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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Advantages to flocking bird behavior

Have you noticed all the birds flocking?

I walked in to the store this morning and saw several flocks of birds flying. Many birds form flocks year round like doves, starlings, waxwings, crows, jays, and finches. Some gather in flocks after nesting season is complete.

Most blackbirds in mid-Michigan have already gathered in flocks and flown further south. In late summer, young birds from certain species like cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches have dispersed from their family to look for winter flocks. Other species like robins and bluebirds stay in a family unit and join other families until spring. Flock numbers can vary from a few birds to millions depending on the species.

Advantages to flocking bird behavior:
1) Protection - When birds join forces to flock together they can spot predators quicker and then mob, distract or confuse attackers.   
2) Foraging efficiency – Sometimes scout birds are sent out in different directions and report back to the flock where the best food can be found. You can hear Blue Jays and American Crows call out in the mornings, signaling to fellow flock members where to find the best food.
3) Finding mates – After nesting season, young chickadees fly off to find a flock to winter with along with a mate for next spring.
4) Continuing Education – Young bluebirds form family groups in the fall. Parent birds continue to teach their young how to survive until they disperse in the spring to find their own mates.
5) Fly in formations – Certain birds’ aerodynamics conserves energy and allow flock members to see each other and communicate while in flight.
6) Roosting – When large flocks congregate at night, their shared body warmth can help them survive extremely cold temperatures. 
 
Related Articles:
- Northern Cardinals Flock in the Fall http://bit.ly/yzzIAI
- Do hummingbirds migrate together? http://bit.ly/Asq1WR
- How to Attract Cedar Waxwings http://bit.ly/AlxIQX
- Where Bluebirds go in the Winter http://bit.ly/y2frQD
- Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://how-birds-band together.html

Friday, August 18, 2017

Photo Share: Growing fruit trees from seed

I was making fresh lemonade and wondered how long it would take to grow a lemon tree. 3 years ago I planted an orange seed and this year I got oranges. 2 years ago I planted a grapefruit seed and I have a nice, little tree but no fruit yet. Today I'm planting a lemon seed. Maybe in a few years I will be making more lemonade. I hope it grows a lot of lemons for it.

This was another fabulous observation by my guest blogger and nephew Evan. I hope you look forward to these posts as much as I do. And if you or any of your kids or grand-kids want to guest blog about something in nature, send it to it to bloubird@gmail.com with a description and permission to post it. We would love to share your child's thoughts and experiences with the outdoors.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why fruit changes color as it ripens

Late summer is a when a lot of fruit is coming in to season. We have a young apple tree that produced 6 apples this year. Only one left now. Just as they turn ripe some critter snatches it away (as it was meant to be in the plants' plans).

Now I am watching the concord grapes turning from sour green to the sweet blue-purple color. There were so many this year that I'm sure there will be enough that the chipmunks, jays and me to grab our fill.

Watch the video on why fruit change color as they ripen: https://youtu.be/xvHJdTyBKk8

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Seein' red

The House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus is a familiar sight in mid-Michigan today. These 6″, talkative little birds get their name from their habit of hanging around houses. They build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, or in trees, and their cheery warble or a variety of chirps is a constant around the bird feeders. The amount of red the finch has can vary depending on the amount of carotenoid pigments consumed in its food during molt.

Last week's younger finch with downy head feathers sticking up.
I wrote before about how the young House Finches were sporting baby feather plumes on their head. Now you are going to see a lot of young house finch males putting on their big boy colors. The girls will remain brown and creamy but the you will start to see red on the boys.

Related Articles:
Compare House Finches and Purple Finches http://bit.ly/oOogOf 
What can I feed the cardinals to make them redder? http://bit.ly/vn2HK3
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/rT5Hfj
Why male and females are a different color http://bit.ly/ueILUf
Baby cardinal with two distinctive head feathers http://goo.gl/J0isco
Funny looking birds showing up at the feeder http://goo.gl/9CB7Fk

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Confident body language gestures of doves

"Sing it to the wing" translates to 
people speak as "Talk to the hand"
Through their body language, Mourning Doves are one of the most expressive birds in the backyard. The one wing up is often seen when a chipmunk or another bird approaches the feeding area. It backs off the interloper temporarily.

