They're Back!

Included in this blog are the last two weeks of October that I've divided separately.

18-23 October

After all the moaning and questioning about our lack of Myrtle Warblers (yellow-rumps), they finally showed up in good numbers on the 18th. I imagine by the end of the season we'll have banded only half of what is typical for us, but it's good to know they didn't abandon us completely. We've noticed them eating the juniper berries and there are plenty of those on the island. So far the 18th was our biggest day with 155 birds captured and 55 of those were yellow-rumps. We handled 23 species including a black-speckled adult male Blackpoll Warbler (92  banded so far),

another Brown Creeper

with it's gorgeous reddish-brown rump,

a hatch year female Black-throated Blue Warbler with a minimal white patch at the base of the primaries,

and another young Swamp Sparrow with it's yellowish wash on the lores.

They have dark centers to their undertail coverts.

We banded two more Yellow-breast Chats, a HY male shown below.

Here is Juliet Lamb, an ornithologist who has been helping out in between jobs, checking the chat for ticks in his ears.

She'll be leaving us soon to study the behavior of Andean Cock-of-the rock birds in South America. Here is a link to these magnificent looking birds!
We're surely going to miss her help!

Juliet and I headed out a bit apprehensively on the 19th as rain showed all around on the radar but not in Brewster. We thought we might have time to get a few hours in before the rain and as the skies darkened we started to close the nets at 9 am. As we furled the last nets rain fell lightly and luckily we were able to get all birds processed and ourselves off the island before the rain really started to come down. We ended up with only 27 birds this day including two Northern Bobwhites that were flushed into a net as I approached.

Rain and family obligations prevented me from getting back out into the field again until Sunday, the 23rd. We had 128 birds of 17 species, a nice assortment consisting of this HY Magnolia Warbler of unknown sex,

a HY female Orange-crowned Warbler,

and Lincoln's Sparrow.

We banded a Common Yellowthroat with either an injury or disease on it's breast

and banded 50 more Yellow-rumped Warblers, one of whom had a deformity to both nares (like nostrils in humans) where they were very large and mishapen.

The last week in October appears below after numbers for this week including our special Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow!

Thanks to the following who helped this week- Juliet Lamb, Jo-Anna Ghadban, Gretchen Putonen, Becca Miller, Jessica Rempel, Carolyn Kennedy, and Judith Bruce.

The following is a list of birds seen, heard, or captured (with numbers) during this time period.

Total birds: 310                      Total species: 52

Total banded species: 28         Birds/100 net-hrs: 71

Great Blue Heron


Canada Goose

Turkey Vulture

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Peregrine Falcon

Northern Bobwhite- 2

Black-bellied Plover

Greater Yellowlegs

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Belted Kingfisher

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker- 2

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Blue Jay

American Crow

Fish Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 8

Tufted Titmouse- 1

Brown Creeper- 2

Carolina Wren- 3

Golden-crowned Kinglet- 7

Ruby-crowned Kinglet- 2

Hermit Thrush- 3

American Robin- 7

Gray Catbird- 7

Cedar Waxwing

European Starling

Red-eyed Vireo- 1

Orange-crowned Warbler- 2

Magnolia Warbler- 1

Black-throated Blue Warbler- 3

Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warbler- 126

Palm Warbler- 1

Yellow Palm Warbler- 1

Western Palm Warbler- 7

Blackpoll Warbler- 15

Common Yellowthroat- 5

Yellow-breasted Chat- 4

Northern Cardinal- 23

Song Sparrow- 46

Lincoln's Sparrow- 1

Swamp Sparrow- 16

White-throated Sparrow- 9

Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

House Finch

American Goldfinch- 5

House Sparrow

24-31 October

The 24th started out as a calm day with northwest winds but the wind picked up as they changed over to southwest late morning. We don't capture as many birds on windy days as the nets are easily seen. We still managed to capture 118 birds. The best bird of the day had to be this HY Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow!

This is only our second Gambel's that we have banded at this station. The pale grayish upper lores don't contrast in color with the supercilium and the bill is more orange than pink.

