Birds Molting: Out with the Old, In with the New

Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting.

Molting is when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete.

Molting is so physically demanding for most ducks and geese that they can't fly and will molt in seclusion to avoid predators.

Molting season varies by species and time of year. Right now many birds are beginning their main molt of the year, however, American Goldfinches are one of the last to molt. Due to their late nesting period, they won't start their molt until late August.
Distinguishing birds that are molting from those that are not can be difficult. Though some birds may lose patches of feathers and become bald, most birds feather loss and replacement are far less noticeable.

Feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation.

For the next few months, offer high-protein bird foods, such as Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, suet and mealworms, to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with molting.

How Do I Know If It's a Baby Hummingbird?

Oooh, there are lots of things to tell you if the hummingbirds you see are young and just off the nest.

Young hummingbirds will look similar to a female, but as young males begin to mature in late summer look for a few random red iridescent feathers on the throat. And the young are very healthy looking. Their feathers are full and shiny whereas the parent birds look a little haggard. The parents have been through a lot and are now going through a molt to get ready for fall migration.

Only 20% of newly fledged hummingbirds live to be one year old. Once immature birds leave the nest they blunder about checking everything as they try to recognize the shapes and color patterns of blossoms or feeders that have nectar. This information is stored away in BB sized brains for the rest of their life. If they survive, they will continue to remember the exact location of gardens and feeders for years to come.

Immature hummingbirds also tend to be more vocal, calling out when distressed. And they have to learn a lot about social order. It's not unusual for more mature birds to use physical rebukes to punish young upstarts.

Finally the largest number of hummingbirds buzzing through our yards during late summer are immature birds that have only hatched recently. They can stay around mid-Michigan as late as October or November until all of a sudden they can't resist the urge to migrate south.

So keep those feeders full and clean! A hummingbirds' high metabolic rate requires them to refuel with nectar constantly while they search for bugs. They prefer flowers with a sugar concentration of 20 percent sucrose. This translates to a mixture of four parts water to one part white table sugar. Click HERE for more detailed nectar recipe instructions.

Source: Wild Birds Guides: Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Robert Sargent available at Wild Birds Unlimited

Is it too late to put up a hummingbird feeder?

While the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds have settled into their territories to nest by now, every bird is always foraging and may appreciate a new reliable backup feeder.

You may also notice in late June newly fledged hummers have to check out everything to see if it's food, so you may catch them with new feeders.

Then starting in the middle of July males begin to wander widely, and some are already heading south. So, before you know it you'll have hungry southbound migrants to feed!

Migration continues through the middle of October so there are plenty of opportunities to see hummers feeding. The migration south is a more leisurely trip than the race north. So you may see these new hummers at your feeder for a couple weeks before they catch a good wind to move further south.

Should I Move My Birdhouse?

Hi, I have a birdhouse with 3 baby wrens in it. They are just about ready to bust out and go with their parents. My problem is, the house is right over the porch where my cats lay all day. Is it possible to move the house about 40-50 ft off to the side of the house where they could have more privacy for the leaving of the nest? This is stressing me out! Thanks, Kellie

I would leave the nest alone. About two weeks after hatching, the fledgling wrens leave the nest and don’t return. They usually fly straight and fast out of the entrance into nearby trees or bushes.

One day you’ll see the parents stuffing hungry mouths with juicy caterpillars and the next day the nest will be empty. So don’t stress and enjoy the show while it lasts or bring your cats indoors.

How Do You Tell a Female Indigo Bunting from a Female Cowbird?

I think I had a female Indigo Bunting in my yard but it might be a cowbird. How can I tell? Patrick ~ East Lansing, MI

Little brown birds can sometimes be hard to identify when you just get a quick glance.

Both Indigo Buntings and Brown-headed Cowbirds live in similar habitats. The cowbird parasitizes or lays its eggs in indigos’ nests as well as other “host” species.

Both eat similar food and can be spotted at bird feeders.

Size is a good indicator. The Indigo Bunting’s shape and size (5 inches) is closer to a goldfinch, and the Brown-headed cowbirds’ (7 inches) is a little larger than a House Sparrow.

Color can sometimes help. Both females are a dull brown but the indigo is usually lighter. And if you look close you’ll see the indigo also has a two tone bill. The top is black and the bottom is a grey or tan. The cowbird has a black bill top and bottom.

