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, January 31, 2009

National Bird Feeding Month

February is National Bird Feeding Month

February was established as the National Bird Feeding Month because it's one of the most difficult months in much of the U.S. for birds to survive in the wild.

Consider that the average wild bird weighs less than two nickels and you’ll realize that the winter can be a very punishing time for your backyard friends.

The resolution noted that one-third of the adult population feeds wild birds in their backyards. Wild Birds Unlimited encourages people to make winter a little easier for wild birds by providing food, water, and shelter.

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining and educational pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults. It provides a needed stress relief and brings families together.
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Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an easy hobby to start, and can be as simple as watching a feeder that sticks to the window.
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For many people, the hobby progresses from there. They discover the relationship between the type and location of feeders, and the seed offered in them, and the number and varieties of birds attracted.

If you offer water you may attract birds that do not visit feeders. Using a heated birdbath or adding a bird bath warmer to keep the water from freezing in Michigan during winter creates an oasis for birds.

To round out the family's backyard birding program, birdhouses can be purchased or built. Also known as nest boxes, these can provide shelter in winter and breeding sanctuaries during spring for cavity-nesting birds.

Feeding backyard songbirds is the most popular wildlife-related recreational activity around the home. A stress-free activity, it brings a welcome flash of color, dash of motion and splash of sound into the backyard, particularly during long Michigan winters.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Coopers's Hawk

I thought I would share two photos from a recent Cooper's Hawk sighting at my backyard bird feeders. This bird sat on that tree branch for 90 minutes, and didn't seem to mind that I was watching him (nor did he mind when I hopped outside to get photos of him without the sliding glass door in my way). He preened, yawned, dozed off a few times, and finally hopped up the tree and flew away. Enjoy!
~ Heather

Lansing, MI













I did enjoy the photos and your great description too! I'm glad you appreciate your hawks. Yours looks very content. Thank you very much.

If anyone else has any questions or photos to share please send them to bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

From our Wild Birds Unlimited sister store Springboro, Ohio

This report reminded me of the story told in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg:
“There used to be a lake right over there. Ducks would eat in it, children would swim in it, it was a great lake. One day these ducks were in the pond, and the temperature dropped so fast, that the lake just froze right up. The ducks didn’t die, they flew away and took that whole lake right with them. To this day I hear that lake is over in Georgia.”

Wild Birds Unlimited of Springboro, Ohio: One lucky duck!
A customer called me Saturday morning to tell me that a male mallard was stuck in the ice on the pond behind our store.

I sent my husband over to the pond because I had customers. When he arrived the police were investigating the scene and shortly thereafter the local fire & rescue truck pulled up. After a thorough evaluation of the scene they decided to send a fireman out on the ice to free the duck. Lt. Urban volunteered to go out on the ice.

The temperature had hit over 50 the day before so there had been a lot of melting but the temperature plummeted that night to below freezing. Not only was this risky but it was also his first time to put his training into action.

Lt. Urban was tethered by a rope to land which was being held by the other firemen. He wore a dry suit just in case. The mallard was probably 50 feet out from the shore but Lt. Urban was able to walk out to the mallard without incident.

It seems the mallard was on the ice too long. His belly was frozen to the ice. With the high temps yesterday, the water pooled on top of the pond. The mallard probably fell asleep and because they stay warm and cozy with their down feathers, didn’t awaken until much later, after the pond had froze over again.

Lt. Urban brought out a bottle of warm water and poured it on the mallards belly. With a little bit of work, it freed him. He flew away quickly and seemed unharmed.
I was very pleased to see that we have such caring individuals in the city and working for us here. The timely response and actions of the fire department, even for a seemingly minor incident, makes me feel like we are in the right hands!

From our Wild Birds Unlimited sister store in Pleasant Hills, CA

ROSSMOOR TO KILL 50 ACORN WOODPECKERS

We have been trying to keep you appraised of the Acorn Woodpecker situation at Rossmoor. Many of our readers have been inquiring. We really can make a difference. We already have "gotten the attention" of Fish and Wildlife, Ellen Tauscher and others.


PLEASE HELP.

After many meetings and discussions one of the Rossmoor Mutuals has decided to kill up to 50 of these birds. The other Mutual has agreed to wait 60 days but refuses to implement all the solutions to deter the woodpeckers.

Wild birds Unlimited is part of a task force that has been trying to work with 2 Rossmoor Homeowner Associations (called Mutuals) to stop them from killing 50 Acorn Woodpeckers.

Background
Acorn Woodpeckers have been drilling holes in the buildings to store acorns. The construction of parts of the building is of poor quality (basically Styrofoam-like with a thin veneer of stucco). Rossmoor has been fighting this problem for a number of years. If they had contacted any of the below, they would have learned that almost all of the deterrents tried would not work. They did try netting which worked. However, they then cut hole in the netting for windows and stapled it to the buildings which defeated the entire process.