Other things I'm seeing are the puffing of neck feathers and chasing. At the beginning of fall, doves tend to gather together in loose flocks. The social structure is determined by a series of challenges between the birds. The bird that retreats the fewest times is considered dominant.

At the end of winter the birds separate into male and female groups and dominance within the single sex groups is established. The most dominant male soon scoops up the most dominate female and form a pair bond for the season. They are the first to pair, establish a territory and nest.

During courtships males perform a noisy flight display and then approach the female with a bow and a coo. Once she accepts the male they preen each other and stay very close. The male sometimes “drives” the female. He follows close behind and gives her a peck when she stops walking in areas where other males might be around.

Source: Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove by Thomas S. Baskett
Photo from: https://www.pinterest.com
Related Articles:
A closer look at Mourning Doves http://mourning-doves.html
Why is the Dove a Symbol of Peace? http://bit.ly/wMKEKF
How Do You Keep Doves From Dominating a Feeder? http://bit.ly/zDAwR2
Do Birds Sip or Slurp? http://bit.ly/N6syCY
Mourning Dove nesting facts and figures http://goo.gl/WeLWy

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What to do when there is a hawk in your yard

In late summer there is a lot of hawk activity in Michigan. Although we have hawks year-round in mid-Michigan some of the northern hawks are migrating south and young hawks have just become independent.

Dolly (cat) and I were just watching all the baby finches out the window. I was telling her they were easy pickings with lots of crunchy bits. A hawk must have heard the baby bird calls and thought the same thing. He didn't get a finch but a sparrow (perhaps plumper). The hawk looked like a young Cooper's Hawk based on the yellow eyes, size, rounded tail and thick vertical chest streaks.

What do you do when a hawk visits? I watch a little bit and then avert my eyes when the feathers start to fly. The presence of hawks at your feeders should in no way cause you to discontinue feeding birds. The Cooper’s Hawk, must catch and eat at least one item of prey every day to survive. Sparrows are the most frequent prey at the store. These hawks also eat small rodents, such as mice, chipmunks and voles.

Twenty minutes after the "incident" the birds were back at the feeders.

Additional steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors attracted to bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flies away. So enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • If you feed birds, place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds.
  • Keep in mind hawks in the neighborhood play an important role in controlling bird and rodent populations and usually ignore cats, dogs, and people.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that visit only do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different 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

Chestnut-sided Warbler begins fall migration

Chestnut-sided Warbler in breeding colors from Wikimedia Commons
Chestnut-sided in winter colors from Wikimedia Commons
During the breeding season (spring-summer), the chestnut-sided warbler has a yellow cap, black mask, plain white belly, yellowish wing bars and chestnut streaks along his sides. The breeding female is a little duller. After nesting they undergo a complete transformation. They have a gray and olive green coat with a white eye ring.

The Chestnut-sided Warbler is insectivorous predominately. Look for them as they hop from branch to branch with their tail cocked in search for insects on the underside of leaves. They may also be seen at suet feeders and bird baths.

They are nocturnal migrants that may join other warbler flocks and occasionally forage with them from mid-August to October as they fly south to spend their winter in Central America.

Watch the migration from spring to fall on eBird's occurrence map: http://ebird.org/chestnut-sided-warbler migration.  It's interesting to note that the flight up in May is through Texas and the flight down in the fall is through Florida.
Related Articles:
Michigan warblers begin migrating http://goo.gl/37QhV
Michigan's Kirtland's Warbler Continues to Exceed Recovery Goal http://goo.gl/Q3xQ0
Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan http://goo.gl/VOl3s
When is bird migration over? http://goo.gl/1Fiq6
Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/uMSTs6

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Plants growing under the feeder

Pokeberry bloom to berry
Someone recently asked if we changed the ingredients in the Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess blend bird seed because there were plants growing under the feeder. The blend is made up of sunflower seed, peanut pieces, and millet without the shell or hull. It is 100% edible and should not grow anything.

However this summer has been just warm and wet enough for weeds to grow like crazy. But if they aren't coming from the bird seed why do they come up right under the feeders? Well it doesn't come from our bird seed but from the birds themselves. Once they load up with fresh, high fat, high protein, quality bird seed, the have to unload some weight to fly away.