Finally notice what birds are hanging around the bird you are trying to identify. Do you see a more distinguishable mate nearby? Cowbirds can also flock with blackbirds and starlings whereas indigos feed alone during the breeding season and with other indigos in the fall and winter.

Do We Have Indigo Buntings in Michigan?

That Scott's birdseed commercial talks about getting more birds like indigo buntings. Do we have those birds? I feed Wild Birds Unlimited Safflower and Thistle. Will they come to that? Susan ~Williamston, MI

Location, location, location. The Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea can be seen all over Michigan during their migration in spring and fall and like to nest in a dense growth of shrubbery or weedy habitats between woods and old fields.

Similar in size to a goldfinch, the male Indigo buntings look blue with black wings, tail, and beak. The diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue. The females are a soft brown with brown streaks on the breast and a light throat. The young look similar to the female.

At certain times of the year I spot indigos at my feeders eating Nyger Thistle and the Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess blend which has the sunflower chips, peanuts, and millet without the hulls. Some customers enjoy them all through breeding season because they have the right habitat.

These small bright birds make their way to Michigan from Central America during the spring, and settle in woodland edges and farmlands to nest in the spring and summer. While in Michigan, the birds live a solitary life defending their territory and hunting alone or with a mate.
The female does most of the feeding and caring for the young, while the male defends the nest against intruders. Once the young have fledged the males will teach them to forage, while the female is busy building a new nest for the next brood. Together each pair usually raise one or two broods before they head down south again to winter in huge flocks that forage together in the day and roost together at night.

Indigos like a variety of food, including small seeds, nuts, berries, insects, mosquitoes, flies, aphids, small spiders, buds, goldenrod, thistle, grasses, and herbs. At your feeders you should spot them eating your Safflower and Nyger thistle. You can also feed them apple slices, suet, millet, peanuts, or berries.

Payne, Robert B. 2006. Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Tree Frog in Birdhouse

"I'm moving in. 'Nuff said."

Tree frogs are notorious for birdhouse squatting.

The first time I saw a frog in a birdhouse, that had been full of baby birds just a couple weeks before, it gave me quite a start.

How to Stop Your Hummingbird Feeder from Dripping.

I've got a silly question. How do I stop my hummingbird feeder from dripping. I didn't buy the feeder from you. It was a gift but it's just a sticky mess! I get more ants than hummingbirds. ~Frustrated in Charlotte, MI

Glass hummingbird feeders with stoppers are beautiful in the garden among the flowers. There are some tricks I can suggest, but because these feeders utilize a vessel filled with water resting on top of a small column of air, they may occasionally drip. Some recommendations to minimize dripping, so that you can truly enjoy your feeder are as follows:

1. Always fill the feeder completely full with cool nectar. Push the stopper in and invert quickly to avoid any air entering the feeder. Tube feeders operate on a vacuum principle. Only if the feeder is initially filled completely full will the vacuum form!

2. Only hang your feeder in the shade or partial shade. The cooler the feeder, the less likely it is to drip. If that isn't convenient Wild Birds Unlimited does have hummingbird shades.

3. Make sure to keep the feeder very clean by regularly cleaning the vessel with hot water and a bottle brush. Do not use soap as its residue may cause your feeder to drip. Try periodically using a vinegar rinse to thoroughly clean your feeder and then rinse well with hot water.

4. Last resort: place stopper assembly in very hot water to soften the tube. You can bend it slightly to increase the angle. This will stop dripping, but might make it more difficult for nectar to come down the tube.

5. If you've tried all these tips and it still drips try a different feeder like our best selling saucer feeders.

And if you have an ant problem we have an easy solution. There are ant moats you can add to any feeder. Simply fill the little container with water. Ants can't cross the water moat to reach your hummingbird feeders' nectar.

Good luck!

Greater Lansing Housing Coalition (GLHC): Garden Tours Galore 2010

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, the Greater Lansing Housing Coalition is hosting its annual garden tour June 26 and 27, 2010. This is where you can snoop in spectacular local residents' gardens to get lots of fun gardening ideas. There will also be "Experts" on hand and a fun mini plant sale.

This year the Tour will feature artists and their garden-centered artwork in the greater Lansing area. Advance information about the Gardens Galore Tour is available by calling (517) 372-5980, by email at, or online at

Tickets are available for $20 at Wild Birds Unlimited with cash or check. To purchase by credit card, please call GLHC office at (517) 372-5980. Tickets are good for both days and for repeat entrance at all of the gardens.