To our knowledge they never contacted WBU (the largest bird feeding/watching store in the US), Mt. Diablo Audubon Society, California Audubon Society, Gary Bogue, Native Bird Connections (local avian experts), Cornell Institute of Ornithology, or Erik Walters (one of the 2 foremost Acorn Woodpecker experts in the US - he is in the Carmel area).

Permits to Kill
They applied for a permit to kill 50 woodpeckers to stop the woodpeckers from pecking holes. This is the second permit they have obtained. Previously, they obtained a permit to kill 15 woodpeckers which they did kill.

Scientific Proof
This current permit is based on "false science", according to Eric Walters. As part of the justification for the permit to kill, they estimate there are 500 Acorn Woodpeckers in a 5 acre area. Walter says this 500 number "is over 30 times higher than the highest density ever recorded". "This is not biologically feasible. Lethally removing woodpeckers from the areas in question has no biological merit." Some of his other comments include: "in our experimental work, some breeders were replaced within 20 minutes"; "They spend a majority of their time searching for reproductive vacancies. Some birds will fly over 3 miles in search of vacancies." All shooting does is encourage other woodpeckers to fill the vacancy and possibly breed.

Scientific Recommendations
Walters: "My recommendation is that the shooting be stopped, that the structures be retrofitted with new materials that do not attract woodpeckers (or do not facilitate granary hole construction), that netting be used in the interim to keep woodpeckers off of the structures...". He also recommends further study of the woodpeckers to determine territories, the feasibility of erecting artificial granaries to store acorns, and most importantly thane of these recommendations be implemented in isolation. All of these must be done at the same time to be effective.

What can we do? It is vital that we act quickly to stop this totally unnecessary and ineffective killing.

If it is the Acorn Woodpeckers this year, what will it be next year?


WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE - PLEASE HELP
PLEASE CONTACT THE FOLLOWING AND ASK THAT THE PERMIT M 164975-1 (KILLING ACORN WOODPECKERS) BE REVOKED:
*Representative Ellen Tauscher 2121 North California, Suite 555, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.(925) 932-8899. Fax is (925) 932-8159. Congresswoman Tauscher's office called and requested that you input your comments to http://www.tauscher.house.gov/ click on "Contact Me" in the upper right portion of the page(Mr. Ridley is her field representative). Her office has already been very helpful.
*Marie Strassberger at Fish and Wildlife. Email her at
Marie_strassburger@fws.gov
*Vanessa Loverti Fish and Wildlife email Vanessa at vanessa_loverti@fws.gov
Sign the petition on the Audubon California website by clicking on this link.
Call Dan Krum, US Fish and Wildlife (916) 414-6660
Call Walnut Creek Police Dept. at (925) 943-5844. Ask how shooting can occur within city limits. (We are told they use a rifle with a silencer)
Contact Senator Diane Feinstein at (415) 393-0707 or
email here
Bill Friesen, Building Maintenance Manager, Mutual Operations Division, 800 Rockview Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94595; BFriesen@rossmoor.com.
Paul Donner, Director of Mutual Operations, 800 Rockview Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94595.
The Acorn Woodpeckers thank you for your help.

Mike's Ramblings

I find this situation with the Acorn Woodpeckers absolutely disgusting. Some people only seem to enjoy nature when it doesn't get in their way or cost them some money. We don't truly own the land and nature. We are only the custodians of them for our children and theirs. We are supposed to responsible for happens in our world and to protect it. Some people seem to think we are only to be responsible when it is convenient and cheap. Cecil and I really appreciate any help you can provide in our efforts to revoke this permit.

Thanks,
Mike

Wild Birds Unlimited of Pleasant Hill

692 Contra Costa Blvd. Pleasant Hill, CA 94523
Phone: (925) 798-0303 • Outside Area: (877) 700-1891 • Fax: (925) 798-9835
mailto:798-9835info@wbupleasanthill.com

This email was sent to: bloubird@gmail.com

Birds of Michigan Field Guide

Birds of Michigan
By Ted Black and Greg Kennedy
360 pages, 5.50" x 8.50", paperback

This is a wonderful book for beginning or advanced bird watchers in Michigan. It has detailed illustrations of 302 bird species with specifications of their size and any unique markings. It includes descriptions of the birds’ habitat, nesting, feeding, and voice. The birds are also grouped and color coded for quick identification by species.

One of my favorite features is a very handy quick find reference of all of the birds at the beginning of the book. It also lists Michigan birding groups and which local nature center or park will have a particular species of bird.

