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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Downy Woodpecker staring contest

At the end of summer certain bird species disperse from their family groups to form new winter groups. Sometimes even mixed species fly together for protection and to forage for food. But even though these birds work together to survive, right now there are scuffles and fights to determine hierarchy.

I come home every night to watch my Downy Woodpeckers on the peanut bell having a staring contest. They can remain frozen for minutes, just looking at each other waiting for the other to flinch. They do an occasional snake-like head waggle to get the other to back down but another bird approaching is what usually ends the “battle” for status in the group.

Socially dominate birds get first choice at where they want to feed and ultimately have higher rates of survival. They also get to choose better mates.

Related Articles:
Do Birds Eat Only at Certain Levels? http://goo.gl/vgE94
Why feed birds in the fall http://goo.gl/Jq4Aj
You get more birds if you feed year-round http://goo.gl/IsJKJ
Shilly-shallying Golden-crowned Kinglet: Adorable! http://goo.gl/d50zT
Black-capped Chickadee: Nature’s Backyard Charmer http://goo.gl/ji1vh

Bird Guilds: How different birds band together to survive http://bird-guilds-band.html

Monday, August 22, 2016

When hummingbird feeders should be taken down

Am I supposed to take down my feeder on Labor Day? DO NOT take your feeders down on Labor Day. In mid-Michigan, you can leave your hummingbird feeder up until mid-October. The rule of thumb is if you haven't seen a hummingbird for two weeks in the fall it's safe to take your feeder down. Depending on where you live it is usually at the end of September to the middle of October. The hummingbirds aren't in as big a rush to go down south as they were to find nesting grounds in the spring but they will leave us whether there is a feeder up or not.

Why are there more hummingbirds in the fall? Nesting season is over for the hummingbirds in Michigan by the end of June. Once breeding territories no longer have to be guarded, hummingbirds wander widely. Just before they answer the call to travel south, hummingbirds eat in excess to build a layer of rich fatty fuel just under their skin. You can notice the extra fat along the belly, back, and throat. A hummingbird actually gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to migrate thousands of miles south. You will notice them getting fatter and fatter and then one day they fly to their wintering grounds.

Do I make the nectar recipe stronger to give them more energy? It's not necessary to make your sugar solution stronger. The 4:1 ratio is the closest to the favorite flowers that hummingbirds visit. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. Click HERE for the nectar recipe.

Should I make the sugar solution weaker to encourage them to leave? I would continue to feed the hummingbirds the same nectar solution until they are fat enough to move further south. Don't rush them. Let them leave when they have enough energy and the weather is favorable.

Do hummingbirds migrate on the backs of geese? Some think that the rumor of hummingbirds hitching a ride with geese was started by Mr. Audubon himself. During migration hummingbirds fly about 23 miles a day by themselves, not in flocks or on the backs of geese. Individual adult males get the urge to leave first, followed soon after by the females, and then finally the juveniles. Amazingly, once the young have gained enough weight, they find their own way to the same winter habitat as their parents - someplace where they have never been, using the GPS in their head.

Where do Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winters? Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies. A few remain along the Gulf coast and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Small gray bird singing in the woods

The charming Warbling Vireo breeds across the entire state of Michigan, and can be found from late spring to summer in the woods. About the size of a sparrow, this vireo lacks splashy field marks but you can still find them by listening for their loud, caroling song.

Males arrive in early spring from Mexico and northern Central America before the females. Much of their time is spent defending territories through song. 

During courtship, a male approaches his prospective mate head-on, rhythmically weaving his body from side to side. With quivering wings, he closes the gap between them to about an inch, and if the female likes the male she will strike repeatedly at his open bill with her closed one.

Warbling vireos forage for insects in trees, hopping along branches and sometimes hovering. They also eat berries, especially before migration. Watch the video: https://youtu.be/i3PRxFpHnUw

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Help birds develop healthy feathers

More Colorful Birds - Birds have a varied diet and the best way to help them develop brighter plumage is to create a habitat with lots food high in fat in protein in the fall. Most backyard birds go through only one full molt a year in the fall. They replace their tired old feathers with a new set that will last through the next winter, spring, and summer. Feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation.

