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.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Black and white birds with red chest

Look who’s showing up at the bird feeders!

If you don’t fill the feeder in the spring and summer you are going to miss seeing some really neat birds up close. I can't wait for the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to arrive!

A relative of the Northern Cardinal, the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks migrate north in April and May in search of breeding grounds in Michigan, southern Canada and the northcentral and northeastern United States. They are a Neotropical migrant, and will return to Mexico, Central America, and South America as early as August.

The name “grosbeak” is from the French word grosbec and means “large beak.” Most are very hungry during migration and take advantage of food offered at feeders. It's quite a sight to see the distinctive black and white male bird with a bright red chest. The females resemble a large brown sparrow with a white eyebrow.

They are very common feeder birds at the beginning of spring preferring sunflower, safflower, suet, fruit, and nuts. I usually find them at my Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess Blend. As the bird establishes its nesting territory and the weather changes, over half of their diet is made up of insects. But they always are attracted to the water in a bath.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak nests in deciduous and mixed forests. But the bird is still a bit of a mystery. Its life history has not been well-studied and little is known on their migration routes, dispersal, habitat use, and nutrition during migration and on wintering grounds. Even the species name ludovicianus which means "from Louisiana" doesn't make sense because it is just a migrant there.

If you don’t see them at your feeder keep your ears open. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) song like that of the robin, only as sung by an opera singer, being mellower and more sweetly melodic. Watch the video: https://youtu.be/NixrHvecZ8c Related Articles:
Large brown sparrow-like bird http://bit.ly/IrwgVk
Juvenile Rose Breasted Grosbeak http://bit.ly/IoVuSG
Average dates for birds return to Michigan the in Spring? http://bit.ly/IMYNQe
When is bird migration over? http://bit.ly/IMZ7OQ
What to know about feeding birds in the spring http://bit.ly/I5s6h9

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Opportunities for bird conservation at home

April 22 is Earth Day, a global event that encourages people to conserve resources and preserve natural habitats. Though people around the world will participate in various festivals, community projects and other environmentally-friendly ventures, you could choose to stay close to home and create a habitat for birds and other wildlife in your backyard.

The average backyard may be visited by 15 to 20 different bird species. However, a bird-friendly yard can attract 60 or more different species. To attract the greatest number of bird species, a habitat must provide at least one of each of these elements: food, water, shelter and a place to raise young.

It’s the perfect time to attract a lot of interesting and colorful birds. Many birds have returned from their fall and winter homes, and they’re looking for places to feed, court and nest.

Offering food can be as simple as hanging a bird feeder in a tree or as ambitious as planting native, fruit-bearing bushes or shrubs. Providing a fresh supply of water with a bird bath will also increase the variety of bird visitors. Birds use water for drinking as well as for bathing and preening their feathers. Clean feathers are important for birds’ health and optimum flying ability.

Landscaping for the ideal wildlife habitat should include plants ranging in size and density from small evergreen shrubs to tall, full-grown trees. The same plants that provide food and shelter can also provide safe areas for many species of wildlife to build nests and raise their families.

Of the world's more than 9,000 species of birds, over 200 are known to breed in Michigan and more than 400 species spend at least some time in the state. The list includes many songbirds ranging from the common American robin to the endangered Kirtland's warbler. 

Related Articles:

Attracting Michigan Songbirds https://goo.gl/WH5Lbi
How do you become a birdwatcher? http://bit.ly/rquunU
Best field guide for Michigan birds http://bit.ly/vPOMx1
What are the Best Binoculars: How to Choose Optics http://bit.ly/vZW26j
Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/vUZynL

Saturday, April 21, 2018

How to feed hummingbirds and orioles

Now that our hummingbirds and orioles are back in Michigan, some of you may need some refreshers on what to do to get ready.

Hummingbird and oriole nectar recipe
To make nectar that is a little bit stronger than flower nectar, use a ratio of 4:1. That would be four parts water to one part plain white sugar. DO NOT use honey, drink mixes, turbinado, brown, powdered or confectioners sugar. These sugars contain too many minerals for the hummingbird's system and can cause illness or death. And red food coloring is NOT necessary or recommended.

Favorite Feeders
It is time to pull those nectar and jelly feeders out from storage and give them a good scrubbing. If you can't remember that safe place you put them last fall and need new feeders, look for something easy to clean and easy to fill. Hummingbird and oriole feeders need to be cleaned and refilled at least every other day once (if) the temperature are above 70 degrees F.

