Michigan Lily

DSC_7921aImage by jerryoldenettel via Flickr When I saw this flower on the side of the road I thought it had escaped from a garden. These orange lilies, with their polka dot petals pulled up and long stamens dangling look very exotic. After I did a little research, I was surprised to find out that the Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) is a native wild flower.

If you see this lily don't pick it. Populations of Michigan lilies should be protected if possible. They reproduce very slowly from seed, taking several years to bloom. The plants have a small scaled bulb and they also produce rhizomes underground that eventually produce new bulblets and then new plants.
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What is the Best Squirrel Proof Feeder?

I like the Brome Squirrel Buster Plus and so do our customers. It is our number one selling feeder at the Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing store. I’ve had mine for over four years now and I’ve never had a problem.

Squirrels can’t figure out how to open the feeder. It has a lock top you push down and turn to fill. The tube will hold a lot of seed and is long enough so that squirrels can’t hang upside down to reach the feeding ports. The Squirrel Buster also has a cardinal ring so cardinals can sit and eat comfortably or if you just want smaller birds, the ring can be removed.

When a squirrel tries to eat from the feeder his weight closes off the feeding ports to deny him access to the food. You can also adjust the tension to make it sensitive enough to shut down on the large starlings or blackbirds. Backyard birds average 0.3 – 2.0 ounces while blackbirds are about 4 ounces and squirrels are about a pound.

The best thing about the feeder is that it is easy to disassemble for cleaning because there are no tools required and this beautiful feeder comes with a Lifetime Factory Warranty.

You can fill the Squirrel Buster Plus with any quality seed and hang it from a pole or tree. I like to use the Wild Birds Unlimited No-Mess seed blend and I have mine hanging on a tree hook. The feeder attracts a variety of pretty birds that I can watch when I come home from work and no squirrels. The poor squirrels don’t understand that the seed you put out isn’t for them.

You’ve probably noticed the squirrels have been acting more squirrely than usual as fall approaches. They are darting out in front of cars, destroying feeders, stockpiling nuts in secret hideaways and being all around crazy! Squirrel proof feeders are the easiest way to keep them out of your “bird” seed and the Squirrel Buster Plus is one of the best feeders guaranteed!

More Fall Migrants and An Interesting Goldfinch

21-28 August

I banded five days this past week. Migrants have increased a bit from the previous week and I'm hoping the following week will be even better. On Saturday the 21st we captured two more American Redstarts, this time both hatch year males.

At this time of year, hatch year male restarts can look very much like adult females. We sex them by the contrast of darker breast coloration compared to a more lemon yellow color under their wings and by the dark gray rump feathers contrasting with paler gray back.

A very exciting capture for us was a Least Flycatcher, a first for the station!

The plumage is grayer than in the other flycatchers I tend to capture. They may also have a slightly paler edge to the outer webbing of the outer tail feather as shown below:
All the measurements fit the bill for Least Flycatcher too.

We captured a young molting Northern Cardinal who displayed a varied color scheme to his feathers.

The very brown feathers are retained juvenal feathers that he will probably molt this year, as he was in the middle of his first prebasic molt, although sometimes they will retain some juvenal seconday feathers, the longer feathers closer to the body.
We were happy to have more Northern Mockingbirds this week. This one still had some retained spotted juvenal feathers on the breast.

For some reason this bird also retained it's median coverts (the more worn and brown small feathers near the top of the wing) and replaced it's greater coverts (those fresher, blacker feathers directly below the med covs) but may finish molting on the wintering grounds.
The underparts of hatch year Great Crested Flycatchers are developing more yellow as they molt. Some were just starting to in my last post.

As hatch year birds molt into their adult plumage, banders have to find other ways to age birds. One way is to check for a molt limit in their wing. Adult birds will go through a complete molt, but the young of many species molt only some of their feathers. This Great Crested has a molt limit in the greater coverts. You can see the replaced inner six blackish coverts with light edging compared to the retained four juvenal browner and buff edging of the remaining outer coverts.

Below a young female towhee is developing her adult body plumage,

and here is her hatch year male counterpart.

 Although not a migrant, I had an interesting recapture of a male American Goldfinch on Saturday the 21st. This bird was first banded as a second year male (born in 2005) in April, 2006. Three years later I recaptured him on August 25, 2009. Goldfinches are one of our latest breeders and I expected to find him in breeding condition with an enlarged cloacal protuberance. But I was extremely surprised to find he had a full brood patch too! As I explained in a previous post, females develop vascularized bare bellies with fluid to incubate eggs. In some species males will develop partial brood patches if they help incubate eggs, but male goldfinches don't take part in this behavior. Below is a picture from 2009. It is not just the case of a female that has male-like plumage as an enlarged cloacal protuberance is visible below the belly.
Also the plumage was clearly an older adult male.