This is a very handy book to have around even if you don't plan on doing more than watching the birds at your feeder. I also recommend Stan Tekiela Birds of Michigan book & CD set if you want to see photos of birds or hear their songs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nature up Close: Thermogenosis and Torpor (Shivering and Deep sleep)

In the winter birds can grow twice as many feathers but they still have to shiver almost constantly to increase their body temperature in cold weather. This shivering process is called thermogenosis. The constant shivering produces heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature.

It also burns a lot of calories. Birds store the needed calories as fat, but they can only store enough for 16 to 24 hours. This is why you’ll see birds in a panic at your feeders right before it gets dark and at first light.

Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor.)

When it’s especially cold, birds flock to feeders to build up their energy reserves. A seed blend with black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts is great to offer in the winter. It has a high calorie/ounce ratio due to its high fat and protein content. At Wild Birds Unlimited that would be our most popular
WBU No-Mess Blend or WBU Choice blend.

Suet or seed blocks are great foods to offer many of the birds that will visit backyards in the winter. Suet is a high energy, pure fat substance which is invaluable in winter when insects are harder to find and birds need many more calories to keep their bodies warm. I would recommend our
peanut butter suet.

Typically, your feeders serve only as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard. However, during cold, long, severe winter weather, your birds may switch to utilizing them as the critical source of food that enables them to survive from day to day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Question of the week: What birds can’t fly?

There are about 40 flightless species of birds living today. There are four key differences between birds that fly and those that can't:

1. Flightless birds have more feathers.
2. The wing bones of flightless birds are proportionally smaller to their body than other birds.
3. Flightless birds have a flat breastbone or a greatly reduced keel. Flying birds have a keel on their breastbone. The keel anchors the strong muscles that move a bird's wings during flight.
4. Flightless birds developed other survival and travel methods to fit their lifestyle. For example: Ostriches have powerful legs to run or defend themselves, Penguins are excellent swimmers, and Kakapos are nocturnal parrots with camouflage plumage.

List of recent flightless birds
(Flightless bird list from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


Ratites
Ostrich
Emu
Cassowaries
Kiwis
Rheas

Podicipediformes (Grebes)
Junin Flightless Grebe
Titicaca Flightless Grebe

Pelicaniformes (Pelicans, Cormorants, et al)
Flightless Cormorant

Sphenisciformes (Penguins)
Penguins

Anseriformes (Waterfowl)
Magellanic Flightless Steamer Duck
Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck
White-headed Flightless Steamer Duck
Auckland Island Teal
Campbell Island Teal

Gruiformes (Cranes, Rails)
Woodford's Rail (probably flightless)
Weka
New Caledonian Rail
Lord Howe Woodhen
Calayan Rail
New Britain Rail
Guam Rail
Roviana Rail ("flightless, or nearly so" [Taylor 1998])
Snoring Rail
Inaccessible Island Rail
Henderson Island Crake
Invisible Rail
New Guinea Flightless Rail
Takahe
Samoan Wood Rail
Makira Wood Rail
Gough Island Moorhen
Kagu
Tasmanian Native-hen

Psittaciformes (Parrots)
Kakapo

Monday, January 26, 2009

Red-breasted Nuthatch

  • The name Nuthatch probably results from the corruption of the word “nuthack” which refers to its’ habit of hacking away at a seed with its beak until it opens.

  • Nuthatches are probably one of the easiest backyard birds to identify. Known as the “upside down” bird, it is often observed creeping headfirst down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insect food.

  • The Red-breasted Nuthatch has three toes that face forward, a greatly enlarged hind toe (the hallux) that faces backward, and a stubby tail. They are able to walk head first down the trunks of trees by moving only one foot at a time while the hallux toe on the other foot holds firmly to the bark. Because the toe provides secure footing it doesn’t need tail support, and its short tail allows more maneuvering.

  • They can roost with chickadees in the winter to increase their survival.

  • Most nuthatches visit feeders in ones and twos. They feast on seeds and insects found in trees, and many times will hide seeds from feeders in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning.

  • Red-breasted Nuthatches are pickier than White-breasted Nuthatches, and their diet is made up mainly of conifer seeds. During years when these seeds aren’t plentiful, Red-breasted Nuthatches will move south (or irrupt) in search of food.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bird of the week: Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch Sitta canadensis
Order: PASSERIFORMES... Family: Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Description
Adult Red-breasted Nuthatches have gray backs with rust-colored breasts. They have black caps and white stripes above the eyes. Females are less colorful, with a more washed-out rust color on the belly.

Behavior
As they move along the trunks and branches of trees, Red-breasted Nuthatches glean bugs such as beetles, pine woodborers, and spiders. In winter, they like the seeds of fir, pine, and spruce trees. They are also common visitors at peanut, sunflower, mealworms, and suet feeders.

Unlike other nuthatches, Red-breasted Nuthatches do not always remain on their territories year round. We usually only see them in the winter in mid-Michigan but some may stay up north throughout the winter, depending on the state of the cone crop.