Compare to the HY Eastern White-crowned Sparrow from a couple of weeks ago, with it's dark lores and pinkish bill. 

Another sparrow that gave us pause this day was a HY White-throated Sparrow with orange lores instead of yellow. I'm sure the berries it was eating as his feathers were growing played a part in the color.

Among the 53 new Myrtle Warblers banded today was a young bird with pox on it's right leg.

We always band a large number of Northern Cardinals later in the fall and today was no exception. Jo-Anna is using a clothespin that we use to tell what nets the birds are from  to keep this gal occupied while she bands her. Better than having your fingers chomped on! Jo-Anna has been studying with me for the past year and is learning how to age and sex birds of many species.

We didn't get many birds on the 25th, the winds were just too high and had to close a number of nets. The following day on the 26th a storm was approaching, but Jo-Anna and I thought we could get a few hours in before we had to close due to weather. I guess the day before was the calm before the storm. As we made our way around the nets during the first round we had so many birds that we had to close all the nets on our second round. Because of the approaching storm we opened only four nets near our banding table and still the birds were coming fast and furious. This definitely would have been over a 200 bird day had we had enough volunteers and  no worries of bad weather. As it was, Jo-Anna and I had 121 birds with 100 of those being yellow-rumps.  One of those Myrtle Warblers included a very colorful adult male

with very rounded tail feathers.
A Blue-headed Vireo was also banded

and a new species for the year, a HY Marsh Wren

with the typical black feathers on it's back. 

The 28th was a cold, cloudy, and windy day but we had enough help to get to the nets quickly and handled 76 birds. A HY robin was one of the first birds to be banded

with an easily seen molt limit in the wing. The first two inner greater coverts (longer and grayer without edging traveling up the feather vein) have been replaced and the others are retained.

 We also had our 2nd Winter Wren,

also with a molt limit in it's wing similar to the robin above although much less consipicuous. The first two inner greater coverts have been replaced with white tipping and darker, grayish coloration near the base as opposed to the beige tipping of the shorter juvenal feathers .

We didn't get out again until Monday the 31st after the nor'easter. Luckily our nets were in good shape with no trees down on the island. Opening took a while to clean out debris, but otherwise there was no damage. The day was sunny and pleasant, although cool, and birds were abundant. Myrtle Warblers are still here in good numbers with 62 handled today. We also banded 6 Hermit Thrushes.  

We've been hearing flocks of Cedar Waxwings most days and found 3 in our nets today, but I was surprised to see them still in juvenal plumage.

Another surprise was this HY female Baltimore Oriole, who we heard vocalizing earlier in the day.

She had replaced her greater coverts, but not the carpal covert, and also a molt limit is seen in the tertials. The last tertial feather (s9) has been replaced, but s7 & 8 are retained. 

We banded 2 House Finches, the bird below while looking female had a reddish rump and a partially ossified skull so I'll probably send it in as sex unknown, while the other one was more colorful and a definite male.

By the end of the day we had handled 133 birds of 22 species, a nice variety for the end of October. We banded 1030 birds of 55 species for the month of October.

Thanks to all who helped this week- Jo-Anna Ghadban, Juliet Lamb and her boyfriend Yvan,  Becca Miller, and Judith Bruce.
The following is a list of birds seen, heard, or captured (with numbers) during this time period.

Total birds: 488                        Total species: 57

Total banded species: 30          Birds/100 net-hrs: 83

Common Loon

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Great Egret


Canada Goose

American Black Duck

Common Eider

Black Scoter

Sharp-shinned Hawk- 1 escape!

