Happy October: Nesting Season is Ending for the Goldfinches

I still hear a few baby goldfinches at the tops of trees. Nesting season for the goldfinches is near the end. Most of the goldfinches have put on their brown winter coats to prepare for winter.

But don't stop feeding them! They stay year round in Michigan and sing and flutter fly. They are one of my favorite birds to watch in the winter.

They like the Nyjer Thistle feeders but goldfinches eat a variety of seeds. Sunflower and Nyjer thistle are two of their favorites, but it has to be fresh.

The photo on the right shows my favorite mesh finch feeder with nyjer and the video below shows them on the Squirrel Buster Plus chowing down on No-Mess, a Wild Birds Unlimited blend with lots of sunflower hearts.

How do the small birds stay warm in the winter?

In the winter birds fluff up to trap air between their feathers and bodies to create a natural layer of insulation, and sleep with their bills under their wing feathers to breathe in warmer air. They also can grow twice as many feathers but they still have to shiver almost constantly to increase their body temperature in cold weather. This shivering process is called thermogenosis. The constant shivering produces heat five times that of their normal rate, helping them to maintain an amazingly high body temperature.

It also burns a lot of calories. Birds store the needed calories as fat, but they can only store enough for 16 to 24 hours. This is why you’ll see birds in a panic at your feeders right before it gets dark and at first light.
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Scientists have found that some birds like chickadees go one step further to survive the cold winters. The birds go into a nocturnal torpor to conserve energy. Torpor is a kind of deep sleep accompanied by drastically lowered body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The result is a controlled hypothermia that can save a bird up to 20% of its energy. (Hibernation is defined as a sustained state of torpor).

And of course they seek shelter out of the wind and cold. Some, such as the chickadees & titmice, huddle together in natural shelters like bushes. Also nesting boxes become roosting boxes in the winter. Or there are also roosting pockets.
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Roosting Pockets: Warm Shelter from Frosty Winds

Invite Birds to this Charming Village

Birds will stay nice and cozy in these delightful roosting pockets woven of all-natural grasses. It offers essential protection to enable survival.

· Fill with seeds or with nesting materials
· Turn your backyard into a bird sanctuary
· Helps birds conserve energy for winter survival

Hang them from tree branches, vines or fences to provide safe, warm nooks for small birds. They add charm to the garden year-round and they may even serve as nests in the spring.

We have a wide variety of pockets to choose from at Wild Birds Unlimited in our East Lansing, MI store. This is one of the most popular gifts people give to co-workers and teachers.

20,000th bird!

21-26 September





Banding occurred on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday this week. Wednesday and Saturday were both extremely windy days so I opted not to band for the saftey of the birds.





We had 3 species show up for the first time this fall season on Tuesday. The first was  a hatch year female Ruby-crowned Kinglet pictured below:





Although I was able to positively identify her as a hatch year by skulling, another clue for banders to look at is the very pointed tail feathers on first year kinglets. Some of the feathers almost appear to have small pins projecting from the ends.




While adults tails are still pointed, they are not quite as pointed as the tail above. Below is an adult tail for comparison, although the picture isn't very good. Missing are the tiny projections at the end of the feathers.


Brown Creepers showed up too. We've only banded Brown Creepers during the fall. This bird was a hatch year, sex unknown.


The plumage of creepers is gorgeous and cryptically colored to make them inconspicuous as they travel up and down tree trunks.





Long toenails on their back toe enable them to cling and move easily on tree bark.





Our first Savannah  Sparrow appeared on Tuesday, one that had me a bit stumped at first as I'm used to seeing them with at least some yellow on their lores. This hatch year bird had none.





I banded a Red-eyed Vireo who had some kind of thick coating on its bill even covering its nares.


Not sure what it got into, but luckily I had my tick tweezers and was able to carefully remove it. Ah, now it can breathe easier, I'm sure!




Wednesday evening, the 22nd must have been a good flight night as we banded 20 species of birds on Thursday. The first fall Swamp and White-throated Sparrows arrived. Hatch year Swamps are usually easy to age because of the yellow tint to the lores and supercilium.
Compare to the head coloration of an adult.




 White-throated Sparrows exhibit plumage polymorphism with dull and bright forms. The White-throat we captured on Thursday was a dull morph variety.


We recaptured an old friend we originally banded on May 1st, 2003 as a second year making this Northern Cardinal 8 years old! We caught him twice in '03, twice in '05, once in '08, and this is the 3rd time this year. He remains in the same area every time. I was fortunate not to get this picture without him getting a piece of me!