General
The breeding season begins in late April or early May. Both adults work to excavate a nest cavity, most commonly in a rotten stub or branch of a dead tree. Nest boxes are occasionally used. The average height of the nest is 15 feet off the ground. The nest is made of grass, rootlets, moss, shredded bark, plant fibers, hair, and fur.

Adults typically smear tree pitch around the entrance of their nest cavity, even on a nest box. The pitch is laid on generously, sometimes for a distance of several inches all around the hole. This activity is thought to deter insects, small mammals, and other birds from entering the nest cavity. Several observers have noted that Red-breasted Nuthatches have a habit of flying straight into the entrance hole, without touching the outside of the cavity first, perhaps to avoid the pitch smeared around the hole.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Family Fun: Are you ready for the Great Backyard Birdcount?

Wild Birds Unlimited is proud to help sponsor the 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (or GBBC). It provides an invaluable real-time snapshot of bird distribution across North America.

Each year we see changes in where the birds are located, based on factors that include climate change, weather patterns, food supplies, diseases, and breeding success. With all of the data online, anyone with an interest in birds may explore what could be the first indicators of real trends and changes in bird numbers and distribution.

GBBC is an event that takes place over four days in February each year. All you have to do is watch birds in your yard, a nearby park, or maybe at your school February 13–16, 2009. Then you report what you saw by entering your bird list online. To learn more about how to participate click on the button:

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During each GBBC we keep track of the most common birds reported and the types of birds that are reported in the greatest number. Go here to see pictures of these birds. When you click on each picture you'll get more images and information about the bird and you will also be able to hear what it sounds like.

To find out about lots of others birds, visit our
online bird guide. You can also get a checklist of birds that live in your state or province. I hope everyone will participate in this year's count!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Photo Share: Leucism in birds

I was reading the blog about the snow bunting and I have my own interesting bird photo to share. Last February what looked to be a female sparrow with strangely light plumage was at one of my feeders along with a bunch of house sparrows. Is this a different species or simply an odd color mutation?~ Lansing, MI


It is a house sparrow with leucism. Right now scientist describe two kinds of Leucistic birds, pale and pied. Pale leucistic birds, like the one in your photo, will have the same markings, but extremely pale.

Pied Leucistic birds have patches of white. Leucistic birds are relatively unusual but much more common than albino birds which are completely white with pink eyes, legs and bill.

The terms leucistic and leucism are derived from medical terminology. The prefix leuc- is the Latin variant of leuk- from the Greek leukos meaning "white". The correct pronunciation of leucistic is ( loo-kiss-tic) and leucism is (loo-kism) since the prefix in Greek and Latin are pronounced with the hard C or K sound.

This bird was very popular at the feeders in your area. I received several photos last year of this little streaker. Thank you for sharing.

Photo Share: Snow Bunting

Hi, we had a group of these birds stop by our feeder. I had not seen any like them before and was unable to find it in any of the bird books. Hope the pictures are clear enough. Can you help me?
JK
Charlotte, MI
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It looks like a snow bunting. In winter they prefer fields and pastures where they scratch for seeds. Your bird book may be only showing the black and white picture of the breeding male snow bunting. In Michigan we only see snow buntings in their winter non breeding colors.

Snow buntings breed farther north than any other known songbird. Males will migrate north again in April. The breeding season begins in late May, after the female snow buntings migrate. They build their nests with grass, moss, feathers, and fur in rocky terrain to avoid becoming prey to fox or owls.

A range map can be found at:
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Snow_Bunting_dtl.html
The Cornell website also explains that although breeding and non breeding males look very different, the Snow Bunting has only one molt each year. After the molt in the late summer the male has the rusty colored back, white belly, and black edged wings. The male wears off all of its rusty colored feathers by rubbing them on snow, and becomes white and black by the time breeding begins.

Thanks for the photos!

If anyone else has any questions or photos to share please send them to bloubird@gmail.com.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WBU Mealworms

Mealworms-Another treat to attract wild birds.

Feeding live mealworms (Tenebrio monitor) as a special treat has become a very popular way to attract a different variety of wild birds.

If you haven't used mealworms before, they are the larvae of a beetle with a high protein level. Many birders believe the mealworms are used solely for attracting Bluebirds. This is definitely not the case as many other species enjoy these little treats. Some birds attracted to mealworms include: Wrens, Robins, Bluebirds, Blue Jays, Sparrows, Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Titmice, Chickadees, and even Purple Martins.

Mealworms can be offered from just about any bowl, and there are some feeders at Wild Birds Unlimited especially for feeding mealworms. The WBU Dinner Bell feeder (Pictured in the video and photo below) is one of our most popular feeders.