What is a Slug?

Most of our native Michigan slugs feed on fungi, lichen, carrion, and plant materials in wooded areas and are very important for nutrient cycling. The non-native invasive slugs, however, can be very destructive, feeding on flowering and leafy garden plants, as well as crops such as wheat and corn.

Slugs belong to the Phylum Mollusca (the mollusks, which also includes squid, octopi, snails, clams, and oysters). Slug parts up close are very interesting (see diagram). Their skin is sensitive to water loss so they prefer cool, dark, moist habitats. If you’re not into looking under rocks and leaves, the best time to hunt slugs is just after sunset and in the early morning hours before dawn.

Slugs produce two types of mucus: one which is thin and watery, and another which is thick and sticky. The thin mucus is spread out from the center of the foot to the edges to help prevent the slug from slipping down vertical surfaces. The "slime trail" that a slug leaves behind helps other slugs find mates. The thick mucus spreads out to coat the whole body and provides some protection against predators by making it hard to handle. There are many predators of slugs including birds, reptiles, amphibians and ground beetles.

The Gray Field Slug Deroceras reticulatum is not native to North America, but has been in Michigan as long as the earliest European settlers. Their skin color can vary greatly and they can grow to be 5cm. Take a peek under your hosta plant leaf tonight and get up close to a slug. Fascinating creatures!

Top 10 Frequently Asked Bird Questions

My neighbor told me not to feed in the summer. We just got back from Florida and won't be here in the winter. She also said birds won't use a swinging birdbath. Susie~ East Lansing

I hear this all the time. If you enjoy watching the birds up close go ahead and feed the birds while you are in Michigan. Typically, feeders serve as a supplemental source of food for birds in your yard. Bugs, fruit and nut bearing bushes and trees supply a natural food source as well as native flowers, such as coneflowers, black eyed Susan’s, and cosmos that are allowed to go to seed and stand through the winter. Don't worry that you can only feed part of the year. Birds are very savvy and always have several sources of food and are really fun to observe.

Now "birds don't use swinging baths" is a new one to me. Water will actually attract more species of birds than feeders and we sell lots of hanging birdbaths at Wild Birds Unlimited. Make sure the bath has a nice edge, is shallow and deepens gradually to no more than 3 inches in the middle. Place the bath in a safe location where predators can't sneek up on unsuspecting bathers. Birds are vulnerable when their feathers are wet and heavy, but a slightly swinging bath shouldn't concern the birds.

Now you've got me thinking about some of the other questions I often hear from customers at our stores:

1. Do I Add Red Dye to my Hummingbird Nectar?: You don't need to add red food coloring to hummingbird nectar! In fact Wild Birds Unlimited recommends a simple 4:1 water to white sugar recipe. Click here for a more detail instructions.

2. Do I Have to Clean my Feeder?: Please keep your feeders clean! Nectar feeders need to be cleaned at least once a week and seed feeders at least once a month. Click here to read more on cleaning feeders.

3. If I Touch a Baby Bird Will the Mother Abandon Him?: If you find a baby bird that is too young to fly, put it back in the nest. The mother will appreciate the help and not abandon the baby. If you're not sure if the baby is hurt call for help before you do anything. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click here.
4. Is it OK to Feed Suet in the Summer?: Commercially prepared suet cakes are safe for year round feeding. If it is hung out in the sun use a suet dough with a high melting point or a seed cake available at Wild Birds Unlimited. Besides the usual woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees, during the spring and summer you may even attract orioles, warblers and more with suet. And 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. Click here to read more on feeding suet in the summer.

5. Can Birds Choke on Peanut Butter?: There are no documented cases of birds choking on peanut butter. If you 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 and roll them in seed for bird treats. Click here for more fun ideas.

6. Do Birds Explode After they Eat Rice?: June brides don't worry about the birds eating wedding rice. There are no documented cases of birds suffering from eating rice probably because it’s a natural food grown all around the world. It's really no different than the birds eating any other grain like millet or wheat. Click here to read more on this wedding ritual.