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Northern Bobwhite

Black-bellied Plover

Greater Yellowlegs

Herring Gull

Great Black-backed Gull

Great Horned Owl

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker- 1

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Blue Jay

American Crow

Fish Crow

Black-capped Chickadee- 16

Tufted Titmouse- 1

Brown Creeper- 1

Carolina Wren- 3

Winter Wren- 2

Marsh Wren- 1

Golden-crowned Kinglet- 11

Ruby-crowned Kinglet- 9

Eastern Bluebird

Hermit Thrush- 9

American Robin- 7

Gray Catbird- 1

Cedar Waxwing- 3

European Starling

Blue-headed Vireo- 1

Nashville Warbler- 1

Magnolia Warbler- 2

Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warbler- 303

Western Palm Warbler- 4

Blackpoll Warbler- 5

Common Yellowthroat- 5

Northern Cardinal- 14

Song Sparrow- 33

Swamp Sparrow- 27

White-throated Sparrow- 16

Gambel's White-crowned Sparrow- 1

Slate-colored Junco- 3

Red-winged Blackbird

Baltimore Oriole- 1

House Finch- 2

American Goldfinch- 4

House Sparrow


Vampire Bird

Image via WikipediaSit down boys and girls and let me tell you a little story about a vampire bird.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus varius, ...

It is early afternoon and the trees are enjoying the autumn breezes blowing through their leaves. All of a sudden there is a nasal mewing "me-ah" and then a tree finds itself under attack.

The distinctive slow irregular drumming sound of the feathered tree vampire, also known as the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, can be heard as the bird bores shallow parallel wells. Nothing can be done to stop the bird as he laps up the blood (sap) that oozes out of the neck of the tree. The attack is rarely fatal for the victims but BEWARE, repeated attacks can shorten a little tree's life.

Look for the blood red crown:
The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius is a little larger than the Downy Woodpecker. Although named yellow-bellied, the light yellow feathers on the birds’ underside aren’t what most bird watchers will see first. They have black and white barring on the back, a wide white stripe on each black wing, a blood red crown, a black line through the eyes and a black bib. The males also have a red throat.

Sap itself makes up only about 20% of the overall diet of this species, though at certain times, the figure can be 100%. They don’t suck sap but actually have a tongue that has a feathery edge to allow the birds to lap sap. Sapsuckers also consume insects, fruit, leaf buds, seeds and suet.

Other birds like the hummingbirds, kinglets, warblers, and waxwings can also take advantage of the sap wells that these woodpeckers drill, especially during migration.

According to, “The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is the only woodpecker in eastern North America that is completely migratory. Although a few individuals remain throughout much of the winter in the southern part of the breeding range, most head farther south, going as far south as Panama. Females tend to migrate farther south than do males.”

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An owl can turn its head up to 270 degrees

Most birds have eyes at each side of their head. They see a different scene with each eye. But an owl’s eyes are at the front of its head. The owl sees the same scene with both eyes, just as a human does. However, an owl cannot move its eyes in their sockets. In order to see what is beside or behind it, the owl turns its whole head.

An owl's neck has 14 vertebrae, which is twice as many as humans. This allows the owl to turn its head up to 270 degrees left or right from the forward facing position. An owl cannot turn its head full circle as is the common belief.

The stiff feathers around the owls’ eyes act a lot like dish antennas. They reflect sound toward the ear openings. If the sound is louder in one ear than in the other, this tells the owl that the animal is closer on that side. The owl turns its head until the sound is equally loud in both ears. Then it knows it is facing the animal.

An owl can also “hear” the height of a sound. It turns and tilts its head until it gets a perfect “fix.” They hunt mainly for small animals that creep on the ground, and can even locate by sound those animals hiding under snow. 
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Grey colored warbler with grey-black back and bold white wing bars and yellow shoulders and butt

Also known as “Butter Butts” because of their trademark yellow rumps, the Yellow-rumped Warbler is the most abundant and widespread wood-warbler in North America. They are a common migrant in mid-Michigan from August-October and then again in April and May.

A window feeder is the best way to entertain indoor cats

A lot of our customers start bird feeding to entertain their indoor cats. It is a challenge to keep indoor-only animals stimulated and engaged mentally. A window feeder is one solution.

Whether you are a city or country dweller, if you have a window you can access, you can put up a window bird feeder. You can choose from several styles. Some of our best sellers right now at the Wild BirdsUnlimited East Lansing, Michigan store are the double tray buffet style and the hopper style. (In the summer the best seller is by far the Aspects HummZinger window hummingbird feeder)

Now is the best time to put up a window feeder. As we begin to close our windows in the next few weeks, the cats are going get a little stir crazy. While the sun is still shining, get outside to wash your windows and put up a window feeder (also known to our fur friends as kitty TV).

