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, May 22, 2018

Large black and brown sparrow with red eye

About the size of a Robin, the male and female Eastern Towhees have dark plumage on their heads and backs and rusty-orange flanks on a white belly. The males, head, neck, throat and back are black while the females are dark brown. Their scientific name Piplo is derived from the Latin pipo, meaning “to chirp”. Erythrophthalmus is derived from Greek words that mean “red eye.” Eastern Towhees in Michigan have red eyes, but white-eyed birds are common in the southern states.

Eastern Towhees live in Michigan from late March to mid-November. They are often heard before they are seen. The name "towhee," a simulation of the bird's call, was coined in 1731 by the naturalist and bird artist Mark Catesby. During the spring nesting season the males sing 'drink your tea' loudly from exposed perches and their call when disturbed is a loud 'towhee'. A group of towhees are collectively known as a "tangle" and a "teapot" of towhees.

Towhees are usually shy sulkers and rush for cover at the slightest disturbance. They are ground feeders and use a hop-and-scratch foraging method. While jumping forward with its head and tail up, it kicks its strong legs backwards to uncover its food. They use this same technique on the forest floor and underneath feeders even when the seeds are clearly visible. If your feeders are near dense underbrush you may attract towhees with peanuts, sunflower seeds, millet or cracked corn.
Watch the video:  https://youtu.be/mWVa08fpnXg

Monday, May 21, 2018

Dramatic decrease in finch activity

Has anyone mentioned that the goldfinches have stopped coming to the feeders?

American Goldfinches are common feeder visitors that prefer Nyjer® (thistle) and sunflower seeds. But every year after American Goldfinches have completed their spring molt, a lot of them leave the feeders for awhile and wander widely. Usually when the dandelions bloom, the goldfinches get the urge to forage for fresh, yummy weed, grass, and flower seeds along with tender leaves from trees and other plants.

American Goldfinches are the only common feeder bird in Michigan that molt all their feathers twice a year. Most birds only go through an annual fall molt. So in early spring the goldfinches are famished. They need a lot of energy to grow bright new feathers and you can be filling feeders daily. As we head into summer the feeder activity decreases.

Goldfinches don't nest until late summer. They are footloose and fancy free to forage wherever they want. Some still visit the feeders but not as frequently or in as many numbers. You should still keep the feeders clean and full of fresh seed. Keep in mind that during the summer Nyjer® (thistle) only stays fresh for about a month or two. It keeps longer if it is stored in a cool and dry location.

Then at the end of June the activity increases again. As they get ready to nest, there is excitement in the air. The goldfinches settle in to one territory. If your food is still fresh or you have blooming flowers with seed heads, you will likely have goldfinches visiting. And by the end of July the babies will show up too!

And if you don’t have a natural water source nearby, set up a bird bath. Place it among shrubs and low-branched trees so goldfinches can keep watch for predators while descending gradually toward the water. Wild birds can obtain some water from their food, but goldfinches are vegetarians and like to sip from shallow baths where available to wet their whistle.

Related Articles:
What is Nyjer Thistle? http://t.co/Gg2AxQg
Where are my finches? http://t.co/FRqa7eo
Goldfinch colors: Why aren't all the goldfinches yellow? http://t.co/c57skHi
Is There a Way to Attract More Goldfinches to My Yard? http://t.co/RB1cqWf

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hummingbirds find feeders by sight

Hummingbirds find feeders by sight. If they come down to investigate flowers and then see a feeder they will investigate. Eating from a feeder isn't innate, it is a learned behavior. You may see them approach a new feeder and fly away only to approach it again a few minutes later. Keep the feeders fresh and full of the proper nectar solution and then be patient. Hummingbirds have an outstanding memory. Once they figure out you are offering a reliable source of nectar, you will have a loyal customer.

A hummingbird's brain is very large in comparison to their body size. They know every flower in their territory and how long it will take each flower to produce more nectar. And yes that is probably the same hummingbird that comes back year after year to your feeder. They remember where each and every hummingbird feeder is, both at home and along a migration path.

Weather is also a big factor in how long it takes for hummingbirds to find a feeder. A good, wet spring that produces nectar filled blooms and protein packed bugs means there will be less activity at hummingbird feeders. Drought years are the hardest for the hummingbirds and you will notice instant attraction to feeder feeding as they attempt to find additional reliable food sources.

At the end of summer I watch the bumbling baby hummers jump from flower to flower, feeder to feeder, red chair to red hat, as they learn how to forage. Hummingbirds have been observed watching older hummingbirds to learn some tricks and tips. They also learn which people are the ones responsible for filling hummingbird feeders, and which ones don't.