7. Should I Stop Feeding the Birds to Encourage Them to Migrate?: In the fall there is an instinctual clock that tells certain birds when to head south. People still disagree over the precise mechanism within the bird that causes this. Most sources say that that food supply is not a factor and there is no reason to take down feeders to stimulate migration. Click here to read more on migration.
8. Do Any Birds Stay in Michigan During the Winter?: Not all birds migrate south. There are a lot of birds that that are permanent residents and some birds from Canada that think Michigan is the perfect wintering ground. Click here for a list of some common feeder birds you might see in the winter.

9. Do Birds Feet Freeze To Metal Perches?: Unlike humans, birds don’t have sweat glands in their skin to produce any moisture to freeze to metal in the winter. Heat and moisture are accumulated in sacs, transferred to the lungs and eliminated through the mouth. To read more click here.

10. Do Hummingbirds Migrate on the Backs of Geese?: I hear this question so often in the fall that it actually inspired me to start this blog. To read my very first blog about how hummingbirds make their journey down south all on their own click here.
Do you have a question about birds, bird feeding or about the store? If your question isn't answered on our web log, please e-mail us at

Mid June News

Tuesday 15 June & Friday 18 June

More young birds found their way into the nets this week. Approximately 75% of new birds banded were all hatch years.

We captured our first Baltimore Oriole for the year, an older (ASY or after second year) female. This bird showed more extensive black feathering in the throat than we usually see in a female and could have been mistaken for a SY male in the field, but she did have a brood patch and a short wing. We tend to band quite a few orioles in summer.

. While I haven’t found any long, pendulous nests of the oriole on the island I’m sure they are breeding there. I watched a male oriole chasing Blue Jays that were probably after young but couldn’t see the nest. During banding season I simply have no time to also look for nests.

Speaking of Blue Jays, we captured our first jay fledglings of the year. There were two caught together in a net and probably had fledged that morning as their feathers were growing in and one was still incapable of sustained flight. So cute!

We may not like the fact that Blue Jays will predate eggs and nestlings of other bird species, but they are ecologically important birds. In spring jays consume large quantities of hairy caterpillars not favored by many other birds. Their claim to fame in the fall is their ability to regenerate oak and beech forests by burying acorns and beechnuts in the ground.

I can’t believe we missed capturing any Downy Woodpeckers all spring but finally on Tuesday we recaptured this male originally banded as hatch-year in July of 2006. Woodpecker tails are very short and stiff which helps them maneuver on tree bark. Their zygodactylous feet (two toes in front and two toes in back) and short stubby legs also aid in climbing trees.

A sure sign this is a young Northern Cardinal (pictured below) is a brown bill. As summer moves into fall the bill gradually becomes orange and will be completely orange by winter or following spring. The red body feathers growing in indicate a male. Cardinals are notorious for hurting when they bite. Some net extractors will give the cardinal a stick to chomp down on while taking them out of the net. My husband Bill claims he can tell a young bird from an adult because the young will hold on to the stick and the adult knows the difference between wood and a finger and isn’t fooled by that trick for too long!

On Friday we captured a juvenile Tufted Titmouse. Both males and females look alike.The ring around the eye is lime-green colored (top photo) and gradually changes to gray as the bird ages. (SY in spring -bottom photo).

Another new species for the year was an Ovenbird we captured on Friday. This bird was a male in full breeding condition but most likely was not breeding on Wing Island. This species prefer large contiguous forests of at least 50 acres for breeding. We’ve captured many Ovenbirds in the past at our breeding birds banding site in the Punkhorn, an 869-acre parcel of town owned land in Brewster, but Wing is just too small in area to support breeding populations.
Both sexes sport an orange crown with black side stripes on the head. Ovenbirds have a loud, accentuated song which sounds like, “teacher, teacher, teacher!!!” They are secretive birds, however, so are not often seen in woodlands. Their large eyes are perfect for spotting insects typically found in leaf litter. The name comes from the shape of their nest said to resemble a Dutch oven. It is built on the ground in a shallow depression and is made from leaves, grasses, and other plants with a side opening.

We  captured two more hummingbirds this week, both adult females, along with chickadees, Carolina Wrens, Common Yellowthroats,  Gray Catbirds, and goldfinches not mentioned this week.