I captured this same bird  last weekend on the 22nd. He displayed the same phenomenon.

On the side view you can see the enlarged cloacal protuberance (we call it a CP).

This is probably the case of some kind of hormonal imbalance specific to this bird and not an endocrine disrupting environmental toxin or we would probably find it in other male goldfinches in the area, which I haven't .

Rainy days prevailed Monday - Wednesday so didn't get out to the nets again until Thursday the 26th. It was nice to pick up another Blue-winged Warbler, this time a hatch year male.

Hatch year Prairie Warblers were captured most days including this female Prairie. She had no chestnut feathers on her back and had less distinctive black streaking to her sides.

This poor adult Song Sparrow of unknown sex really needed to get going on replacing it's feathers! The feathers were in such poor condition all that was left of the middle tail feathers were the shafts.

The wing feathers were poor too.

Our first Yellow-bellied Flycatcher showed up on Thursday,
and we banded three Traill's Flycatchers this week.

On Friday I captured our first hatch year goldfinches.
Gretchen and I had 19 species of birds banded on Saturday including this gorgeous hatch year male Yellow-breasted Chat.

First year chats go through an incomplete molt which banders refer to as an eccentric sequence, meaning they start their flight feather molt in an atypical pattern molting outer primaries and inner secondaries. This bird however molted its outer 6 primaries (p4-p9), primaries 1-3 are retained, molted his first secondary feather and secondaries 2-6 are retained. The molted feathers are darker in color with dark brown shafts as opposed to the lighter brown juvenal feathers and chocolate colored shafts.  
It's not often we capture Scarlet Tanagers, so we were happy to capture this first year male. Young males look similar to adult females with their lime green body plumage, except that as they molt their wing coverts come in black and contrast dramatically with the retained juvenal feathers. You can see this bird has started
molting his lesser coverts, those black feathers at the top of his wing.
Scarlet Tanagers have a "tooth" visible on the edge of the upper mandible (bill).

Thanks to those who helped this week- Gretchen Putonen, Carolyn Kenndy, and Judy Keller.The following birds were seen, heard, or captured during 21 – 28 August. Numbers reflect captured birds only.
Total Birds: 322                                       Total Species: 53
Total Banded Species: 26                         Birds/100 net-hours: 60

Great Blue Heron
Mute Swan


Black-bellied Plover

Greater Yellowlegs

Least Sandpiper

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Common Tern

Mourning Dove

Ruby-throated Hummingbird- 11

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker- 4

Hairy Woodpecker

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- 1

Least Flycatcher- 3 (same bird captured 3 of the days)

Traill's Flycatcher- 3

Eastern Phoebe- 7

Great Crested Flycatcher- 4

Eastern Kingbird

Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow

Blue Jay- 1

American Crow

Fish Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 39

Tufted Titmouse- 6

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren- 3

House Wren- 3

American Robin

Gray Catbird- 162

Northern Mockingbird- 3

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Red-eyed Vireo- 3

Blue-winged Warbler- 1

Prairie Warbler- 4

American Redstart- 3

Common Yellowthroat- 19

Yellow-breasted Chat- 1

Scarlet Tanager- 1

Northern Cardinal- 2


Eastern Towhee- 3

Song Sparrow-16

Baltimore Oriole- 4

American Goldfinch- 5

House Sparrow


Do Hummingbirds Sing?

Anna's HummingbirdImage by chuqui via FlickrSome hummingbirds sing, but most like Michigan’s Ruby-throated Hummingbird just chip and hum.

North America's only singing hummingbird is the Anna's Hummingbird, a medium-sized hummingbird that is common in the far western U.S. Their song during breeding season is a series of buzzy, scratchy, squeaking phrases along with some chip notes.

And if that isn't impressive enough they also fly 30 meters up in the air to complete a dive in front of females. The dive is so fast that it ends with an explosive chirp made by their tail feathers.
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How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching

I hope everyone enjoys this upcoming Labor Day Weekend. I usually take advantage of the extra day to do some fall cleaning in the yard. I want the birds that winter in Michigan to find a refuge in my backyard during the harsh winter months. I prepared a checklist to help you make sure your yard is ready too.

