tonight how intense the communication was when small groups of two and three were making their approach. It almost appeared that the lead goose was being heckled by those behind. It looked as if the ones behind were highly critical of the leader as "he?" or "she?" Was leading them in. Even after they landed the leader was chased around on the ground for a while with highly indignant sounds and actions. Is it common for geese to criticize or help advise the leader as he makes his final approach?
Flocks or “gaggles” of Canada Geese are usually made up of multiple families that come together to look out for each other. After nesting and before spring they can be very vocal. Some honks are alerts to danger, to food, or to predators. Some honks are for identification and to announce they are in the area. Other times younger birds may just be practicing their honking.

During flights, the extended family group consisting of several generations, keep track of one another by making a series of short honks. They form a V shape to reduce the air resistance for the birds behind. It is common on longer flights for geese to rotate from the front to the back when they get tired.

When they approach the feeding area, the honking picks up and it is probably less about criticism and more about working together to alert the others that they are landing or completed the landing safely. Or you may be observing territorial displays. As spring approaches, pairs break away from flocks and begin defending territories.

Debates about nesting areas may involve honking, head pumping, hissing, and vibrating neck feathers. Things quiet down once the female selects her nesting site and begins construction and incubation while her mate guards her and the nest. 

Related Articles:
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- 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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to keep blackbirds away from suet feeders

What are the advantages of an upside down suet feeder?

If you have starlings hogging your suet, turn their world upside-down. Our EcoTough™ Upside-Down Suet Feeder is designed to allow birds to feed from below, a comfortable practice for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other clinging birds but difficult for starlings. Not only will it help you control your starling population, but it's also easy to refill, clean and hang.

EcoTough feeders and houses are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs. These feeders and houses prevent used milk jugs from making their way into our landfills. EcoTough feeders and houses won't rot, crack, fade or warp like wood can. They also come with limited lifetime guarantees.

Related Articles:
Wild Birds Unlimited Advanced Pole System http://bit.ly/rJulFz
Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Classic Hopper Feeders http://bit.ly/rpd6Cx
Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Tail Prop Suet Feeder http://bit.ly/s5cNe7
Wild Birds Unlimited EcoTough® Upside Down Suet Feeder http://bit.ly/sbYFZn
Wild Birds Unlimited Best Beginner Recycled Plastic Bird Feeders at http://bit.ly/rXr0JA
Wild Birds Unlimited Best New Recycled Plastic Fly-thu Feeder http://bit.ly/rKj4en

Monday, March 13, 2017

Common Grackle: Yellow-eyed black bird

I had a customer at Wild Birds Unlimited Saturday that said the Goldeneyes had arrived at his feeders. It took me a few seconds to understand that that's what he named his Common Grackles. I only see a couple of grackles pass through my tree lined yard in the spring and summer, but people that live in more open areas can see hundreds flying or foraging on their lawns and in agricultural fields.

Common Grackles are large blackbirds with glossy-iridescent bodies and bright golden eyes that give them an intent expression. To keep them at the feeders offer a large perching area and foods like corn, suet or peanuts. To keep them off feeders offer smaller perched feeders and safflower seed (seed they don't like).

When they are walking around on the lawns they make a chip, chip call. And their song isn't much more melodic. This big beautiful bird almost sounds like someone that lost their voice. Common Grackles puff up and produce a guttural readle-eak song accompanied by high-pitched, clear whistles, often described as sounding like a rusty gate. Watch the video: https://macaulaylibrary.org/video/440377
  Related Articles:
- How Grackles got their name http://goo.gl/zGBBaO
- Common Grackles facts http://bit.ly/OzgUjw
- How to keep grackles away: http://bit.ly/Q1q0GI
- Why is the blackbird associated with evil and ill omens? http://bit.ly/OzhBtb
- When black birds fly south http://bit.ly/Q1qDAk

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Birds come back at the feeders when it snows

The birds didn't have a very difficult winter this year. No snow on the ground means they had an easier time foraging for natural resources. I love winter but had finally given up and was all ready to welcome spring, but no. I wake up this morning to SNOW! Now the birds are back at the feeder in full force!
Chickadees are good scavengers and are also very good at caching and relocating food. They hide hundreds of seeds all over their territory, in a behavior known as scatter-hoarding to keep their stash a secret from competitors and help them survive during bad weather and when food sources are low.
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.

That is why icy weather the hardest time for chickadees because they can’t reach their horde. This is when a feeder can literally mean life of death for a bird.

Related Articles:
- What birds eat suet? http://bit.ly/q2Sfje
- Can I make my own suet? http://bit.ly/rsc1JT
- How do I Attract Woodpeckers? http://bit.ly/o4CLqI
- Filling Up on Fatty Foods: http://bit.ly/ob0NIq 
- Can I feed suet year-round? http://bit.ly/I4Ow8l