If you put up a new feeder, it may be an instant hit or it may take them awhile to figure it out. But continue to keep the feeder clean and the nectar fresh even if you see no activity. In late summer it gets hot and activity always increases. At the end of June there are hopefully twice as many hummingbirds and you'll see momma and babies visit along with migrating hummingbirds as they bulk up to fly south.

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

No waste vs. In the shell bird seed

My husband says that sunflower is the cheapest seed and attracts the most birds. I would like hulled sunflower to reduce the mess. Is it possible that I can use the argument that it is actually more economical because we are paying for all those shells that birds just leave and I have to clean up? Does anyone know exactly the percentage of shells in a bag of Black Oil Sunflower seeds and what percent is the edible part?
Black Oil Sunflower seed is one of the most preferred seeds by our backyard birds. However on average, only 65% of that bag of sunflower seed is eaten and the rest is waste that is kicked to the ground. Fortunately sunflower seeds can come with or without the shell.

Birds prefer the seeds without the shell (Sunflower chips) because every minute at the feeder is a minute a predator can attack. I prefer sunflower chips because they don't leave much debris on the ground to clean up and usually don't sprout. Also the shells or sunflower hulls of the cultivated sunflower contain allelopathic compounds which stops the growth of grass and most plants in the garden.

If you ever saw me load in seed on Tuesdays and Fridays you would know that our Wild Birds Unlimited customers also prefer the No-Mess Blend. No-Mess Blend blend is 100% edible. It features a perfect blend of attractive, high-energy seeds that have had their shells removed so only the meat of the seed is left. Pound for pound, I believe our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the messy shells, you get the widest variety of birds, and they eat everything happily.

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

What birds like peanuts? http://bit.ly/zispJK
What seeds do wild birds eat? http://bit.ly/wKyQNB
How can birds survive this cold weather? http://bit.ly/xbkaPP

Friday, May 18, 2018

Photo Share: We got our first oriole!

Eating PeanutButter suet.

Peanut butter is a nutritious food to offer birds and peanutbutter suet is very attractive. It is a high-energy, high-protein food especially valuable for bug eating birds that have just migrated in to Michigan.

This cold spring has been hard for the birds. They are looking for bugs but will make due with suet while their natural sources of food are scarce. After the rains and warmer weather rolls in to Michigan the activity at the feeder decreases as the bug population increases. But a lot of birds soon return with little bundles of joy.

The reason I feed suet in the summer is to watch as harried parent birds bring their babies up close and try to convince them to feed themselves.

Thank you very much for sharing with us! 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, May 17, 2018

Where are the hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are truly one of the most fascinating groups of birds on the planet and it’s not too late to put up a feeder! Hummingbirds don’t need feeders to survive, but they might appreciate a reliable source of food with this cold spring we’ve been experiencing. Also these incredible little birds are fascinating to watch and a hummingbird feeder can bring them up close.

When they aren’t at the feeder, hummingbirds find nectar from a variety of flowers as well as sap from trees. Throughout the day a hummer drinks more than half its body weight in nectar. But that pointy hummingbird bill isn’t only for lapping nectar; it’s also made for snatching bugs out of the air. They use the flexible tip of their bill to capture insects and insect eggs from the ground and on plants. They love spiders and spider eggs.

Early spring birds are still establishing territories. Make sure your nectar is fresh and clean your feeders once or twice a week for the best results. Visits may be less frequent until females begin to incubate their eggs in June. Then they will appreciate quick bites at the feeders between sittings. You can also put out a Wild Birds Unlimited's Natural Cotton Ball Nesting Material to line their nest.

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, May 16, 2018

Big black bird

The Common Grackle is a large black bird with yellow eyes and iridescent purple and bronze head feathers. When naturalists first came to explore North America it was difficult to determine to which genus grackles belonged. In between the size of a crow and starling, the common name, grackle, came from gracula, which is Latin for the Jackdaw or small crow.

They are resourceful foragers. In Michigan, Common Grackles thrive on bugs, beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, frogs, salamanders, mice, and other birds like sparrows around farms, fields and large lawns. They sometimes follow plows to catch bugs that are exposed, pick leeches off the legs of turtles, steal worms from American Robins, or saw open acorns with the hard keel on the inside of the upper beak.When they first arrive they are very hungry and eat a variety of seeds and suets from bird feeders.