Where to hang feeders
The number one rule in hanging any feeder is to place it where you can watch the birds comfortably. The whole point in bird feeding is to watch these winged wonders up close. Since hummingbirds feed by sight, the second rule is to hang the feeder where they will be able to see it as they fly over your yard. A new feeder may be found sooner if hung near a flower garden or hanging flower basket. Place your hummingbird feeders near bushes to provide perching spots and protection from predators. The height of the feeder is less important. Hummingbirds feed from the flowers on the ground and from the tops of flowering trees or climbing vines.
Best Selling Hummingbird Window Feeder

How to get suction cups to stick

Return some elasticity to the suction cups on your window feeder by placing them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. This will help “reset” the plastic and make it more flexible. Once your suction cups are ready, wash your window. Any grit on the suction cup or window will interfere with the seal. Rub a little finger oil or vegetable oil over the suction cup. Don't use water to stick the feeder to the window. It will just pop off when the temperature changes. Push the suction cups against the window and force out any air bubbles behind the cup. Now you should be set until you want to wash the window again.

Related articles:
My favorite hummingbird and oriole feeders
Where should I hang my hummingbird feeder? http://bit.ly/H2U4P4
Hummingbird Information on Habitat and Habits http://bit.ly/H2Ua9s
What is the nectar recipe for hummingbirds? http://bit.ly/H7xvp3
Fun Facts About Hummingbirds http://bit.ly/II5sBl 

Strange visitor at the high-perch hummingbird feeder http://bit.ly/II7dyy

Friday, April 20, 2018

Photo Share: Mallard Ducks visit

Feathered visitor nesting in your yard this spring
Ducks have been here since 7:30. They are sleeping by the pond in the sunshine now. He is standing on one leg with his head sort of under his wing. So cool!

Mallards choose new mating partners each fall, staying together throughout the winter and into the spring mating season. The female duck always makes the choice for the breeding area because she is homing to the site of her birth or a site where she successfully hatched a nest. Once mating season has ended, the male mallard moves away from the female.

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.

Related Articles:
New Bird Sighted: Hooded Merganser http://bit.ly/yI7HjD
Wood Duck Nest Box http://bit.ly/y89U1v
Mallard Nesting Behavior: Can I move the nest? http://bit.ly/xawSdh
Bufflehead: Black and white duck http://bit.ly/MjFhnm

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Large sparrow with reddish back and streaks on the belly

Fox Sparrow from Wikimedia Commons
I had a couple Fox Sparrows join me for breakfast this morning! Mixed among the juncos they were a real stand out because of their large size and red fox-like coloring. Their coloration can vary depending on the region. Ours are generally rust-brown above with a mix of rust and gray on the head, and heavy brownish splotches on the flanks and the center of the chest. The bill can range from yellowish to dark gray.

Fox Sparrows nest across northern Canada and Alaska, and are migrating at night right now from their wintering grounds in the southeastern United States. On their way through Michigan you may see them at feeders from the first week of March, to late April when they stop to refuel.

Fox Sparrows spend a lot of time on the ground, using their sturdy legs to kick away leaf litter in search of insects and seeds. They rarely venture far from cover, and they frequently associate with other sparrows. Sunflower seeds, millet, safflower, peanuts and peanut butter suet are some of the most popular foods that attract sparrows to tray or ground bird feeders.

Related Articles:
White-throated Sparrow fun facts
Sparrows Native to mid-Michigan http://bit.ly/oy9XGz
Which one of these birds is not like the others? http://bit.ly/qM1LQt
Chipping Sparrow Juvenile with adult male http://goo.gl/8U5Ud2
How to get rid of sparrows http://goo.gl/9tAwkY

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How to help the birds

The State of the Birds 2017 report found bird populations declining across several key habitats. But the Farm Bill secures important habitat for more than 100 bird species and is America’s largest source of funding for habitat conservation on private lands. The full report can be found at stateofthebirds.org

How we can help the birds

Provide clean feeders and bird baths
Feeder maintenance: Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round but especially during times of migration. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or use a one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. That's really important to stop transmission of disease between birds that are under stress.
Bird bath maintenance: Whether they are feeder visitors or not, birds need water for drinking, bathing and preening. Offering a dependable source of water is the simplest and most important step you can take to increase the variety of birds in your yard and help them maintain healthy feathers for flight.