Birds don't just eat at bird feeders. They search widely for food from a variety of plants that produce seed heads and fruit and then excrete the undigested seeds where they perch. If the conditions are right the seed will grow and produce more seeds for the birds to spread even further away.

I don't get a lot of weeds but I pull a few out every time I fill the feeders. Occasionally I get a weed that I like and leave alone. One of my favorites is the Pokeberry, a native Michigan perennial also found throughout the Northeast. They can get out of hand and spread but a few near the feeder are pretty and attract some nice birds including warblers passing through in the fall.

Related Articles:
How to choose the best suet cake http://bit.ly/xATYPQ
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/qizlNh
Why do Birds Scatter Seeds from Feeders? http://bit.ly/vZ6gzM
Choosing a seed blend to feed wild birds http://goo.gl/xUGKA

How to get rid of weeds under the bird feeder without using poisons http:/get-rid-of-weeds.html

Friday, August 11, 2017

Photo Share: Racing Pigeon makes a pit stop

We had an unexpected visitor the other day at my Fly-thru feeder. I believe it was a Homing or Racing Pigeon? These pigeons are a variety of Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia domestica) that is able to find their way home over extremely long distances. They are selectively bred and trained to complete tests of speed (37 mph on average) and navigation, according to the researchers. On weekends in the Spring and Fall, thousands of racing pigeon fanciers have birds competing in races at distances from 100 to 600 miles.

My visitor had a white band on his leg so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a Rock Dove venturing away from some bridge. It was huge but quite beautiful with a smokey gray body, strong black wing bands and a rainbow of colors on his neck. He was in very good shape, but if I you ever find a distressed pigeon with a band, the owner can be traced through the National Pigeon Association’s (NPA) website at www.npausa.com.

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, August 10, 2017

Hawks and hummingbirds

I love this time of year! Activity at the hummingbird feeder is way up. A hummingbird has to gain 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice hummers getting a fresh set of feathers and fatter along the belly, back, and throat.

In order to conserve their strength, sometimes they’ll guard a particularly tasty food source like a hummingbird feeder or flowering bush. I have one hummingbird female that is taking it a little further. She is in charge of my whole yard right now. The hummingbird feeders are hers, the flowering bush is hers, finch feeder is hers, the seed feeder is hers, it is all hers.

The other night when she wasn't perched on her swing, she harassed the songbirds, baby raccoons, squirrels and even a young Cooper's Hawk wasn't exempt from her bossiness. The hawk gave a casual glance but I think knew this was one fight that should be avoided.

In fact biologist Harold Greeney found breeding hummingbirds often cluster below hawk nests. His report revealed hawks don’t prey on hummingbirds or their nests—there’s not enough meal in a hummer to be worth the effort, apparently. But the hawk inadvertently protects the hummingbirds from other predators.

In the end, the time this female hummingbird wasted patrolling the rest of the critters in the yard, allowed other hummers to sneak in a few meals from some of the several hummingbird feeders that are scattered around the yard. It is good to put up multiple feeders at different locations to relieve the stresses of late summer feeding and allow as many hummers as possible fuel up.

Related Articles:
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://goo.gl/MK3AU
Fun Facts about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds http://goo.gl/jcjcr
The Best Hummingbird Feeders http://bit.ly/L4yY3i
Why the color on a hummingbirds’ throat flashes http://bit.ly/JZ31qX
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bee carrying a feather

A bird had an unfortunate end in my yard:(  Curiously, I saw a bee taking a fluffy feather from the pile left behind. Why do you think this happened?

My recreation of the event
I don’t know but I could make some guesses:

1. It might have been a wasp. Bees are vegetarians but most wasps are predators and could be going after bird tissue.

2. In dry weather, foraging workers might carry feathers home to capture fluids or dew.

3. Some birds wipe ants on their feathers (a practice called anting) to help combat parasites on themselves. Squashed ants produce defensive chemicals and perhaps the bee used these anted feathers to protect the hive from parasites.

Watch the video of a feather being carried away: https://youtu.be/Hq02gMmPPMI