 


This wasn't the case with the Purple Finch, pictured below.


In case you aren't sure if this is a Purple or House Finch take a look at the unstreaked (mostly) undertail coverts of the Purple Finch:


Banders can also differentiate between the two, if they bite it is definitely a Purple!


We had a choice between the best bird of the day. One was the hatch year Connecticut Warbler below. The eye ring wasn't quite as complete as I'm used to.
According to Pyle (our 'go to' book for banding), Connecticuts can occasionally have small breaks in the normally complete eyering. Also by comparing certain measurements and feathers in their wing, we can differentiate between the two. The ninth primary feather should be at least 3.5 mm longer than the 6th primary feather, which is the case here, whereas in Mourning Warblers the ninth primary is usually shorter. The ninth primary is the furthest feather to the right in the wing.


The other cool bird this day was a Gray-cheeked Thrush! Note the grayish coloration in the face and indistinct eye ring. Swainson's Thrushes have a buffy appearance and more distinct eye ring. Measurements were also done to rule out Bicknell's Thrush.




Species diversity was down a bit on Friday, but we did manage to band a Brown Thrasher, a bird we don't see too often anymore.


Four new Song Sparrows were also banded. Song Sparrows are hard to age by molt limits, we usually do it by skulling, but I find most of the hatch years we band replace the outer 5-6 primaries and I can occasionally see the difference. In the photo below, this Song Sparrow replaced the outer 5 primaries and retained the inner four. Take a look and see if you can notice the darker shafts of the outer feathers compared with the lighter brown shafts of the juvenal primary feathers. You might have to double click on the photo to make it bigger.




Yellow-breasted Chats are always enjoyable to capture and today we caught two, one male and female. I took a picture to compare the face coloration. The lores of the male are blackish (bottom bird) and dark gray in the female (top bird).




Winds were gusting on Saturday so no banding, but Gretchen and I did get out on Sunday. I thought the catbirds had pretty much passed through but we banded 35 new catbirds this day.


I've been wondering when the yellow-rumps (Myrtle Warblers) would show up and sure enough three appeared in our nets. In the next three weeks we will probably band at least 600 of them!


We had a Lincoln's Sparrow


and I was able to capture a good example of streaking on the throat in this photo:



Our most exciting bird today was not the species, but the fact that it is our 20,000th bird banded on Wing Island since opening in 2000. This doesn't include other birds banded at other sites, but just on Wing Island. A hatch year Nashville Warbler!





Thanks very much to Jan Bridge, Jo-Anna Ghadban, Suzanne Moore, Gretchen Putonen, and Jessica Rempel for helping this week. The following birds were seen, heard, or captured between 21-26 September. Numbers reflect captured birds only.


Total Birds: 301                     Total Species: 65
Total Banded Species: 38        Birds/100 net-hours: 54



Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
American Black Duck

Osprey

Black-bellied Plover

Greater Yellowlegs

American Woodcock

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Mourning Dove

Great Horned Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker- 2

Hairy Woodpecker

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Eastern Phoebe- 2

Tree Swallow

Blue Jay- 6

American Crow

Fish Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 41

Tufted Titmouse- 24

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Brown Creeper- 3

Carolina Wren- 3

House Wren- 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet- 2

Ruby-crowned Kinglet- 1

Gray-cheeked Thrush- 1

American Robin- 2

Gray Catbird- 127

Northern Mockingbird- 1

Brown Thrasher- 1

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Red-eyed Vireo- 3

Nashville Warbler- 2

Northern Parula- 1

Yellow Warbler- 1

Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warbler- 3

Western Palm Warbler- 2

Blackpoll Warbler- 10

Black-and-white Warbler- 1

American Redstart- 1

Ovenbird- 2

Connecticut Warbler- 1

Common Yellowthroat- 7

Yellow-breasted Chat- 4

Northern Cardinal- 4

Eastern Towhee- 4

Savannah Sparrow- 1

Song Sparrow- 22

Lincoln's Sparrow- 1

Swamp Sparrow- 1

White-throated Sparrow- 2

Red-winged Blackbird

Common Grackle

Purple Finch- 1

House Finch- 1

American Goldfinch- 9

House Sparrow









When do Chipmunks hibernate?

The chipmunks' manic feasting means cold weather is near.