It’s a win/win situation. Your cats will benefit because they will be occupied for hours and the birds will benefit because they have a reliable source of food. You’ll also be entertained by your cats’ reactions as well as all the neat birds that come up close.

No need to worry that you’ll scare the birds away. I’ve had my face smashed against the window several times to talk to a chickadee and they never seem to mind my animated motioning behind the window.

I like to use the sunflower seeds without the shell or our no-mess blend so there are no shells below the feeder. That way the area remains tidy. But sometimes I use safflower seed if the squirrels take an interest in the feeder. Safflower seed is a seed that most squirrels will avoid.

If you’ve never fed birds before, this is a great way to start. It’s also a great gift idea if you want to give someone a hobby for the holidays.

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Online Bird Identification Tool

A lot of the questions I receive deal with identifying birds in peoples’ yards. With just a couple minutes of your time you can help Cornell University build a smart online bird ID tool.

When people notice a new bird, the first question they often ask is, "What's that bird's name?" Cornell Lab of Ornithology is building Merlinto help people find the answer.

Merlin will be a new kind of bird identification tool—one that combines artificial intelligence with input from real-life bird watchers to produce an online "wizard" that helps people ID birds quickly and connects them to more information.

You don't need to know the names of birds to help, just identify the three most obvious colors you see. To help build this online ID tool click HERE  or go to

Fun Woodpecker Trivia

A. How many species of woodpeckers are in the world?
Acorn Woodpecker
  1. 10
  2. 20
  3. 100
  4. over 200
B. What’s the smallest woodpecker in North America?
  1. Downy
  2. Red-headed
  3. Bar-breasted Piculet
  4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
C. What is the average life span of a wild woodpecker?
  1. 4-11 years
  2. 8-22 years
  3. 16-44 years
  4. 32-88 years
D. What kind of woodpecker was Woody Woodpecker?
  1. Pileated Woodpecker
  2. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. Red-bellied Woodpecker
E. What is the woodpecker's favorite feeder?
  1. Suet feeder
  2. Peanut feeder
  3. Mealworm feeder
  4. Seed cylinder Feeder
A. There are over 200 known species of woodpeckers. Many are on the threatened or endangered lists. Two species, the Ivory-billed and the Imperial, may already be extinct.

There are eight woodpeckers found in Michigan.

B. The Downy Woodpecker is the smallest and most common woodpecker in North America. At 6-7 inches in length, this little black and white woodpecker with a red patch on the back of the male’s head is very friendly at the suet feeders.

Bar-breasted Piculet is the smallest known woodpecker in the world. At around 3.25 inches, it is found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

C. The average lifespan of these wily birds is 4-11 years depending on the species.

D. Accordingto NPR: “It turns out that Walter Lantz, the animator who created Woody Woodpecker, had personally given eminent ornithologist Kimball Garrett a copy of his biography, and in that book it says that Walter and his wife, Grace, while honeymooning in a California cabin, were amused by an acorn woodpeckerwho was poking nuts under the roof shingles. They liked the "little raucous scream" the bird emitted. Grace said to Walter, "Why don't you make him into a character?"”

E. Trick question. A simple suet feeder is an easy way to attract a variety of beautiful woodpeckers but at my house woodpeckers come to a variety of feeders. They are even on my seed feeder. They select the peanuts and sunflower chips out of my no-mess seed blend. These friendly birds that make a “laughing” call when I’m filling the feeders, are very entertaining to have in the yard.

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When is bird migration over?

I was wondering if the birds have stopped migrating. ~ Fowlerville, Michigan

Migration is never over. There are birds moving all around the world all the time. However spring and fall migration is when a lot of birds shift to different territories.

Mid-Michigan has already said good bye to the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the orioles and all the other black birds. Most of the warblers and kinglets have already passed through by the end of October too.