Thanks to Jennifer Dooley who helped out both days. The following birds were seen, heard, or captured from 15-18 June. Numbers reflect captured birds only:

Total birds: 41                            Total species: 40

Total banded species: 13            Birds/100 net-hours: 25



Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Mourning Dove

Ruby-throated Hummingbird- 2

Downy Woodpecker-1

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Eastern Phoebe

Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow

Blue Jay- 2

American Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 7

Tufted Titmouse- 1

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren-2

Eastern Bluebird

American Robin

Gray Catbird- 7

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Yellow Warbler

Pine Warbler

Prairie Warbler

Ovenbird- 1

Common Yellowthroat-6

Northern Cardinal- 2

Eastern Towhee

Chipping Sparrow

Saltmarsh Sparrow

Song Sparrow- 6

Red-winged Blackbird

Common Grackle

Baltimore Oriole- 1

House Finch

American Goldfinch- 3

House Sparrow

Why Do Ostriches Bury Their Heads in Sand?

The expression "burying your head in the sand" usually refers to someone trying to ignore a problem. As in “BP is burying its head in the sand and refusing to give details about the magnitude of the oil flow in the Gulf of Mexico."

However, contrary to popular belief, ostriches don’t bury their heads in sand when they are frightened. They are not timid birds.

The main defense of an ostrich is to outrun or kick predators. If that isn’t possible, like when sitting on a nest, the ostrich may hunker down and pretend to be a bush and hope her sandy colored head blends in with the ground. So it may just look like the ostrich has buried its head in the sand, because only the body is visible.

Another possibility of why this myth continues is because ostriches eat mostly roots, leaves, and seeds, as well as insects and small animals on the ground. To help grind up food in the gizzard, these big birds also swallow sand, pebbles, and small stones. People may have noticed them picking up pebbles in their mouths or foraging for a meal and believed that the ostriches were burying their heads instead.

So the story is based on the supposed stupidity of ostriches or of birds in general, but in reality reveals man’s lack of knowledge.

Thank you Genny that was a very interesting question!

Father Birds Role in Raising Young

This month, your yard will become home to a new generation of birds. But as you're watching fledglings chase their parents, beg for food and learn the necessary skills to survive their new world, look for the presence, or absence, of father birds.

Adult male birds' roles in raising their young differ greatly from one species to another. For example, male hummingbirds do nothing to help raise the young; their only contribution is to mate with the female and guard his territory. While the chickadee and nuthatch males feed their mates when they are incubating and brooding, and both adults feed the young.

But the Bird Father of the Year goes to the Downy Woodpeckers which have only one brood in the north. Downys nest in tree cavities that the male excavates. Then after 3 to 6 eggs are laid, both male and female share daytime nest duties. The males also incubate and brood at night and roost in the nest until their offspring fledge after two weeks. Once fledged, Downy males will also help feed the young and assist in leading them to food sources such as backyard bird feeders for the first few weeks.

Downy Woodpeckers are fascinating to watch as they propel themselves up the side of a tree, using their tail as a spring, hopping along, stopping from time to time to investigate a nook or cranny that may hide a juicy insect. Their bill is less chisel-shaped than that of other woodpeckers, and they use it like a pick for dissecting insect tunnels just under the bark. The bill is also used like a pair of tweezers to pick tiny insect eggs from the surface of leaves and bark.

To attract downys to your feeder, you can offer sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, seed cylinders or mealworms. These energy-packed foods will entice your birds and their young to your yard for an up close view.

Cleaning & Placement of Wren Bird Houses

I left my birdhouse up with the old nest from last year. I will be upset if I don't get a wren this year. Do they not use old nests? What should I do?
Thanks. ~ Ellen

Actually, the presence of an old House Wren nest may encourage the wrens to re-nest in the same spot. A male House Wren may lay claim to a nesting cavity by filling it with more than 400 small twigs. If the female likes what she sees, she will then take over, adding the nest cup and lining it with grass, inner bark, hair, and feathers. Wrens will usually lay 2 broods in the nesting season from May to July.

The male House Wren builds several starter nests and the female is the one that chooses which she prefers. The other nests may be used by the male to raise a second brood with another female or remain in place to discourage other male wrens from nesting in the same territory.

So what should you do? If you don’t see any wren activity, I would clean out the nest but leave a few starter twigs. Hopefully this will encourage a bright young male to start building.

Thanks for your reply. It was the middle of June last year when the Wrens came. I decided to clean out the nest as I have not seen any activity. I leave the birdhouse up all year round; it's hanging under my front porch. I still have the old nest twigs, so I'll put a few inside of it. Should I push the twigs inside or leave them sticking out? Here is a photo of last year's bird.

I got a few inexpensive bird houses at a crafts store; one is in the shape of a bird with a larger opening, about 1 3/4 inches wide. Is there any special place to hang them?

When you clean the house leave a couple sticks poking out the door. House wrens prefer their houses hanging from a small tree in the middle of a yard, or along the border of an open yard. They often choose houses closer to ground (5-10 feet) in open woodland close to twiggy bushes to give them cover and nesting material.

Birdhouses can be stationary or left swinging. The entrance hole should be 1 ¼ inch in diameter to keep out House Sparrows. If you purchased a house with a larger hole or it has been expanded by squirrels or other birds, we have metal portal protectors. Wild Birds Unlimited’s round 1-1/8" and 1-1/4" metal portals are suitable for the chickadee and wren houses and prevent sparrows from entering the house. Also avoid perches because wrens don't use them and they could be used to help predators gain access to the nest.

Thanks for the photo. I hope you have success.

Christopher Robin's Bob-bob-bobbin' Along!

For those of you worried about Deb's baby robin, she sent us an update. Or click HERE for the original story.
Raising a baby bird is no small feat ... It's time-consuming, messy and nerve-wracking. I don't know how birds can have so many babies in a season and still manage to find time to preen their feathers!
This past week, while tending to Christopher Robin, the laundry has gone undone, we've become sleep-deprived, and often find ourselves hurrying home from running errands just so we could be back in time to "feed the baby".
Pippin Starling, Kiwi Senegal and our two (until now) spoiled pooches have become more than a little jealous, and my husband gets less to eat than Robin (unless he wants to make it himself). My most comfortable white shorts and favorite T-shirt are now permanently stained with blueberry-colored poop and there are countless cups sitting on the kitchen counter with various blends of "baby food" in them.
Today, for the first time, Robin ate TWO WHOLE (albeit small) earthworms for breakfast! That's definitely a step in the right direction ... OUT THE DOOR. I made sure he/she got a good, long look at them before swallowing. I intend to take him/her on my next earthworm excavating excursion. Maybe instinct just kicks in when they get out on their own, but a little instruction couldn't hurt.

Attract Birds- Not Mosquitos!: New Solar Water Wiggler

The Water Wiggler’s unique agitator action creates continuous ripples in the bath water, preventing mosquitoes from laying eggs. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, and the larvae hatch in 2 to 3 days. The Water Wiggler™ effectively creates surface water movement so mosquitoes can’t lay their eggs, braking the breeding cycle.

Moving water also attracts more birds because the rippling motion catches their eye and they can hear the tiny splashes.

It operates silently on two D-cell batteries for up to two months of continual use. Just place in bird bath and go; no wiring and no plumbing.

You can use it with our heated bird bath in winter, too. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing sells the Aurora Water Wiggler.™ which will light up at dusk and slowly shift through the color spectrum. A sensor on the underside turns the unit on at dusk. The lights will shut off after three hours and come back on the following evening.

And now there is a NEW Solar Water Wiggler.™ If you place your bath in full sun, the wiggler can store enough energy in a rechargeable battery to run the motor during the nighttime hours.

It's also available at both our Wild Birds Unlimited stores and would make a great Father's Day gift. Or click HERE for more gift ideas.

Green Day: Plant a Tree Program

Odwalla is a juice company that is planting trees in state parks, and will plant one for you too! All you have to do is click on the link below and choose Michigan.

The plant a tree program is going on through December 31, 2010. When you choose a participating park system Odwalla will donate $1.00 towards the purchase of a tree to the state parks in that state on your behalf. Click on the link below and then pass this information to a friend. Go to: No purchase necessary, just a click.

The Value of Trees
Trees are the longest living organisms on the planet and one of the earth’s greatest natural resources. They keep our air supply clean, reduce noise pollution, improve water quality, help prevent erosion, provide food and building materials, create shade, and help make our landscapes look beautiful.

Studies prove that trees have a positive effect on many aspects of people’s lives, including their health, homes, businesses, communities, drinking water, and air quality.

An average American uses about 750 pounds of paper every year, and 95% of homes are built using wood. That means each person uses the equivalent of one 100 foot tall, 16 inch diameter, tree every year for their paper and wood product needs.

The amount of oxygen produced by an acre of trees per year equals the amount consumed by 18 people annually. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.