Prevent contact with predators and pesticides
Reduce or eliminate your use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides: According to the (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center, many birds die each year from landscape pesticides, when they eat pesticide granules or eat poisoned insects. It is best to use disease- and pest-resistant plants, cultivate native plant species, and reduce the lawn area.
Cats Indoors! Even the sweetest cats still have the instincts of their wild ancestors. When something flutters by, they must swat it down. Cats allowed to roam outside stalking the songbirds kill billions of birds each year, and for that reason you should never allow your kitty outside.

Keep your windows dirty
Window Decals: This will delight a lot of people about to start spring cleaning. Leave those spotty windows alone so birds will see them. Or you can help prevent collisions with a simple, easy to apply window decals.

Feed your feathered friends
Feeding birds in the Spring: Many prime food sources are depleted in the Spring making it the hardest time for birds to find food. 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 a safe stop-over point.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dark woodpecker on tree

Female sapsucker comes to visit.
My brother spotted a new bird this weekend. A "dark woodpecker" pecking at the tree outside the Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. I recognized by the silhouette and behavior that it was a sapsucker! I don't see them often but they stop by in the spring and the fall for a little bite before moving on.

They are black and white all over with a yellowish to creamy-white belly. The males have a bright red crown and throat and a black bib. The female yellow-bellied sapsucker is similar in appearance to the male, but can be distinguished by a white rather than red throat. The female’s crown may also be paler red, sometimes mixed with black.

Although insects make up part of its diet, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is better known for its boring of numerous shallow holes in the bark of live trees to obtain sap, hence the name sapsucker. The yellow-bellied sapsucker is the only member of the woodpecker family to tattoo these wells in a row. The neatly organized patches of holes well up with sap that the sapsucker laps up with their brush-like tongue (not sucks). He also eats any bugs that happen to get trapped in the sticky stuff.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers arrive back in mid-Michigan in April from their wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico, West Indies, and Central America. These fresh drilled holes produce sweet sap sources that also benefit migrating hummingbirds, waxwings, and warblers while traveling.

The breeding range of the yellow-bellied sapsucker extends from mid-Michigan up and across the northern United States from east of the Rocky Mountains to Maine and into Canada and Alaska.

Related Articles:
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a real bird
- Hummingbirds follow the sapsuckers during migration http://bit.ly/oqUDia
- How many woodpeckers are in Michigan? http://bit.ly/obAc2U
- Fall Trees Reveal Their Secrets http://bit.ly/nHeb9z
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker: Vampire Bird http://goo.gl/ipdib

Monday, April 16, 2018

Will the snow make bird migration run late?

Strong winds blowing in the wrong direction, unseasonably cold weather, and no bug and flower blooms have slowed the migration of many birds. Juncos that should have left us are hanging around. While other species of sparrows are arriving only to struggle to survive instead of setting up house.

This time last year I had the door of the Wild Birds Unlimited store open and a Chipping Sparrow serenading me all day (alright perhaps singing for a potential mate).

Many native sparrows tend to be early migrants, with large numbers arriving in mid-Michigan in early April. Look for Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Field Sparrows, and coming as soon as Mother Nature determines it will be frost-free, the White-crowned and White-throated sparrows.

Smaller birds such as sparrows, warblers, vireos, and thrushes are typical nocturnal migrants. It is common to find your yard filled with newly arrived migrants each morning the wind is pushing north. By traveling at night, they can pause at sunrise and devote the entire day to feeding and resting.

Female junco photo Wikimedia Commons
Flying nonstop all night demands high energy breakfast. And if the weather isn't cooperating, a bird feeder can be a life saver. A lot of these sparrows like the sunflower, peanuts, and millet in the No-mess blend bird seed. They tend to scratch for fallen seeds underneath bird feeders, particularly if they are close to cover.

Related Articles:
Chipping Sparrow http://chipping-sparrow.html
Song Sparrow http://song-sparrow.html
Fox Sparrow http://foxsparrow.html Savannah Sparrow http://savannah-sparrow.html
Hearty little Field Sparrow http://field-sparrow.html
Be on the lookout for White-throated Sparrows http://white-throated.html
Sparrow bird with white head and black stripes http://white-head-and-black.html
Dark-eyed Juncos leave mid-Michigan http:/dark-eyed-juncos.html
Do I need to change my bird seed when the seasons change? http://my-bird-seed-when.html 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What bluebirds do in the snow

Can I put mealworms out if bluebirds are already in the area because the ground is so frozen and there are no insects out yet. 

Bluebirds do benefit from receiving feeder food when harsh conditions such as prolonged period of chilly, wet weather, or snow & cold, or when ice coats most of the wild berries. Mealworms, suet, nuts, sunflower hearts, softened fruits, and seed cylinders can all be fed to bluebirds.

The Eastern Bluebirds eat mainly fruit, nuts and berries from trees, bushes, and vines during the cold months and then in the warmer months it goes back to mostly worms and insects.

A heated birdbath may also help them with afternoon drinks and feather preening. Keeping your feathers in top condition is very important in bad weather to keep the warmth in and the cold out.

Migratory movements haven't been studied in depth for Eastern Bluebirds. Some migrate to the southern states and some just move when they want to avoid snow and freezing rain and then move right back. Early April is usually peak nest building time in mid-Michigan. But don't worry, they will put a halt to construction and then pick right up again when the weather turns more favorable.

Related Articles:
What do American Robins eat in the winter? http://bit.ly/wQh59Q
The best heated bird baths http://bit.ly/uIHnB7
Bird of the Week: Eastern Bluebird http://bit.ly/xgm1V4
Ultimate Bluebird House http://bit.ly/A4kliS
The Migration of Eastern Bluebirds http://bit.ly/yCLcQH

Hummingbirds don't share

Is it true that having more than one hummingbird feeder attracts more hummingbirds?
Hummingbirds are very territorial. In general, more feeders means more birds. Multiple feeders helps if you have an aggressive bird that is chasing other hummers away. There is no way he can guard all the feeders all the time. If you space your feeders apart, in the front and backyard or just out of sight of the others, you give the girls a chance to eat in peace.

Females like to take advantage of a quick meal at the feeders. They do all the nest building and family rearing alone, leaving the males to fuss over territories. Multiple feeders, spread throughout your yard is a great way to encourage more hummingbirds to visit and keep the peace in your yard.

Hummingbirds find feeders by sight so hang the feeder where they will be able to see it as they fly over. Also a new feeder may be found sooner if hung near a flower garden or hanging flower basket.

And always make sure your nectar is fresh and the correct one part white sugar to four parts water solution. In hot weather you should clean your feeder at least twice a week even if there are no hummingbirds feeding. If a hummingbird comes by to check out your new feeder and finds it filled with spoiled food, they won’t return anytime soon. Watch the video: https://youtu.be/20TmpqOgYRE

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
When to take hummingbird feeders down & other FAQ http://goo.gl/CspGnT
When did people start to feed hummingbirds?: http://bit.ly/o8Y8HR

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Doves mate for life, what happens when one dies

I have a pair of Mourning Doves that built a nest on our covered patio (on top of a heater). Both male and female built the nest one sat on the nest and the other was usually close by. Yesterday morning I was sitting on the couch and heard a big thud against the window on the covered patio. I looked outside and saw a hawk with something in it's claws and then it flew away. There were feathers all over the patio. Is it possible the hawk flew in and grabbed the dove that was sitting on the nest? About 15 minutes later the other dove was on the nest trying to fix it and sat on the nest the rest of the afternoon. The hawk made it's appearance a few more times sitting on the fence and flying around. I scared it off when I noticed it hanging around. The dove was not on the nest when I went to bed or woke up, but it was back around 7:30am and it still there now. Will this one dove be able to take care of the eggs? I assume the nest has eggs, why else would the dove be sitting on the nest? Or do you think the dove will eventually abandon the nest?

Curious and sad for the dove that was taken by the hawk, but I guess that is nature.

Mourning Doves take turns incubating eggs. The male does a day shift and the female does the night shift. Sometimes the surviving bird will attempt to incubate the eggs, at least for a time, to see if the mate will return. But this is a difficult task for a single bird and is often unsuccessful. Be prepared for nest abandonment if the remaining dove can’t find an unattached replacement mate quickly.

Since they nest several times a season it's possible the remaining bird will find another mate and raise many other successful broods in the same season. It's very sad to lose these birds in your yard, but the hawk may be nesting too. As I’ve said to many people, doves help feed several raptor and corvid babies as well as a variety of mammal species.

Fortunately, Mourning Doves can be found throughout most of North America and are considered among the top ten most abundant birds in the United States. Mourning doves may breed several times in a breeding season, from February to October. While the average longevity for a typical adult is only about 1.5 years, realistically the mortality rate of juveniles can be as high as 70% in their first year of life. But they can also be the longest lived bird found in North America. Bird banding research recorded one dove more than 31 years old. 

Related Articles:
Nesting platform for doves and robins
Keeping the crows at bay https://goo.gl/65U6ea
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
Birds taught the military about camouflage http://bit.ly/zij0Lm
Birds freeze or fly at the approach of a predator http://bit.ly/wwJTpT