Right now I’m watching the White-throated Sparrows making a pit stop in my yard for a few weeks before they continue further south. The first wave of Dark-eyed Juncos are passing through right now too. The Junco’s we see now are probably females and may continue on all the way to Florida. The boys are the ones that winter with us in mid-Michigan so they can be the first in the spring to zip up to the nesting territories and stake a claim.

I’m still waiting to see the White-crowned Sparrows which usually show up in my yard mid-November. Like the white-throated they don’t stick around long but they are a large sparrow with striking white racing stripes on their head. I’m also waiting for the first sighting of the Red-breasted Nuthatches which like to winter in our area.

A lot of birds dependent on open waters like the herons, geese, swans and other waterfowl and shorebirds wait until the water freezes before they move south. The end of October to December can be their migration time.

And while they are flying south a couple of “horny” birds kick off another breeding season. In mid-December you hear the Great Horned Owlcalling for a mate. They actually start to nest in January or February. The Horned Lark also performs an elaborate song-flight courtship display in the beginning of the year. Horned-larks are one of our earliest nesting birds. In some states, nests may be found in February. This can mean that the first set of eggs is often destroyed by snowstorms.

In March the black birds start to return. In April and May lots of other birds are journeying north only to see some birds going back down south again as early as June. So in Michigan we are lucky to always see something interesting in our yard whether they are our local regular birds, fly-by birds, wintering or summering birds. A good field guide can help you remember all the comings and goings of the birds or it might be fun to keep a journal.

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Most common winter birds in Michigan

I'm new to the area. Does Lansing have Cardinals year-round? What birds will I see at the feeder this winter? ~ Lansing, Michgian

Mid-Michigan is lucky enough to see lots of birds during the long cold winter months. I’ve listed some of the most common birds you’ll see and the food they like at feeders.

1. House Sparrow- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips
2. Black-capped Chickadee- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
3. Northern Cardinal- Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Shelled peanuts, Striped Sunflower seed
4. Downy Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet
5. White-breasted Nuthatch- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
6. Mourning Dove- Oil Sunflower seed, Peanuts, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, White Proso Millet, Nyjer Thistle
7. Red-bellied Woodpecker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
8. Northern Flicker- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
9. Dark-eyed Junco- White Proso Millet, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Nyjer Thistle
10. American Goldfinch- Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
11. Blue Jay- Peanuts in the Shell, Nuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
12. Tufted Titmouse- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
13. House Finch- Safflower, Nyjer Thistle, Sunflower Chips, Oil Sunflower Seed
14. European Starling- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
15. American Crow- Peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
16. Cooper’s Hawk- Songbirds, Squirrels, Unrendered Suet
17. Carolina Wren- Shelled peanuts, Oil Sunflower seed, Sunflower Chips, Safflower, Suet, Striped Sunflower seed
18. Eastern Bluebird- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
19. American Robin- Shelled peanuts, Suet, Suet Nuggets, Mealworms
20. Cedar Waxwing- Mealworms, Suet Nuggets, Berries and Wild Fruit

Click HERE for the Eastern Seed Preference Guide

Of course there are a lot more birds in Michigan during the winter and they don't just eat from feeders, but this gives you a start. For more information we have Birds of Michigan Field Guides or you can visit our online Bird Guide to identify birds at

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When do I take down the finch feeder?

This is the first year we have had "finch bags" out for our beautiful little friends. My husband has LOVED giving daily finch reports - "there are 10 on there at one time", etc. We were talking this morning and realized we don't know how long to leave the bags/feeders out. Have looked on line and don't find a definitive answer. Can you answer this question? Thanks for your help! ~ Ginny

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

And once a month the mesh bags should be brought in and washed in the sink with the diluted vinegar water or thrown into the whites wash. Hang it up to dry and then refill.

I started with the mesh bags too but every spring I would watch a red squirrel shred it and then bundle it up in her mouth, I assume to build a soft nest for her babies. Now I have 5 Wild Birds Unlimited lifetime guarantee metal mesh feeders. Today they are eating like there's no tomorrow:

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