When am I supposed to clean out a birdhouse?

If the birds have been successful in raising their young in a nest box, the babies will fledge and then there is at least a two week break before they might begin to raise another brood. I always call it their family vacation time. You can clean the nest box at this time while the baby birds are shown the territory and taught how to forage on their own.

If something happens to disrupt the success of the first batch, the birds might begin a new nest within a week. You don’t have to remove the nest in this case but broken eggs or dead nestlings should be removed immediately. If they want to try again in that box, it will give them a head start to have an existing nest. Also try to determine why there was a failure and how to prevent further tragedy.

By cleaning out a nest box you help deter parasite infestation and a predator’s ability disturb a nest that is built on top of old nests making it closer to the entrance hole.

To clean the nest box I usually place a plastic bag over the nest and just sweep it all in and twist the bag shut. You can rinse out the house with a water hose or diluted bleach spray. Make sure the drainage holes are unplugged and leave the house open to dry for a couple days. Finally dispose of the old nest in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.

Taking care to clean your feeders and nest boxes makes you a responsible steward of nature. Thanks to Barbara S. for a very good question.

How to Care for a Baby Robin

Sarah ~ an owl killed  this baby's siblings and mother. My owls do this regularly, so I don't understand why robins continue to build nests in the neighborhood! Anyway, this baby was lying in the road (maybe the owl dropped it). He/she is growing amazingly quickly, as baby birds will. ~ Deb

Records show that only 25% of young Robins survive their first year.
To protect its young, adult robins give alarm calls and dive-bomb predators that come near the young birds. And fledglings are able to fly short distances after leaving the nest and hide in bushes for protection.

Another thing, judging by the number of calls we receive each spring, unofficially some robins use humans as a form of protection. They like to nest in inappropriate places close to people in hopes that we'll scare away potential predators. And in this case one lucky, little guy found its way into your caring hands.

If you find a baby bird and don’t know what do, CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference. The following is a small list of the local rehabilitators:
  • East Lansing, MI ♦ 517.351.7304 ♦ Cheryl Connell-Marsh ♦ birds and small animals
  • Lansing, MI ♦ 517-646-9374 ♦ Tiffany Rich ♦ white tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons; Vet. Tech. on center.
  • DeWitt, MI ♦ 517.930-0087 ♦ Wildside Rehab & Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Eaton Rapids, MI ♦ 517-663-6153 ♦ Wildside Rehab & Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Holt, MI ♦ 517-694-9618 ♦ Carolyn Tropp ♦ Waterfowl, small birds and mammals
  • Howell, MI ♦ 517-548-5530 ♦ Howell Conference and Nature Center ♦ All wild animals except bats, skunks, starlings, raccoons, pigeons, or house sparrows.
  • Bath, MI ♦ 517-819-0170 (day) 517-641-6314 (evening) ♦ Denise Slocum ♦ Small mammals

    For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at:
Or to search for a local wildlife rehabilitation group:

We Have Babies!

Wednesday, 2 June - Saturday 12 June

The nets took forever to open on Wednesday morning and since I was alone this day I only opened a portion of them. Rain the night before made everything a soppy mess, nets and vegetation included. It was a quiet day with only 10 birds captured. With not much activity I closed early to weedwack net lanes. I did manage to capture a beautiful Cedar Waxwing, adult male, whose feathering never fails to impress me with its velvet-like quality.

Male waxwings have extensive black feathering under the chin shown somewhat in the following picture(below top) compared with females (below bottom).

The red, waxy-tipped extensions to the secondary flight feathers of the male banded on Wednesday pointed towards an older adult which we would term ASY or after second year. A yellow band is apparent on the tips of the tail feathers with width being an indicator of age. The tips can occasionally present with an orange color depending on types of berries the birds consume.

The red appendages are actually a pigmented  extension of the feather shafts.

I captured four more Tree Swallows, one on Wednesday and three on Saturday. These birds spend most of their time in flight and their long wings are perfectly adapted for amazing acrobatics.They circle and glide grabbing insects while flying.

Tree Swallows don't spend much time on the ground perching instead on wires, bare branches, nest boxes, and one male likes to perch on top of one of the net poles! Because of this they have evolved with short, little legs.

The first weekend in June was windy and wet so I didn't band again until  Monday the 7th. The best bird of the day was probably another Traill's Flycatcher.