How to feed birds mealworms:
Most people “train” the birds to come at the same time, same place every day. Some people whistle or wear a bright hat to signal the birds you are about to feed. Our experience has shown that the early birds like to get the worms. Birds are hungry in the morning and it’s always nice to start the day with a good breakfast. You can also feed them in the evening before they roost.

Start out by placing a teaspoon of worms in a feeder near where you see the bird perching. Sometimes I like to put them out with an apple slice. The worms can have a yummy last meal and the birds enjoy the juicy worms and may even enjoy the apple as dessert. As you get more birds trained to come you can increase the amount of worms to about a teaspoon of worms per bird per day. Once the birds have figured out where you are feeding, you can move the feeder short distances every day or so until it's located where you can view them comfortably.

Care of mealworms:
Our Wild Birds Unlimited 500 count medium mealworms come in a mixture of bran and can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator if they are fed. To feed your mealworms remove them from the refrigerator once every 2 weeks and feed them an apple for 24 hours at room temperature. This is how they get their drink of water and will stay fresh and plump. Then remove any uneaten apple, add about one inch of bran, or crushed Wheaties to the container and place back in the refrigerator.

REMEMBER:
To maintain mealworms keep them dry and well ventilated.
NOT TOO DEEP! -Maximum depth of worms and bran no more than 1".
KEEP COOL! Ideally mealworms should be stored at 45 degrees, so store them somewhere cool.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nature up close: Jack Frost

Jack Frost is an elf from Scandinavian legend that was named Jokul Frosti, meaning Icicle Frost by the Norse Vikings. The son of the Nordic wind god Kari, he became Jack Frost after his story arrived in England. He is renowned for his artistic talents of painting beautiful frost designs on windows and plants late at night.

Other cultures have their own folklore. Japanese legends name Frostman and brother Mistman as keepers of the frost and dew. In Finland Frostman and Frostwoman control the weather and must be placated with sacrifices. Then Russian legends identify frost as Father Frost, a blacksmith who binds the earth with his chains of ice. While German folklore tells of Old Mother Frost who shakes feathers from her bed that become frost as they float to earth.

Scientifically, frost can be defined as the ice crystals that form when water vapor adheres to freezing surfaces. The fancy frost that decorates our windows is called hoar frost and forms when a glass pane is exposed to very cold air on the outside and moderately moist air on the inside. Water vapor condenses on the glass and as it freezes ice crystals grow forming feathery, lacy, patterns on our windows.

The other less common form of frost is called rime frost. Rime frost appears as needles or spikes. It can develop more quickly than hoar frost, especially during windy conditions when liquid water droplets come into contact with freezing surfaces. Rime frost is the white extensions that you see on the crabapples pictured. It doesn't have a crystalline structure, and is more matte and less sparkling than hoar frost.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Question of the week: Do birds mate for life?

More than 90% of all bird species are monogamous, meaning they maintain an essentially exclusive relationship, or pair bond, with just one member of the opposite sex. However that doesn’t mean they get married like humans.

In North America most birds form bonds for a single nesting season. Other pair bonds mate for life, either by pairing up again each breeding season or remaining with each other year-round.

A monogamous relationship allows birds to get on with the business of rearing a family without a lengthy courtship. Having two parents also splits domestic duties for protecting eggs and caring for hatchlings. Adult males defend the pair's nesting territory so the females can focus on finding food and incubating their eggs.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quick fun Facts: Carolina Wren

Carolina wrens do not migrate but are very sensitive to cold weather. Severe winters result in a marked decline in their numbers. Having a known source of food is essential for providing wrens with the energy, stamina, and nutrition they need to survive. For this reason, it is a good idea to put out a feeder to help these birds (and other bird species as well) survive the winter.

Carolina Wrens are primarily insect eaters, but suet, peanuts, and mealworms are good substitutes for scarce insects during winter. They can be attracted to your feeders by providing a brush pile close to your feeding area. They feel more secure with a place to seek refuge nearby.

A good idea to encourage Carolina wrens to stay and feed in or near your yard is to provide roosting pockets near the bird feeders. Roosting pockets are little shelters, much like birdhouses (but smaller and not meant to be used as a nesting site), where the birds can roost and hide from the wind chill. The combination of roosting pockets and bird feeders during winter is one sure way to attract Carolina wrens in your area

Carolina Wrens will lay 2 broods in the nesting season (typically April to July). The male House Wren builds several nests and the female chooses which nest she prefers. The other nests may be used by the male to discourage other male wrens from nesting in the same territory. Carolina wrens do not only pair during breeding season but form bonds for life and engage in activities together year round.

A group of wrens has many collective nouns, including a "chime", "flight", "flock", and "herd" of wrens.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bird of the week: Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Wrens (Troglodytidae)

Description
The size of a small sparrow, the Carolina Wren is a relatively large member of the wren family. Male and females look alike, but males are slightly heavier and have longer bills, wings, and tails. The back is dark rusty brown, but the rump is bright rust. The throat and chin are white, and there is a prominent white eye stripe.