Related Articles:
   - Bird of the Week: Common Grackles http://bit.ly/OzgUjw
   - How to keep grackles away: http://bit.ly/Q1q0GI
   - Why is the blackbird associated with evil and ill omens? http://bit.ly/OzhBtb
   - When black birds fly south http://bit.ly/Q1qDAk
   - Bird Basics: How are birds classified? http://bit.ly/Q1reSr

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Bird with a black toupee

Gray Catbird photo from Wikimedia Commons
May is a busy time with local birds nesting and a number of species still migrating through mid-Michigan. We had a lot of customers talking about the catbirds showing up. One family calls them their toupee bird because of the black cap of feathers. Another person noted the rufous rump on the bird.

I noticed a Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) on my walk in to Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing. These birds get their name from the catty mew calls it produces. Their genus name Dumetella is based upon the Latin term dūmus (small thornbush-dweller) which refers to the species' habit of singing when hidden in undergrowth. Listen for the distinctive mew call of the Gray Catbird, or for its imitation of several species during a long, seemingly improvised series of notes at the top of a dense, tangled thickets.

In summer, Gray Catbirds eat mainly ants, beetles, grasshoppers, midges, caterpillars, and moths. They also eat native fruits from trees and shrubs such as dogwood, winterberry, and serviceberry. You may see catbirds at the jelly and fruit feeders you put out for the orioles and also at the suet, nut and mealworm feeders.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Bright red and black bird at suet feeder

If you have ever seen a brilliant flash of red, impossibly brighter than a cardinal, most likely you caught a glimpse of one of Michigan's neotropical migrants, the Scarlet Tanager. Over 250 species of tanagers can be found in South America. The scarlet tanager is the only one of these species to summer in Michigan.

As their name implies, the males are a bright scarlet red with black wings during the breeding season, while the females tend to be a more camouflaging olive-green. They prefer to live in mature forests with a high percentage of oaks foraging for caterpillars, moths and beetles.

Scarlet tanagers are considered very beneficial to humans because they consume many insect pests. Some people have even called them the "guardians of the oaks". During migration in the spring and fall keep your eye out for them as they stop in your yard for suet and drink breaks.

Related Article:
What is That Red Bird with a Black Head? http://bit.ly/L4tpl5
Black and White Bird with Red Head http://bit.ly/JFQDAq
Black and White Bird with Red Chest http://bit.ly/JXmkBC
Sexually dimorphic Northern Cardinals: Why male and female cardinals are a different color http://bit.ly/JFQXiw

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Fun Facts on Mother Birds

Bird moms come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Here are some of the most fascinating behaviors from around the world of mother birds.
  • Most Talented Mom - It takes as many as 12 days for a female Oriole to weave her nest. One Baltimore Oriole was observed spending 40 hours interlacing her basket-like nest. It included over 10,000 stitches and thousands of knots, all done by mom’s talented beak.
  • Most Loyal Mom - A pair bond may form between a male and a female Carolina Wren at any time of the year. She will stay with him for life, always foraging and moving around within sight of her mate.
  • Quickest Mom - Black-capped Chickadees have one of the shortest incubation periods of all birds. Their eggs can hatch in as little as 11 days.
  • Trickiest Mom - By singing a "male" song, the female Black-headed Grosbeak can trick her mate into thinking a rival male is nearby, forcing him to stay close to the nest.
  • Supersized Mom - Sharp-shinned Hawk females average over 40% larger than their male counterparts. This size difference is the largest of all of North American birds of prey.
  • Mini-Mom - A mother hummingbird weighs only about eight times more than the eggs she lays.
  • Most Overworked Mom - Mourning Dove moms may raise up to six broods per year, more than any other native North American bird. 
  • Most Laid-back Mom - Unlike most other bird moms, robins do not lay their eggs at sunrise. They lay their eggs several hours later during the mid-morning. Since earthworms are easier to find during early morning, they feed first and then return to the nest to lay their eggs.
  • Most Devoted to Mom - Young Tufted Titmice often remain with their parents throughout their first winter. They have been known stay with mom into the next nesting season and help her to raise the next brood.
  • One Chilly, Small Mom - The Rufous Hummingbird nests in Alaska
  • The Last Mom - American Goldfinch moms are one of the last songbirds to nest each year, waiting until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and down are readily available.
Stop by the store today and ask our Certified Bird Feeding Specialists which foods and feeders are best for bird moms this season.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Photo Share: Tree Swallows feeding babies

 Here are some photos of Tree Swallows that were nesting with us last year!
 
 Thank you very much for sharing with us! 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.