Live Bats at Fenner Nature Center

  • See Bats Of The World Nov. 1, 2009
  • 1:30-2:30 for young kids
  • 3:00-4:00 for older kids.
  • Register at the door, which opens a 1/2 before show.
  • Fees $5.00/person & $15.00/family
  • FOFNC members: $4.00/person & $12.00/family

Bats common in Michigan are insectivorous, catching small flying insects, by echolocation. Some bats consume up to one-half their weight of insects in a night. On November 1, a show from the Organization for Bat Conservation at the Cranbrook Institute of Science will arrive at Fenner Nature Center with big and little bats from all over the world. Meet their bat-man. Wear your costume, stop in at our gift shop and receive a coupon towards a purchase. A prize will be awarded to the battiest guest.

Call 483-4224 - Fenner Nature Center for information.

How many kinds of bats live in Michigan?

Bats comprise one-fourth of the world's 4,000 species of mammals. Fruit-eating bats are nature's most important seed-dispersing animals. Nectar bats pollinate many rain-forest trees, shrubs, and flowers and without their help the forest would be less diverse.

The ability of insect-eating bats is phenomenal--one little brown bat can eat 600 to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. Over-sized ears and nostrils help bats to use a sonar system that experts believe is a thousand times more sophisticated than the best airport radar invented to date.
Of the 43 species of bats that live in the U.S., nine insect-eating species of bats live in Michigan. All are nocturnal (active at night), and feed nearly exclusively on flying insects, including moths, beetles, and mosquitoes.

Bats in Michigan
1. The little brown bat is the most common and gentle bat found throughout Michigan and is the most seen species. A light brown bat with a wingspan of 8 1/2 to 11 1/2 inches, small ears, and large feet. In summer, colonies of the species live in hot attics and under shingles and siding or in manmade bat houses; in winter, they hibernate in caves, crevices, houses, hollow trees, or mines. Females form nursery colonies away from the males. Little brown bats like to feed on aquatic insects and are frequently seen dipping and diving over water but will also forage over lawns and pastures, among trees, and under street lights.

2. The big brown bat has a large nose, is reddish to dark brown in color, and sports a wingspan ranging from 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 inches. Its slow, steady flight, and large size make it fairly easy to identify. Beetles, wasps, mosquitoes and flies from pastures, lawns and vacant lots in the city make up its diet. They are late-dusk fliers that often swoop low to the ground. A colonizing species, big browns roost in buildings and under bridges in summer and hibernate in caves, mines, houses, hollow trees, and even storm sewers in winter. Efficient feeders, the species often roosts for a short nap after gorging itself. Porches, garages, and breezeways are good places to find them. The female gives birth to only one pup per year.

3. The hoary bat is Michigan’s largest with a wingspan of up to 15 inches and lives in the forest. It’s rarely encountered by people and migrates south in winter.

4. The red bat also migrates south and is a solitary bat of forests near water. Its long, pointed wings may stretch 12 inches, and it has short, rounded ears, and a furred tail. Color varies from a bright orange to a yellow-brown.

5. The silver-haired bat, considered scarce, lives in forested areas near streams and lakes. Similar in size to the red bat, it is black or dark brown with silver on the tips of its hairs.

6. The eastern pipistrelle bat does not migrate but hibernates in caves or abandoned mines through winter in the western Upper Peninsula year-round. A golden brown to reddish brown tiny bat with a wingspan of 10 inches or less.

7. The northern long-eared bat has very large ears make these bats easy to identify at close range. A brown bat with wings that stretch 12 inches, it typically roosts alone in buildings and under tree bark in the summer, small numbers hibernate together in caves, often with big brown bats.

8. The evening bat lives in extreme southern Michigan and is easily confused with the little brown bat except the evening bat has a curved, rounded fleshy protrusion (tragus) on the ear instead of a pointed tragus. Their wings span 10 to 11 inches. The evening bat flies low to the ground and is sometimes seen swarming around caves, which it rarely enters.

9. The Federally endangered Indiana bat in southern Michigan closely resembles the little brown bat.

Concerns: Scientific surveys of wild bats typically report rabies in less than 0.5% for most North American bat species. In addition, bats are not “carriers” of rabies; when a bat gets the disease it will die. Bats also tend to become paralyzed with the disease, often avoiding the aggressive form of rabies.

Bats prefer to live in dead trees during the summer. Without natural habitat, brown bats will take up residence in human-made buildings. Rather than killing these beneficial mammals, prevent entry into your home by locating and plugging potential entrance holes after sunset when they leave. Putting up a bat house nearby may discourage them from entering your home while keeping them in the area.