There are times when we come upon a net and encounter something other than a bird. We've had clam shells, frogs, June bugs, bumblebees, and sometimes mammals to name a few. How would a clam shell get into a net you may ask yourself? It can only be from a gull dropping it overhead I would imagine. So as I'm closing on Tuesday I saw something jumping around in the net on the bottom tier. Not a bird I told myself. When I got up to it I saw it was a squirrel. Good thing Gretchen isn't here I thought. Gretchen's been banding with me for the past eight years and she doesn't have a fondness for rodents. But I have to say she's been a brave trooper taking out meadow voles and chipmunks occasionally but they still give her the creeps. I don't have that aversion to them. Anyway when Gracie got near the squirrel it began shrieking so she immediately backed off. It wasn't really tangled and I merely had to pick up the netting and empty it out. Well much to my dismay instead of running away it crawled up my leg and onto my back til I let out a few shrieks myself and thankfully it jumped off onto a tree. I had a good chuckle thinking of what the scenerio would have been had Gretchen been there instead of me. It probably would have gone something like this, "OK Sue, I've had enough, I've weathered tick bites, mosquito bites, heat, cold, brambles, poison ivy, falling in canals, pouring rain, getting my boots stuck in mud so I can't move but I have to pull the plug when it comes to rodents!!"

I digress, onto birds.

Wednesday was fairly slow too but did encounter another female hummingbird, always a treat

and Song Sparrows, robins, chickadees, Redwing Blackbirds, and a Carolina Wren. They are the squirmiest birds in the hand. I was lucky to get this picture.

For many years I've pulled ticks off birds for a study of birds that act as hosts for pathogens causing human disease. I did this in cooperation with entomologist Dave Simser, the Barnstable County Extension tick man. The tick program lost its funding so for the past and current season ticks are removed from birds for Yale University. They are looking for different strains of Borrelia, the spirochete that causes Lyme disease, because it is their belief that different strains are more virulent causing people to become sicker. I've been finding quite a few ticks this past week. Here is a robin with a tick in front of its eye. If you look closely to the right of the eye and below the white clump of feathers you might be able to see a small gray lump. That is a nymphal tick. They favor moist areas such as the gape (side of the mouth) or the eyes.
Birds that spend the majority of their time on the ground such as robins, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Towhees, Song Sparrows, catbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Hermit Thrushes are more susceptible to these parasites.

Bird numbers picked up on Saturday with 50 birds. That is the highest number of birds we've ever captured in one day in June. And we had our first babies! This is also the earliest we've had hatching years (juvenile birds) in the nets since I started banding on the island. I think it was because of the beautiful warm spring we had and not many broods were lost to cold and rain. Here is a picture of a mother chickadee and her baby:

The yellow gape is still visible on the chickadee baby.

We also had a baby cardinal, which I neglected to get a picture of, a House Finch (pictured below) of unknown sex as males won't start to attain red plumage until their first prebasic molt,
and numerous Song Sparrows. Song Sparrows have relatively long tails and this newly fledged youngster's tail was still growing in

The babies and moms are banded and measured as quickly as possible. We bring young birds back to the same net where they were caught in case they are still dependent on an adult. If a parent is caught with them we release them all together.

Thanks to Gretchen for helping with banding on Saturday. The following birds were seen, heard, or captured from 2-12 June. Numbers reflect captured birds only:

Total birds:  93                            Total species:  46      

Total banded species: 17              Birds/100 net-hrs: 22

Great Blue Heron
Canada Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-winged Blackbird
Black-bellied Plover
Piping Plover
Laughing Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Mourning Dove
Ruby-throated Hummingbird- 2
Yellow-shafted Flicker
Traill's Flycatcher- 1
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Kingbird
Tree Swallow- 4
Barn Swallow
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee- 16
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren- 1
American Robin- 3
Gray Catbird- 21
Cedar Waxwing- 3
European Starling
Yellow Warbler
Pine Warbler
Prairie Warbler-1
Common Yellowthroat- 18
Northern Cardinal- 2
Eastern Towhee- 1
Chipping Sparrow
Saltmarsh Sparrow
Song Sparrow- 14
Red-winged Blackbird- 1
Common Grackle- 1
Brown-headed Cowbird
Baltimore Oriole
House Finch- 2
American Goldfinch- 3
House Sparrow