Behavior
The Carolina wren is a very energetic bird with fast movements. They like to chatter constantly while jerking their upturned tail as if excited. This endless chattering is interspersed with sudden bouts of singing. A single male Carolina Wren can sing up to forty different songs, up to 3,000 times a day. You may actually hear Wrens before you seem them.

Carolina Wrens are ground foragers, hopping and flitting on the ground turning over leaf litter and investigating upturned tree roots to find a variety of food items. The diet mainly consists of insects, including beetles, caterpillars, moths, crickets, bees, and ants.

General
Don't be surprised if you find that a wren has built a nest in your hanging plant this April. You can still care for your plant. Just be sure that you water around the nest and don't leave water standing in the pot. The wren may scold you as you come near her nest, but she will return. Females are tight sitters, not readily flushing from the nest. The incubation period lasts 12 to 14 days. During this time, the male often brings food to the nest for the female.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Family Fun: The Journey North

Even though there is a foot of snow outside my window, I have been asked several times this week about when different birds will start making their way north again.

There are several neat websites that follow bird migration up to Michigan:
The Journey North website studies wildlife migration and seasonal change. It tracks the coming of spring through the migration patterns of the Baltimore Oriole, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and other birds and mammals. You can look at the past seasons to predict upcoming visits or watch the Spring 2009 maps as people report their sightings of birds on the way north.

The Purple Martin Conservation Association also has migratory maps. Fifty reports have already been submitted for sitings of the purple martins in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas.


And the website I check most frequently in the spring is Hummingbirds.net. The maps of the Migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are updated daily and like the other websites it has lots of useful information.

As a quick reference:

Bluebirds are year round in mid-Michigan and can begin scouting out possible nesting sites as early as January.
Robins are year round in mid-Michigan but you’ll see them more frequently in your yard~mid-February
Red Winged Blackbirds ~ Beginning of March
Ruby-throated Hummingbird ~ April 15 (tax time)
Purple Martin ~ Mid April
Warblers ~mid-May

Friday, January 16, 2009

Photo Share: Change is in the air

The owner of a car wash machine was coming up several hundred dollars short per week, he initially suspected his employees of using pass keys to loot the machine. When he set up a camera to catch the thieves in action he did indeed manage to snap pictures of the perpetrators in the act, but they weren't quite what he expected.

Not only were the "thieves" who were stealing the quarters of the avian variety, they were working in a group. One bird would go up inside the machine to jimmy coins loose, and the other birds would grab them and fly off with them. Starlings, the birds pictured here, are often attracted to bright, shiny objects and will collect them for nesting or mate-attraction purposes whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Most likely one or more starlings was attracted by the glint of overlooked quarters in the change cup and made off with them; other starlings saw where the quarters were coming from and imitated the behavior, learning in the process how to work as teams to retrieve coins from inside the machine itself.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Product Highlight: WBU Recycled Upside Down Suet Feeder

A Feeder They'll Flip For
If you have starlings hogging your suet, turn their world upside-down.

Our Recycled Plastic Upside-Down Suet Feeder is designed to allow birds to feed from below. This is a comfortable way for woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other clinging birds to feed but difficult for starlings.

Not only will it help you control your starling population, but it's also easy to refill, clean and hang.


Recycled pastic feeders are environmentally friendly, high quality products that are made from recycled plastic milk jugs. These feeders prevent used milk jugs from making their way into our landfills.

It won't rot, crack, fade or warp like wood can. They also come with lifetime guarantee and are made in the USA.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nature up close: Pelicans in Peril

Scientists are baffled by a mysterious illness affecting California brown pelicans along the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego. The symptoms include disorientation, extreme fatigue, and bruises inside the bird’s pouches.

Hundreds of weak pelicans have been running into cars and boats and turning up dead many miles from their normal coastal habitats. The disorientation may imply something is wrong neurologically.
One suspect is domoic acid produced by algae. But domoic acid poisoning, which has reportedly disoriented pelicans in the past, usually occurs in the spring or summer, not in January and has not shown up on any water tests.

Another theory is that the pelicans could have ingested flame retardants used to combat the recent wildfires. Wildlife agencies are still waiting for autopsy and blood test results.

Killed off by the use of DDT in the 1950’s, the California brown pelican was listed as an endangered species. After the pesticide was restricted the species began to recover and the Department of the Interior was proposing to remove it from the list.

The species has proved to be resilient in the past, but bird rescuers are still worried. The LA Times quotes a volunteer with the International Bird Rescue Research Center:

“Pelicans have been hammered over the years by oil spills, DDT, domoic acid, fishing line, gunshots, starvation and parasites — we’re expert at dealing with those problems,” said David Weeshoff, a volunteer at the San Pedro center. “But right now, we’re scratching our heads over the cause of this event. Not a good deal.”