Tamia rayƩ -- Eastern chipmunkImage by Gilles Gonthier via Flickr
Eastern Chipmunks’ lifespan on average is only one year due to predators and man made dangers. They have two breeding seasons. The first begins in February and the second in June. They can have up to nine babies but average four.

Many people are frustrated by the amount of food they take away from bird feeding stations but chipmunks do have a purpose. They eat a lot of bugs, small rodents and stray seeds on the ground which humans can appreciate. And Mother Nature uses the chipmunks to spread plant seeds and fungi all around as well as food for birds of prey.

Eastern Chipmunk with cheeks filled of food su...Image via WikipediaEastern chipmunks live in shallow burrows made by digging and carrying away the dirt in their pouched mouths. These burrows can be up to 30 ft. in length with several different exits concealed with leaves and rocks.

Tamia rayĆ© -- Eastern chipmunkImage by Gilles Gonthier via FlickrThe chipmunks’ cheek pouches also transfer food to their tunnels. They keep large stores of food in their burrows and build nests on top of this treasure. Eastern chipmunks, however, do not hibernate continuously through the winter, nor do they "fatten up" before retreating to their burrows. When the temperatures reach freezing, chipmunks go into their burrows to hibernate but wake up periodically to snack on their stored nuts and seeds.

Related article: How do I keep squirrels off my bird feeders?
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Bird body odor: a link to extinction?

The endemic flightless kiwi is a national iconImage via WikipediaApparently, New Zealand birds have a body odor problem. This could be a reason why so many native NZ birds are either extinct or on the threatened species list. Associate Professor Jim Briskie from the University of Canterbury has been awarded a Marsden grant to study the role of smell in the lives of NZ native birds.

The birds of New Zealand evolved for millions of years without mammalian predators such as rats, short-tailed weasels, cats and possums. Behavioral traits, such as nesting on the ground, left birds vulnerable to introduced mammals. But in other countries, birds live with mammals and seemingly behave much as our birds do. So have we been missing something?

Associate Professor Briskie suspects the missing link is smell. Kiwi have been described as smelling like mushrooms or ammonia; kakapo like “musty violin cases”. Many mammals are especially adept at detecting odors and a rat or weasel smelling a kiwi gets a “potential meal” alert.

Briskie, a Canadian, who moved to New Zealand 13 years ago, said his research could potentially lead to innovative technology, such as odor-eaters for bird nests. "Down the line if we do find some species are particularly smelly or vulnerable, perhaps I can design a deodorant for kiwis."
en: Pura, a 1-year-old Kakapo (Strigops habrop...Image via Wikipedia

Preliminary work has revealed that these odors arise from the preening waxes that birds use to maintain their feathers. Birds elsewhere seem to have less pungent odors, and they suppress the smelly waxes produced by their preen glands while nesting.

New Zealand birds and their preen gland waxes will be studied and compared with related species in Australia that evolved in the presence of mammalian predators. Associate Professor Briskie will also conduct laboratory and field trials to see whether predators use smell to more easily locate island birds than their continental cousins.

This study will, for the first time, determine whether odors are playing a previously unrecognized role in the decline of island birds.

Total Funding (over 3 years): $607,702

Principal researcher: Associate Professor Jim Briskie, School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury

Source: 2010 Round Press Releases http://www.marsden.royalsociety.org.nz/


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They Had Stars Upon Thars!

European StarlingImage via Wikipedia
The European Starling Sturnus vulgaris molts its feathers in the fall and the new feather tips are whitish, giving the bird the appearance of “stars” covering their body. Over the winter sunlight and weather dulls the speckled look and the bird becomes uniform dark brown or black.

Both sexes also have reddish brown legs, and seasonal changes in bill color (yellow in the spring, black in the fall). Males sport a bluish spot at the base of their beaks, while the female displays a reddish pink speck. Juvenile birds are large dull gray or black.

The European Starling is insectivorous when breeding and typically consumes insects including caterpillars, moths, and cicadas, as well as spiders. The starlings like to grab bugs directly from the air or plunge their beaks into the ground randomly and repetitively until an insect has been found. In the winter starlings are omnivorous and can also eat grains, seeds, fruits, nectar, and food scraps.

In 1890’s, 100 starlings were released into New York City’s Central Park. It is said that Eugene Schieffelin wanted all of New York to see the birds mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare. Until that time, starlings were not native to North America and were imported from England. Scientists estimate that descendants from those original released flocks now number more than 200 million in the United States.

Now is the time when you will see huge flocks gathering to perform amazing aerial displays.