Preparing Your Yard for the Fall and Winter Checklist:
Provide Roosting Spots - Nest boxes turn into roosting boxes in the winter for bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and other birds that might stay all winter in mid-Michigan. Clean out old nests from houses to allow birds the opportunity to roost in a warm, clean house when winter winds blow. You can also plant natural shelters like bushes or buy roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses available at Wild Birds Unlimited to offer essential protection in the winter.

Prepare Bird Baths - Birds also need a source for water in the winter. In our area, weather can turn cold fast and freeze the water in bird baths. It is always good to cover ceramic bird baths or bring them in for the winter. It’s best to place a plastic or metal bath out with an added heater or a buy a heated birdbath. If you’re not sure what you need, Wild Birds Unlimited will give you accurate information on how to support our local birds.
Clean Feeders - Feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for three minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry. Also clean the area around the feeders to help eliminate the build up around the feeder.
Feeder/Hardware Maintenance - Check you feeders to see if there are any repairs that need to be done. Make sure feeders are hung so they are easy to reach and fill. If you are going to need a new Advanced Pole System to hang your feeders this winter now is a good time to get in the ground before it freezes.
Fill Feeders - Wild birds are already making decisions about which back yards they will visit this winter. Even though natural food sources are plentiful right now, birds are definitely taking note of which yards have food available. What you do as the days grow shorter lets the birds know where to go when that first storm hits. And beautiful, hungry, thankful birds can brighten any dreary winter day.
Leave Gardens Standing - Don't cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, Coneflowers... Goldfinches and other birds love them. The birds make the flowers dance as they flit from flower to flower looking for seed heads.

Make Sure You Stop and Enjoy the Day.

Squirrel resting on power line that crosses the backyard.
Time is Flying!

Fall is just around the corner.
Make sure you take a moment from your busy schedule to enjoy the end of August.

Do You Take Your Cats Home at Night?

Everybody is always so worried about my babies at the East Lansing, MI Wild Birds Unlimited store. The cats don't go home with me at night because the store is their home. I'm with them about 10 hours a day every day and they are so exhausted by closing time that they are glad to have the lights out and get some much needed rest.

Do they catch mice in the store?We've never had mice in the store. My boys (J.B. and Eli) wouldn't know what to do if they saw a mouse. Dolly on the other hand, came into the store with fierce hunting skills that have disappeared gradually. Now that she has relaxed and knows a bowl of food and water will always be available she hardly even plays with her pet rock anymore.
Do they do a lot of damage in the store?
I'm afraid I do more damage than the cats. Dolly likes to pick up the occasional price sticker on her tail and J.B. likes to push the "no tax" button on the cash register but that's about it. Now that Dolly is with us, Eli has pretty much given her the "Greeter Duty" and likes to flake out in the back office more and more.

I want to thank everyone for their concern and also for the occasional cat gifts. My babies are only a little spoiled and much loved.

Read more about them: Store Cats

What Weighs More, Bird's Feathers or Bird's Bones?

ChickadeeImage by Carly & Art via FlickrBirds have evolved many unique adaptations to survive, including pneumatic or hollow bones. In fact the skeleton of most backyard birds only comprises about 5% of its total body weight. That means that in some species of birds, their bones are so lightweight that the bird's feathers weigh more than their entire skeleton.

The bones also contain hollow chambers, or air sacs, that act as a kind of secondary lung system. The air sacs move air through the almost completely rigid lungs in a unidirectional flow instead of the in and out breathing of mammals that mixes old and new air. That means the birds have more oxygen available to them to enhance their efficiency and maintain their normal body temperature.

More information:
1. Bird Anatomy:
2. Avian Respiration: http://people.eku.edu/ritchisong/birdrespiration.html
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Hummingbird Nests

Do hummers reuse nests? I know where an old nest is and I'd like to keep it if they're done using it. Todd in Owosso, MI

Attleson Farm: Hummingbird NestImage by elisfanclub via FlickrHummingbird nests are fascinating. Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds alone construct cup shaped nests with a diameter about the same size as a quarter. They start to build with bud scales and spiderwebs and then camouflage the outside with lichen. To cushion the inside of the nest they use cotton or some other plant fluff like dandelions.

Some hummingbirds do fix up their old nest and reuse it. So I would just leave the nest you found alone but check it next spring to see if you are lucky enough to have the hummer return.

Also many people do not know that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act does make it illegal to collect nests of any native bird without a permit.

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Old vs.Young: Do American Goldfinches Migrate?

I am watching the American Goldfinches tonight along with the hummingbirds feasting on the feeders outside the dining room window. The hummers are bopping all the birds that they think are looking at them funny and the goldfinches are doing something I've never seen before.