For updates on the situation visit the website for International Bird Rescue Research Center or their blog: http://intbirdrescue.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Question of the week: Why don't starlings crash?

How do thousands of starlings fly without colliding?

Now that I’ve moved my desk to the front of the store, I am constantly distracted by a massive flock of starlings performing incredible aerial displays above the busy Lake Lansing Rd. You start to wonder why the birds never crash into each other or how the birds seem to always maintain their place despite the shifting shape and density of the flock.

Physicist Andrea Cavagna also asked those questions watching the birds overhead in his native Rome. He was so intrigued by the mystery that he organized StarFlag: Starlings in Flight, a multidisciplinary, multinational collaboration to study the birds' flocking behavior. The main aim was to determine "the fundamental laws of collective behavior and self-organization of animal aggregations in three dimensions," says Cavagna.

If the flock is under attack from a predator like a Peregrine Falcon, they will spread apart. At other times, when the flock is making a directional change, they will merge much more closely together. "They do these incredible maneuvers but they never lose birds, they are always with the flock no matter how drastically they change the shape or the intensity, they always stay together," Cavagna explains.

After one year of studying the data collected in the two previous years of the study, Cavagna said the researchers have come to the conclusion the birds base every movement on what their wing-mates are doing. "They always interact with six or seven birds irrespective of what is the distance of these seven birds," he says.

That means that after an attack has taken place, and the flock has expanded, it can regroup very quickly because cohesion doesn't rely strictly on the distance between the birds. "An interaction based upon the number of neighbors rather than their distance, implies rather complex cognitive capabilities in birds," Cavagna said in a news release.

Cavagna said the findings may have implications for the study of other animal groups and might shed light on human behavior. StarFlag's Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, a theoretical physicist believes the birds could also explain herding responses in human beings with a particular eye on stock-market panics. Individual people coordinate and imitate each other to create a collective phenomena. People are extremely influenced by their neighbors, by fashions and fads. They are looking for situations where the ways people interact and create a collective effect can be measured.

Starlings flocking is more complex, says Bouchaud, "because it's a three-dimensional organization of birds in space. But the idea is to work up from the behavior of individual birds to the behavior of the flock." The connection to studies of people is indirect, he adds. "Behind these projects is the same fascination with collective effects that glues the whole project together. We have a lot of things to share when we meet."

The following is a video of Starlings in Ot Moor, an area of wetland in Oxfordshire, South-East England, located halfway between Oxford and Bicester, before they roost for the night.
It was filmed by Dylan Winter a professional DVD film maker and Radio Journalist in the UK.

Monday, January 12, 2009

European Starling

• European Starlings have a highly adaptable diet depending on what's available and length of the intestinal tract actually varies depending on the season. It is shorter in the summertime when birds mainly eat protein-rich insects and larger in wintertime when they mainly eat seeds rich in carboyhydrates.
• Rather than clamping their bill shut, starlings’ jaw muscles work to force it open giving them a great advantage when digging for grubs, worms, and bugs in the yard.
• Starlings, as members of the Sturnidae family, are cousins to the Mynah bird and are outstanding mimics. Individuals have been known to mimic the calls of up to 20 different bird species. Mozart bought a pet Starling after he heard it in a shop whistling one of his compositions.
• Starlings often return to the same nest cavity to raise their young each year.
• Bird banding records show the longest known life-span for a Starling in North America to be over 15 years old.
• Starlings in the Midwestern United States migrate south in the winter, but starlings in the East tend to be year-round residents. Young birds migrate farther than older birds.
• Migrating flocks of Starlings can reach enormous numbers; flocks of 100,000 birds are not uncommon.
• The European Starling is one of only three birds not protected by the United States government. The House Sparrow and the pigeon are the other two.
• A group of starlings has many collective nouns, including a "constellation", "filth", "murmuration", "scourge", and "vulgarity" of starlings.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bird of the week: European Starling

European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Starling (Sturnidae)

Description
Adult starling males and females mature to a length of about 8.5 inches and weigh about 3 ounces. Starlings molt their feathers in the fall. The new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird “stars”. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black. Both sexes also have reddish brown legs, and seasonal changes in bill color (yellow in the spring, black in the fall). Males sport a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. Juvenile birds are large dull gray or black.

Behavior
The European Starling is insectivorous when breeding and typically consumes insects including caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders. The starlings like to grab bugs directly from the air or plunge their beaks into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. In the winter starlings are omnivorous and can also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectars, and garbage.

General
In 1890’s, 100 starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park. It is said that Eugene Schieffelin wanted all of New York to see the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare. Schieffelin belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another. In the 19th century, such acclimatization societies were fashionable and the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem was not yet realized.