Related articles:

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What are Some Differences in Birds' Feet?

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 anisodactyl 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.

Rare Super Harvest Moon

First full moon on autumnal equinox since 1991.
(Super) Harvest MoonImage by mkelly32 via Flickr
Did you see the Super Harvest Moon? ‘Super’ actually means that the harvest moon happens to fall 6 hours after the Autumnal Equinox.
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Unfortunately my view was blocked by thick clouds. Oh well I only have to wait 19 years until the next Super Harvest Moon.

For more information visit Science@NASA Headline News: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/22sep_harvestmoon/


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Small Mysterious Black & White Bird Visits Mid-Michigan

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Dendroica caerule...Image via WikipediaI saw a new bird in the backyard today. At first glance I thought maybe a Dark-eyed Junco...no...Red-breasted Nuthatch...no...no too early for those birds to visit our feeders in mid-Michigan anyway. I walked close to get a better look at this new bird at the suet feeder. It looks like it might be a warbler that's passing through.
Available at Wild Birds Unlimited
East Lansing, MI store
I go to Birds of Michigan by Ted Black to find its name. In the front of the book is a little reference guide with mug shots of all the birds in Michigan. And there is my bird on page 13, also known as Black-throated Blue Warbler.  

He was under the pine tree so he looked like a small black bird with a white belly and white wing spots. In the sun he might have looked more blue. Watching this dark and handsome bird was a great way to start the day!

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER. Dendroica caerule...Image via Wikipedia
Female and Male
Black-thoated Blue Warblers
Black-throated Blue Warblers nest in northern Michigan. The female which is olive brown and tan with a faint black eyebrow, looks very different in appearance from the male. They pass through mid-Michigan mid-August to late September. They are among most trusting and tame of their family. So keep your eyes open and maybe you can spot this warbler before he migrates to his winter home in the deciduous and evergreen woodlands of the Gulf coast states and the Greater Antilles.

Do Woodpeckers Drink Water from Birdbaths?

Woodpeckers (mostly downy and hairy in East Lansing) seem to be the only birds that do not avail themselves of the water in my birdbath. How do they drink? Is there another way I can get water to them?
D K
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Most woodpeckers can get a lot of liquid through their food and do not drink at baths as often as other birds. Nice juicy bugs, berries and suet cakes aren’t as dry as seeds and require the woodpeckers to make fewer stops at the bath.
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But Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers do drink water. They scoop it up with their bill from tiny pools in the branches of trees, puddles, streams, ponds and even bird baths when needed.
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I’ve seen the woodpeckers going for a full body bath in my shallow stream and tiny birdbath in the backyard. I’ve also watched as a Red-bellied Woodpecker snuck a few sips from my hummingbird feeder along with the finches.
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The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders especially right now! This is the time they form their winter flocks and choose their winter foraging grounds. Keep your suet or nut feeders full of fresh fatty foods to keep them happy.
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And they’ll visit your birdbath when they are thirsty or need to clean their feathers. They just won’t frequent the bath as often as some other birds.

How Can I Hang a Feeder?

I want to hang a feeder from a tree. Do you have a chain?

Yes, Wild Birds Unlimited has chains but we also have Tree Hooks made by the same people that developed our unique Advanced Pole System. They come 12 inches to 6 feet in length. The large end goes over a branch and the little end holds the feeder. There is no damage done to the tree.

That sounds ideal! I had my tree trimmed and I was puzzled on how to re-hang these feeders. I will come in to get a couple as soon as I measure the height to the branch. Thanks.

I'm glad I could help. We also have S hooks that are 2" to 24" long.

Related Article:
Advanced Pole System: Bird Feeding Station That Looks Great and Stays Straight!

Mid September Birds

15-20 September

Numbers and diversity of birds slowed down a bit this week, but we still managed some nice birds!  There always seems to be a lull in numbers while Gray Catbirds decline and Yellow-rumps have yet to arrive. I didn't get back to the field until Wednesday last week due to family obligations Monday and Tuesday. I caught another Wilson's Warbler, a young male, but had such a well-developed black cap I thought at first it was an adult. Skulling the bird proved otherwise.



Three more Palm Warblers showed up this day, all Western Palms. We tend to capture more Western Palm Warblers (WPWA) here in the fall than the eastern counterpart, Yellow Palm Warbler. Western Palms are a bit smaller with back grayer and white belly contrasting with yellow undertail  feathers and throat. Typical behavior of Palm Warblers is tail bobbing and this bird was no exception as its tail bobbed the whole time I took pictures!
On Monday the 20th I captured a hatch year male Yellow Palm Warbler (YPWA) and took some pictures for comparison. You can see how much brighter and yellow he is.
 