The baby goldfinches that have graduated to feeding themselves are on one finch feeder and the the adults are feeding on the second finch feeder hanging right next to it. Even though the one feeder is packed with adult birds, none want to move over to the less busy children's table.

You can tell the babies by their sleek, sharp new feathers and dark bill. The parents look ragged as they molt from their bright summer feathers to their drab winter wear. The babies are going to be here all winter, so if they find your feeder now you get to enjoy these sunny sounding birds during the bleak winter months.

I did know that in October the Goldfinches separate into two groups based on age. Studies show that the birds hatched this year will stay in Michigan for the winter but their parents will go further south to winter. One thought is that the first year finches didn’t have to go through a molt and have more energy to survive a winter. But I didn't know they were feeding at separate feeders.

Have you noticed the same or are my birds just doing something special tonight?

The Hummingbirds Are Very Hungry!: When to Take Down Your Hummingbird Feeders

If you’ve never fed Ruby-throated Hummingbirds before, you must, must, must get a feeder out there today! We still have a wide selection to choose from at our Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing, MI store.

Right now the birds are hungry! It’s fascinating to watch hummingbirds bulk up for the journey south. They are feasting on aphids, spiders and nectar especially. They need to increase their weight to about 2 pennies or about 1/5 of an ounce to survive the long flight.

I am watching my slim little birds turn roly poly right before my eyes! You can notice the extra fat along the back, belly, and throat. A hummingbird gains 25 – 40% extra body-weight to have enough fuel to travel 1,400 miles – with no wind of any kind. A headwind of only 10 miles per hour will cut that distance down to 600 miles and more than 20 mph will push them backward. However the ruby-throated hummingbird does take advantage of tail winds constantly.

Southbound ruby-throats rebuild their reserves in the early morning, travel about 23 miles during the day and forage again in the late afternoon to keep up their body weight.
The first to go south are the older males, then the females and finally the first year hummingbirds. Newly hatched hummers have no memory of migration, just an urge to eat and move south. This urge is inborn so there is no reason to take your feeders down to force birds to migrate. That just forces them to look for food in another area until they feel fat enough and may not bother to return to your yard next year.

Feeders can have a real positive impact on the number of birds that survive so please keep them clean and fresh. I recommend you continue to maintain feeders until you haven’t seen a hummingbird for two weeks; depending on where you live in Michigan that can be anywhere from the end of September to mid-October.

For much more information on hummingbirds visit: http://www.hummingbirds.net/

Fun Facts on Owls

From their wings to their eyes, owls have adapted to be some of nature's best hunters.
Great Horned Owl FamilyImage by Beth Sargent via Flickr• The adaptive Great Horned Owl can be found virtually anywhere in North America. Its habitat includes forest, field, tundra and desert and highly-developed suburban areas.
• Owls' feathers are especially soft and muffle wind noise. Many owls also have special comb-like fringes on the leading edge of their wings to help channel air, thereby reducing noise. These adaptations allow owls to make a soundless approach towards their prey.
• An old southern legend states that if you hear a Great Horned Owl’s call coming from your left side it is forecasting bad luck for you.
• Many owls can turn their head around about 270 degrees, allowing them to look directly behind themselves. This adaptation has developed to compensate for the fact that their eyes are fixed into a boney socket in the skull and are virtually unable to move.
• Owls' eyes are unique among birds as they are located on the front of the head, instead of on the side. This not only gives them a very human appearance but also enables them to match our level of depth perception that is created by the overlapping vision from each eye.
• Owls can fly and hunt during the daytime as well as at night. However most of them are best adapted for nocturnal hunting.
• Owls' ears are located asymmetrically on their head, with the right ear being higher than the left ear. Each ear hears the same sound with a slight difference, creating a form of audible “depth perception” which can be used to track the location and movements of their prey.
• When fully spread out, the talon of a Great Horned Owl can span up to eight inches wide.
• After digesting their most recent meal, owls will form a pellet of the undigested remains of their prey and regurgitate it. Made up primarily of fur, feathers and bones, it is egested approximately 13-16 hours after eating.
• The Great Horned Owl nests earlier than any other bird of prey in North America.
• When listening to the calls of Great Horned Owls you can distinguish the male from the female by his lower pitch and slightly slower call.
• The Great Horned Owl is probably the longest-lived owl in North America. Banding records confirm numerous owls living into their twenties, with the record lifespan being more than 27 years.
For more information about owls, visit http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/search - our online bird guide.
Source: BOTM WBU.com
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