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 22, 2017

Missing birds

Before vacation we were filling our feeders twice a day. Now we’ve been back for over a week, and the feeders are full but the birds are missing. Will they eventually return and if so, when?

They’ll probably return to your feeders when there is bad weather and it is less efficient to forage.

Right now birds all over America are migrating or establishing winter grounds. Young birds like House finches, 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.

During this transition time your feeder may be overwhelmed with birds one week and empty the next week. With all the natural seed and fruit around, birds may take note of your feeders but look for other sources just in case. Birds don’t depend on feeders to survive which is good because some people aren’t dependable.

You can also go through a little check list to eliminate the most obvious reasons for fewer birds at the feeders.

1. Make sure your seed is fresh. One way to do this is to crush your seed on a piece of paper and see if any oil comes out. When birds are molting, migrating or battling the weather every meal counts, if your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

2. Clean your feeders at least once a month. Make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. This can be dangerous to the birds. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh™ (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand). You can also shelter your feeder from the elements by using something like WBU Weather Guard.

3. Look for predators. Hawks or cats can deter birds from feeding in your area for a short time.4. Look at the weather. During years where there are more seeds, fruits, nuts and berries produced naturally you'll have less birds than during years where there are droughts and poor crops.

Just be patient and I'm sure the birds will put you back in the feeder visit rotation.

Related Articles:
How to have more colorful birds at your feeder http://bit.ly/umlwXg
Prepare Your Yard for Fall Bird Feeding: http://bit.ly/pkJUmW
Do I need to clean my bird feeder?: http://bit.ly/nYKz40
Best foods for birds in winter http://bit.ly/6fkng
How long does bird seed stay fresh? http://bit.ly/tRYvG9

Monday, August 21, 2017

5 tips for bird bath maintenance

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why hummingbirds have a Pinocchio nose

You may have noticed the beak or bill on a hummingbird is longer in proportion to their body than other birds. This is so they can reach deep down into tubular flowers to get nectar. Both flowers and hummingbirds benefit when a hummingbird comes by for a drink.

Ornithophily is the process by which plants are pollinated thanks to bird activity. When a hummingbird comes to a flower to get a meal, it brushes against the male parts of the flower and gets dusted with pollen grains that are transferred over to pollinate the next flower. As a result, species of hummingbirds and species of flowers often evolved together, or co-adapted.

Most bird-pollinated flowers have lots of nectar, often at the bottom of bright red, orange or yellow tubular petals. Bird pollination is considered a costly strategy for plants and it evolves only where there are particular benefits for the plant. High altitude ecosystems that lack insect pollinators, those in dry regions, or isolated islands tend to favor the evolution of ornithophily in plants.

Sources: 
The Important Role of Birds in Pollination  http://www.role-of-birds-in-pollination/

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
Hummingbirds hunt and eat insects as well as nectar http:/hummingbirds-hunt insects.html

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Advantages to flocking bird behavior

Have you noticed all the birds flocking?

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

Photo Share: Growing fruit trees from seed

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why fruit changes color as it ripens

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Seein' red

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Confident body language gestures of doves

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What to do when there is a hawk in your yard

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

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

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

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

Additional steps to take if you have hawks in your yard:
  • First and foremost, federal and state laws prohibit the capture, killing, or possession of hawks and owls. Raptors attracted to bird feeding stations are a problem only when they perch nearby all day. The birds return as soon as the Hawk flies away. So enjoy a close-up look at these magnificent birds while they are in your yard.
  • If you feed birds, place your feeders where there is ample natural protection. Evergreen shrubs and trees can provide an easy escape for the birds.
  • Keep in mind hawks in the neighborhood play an important role in controlling bird and rodent populations and usually ignore cats, dogs, and people.
  • Ultimately, the only thing you can do when a hawk comes to dinner is wait it out. Most hawks that visit only do so for two or three weeks and then they are off again to different territory.
Related Articles:
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk comes for a visit http://bit.ly/w1fDRM
Can You Scare a Hawk Away? http://bit.ly/w3vz5B
Small birds attack hawk http://bit.ly/sH68yB
Frozen Woodpecker http://bit.ly/ubSCTR
Is it safe to feed the birds out in the open? http://bit.ly/rBErxI

Chestnut-sided Warbler begins fall migration

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Plants growing under the feeder

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

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

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

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

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

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