Normally I leave the sex for Palms as unknown, but this bird had a good amount of chestnut in the crown.




Juvenile Song Sparrows are now molting their body feathers and losing their buffy coloration in favor of more adult-looking plumage.


Male Black-throated Blue Warblers were highlighted last week, but I caught our first female hatch year Black-throated Blue Warbler on Wednesday. They look very different from males, once considered a separate species by Audubon.




A very interesting bird today was an adult male Prairie Warbler (the same bird at the top of this blog) whose plumage was so orange he resembled the coloration of a Blackburnian Warbler! Must be those honeysuckle berries he's been munching on. I'll be curious to see what he looks like next spring. Prairie Warblers apparently molt only head feathers during their pre-alternate molt in the winter. We've captured him numerous times since first banding him in the spring of '08. Studies show the brighter the male, the more attractive he is to the ladies, so this bird may do very well next spring!
We've been banding numerous juvenile American Goldfinches since last week including this young male captured on Thursday the 16th. The body plumage of young birds is quite brownish. We tell males and females apart by the color of their wings, very black in males and dusky black in females.


The bill color in first year Northern Cardinals is starting to change from brown to orange as seen in this young male.




I had another hatch year Yellow Warbler, much brighter than last week.


Four more flycatchers were captured this week (2 Traill's and 2 Yellow-bellied) including this Traill's with some kind of plant material I believe around it's legs. At first I thought it might be spider silk but there were seeds inside the material. I'd appreciate any thoughts on what this might be. I was able to cut the material off with scissors. The legs and toes showed no ill effects.  
There was no banding on Friday due to rain. Saturday we had another successful banding demo with at least 40 people. Species diversity was down a bit from the one we gave last week with 16 species banded compared to 20 species the week before. The group enjoyed seeing our first Lincoln's Sparrow this fall.Notice the much finer streaking and buffier appearance compared to the Song Sparrow pictured earlier in this post.





Jan Bridge, a participant in the audience provided pictures of a young male Yellow-shafted Flicker with a few orange shafts on the feathers (not quite visible in this photo),  
    a Nashville Warbler,


and a Red-eyed Vireo.


We had a Blackpoll Warbler and a Northern Waterthrush, but unfortunately most people had left before capturing the waterthrush.
On Monday the 20th, our first Golden-crowned Kinglets came in. This bird is a hatch year female, with only yellow in the crown.


I also had our first Black-throated Green Warbler (hatch year female) show up this day,


along with Warbling Vireo, a female American Redstart, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and an Ovenbird (below).


A big thank-you to all who helped with banding this week- Peter Brown, Carolyn Kennedy, Gretchen Putonen, and Jessica Rempel.


The following birds were seen, heard, or captured between 15-20 September. Numbers reflect captured birds only.








Total Birds: 205                       Total Species: 66

Total Banded Species: 34          Birds/100 net-hours: 42

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Canada Goose

American Black Duck

Turkey Vulture

Osprey

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Black-bellied Plover

American Woodcock

Laughing Gull

Ring-billed Gull

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Common Tern

Mourning Dove

Great Horned Owl

Ruby-throated Hummingbird- 1

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker- 1

Yellow-shafted Flicker- 1

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- 3

Traill's Flycatcher- 2

Eastern Phoebe- 1

Tree Swallow

Barn Swallow

Blue Jay

American Crow

Fish Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 24

Tufted Titmouse- 5

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Carolina Wren- 4

House Wren- 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet- 1

American Robin- 5

Gray Catbird- 89

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Warbling Vireo- 1

Red-eyed Vireo- 8

Nashville Warbler- 1

Yellow Warbler- 2

Black-throated Blue Warbler- 1

Black-throated Green Warbler- 1

Pine Warbler

Prairie Warbler 1

Yellow Palm Warbler-1

Western Palm Warbler- 3

Blackpoll Warbler- 3

American Redstart- 1

Ovenbird- 1

Northern Waterthrush- 1

Common Yellowthroat -13

Wilson's Warbler- 1

Yellow-breasted Chat- 3

Northern Cardinal- 1

Eastern Towhee- 3

Song Sparrow- 13

Lincoln's Sparrow- 1

Red-winged Blackbird

Common Grackle

American Goldfinch- 7

House Sparrow