Until that time, starlings were not native to North America and were imported from England. Scientists estimate that descendants from those original released flocks now number more than 200 million in the United States.

His attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to ID Birds

Let's Play "Name That Bird" 
Do you need a way to identify those feathered strangers you see from time to time? There is an online field guide that makes identifying unfamiliar birds easy. It's Whatbird.com!
  • You provide information about the unfamiliar bird you've seen by selecting from a menu of attributes such as color, wing shape and size; rightbird will do the rest.
  • You will instantly see illustrations of birds that match the attributes you've selected. The more characteristics you know, the narrower the search is for the right bird.
  • And with whatbird's audible bird call samples, you can also hear the sounds made by your stranger.
At Wild Birds Unlimited, we're happy to take the mystery out of birdwatching. Visit http://whatbird.com/ today.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Product Highlight: WBU Mesh Finch Feeder

WBU Mesh Finch Feeder (My favorite feeder!)

Capacity: 1¼ qts

Our WBU Medium Mesh Finch Feeder features an excellent design that provides a feeding haven in your backyard birding sanctuary. The fine wire mesh cylinder is perfect for small clinging birds. Protective polycarbonate collars at the top and base keep the 1/10 inch wire mesh true to form and cover any sharp edges.


The mesh tube not only lets finches land and feed in whatever position they choose, but it also allows air circulation to keep your Nyjer as dry and fresh as possible, something that's very important to our picky eaters. The feeder's striking yellow color attracts more finches, faster.

This feeder may be hung with the included 5" wire loop hanger or pole mounted using the WBU pole adaptor. It's easy to fill and easy to clean, made in the USA, and is backed with a lifetime guarantee.

Dimensions: 18" x 2¾" diameter

Birds that regularly use this feeder:
With Nyjer Thistle seed - chickadees, finches, redpolls and siskins

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nature up close: "Frisky" Fox Squirrels

Eastern Fox Squirrel Sciurus niger
Order: Rodentia Family: Sciuridae

Description
Fox squirrels are found throughout the eastern and central United States, south into northern Mexico, and north into Canada. It is the largest tree squirrel in Michigan at 10-15 inches in length with tan underparts and cinnamon colored upperparts. Its long bushy tail can cover its head in bad weather.

General
Females can have several mates, and the males will compete with each other to determine who is dominant. Fox squirrels can mate any time but generally begin in January and February and again in May and June. Gestation lasts 44 days and an average litter size is 2-3 naked babies weighing between 13-18 g.

The female takes care of the young with no help from the males. They develop rather slowly. Their eyes don’t even open until the fifth week. At 7 weeks they begin to climb about the nest tree and then venture onto the ground at about 10 weeks. At 3 months they begin to lead a more or less independent existence. Sexual maturity is reached at age of 10 months. Females can produce 2 litters in a year, although 1 is the norm.

Young fox squirrels disperse away from their mothers range in the fall of their first year. Male fox squirrels venture farther and may die more as a result. In captivity Fox Squirrels have had a recorded lifespan of 8-18 years. However in nature the average lifespan is 7 months due to predators and human interaction (cars, hunters…).

Behavior
The eastern fox squirrel is a solitary animal, although it will share a feeding area with other squirrels. It spends most of the day eating and gathering and storing food. Squirrels eat acorns, hickory, walnut, beech, mulberry, Hawthorne and birdseeds. It also eats green shoots and buds, fruits, berries, corn, insects, moths, and beetles. Nuts are stored for use in the winter. The eastern fox squirrel locates its stashes using its keen sense of smell. It usually nests in a tree hollow. If it can't find one it will build a leaf nest in the a crotch of a tree or you can buy or build a squirrel nest box.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Question of the week: How much food does a bird need to eat each day?

A bird’s metabolism is comparatively higher than that of mammals and other vertebrates because of the energy required to fly.

Rather than eating a lot of low-energy food that would make them too heavy for flight, most birds eat smaller quantities of foods higher in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Small birds need to feed more frequently and eat more food for their size than larger birds. A tiny chickadee, for example may need to eat 35% of its weight in a day, while the larger raven requires meals that total just 4% of its weight. Hummingbirds, with their tiny bodies and high activity levels, have the highest metabolic rates of any bird.

In the winter insect eating birds may switch over to seed, suet or nuts high in carbohydrates and fats to survive or migrate south to warmer climates.

Fruit eating birds will spend long periods of their day feeding because most fruits are not high in protein or calories.

Nectar is a fast burning, high energy food that provides quick energy, but is short on protein. Most nectar feeding birds won’t fly back up to Michigan before mid-April.

Only a handful of bird species eat leaves because birds can digest only 30% of the energy in leaves.