Original article:
Sargent, M.S and Carter, K.S., ed. 1999. Managing Michigan Wildlife: A Landowners Guide. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, East Lansing, MI. 297pp.

Innovative Birdfeeder Design: Quick Clean Big Tube

I have been anticipating the arrival of the new Quick Clean Big Tube since spring. I wasn't sure about the new design so I only ordered one to check it out. It came in last week and wow-o-wow. It's beautiful!
I sold that one before I could even price it and have been waiting to write about it until we restocked. More arrived today and let me tell you about them.

Aspects’ Big Tube perks:
  • Can hang or post-mount (versatile)
  • Holds 3 1/2 quarts: 4" Diameter, 18" Tube (huge capacity)
  • 6 newly designed feeding ports (love 'em!)
  • Easy to fill & Quick-Clean™ removable base for easy cleaning (brilliant!)
  • Aspects uses UV stabilized polycarbonate, the strongest and most durable plastic available (won't turn yellow in the sun)
  • All hardware is solid brass or stainless steel (quality)
  • guaranteed for life and made in the USA (you can't top that)
  • And if you need a weather guard or tray, that can be added at any time
Aspects and Wild Birds Unlimited are both committed to helping future generations appreciate and enjoy nature by donating to programs that support wildlife conservation. Aspects has always manufactured proudly in the USA to ensure quality and strives to continue to offer new, innovative products that are backed with a Lifetime Guarantee.
And let me tell you this new feeder is definitely a winner!

Can I feed goldfinch year round?

I just started to feed the goldfinch this summer. Do they stay in Michigan year round?
I love the American Goldfinch! The great state of Michigan is lucky enough to have goldfinch year round and if you enjoyed watching them in the summer they'll also bring you joy in the winter. They do lose their bright yellow color but when they sing it's like they bring sunshine with them even on the dreariest days.
And for those of you that only feed during the winter and had left over Nyjer seed from last year, it's probably too dried out to feed to your birds this year. One way to check your seed is to pinch it with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out, your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).
Finally, remember not to cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers right now because they're full of tasty seed heads that the Goldfinch love.

Did you know butterflies have ears on their wings?

The location of butterfly ears on their wings was discovered in 1912. Today, new research has discovered a clever structure in those ears that potentially makes it able to distinguish between high and low pitch sounds.

The Blue Morpho butterflies, which are native to Central and South America, are more famous for their amazing wing colorations than the sensitivity of the ears on their wings. But their simple ear sits at the base of the wing.

An oval-shaped tympanal membrane, with an unusual dome in the middle, is attached directly to sensory organs and is responsible for converting sound waves into signals that can be picked up by nerve cells.

Using a tiny laser beam, lead researcher Katie Lucas scanned the surface of the membrane while it was in action, and found that lower pitch sounds cause vibrations only in a part of the outer membrane while higher pitch sounds caused the entire membrane to vibrate.

The structure of the membrane could mean the butterfly can hear a greater range of pitches, which as Katie Lucas and her colleagues postulate may enhance the abilities of these butterflies to listen for birds.

The team suggests that sensitivity to lower pitch sounds may detect the beating of birds' wings, while higher pitches may tune into birdsong.


Why would you build a peanut vending machine for crows?

Josh Klein did an initial experiment in 2008 in an attempt to teach crows how to live more purposefully for man, so that man would not annihilate the species. If you can train them to put coins in a machine for peanuts, could you teach them to collect garbage in exchange for peanuts? What if the crows could be used for search and rescue, in the same way as a dog? Below is a video on training crows to conduct mutually beneficial behaviors with humans:

Now it’s your turn to further the crowbox experiment. Go to if you think you can make this idea into something great.

Did I spot a rare bird?

I think I spotted a western species of junco at our feeder the other day. It was more of a brown bird instead of the usual slate-colored junco? Do you think it was blown off course by the recent winds?

In 1973 by the American Ornithologists’ Union grouped five junco species into a single species called the Dark-eyed Junco. The five subspecies are closely related and have similar habits, but differ in color and distribution, though they interbreed where their ranges meet. Michigan is typically home to the subspecies hyemalis, the Slate-colored Junco. The browner western subspecies, "Oregon" Junco, is a very rare stray in the east.

What you may have seen were the female juncos. They are typically browner than the males and are the first to pass through during migration. Up to 70% of Juncos wintering in the southern U.S. are females. The juncos we see all winter in the Lansing area are typically males. They the risk harsh winters in the northern states in order to be the first ones back to their upper Michigan and Canadian breeding grounds to stake out a territory in the spring.

The Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis is a medium-sized sparrow with dark gray plumage on its head, breast and upper parts which contrast with the white, outer tail and white belly. The female and immature juncos are less slate colored and tend to be browner than the adult male.

They are often called “Snowbirds,” possibly due to the fact that they are more likely to visit feeding stations during snowy periods. Many people also believe their return from their northern breeding grounds foretells the return of cold and snowy weather. Another possible source of the nickname may be the white belly plumage and slate-colored back of the Junco, which has been described as “leaden skies above, snow below.”

Can you name that bird just by its feet?

As I wrote about earlier, the knee joint of a bird is usually hidden under feathers. The backward bending leg joint that you see when birds are walking is the ankle. And when we talk about a birds’ foot we are actually talking about its toes.

Most birds we observe have four toes, but the exact number of toes and their arrangement, as well as their proportions, varies from family to family. The perching birds we see at the feeders in mid-Michigan usually have anisodiactyl feet. That means they have three toes that point forward and one toe that points backward to make it easy to grab a perch. The woodpeckers’ feet are an exception to the birdfeeder crowd. They have zygodactyl feet meaning two toes point forward and two point backward so they can get a good grip on a tree bark.

Birds that use their feet for waiting in trees, climbing, grabbing prey, and carrying it away are equipped with sharp curved and pointed claws like hawks, eagles, and falcons. Feet that run and scratch usually have strong stout toes with blunt claws like turkeys, grouse and others. Feet for swimming may have the first three toes webbed like ducks and gulls or include a webbed back toe as well like the pelicans and cormorants. The grebes and coots just have lobed toes for swimming. And the long toes of the herons spread the bird's weight over a large surface area to facilitate walking on soft surfaces near the water's edge where wading birds like to eat.

The size and shape of the claws and the way the toes are arranged as well as the length of the toes and the degree of webbing are all dependent on what a bird uses its feet for and where it lives. Like a bird's bill its feet reveal a lot about its lifestyle and the next time you have a chance take a close-up look at the fascinating feet of birds.

How many birds would you say die or get injured during migration?

That is impossible right now for scientists to calculate. One estimate is that about 50% of the migrating population won’t return to their original birthplace.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the whirling blades of wind farms not only creating renewable energy but killing flying birds and bats. It’s already known that the wind turbines should not be built in bird migration routes. But the National Wind Coordinating Committee also came up with the following bird fatality statistics in the United States:

•98 million to 980 million fatal collisions with buildings and windows
•130 million to more than one billion fatal collisions with high-tension lines
•60 million to 80 million deaths caused by automobiles
•4 million to 50 million fatal encounters with communications towers
•72 million birds each year are killed by toxic chemicals, including pesticides
•Domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds each year
•15 million birds a year in North America are killed in managed annual waterfowl hunt kills
•20,000 to 37,000 fatal collisions with wind turbines

At the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store today we had a Swainson’s Thrush stuck under our awning. It was running back and forth trying to fly up, up, up through the glass ceiling. The House Sparrows that live up there think it’s the best designed building ever because bugs go up there and get stuck too. All day long I watch the sparrows fly up grab a quick meal and fly down.

New birds to the area, however, like the thrush sometimes get stuck. I rescued a hummingbird once with a net because I knew it didn’t have all night to figure out how to get out of the awning. But we watched this thrush for about an hour running back and forth. Finally the sparrows ganged up and pushed the thrush down and out. I’ve seen them do this before with a Goldfinch and a Downy Woodpecker. Whether they were offering a helping hand or just shooing away a stranger from their territory, I was glad he was finally free. I couldn’t help but think of the millions of other birds that find themselves in similar situations during migration and don’t make it.

The good news is I got an up close view of the Swainson’s Thrush Catharus ustulatus. It was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist, and is also called the Olive-backed Thrush. On its breeding grounds in northern Michigan it is usually seen perched high in a treetop. During migration the bird skulks low on the ground under shrubs and with luck spend its winter in the tropics. A group of thrushes are collectively known as a "hermitage" and a "mutation" of thrushes.