The Northern Cardinal, one of the most colorful birds in the area undergoes an annual molt in the late summer at which time males acquire their plumage coloration for the following year. Right now they are eating wild fruit seeds, weed seeds and buds from a variety of trees. At the feeders they are looking for nuts and sunflower or safflower seeds. Their new feathers don’t come in bright. The tips of the new body feathers are brown/gray and make the cardinals appear a bit dull or more camouflaged in the winter. These dull colored tips wear off in time to leave them more colorful for breeding season in the spring.
Territories are forming - Birds are staking out their winter territories right now. Young birds like chickadees and titmice find new territories to hook up with other young birds at the end of summer and join local adults to form winter flocks. If you are feeding a good birdseed blend you will attract lots of birds that will remain in the same general area for the rest of their adult lives.
Personal Experience - I have noticed that the longer I feed, the more birds I get passing through in the spring and fall. Each year it’s exciting to see new faces mixed in with my regular visitors during migration. I always make sure I have fresh water, food, and shelter to make their journey a little easier. A recent study found that migratory birds are finding fewer areas to use as their rest stops.
Types of Feeders - New easy to clean and easy to fill feeders are also being developed every year for seed, suet, bug, or nectar eating birds. With over 30 years of research and experience, Wild Birds Unlimited® is proud to offer the highest-quality birdfeeders and birdfeeding equipment on the market today. It is recommended that you clean your feeders once a month to keep your birds healthy. These new feeder designs are so simple to wash, maintenance is a breeze. And of course most of them are made in the U.S.A and come with a lifetime guarantee.
Variety of Food - Regardless of the season, the bird species you attract is determined primarily by the seeds you offer. To provide the most beneficial foods to meet birds' nutritional needs, the birds in Michigan should be fed fresh Sunflower, White Proso Millet, Safflower, Peanuts, Nyjer® Thistle, nectar, mealworms, or suet.
Avoid purchasing seed blends that contain milo, oats, wheat, canary, flax, rapeseed, and rice. These filler seeds found in cheaper blends will be kicked out of the feeder and can leave a dangerous moldy pile under your feeders.
Wild Birds Unlimited No-mess Blend is our best selling blend. It has everything the birds want and leaves no messy shells behind. For more info on our unique No-Mess Blend bird seed which features seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left.
Whatever seed, seed cake, or suet you choose at Wild Birds Unlimited, we guarantee it will be fresh and a healthy choice for our local birds.

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

Friday, August 19, 2016

Photo Share: Great Egrets in Michigan

Hi, Sarah! I was on my way to class tonight when I saw people stopped on the side of M-78 taking pictures. I looked to see what they were taking pics of and saw a huge HERD of these big white water birds. I was thinking I'd go back the next day with camera, and almost got to class when I came to my senses and turned around to go home and get my camera; class could wait. I got back around 8:15 (getting dark, rainy evening). This is what I got. When I got home I looked them up and found out they were Great Egrets. There were about 40 of them. Lynn C.
Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful sight! The elegant Great Egrets move about widely in late summer before heading to their wintering grounds. I'm thankful you were at the right place at the right time.

Most Great Egrets move south for winter, traveling as far as the West Indies or southern Central America. They migrate by day in small flocks. During mild years, Great Egrets may stay as far north as Massachusetts. Individuals from the southern U.S. may not migrate at all.

And I looked up what a herd of egrets are called. Whatbird.com said: A group of egrets has many collective nouns, including a "congregation", "heronry", "RSVP", "skewer", and "wedge" of egrets.

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 18, 2016

Decorative toppers for your bird feeding pole on the deck

Wild Birds Unlimited’s exclusive, patented Advanced Pole System® (APS) Basic Setup Deck Hardware is the perfect beginning to your ultimate bird feeding station designed to meet your own individual needs.

Just attach the easy-to-install deck mount to your deck rail. Next, add the extension pole and arm and top it with the decorative finial.

There are several decorative finial designs that can be changed with the seasons. We have a bat, Jack ‘O Lanterns, Christmas Trees, cardinals, woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadees, hummingbirds, goldfinches, and spears.

Related Articles: 

Advanced Pole System http://bit.ly/uKRdrZ
How to hang feeders from trees http://bit.ly/suV4Z5 

Bluebird House pole: http://bit.ly/vcPUb7
Last Minute Gifts for Birdwatchers http://bit.ly/tMBYOf

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Where all the Red-winged Blackbirds went

The majority of Red-winged Blackbirds winter in the central states, especially in agricultural areas and some populations of Red-wings can even migrate as far south as Central America. They flock with other blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings, feeding in open fields and roosting in flocks of thousands or millions of birds.

Now that breeding season is over for red-wings, they will begin to gather in flocks of all male or all female birds. The Red-winged Blackbird male is unmistakable for most people. The pure black bird with bright red shoulder patches edged in yellow is hard to miss. The female and juvenile are less obvious. They have heavily streaked under parts and mottled brown upperparts and can look like large sparrows.

Map from The Journey North

Beginning as early as August, many birds are feeling a sudden restlessness as they prepare to move south. By mid-October to December the birds have settled into their winter territories. Red-winged Blackbirds eat mainly insects in the summer but switch to mainly seeds found in fields or feeders, in the winter.

Related articles:
- Fun Facts on Red-winged Blackbirds: http://bit.ly/q05Bos
- All about the Red-Winged Blackbird: http://bit.ly/qAeiyj
- Red-winged Blackbird info http://bit.ly/yQPs61
- Blackbird Battle http://bit.ly/xFsHIN
- Red-winged blackbirds attack hawk http://bit.ly/yaudwu
- Singing Birds Herald The Arrival of Spring http://bit.ly/xibvfI

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

5 steps to keep the birdbath clean

1. Find a Better Birdbath When you’re choosing a birdbath, look for one with a basin that you can clean easily. Make sure it has a nice lip for birds to perch and a gentle slope to the middle, no deeper than 2 inches. A textured bottom also makes for easy gripping.

2. Replace Water Frequently  The best way to keep your bird bath clean is to change the water every other day. This prevents algae build-up, mosquito development, and keeps the water fresh.

3. Use a Birdbath Cleaning Brush Wild Birds Unlimited has an 8" brush that is well suited for scrubbing birdbaths without scratching. It has stiff, tough polypropylene bristles that will do the job well, and features a comfortable molded poly handle.

4. Remove Stubborn Stains To remove any stubborn stains pour warm water with a scoop of our safe enzyme based cleaner to dissolve bird droppings, mold and mildew stains. Or mix 9 parts water with 1 part of distilled white vinegar. The natural acidic ingredients of vinegar will break down any existing algae, while not harming any birds or animals that visit your birdbath. Rinse thoroughly after.

5. Prevent Stains from Returning If you add a cap-full of this bio-enzymatic product specially formulated for birdbaths, it prevents algae and hard water stains. Our Bath Protector is non-toxic, biodegradable and safe for wildlife, aquatic life and plants. Algae spores transfer to your birdbath from objects that fall out of nearby trees and will grow at a faster rate when exposed to direct sunlight. The best placement for your birdbath is an open, shaded area away from trees.

Related Articles:
- Why Birds Preen http://bit.ly/wcoC9d
- What kind of bird bath is the best? http://goo.gl/tXz65
- Do Birds Sip or Slurp? http://bit.ly/yAHTTV
- Why is bird poop white? http://goo.gl/zQXiT
- The best heated bird baths http://bit.ly/xkyLlW

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why sunflower heads follow the sun

Mature sunflower heads face east typically and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers however exhibit heliotropism (sun turning). Before the fruit of the sunflowers is produced sunflower heads track the sun across the sky, turning their flowers from east to west as the day progresses, and then return to the east overnight. New research has finally been able to figure out exactly how this happens.

To see if the plants had their own biological clocks that were reset daily by the sun, similar to our own, or were simply moving according to a pre-determined schedule, the team performed a series of experiments.

First they staked the plants so they couldn't move, then they brought the flowers into an indoor lab with a fixed artificial light, and finally the researchers created a different 'daylight' cycles. 

Throughout their experiments, the team showed that flowers tethered away from the sun had leaves that were 10 percent smaller on average. One side of the stem grows faster than the other, depending on the time of day, causing the plant to swing its head. And they also showed that eastward-oriented flowers are warmer than westward-oriented flowers, and this warmth attracts pollinators, suggesting there's an evolutionary benefit to the plants chasing the sun.

The research has been published in the journal Science.

Related Articles:
Sunflowers Up-close: The Strange Journey of an American Plant http://bit.ly/uFlz65
Which seeds are preferred by wild birds? http://bit.ly/zchLgB
How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/rTLSqJ
Seed Storage Cans and WBU Seed Scoops http://bit.ly/uBaSwO

Sunflower seeds benefits http://sunflower-seeds-benefits.html

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Raggedy birds during late summer feather molting

Birds have to keep a low profile while they are going through a molt.
In a few more weeks this chickadee will be ready for winter,
Molting can be a dangerous period for birds if there are not sufficient resources for them to molt properly. Flying may be difficult if not impossible while molting, which makes birds more susceptible to predators, and while feathers are missing, a bird's insulation and protection from poor weather is compromised.

Dolly is an inside cat so this bird is safe for now.
If a bird does not get proper nutrition while molting, its feathers may be thinner or poorly formed, creating difficulties that can last for months or years. You can help ease the dangers of molting by providing a rich, reliable food source for birds to take advantage of, along with safe, secure shelter for birds that become more elusive and shy while molting.

Plant plenty of native trees, shrubs and berries that offer nutrient rich food and harbor protein rich insects. If birds trust their habitat to meet their molting needs, they will stay around during this uncertain period, giving birders the opportunity to witness molting firsthand and enjoy ever more intimate knowledge of their favorite feathered friends.

Related Articles:
Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/w0U1M6
The best heated bird baths http://bit.ly/uDQdse
Dirt baths help birds stay clean http://bit.ly/rJR7Ex
Why birds molt http://bit.ly/rGaqRL
Do Birds Go Grey or White Feathered in Old Age? http://bit.ly/rRwSeP
How do the small birds stay warm in the winter? http://bit.ly/sASDaX
Bird body odor: a link to extinction? http://bit.ly/rNhAU0
Is there a bird without feathers? http://bit.ly/t9C55s