Share Nature's Bounty

Now is the time for fall harvest. As you start preparing for the holidays, don’t forget about your birds! Here are a few ways to take advantage of seasonal items to attract birds to your yard:

1. Squash and pumpkin seeds Whether you are carving a pumpkin, or preparing a pumpkin pie, set aside the seeds. Nuthatches love them, and many other birds will eat them as well. You also may have noticed squirrels rearranging the face of your Jack O’Lantern as they have quick nibble.
2. Apples When you are making apple pies don’t throw away the apple cores. There are a number of birds which may be attracted to apples, including Cardinals. You can also roll birdseed in with extra pie dough and bake it in the shape of a bagel. When cool hang from trees. The pie crust usually has lots of fat which is substitute for the insects that birds eat but are not plentiful in cold weather.
5. Nuts Many insect eating birds greatly appreciate this high protein food. Too much salt isn’t good for the birds, but a few leftover party nuts mixed with other bird seed can be a treat. You can also collect nuts from the trees in your neighborhood, including acorns and walnuts.
6. Peanut Butter Smear peanut butter on a tree trunk. You’ll be surprised how many cute birds this will attract up and down your tree. Or spread Peanut butter on pine cones, old bread, or cookies. Then roll them in birdseed and hang them on your bushes with raffia string.
7. Orange Rinds Cut a large orange in half and eat the inside. Poke holes ¼ inch from the rim and attach a twine handle. Mix the last handful of unsweetened cereal at the bottom of the box with stale crackers or bread crumbs, dried out raisins or holiday stuffing. Fill the orange half and hang the filled feeder from a tree.
8. Ornamental Corn Autumn decorations for your home can also provide the birds with food. Blue Jays and Squirrels will enjoy ornamental corn.

Guest Blogger Chuck: Rare Bird Sighting

I'm not a blogger but I need to tell you about something that happened last evening that I've not experienced at my house ever before.

I was eating my supper at about 6 p.m. and something outside the window caught my attention. Just as I looked over to give it my full attention it seemed as if two hummingbirds zipped away the way they do all summer long in the same location. I decided it must have been a couple of sparrows or finches and went back to my meal. A minute later the motion was back at the window and this time I looked to see the hummer hovering between the Fusia and Geranium plants that are still blooming on our front porch.

I haven't seen a hummer since the second week in Sept. and my resident birds left back on Labor Day week-end! I've NEVER seen hummingbirds anywhere near this late, even in warm years. WHAT WERE THESE BIRDS THINKING
?? It's cold!!! C

Over here at the East Lansing, MI Wild Birds Unlimited shop we’ve actually had several "eagle eye" customers reporting late hummers. It’s not unheard of for Ruby-throated hummingbirds to stay until the end of October but I want to throw out the possibility that you might have seen Rufous Hummingbirds.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common hummingbird in Michigan. However, the Rufous Hummingbird Selasphorus rufus is the most widely-distributed hummingbird in North America and a few have been documented in Michigan late into November. They winter in Mexico but these feisty birds can survive in extremely cold temperatures if there is food available. Click HERE for a photo of a Rufous in the snow.

Thanks for the contribution Chuck! If anyone else would like to write about their observations feel free to email them to

Great Day in the Yard

The day began when I woke up to what sounded like chickadees singing under water. Even though I was anticipating the arrival of the White-throated Sparrows it was still a surprise to hear their song among our usual backyard glee club members. You’ll only hear this yodel-like song of White-throated Sparrows for a few weeks in the spring and fall as they pass through the Lansing area.

When I went downstairs for a cup of tea, it was just getting light. I glanced out the window and saw what looked like old dry leaves, rustling in the wind. As I focused the leaves came alive and I saw it was a mixed flock of sparrows including one Song Sparrow, one Junco, some House Sparrows, and many White-throated Sparrows scratching away under the bushes.

I opened the door to go refill the feeders and there was an explosion of startled birds, wings flapping, to the trees. They immediately settled and gradually fluttered back to the ground even as I was still filling the feeders. I think they gave me dirty looks trying to hurry me along out of their breakfast area. (Although I want to think the chickadee was saying “thank you” even though it sounded more like “new food here!”) The White-throated Sparrows immediately started feeding on the ground, flipping aside leaves with their bill and scratching away leaf litter with a series of quick kicks.

These white-throats may stay for a few weeks, however with winter looming, the day will come when the last one will leave for a more hospitable wintering grounds. I'm already missing them, just thinking about it. But today I enjoyed how the White-throated Sparrows welcomed dawns first light with their song and added a flurry of activity to the yard.

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

• Individual White-throated Sparrows have either white stripes on their head or tan stripes. These distinct color forms are genetic in origin. White-striped birds are more aggressive than tan-striped ones, and each bird almost always mates with a bird whose stripe color is opposite from their own. They all have distinct white throat feathers.
•White-throated Sparrows are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.
•A group of sparrows has many collective nouns, including a "crew", "flutter", "meinie", "quarrel", and "ubiquity" of sparrows.
•The white-throated and White-crowned sparrows only pass through mid-Michigan as they migrate north or south in the spring and fall.
•You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody"