The sounds of summer!

photo via Wikimedia Commons
Is anyone still hearing the robin singing in the morning? American Robins are wrapping up their nesting season. By August robins will be leaving our yards and begin roaming around in flocks. I do still hear the cardinals, chickadees and Chipping Sparrows singing in the morning.

Outside my window there is a definite increase in American Goldfinches singing. Males sing a long and variable series of twitters and warbles and their call sounds like "honey bee?" It's very sweet. They are starting to nest now so expect to see a lot more visiting the finch feeders!

I'm always listening for new birds. I was recently surprised by the calls of baby jays, crows, and hawks that were just learning how to spreading their wings under the supervision of mom and dad. And I had someone tell me they heard an Eastern Whip-poor-will passing through already.
Then there is the wren. The House Wren sings so much that it's when he stops singing that you notice the quiet. Chippewa natives referred to the House Wrens as O-du-na'-mis-sug-ud-da-we'-shi, which translates into “making a big noise for its size”. When they arrive in May, a male House Wren sings 600 or more songs/hr especially in morning. Males sing less after pairing, especially when actively feeding young. During incubation, however, mated males may increase song output to attract a secondary mate. Also, in double-brooded populations, the male may desert his mate in the late nestling or fledgling stage of the first reproductive cycle and begin singing extensively again, presumably to attract a new mate.

(The wren information is from Johnson, L. S. (2014). House Wren (Troglodytes aedon), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

What to do with an injured bird

Baby robin, Blue Jay, robin photo taken by Cheryl at Nottingham Nature Nook
I had a baby American Robin literally walk up to the front door of the bird store this week. I don't think he was able to fly yet. One foot worked and the other foot was very weak. Poor thing was running around in circles.

I picked him up and put him in the side garden with some live mealworms. He had no trouble figuring out what to do with those. Then I gave him some chopped apples and peanut butter suet. He knew what to do with those too. Then I placed a dish of water out for him. He figured out how to drink but watching him try to bathe was a hoot. Maybe I shouldn't have laughed. He manage to get one foot in and flutter, flutter before he fell out. With his bad leg, he was actually doing a good job for a beginner.

Luckily Cheryl from Nottingham Nature Nook arrived to load up on supplies for the animals she rehabilitates. I stopped her before she even made it in the door and pointed to my little guy. She picked him up and could see that he was favoring one leg. She thought it was best if he was brought in to her nature nook for a little tender loving care. He'll be in a room recovering with other age mates.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, the following is a small list of the local rehabilitators:

- East Lansing, MI ♦ (517) 488-7451 or (517) 351-7304 ♦ Nottingham Nature Nook ♦16848 Towar Ave. East Lansing, MI 48823 ♦ Cheryl Connell-Marsh ♦ birds, small animals, fox, fawns
- Holt, MI ♦ (517) 927-7578 or (517) 694-9618 ♦ Carolyn Tropp ♦ Mammals and birds, Specializing in ducks and geese
- DeWitt, MI ♦ (517) 663-6153 ♦ Wildside Rehabilitation Center Education Center ♦ Louise Sagaert ♦ 8601 Houston Road Eaton Rapids, MI 48827 ♦Mammals and birds, Specializing in raptors and opossums

For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at:

And if you are outside of Michigan:
Wildlife rehabilitation group by zip code at:

Red and brown bird

House Finches are a familiar sight in mid-Michigan today. These 6″, talkative little birds get their name from their habit of hanging around houses. They build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, or in trees, and their cheery warble or a variety of chirps is a constant around the bird feeders. The amount of red the finch has can vary depending on the quality of their food during molt.

They tend to stay near their nesting areas over winter, but they may wander widely for food. Yard feeders have helped their year-round survival. While the boys have red on the head, upper breast and brown streaks on the belly and flanks, females are plain brown, with heavily streaked white chests. House Finches may be confused with less commonly seen Purple Finches.

Both male and female House Finches sing lovely warbler-like songs and have a sweet, quiet chatter calls that you can hear when they visit feeders. They are very social birds, and after the nesting season, they merge into family flocks for the rest of the year.

House Finches are almost strictly vegetarian and approximately 97% of their diet is made up of buds, seeds, and fruits. They are strongly attracted to feeders, with sunflower or safflower seeds. They love my Safflower Seed Cylinder feeder and the fruit and jelly at my oriole feeders.

Why there are so many birds at the feeder

There is an abundance of bird feeder activity now because there is at least twice as many birds at the feeders. Most feeder birds have already had at least one batch of babies. You'll see a lot of stressed out parent birds are bringing their families up for quick bites. And the goldfinches have just now settled down to one territory to begin nesting.

If you haven't seen an increase at the finch feeders, wash your feeders and put in fresh food. Finches left off feeding regularly at the feeders for a few weeks in June but they should be devouring the food again now until they bring up their babies and complete their full molt in October.

Birds have to eat a lot of high protein foods to produce a new coat of feathers and bulk up for a journey south or prepare for a harsh winter. Most birds go through a full molt of their feathers in the late summer. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete. 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.

And don't be surprised to see some bald cardinals, jays and blackbirds in July and August. It is normal for some birds to go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers.

For the next few months, offer high-protein bird foods, such as No-Mess blend, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, suet and mealworms, to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with growing families and molting.

Why love a woodchuck

I love my chubby cheeked woodchuck! Not many gardeners do, but when he tears across the lawn, his rolls of fat rippling along with him, it is a sight to see. For the next 3 or 4 months, until the days grow shorter and he decides to take a long winter nap, a woodchuck will eat a variety of plant leaves, fruits, nuts, and berries. He can stand on his two back feet to to munch my tall flowers or lay with his belly flat out on the ground to pick up some fallen bird seed. He gets some liquid from fruit but will drink from puddles and ponds too.

In the woodchuck's effort to pack on the pounds before hibernation, some gardeners may find a diminished garden with a great big underground den in its place. They build impressive homes. It can be anywhere from 8 to 66 feet long, with multiple rooms and exits. One room is for hibernating, and then they have another section of the burrow that’s more like their summer home where they can come out more easily. There are even potty rooms.

Why love a woodchuck beside for his adorableness? Old woodchuck dens provide a lot of homes for other animals like foxes, raccoons, opossums and cottontails. Opposums are natural predators of ticks. The fox and skunk feed upon field mice, grasshoppers, beetles and other creatures that destroy gardens. In aiding these animals, the woodchuck indirectly helps the gardener. In addition to providing homes for itself and other animals, the woodchuck aids in soil improvement by bringing subsoil to the surface. They also consume impressive amounts of weed seeds and waste grain. And they don't like other woodchucks. If you have one they will chase off any others.

Birds that make chip call at dawn and dusk

Scientists have described at least 16 different calls for the Northern Cardinal, but the most common one in the late summer and fall is a loud, metallic chip. The call alerts feeding cardinals that all is clear and no predators are near.

The Northern Cardinal is often the first bird to visit a feeder in the morning and the last to stop by and grab a bite at night. The increase in the number of birds chipping foreshadows a change in seasons. By late summer, nesting is over and Northern Cardinals relax their their territory boundaries. The birds sing less but are forming winter flocks that use "chip" calls to communicate. 

After Young cardinals leave their natal home they don’t have a set territory and can move around freely in search of food. They can drop in several Older cardinals' established groups only to drop out again in search of a territory that can sustain them with enough food and shelter.

Cardinal populations with access to a feeding station may be in better condition and more likely to survive the winter than cardinals without access. Cardinals prefer to feed on the ground so if you can "raise the ground" by feeding cardinals on tray feeders, hopper feeders, seed cylinder feeders or any feeder that gives them a comfortable feeding position. Their favorite food is oil sunflower, nuts, safflower and fruit. 

The bright red plumage of the Northern Cardinals is a magnificent sight against the snowy backdrop in winter. Winter??? Yes, if you want more cardinals at your feeders, make sure your feeders are full right now.

Source: Wild Bird Guides-Northern Cardinal by Gary Ritchison

How to get flocks of cardinals

In the summer some juvenile birds disperse from the territory they were born in search of new area to live. If you want more cardinals and chickadees now is the time to make your yard more inviting to newcomers with food, water, and shelter.

Young Northern Cardinals have ashy brown feathers and black bills rather than the orange-red of the adults. They change gradually to their adult coloration three to four months after hatching. Watch as they learn from older cardinals and try to hook up with other newly arrived youngsters. If successful, flocks of cardinals will stay in your territory all winter. Listen for chip, chip, chip calls in the early morning and before dusk as cardinals begin to form flocks.

Young cardinals usually pull away from their parents about forty days after leaving the nest. Chickadees also have young that disperse a few weeks after they've fledged. Other bird species like the American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds stay in family groups until the next breeding season.

The young that disperse early have a steep learning curve. For example they have to find a new area to forage away from their natal territory to prevent inbreeding. They have to find enough food to sustain them through a fall feather molt. And they have to survive natural predators and human obstacles.

Studies reveal that newly independent young birds usually lose weight because they forage less efficiently than adults. Right now they are looking for a lot of weed seeds, fruits, nuts and berries in the wild. At the feeders you can provide highly nutritious and protein packed foods like sunflower and safflower seeds as well as peanuts. At my feeders the No-mess blend is very popular along with the Seed Cylinders and peanut butter suet.

Favorite summer show!

Every year when the sky bursts with fireworks on the Fourth of July, it reminds me that the days will start to get shorter and the hummingbird numbers will soon rise in my backyard. This is the time to be vigilant in maintaining a clean feeder. A lot of birds, means a lot of little tongues dipping in the sugar water and leaving behind bacteria. Wash your feeders at least twice a week. Changing the nectar more often would be even better.

The declining day length triggers chemical changes within hummingbirds’ bodies. The tiny birds develop a seemingly insatiable appetite and go on a feeding binge. For the next several weeks, as they try to eat as much as they can, they will become plumper. The goal is to intake enough fuel, stored as fat, to make their fall migration.

Our local hummers will be joined by ruby-throats that have already begun their fall migration from further north. In most years, the number of hummingbirds that visit our yards will begin growing around July Fourth and peak from late August to early September. We will then see fewer and fewer ruby-throats until the last migrants leave by the end of October. If you watch closely during the next two months, you will notice that the adult males will be the first to leave. They will eventually be followed by females and young of the year.

In the meantime, enjoy the show! July’s fireworks might be louder, but hummingbirds display their aerial skills as they hover, fly backwards and dive from high up in countless dogfights as they try to keep all others from dining on what they perceive to be their feeders. Multiple feeders will provide multiple shows and increase the number of hummers you can host!

What wild birds do when there are fireworks

I'm sure birds would rather we celebrated by tossing bird seed in the air. Research studies show that the loud sounds of fireworks causes a great amount of fear, stress and anxiety on wild and domestic animals. Documented effects include nesting birds and other small mammal parents abandoning their nests. Panic and disorientation from fireworks noise has also resulted in birds flying into windows and buildings to escape the noise. Then the morning after, foraging animals (both birds and mammals) might ingest debris, resulting in death.

Fireworks can also cause environmental damage through fires, and from the release of poisonous chemicals and particle-laden smoke, which is not just inhaled by wildlife, but contaminates the natural environment.

National Audubon Society states: "If you want to see your fireworks and protect birds, too, the best thing to do is attend a commercial display, rather than setting off your own pyrotechnic devices. Commercial fireworks are concentrated in one location, rather than in several locations at once, which is what often happens in neighborhoods. This allows birds to take off and land again in a “safer” location rather than continuing to flee noises coming at them from all directions. In addition, professional displays often take into account the natural environment and any impacts they might have."

Birds with their mouths open

I had birds coming up to the window feeder yesterday with their mouth open. It wasn't because the were hungry. They were hot! Hotter temperatures substantially increase water requirements, particularly for small birds, severely reducing survival rates. Birds do not sweat and must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system. So when temperatures rise, a bird's respiration rate increases, sometimes to the point that it can be seen panting like a dog. This activity dehydrates birds and increases their need for a reliable source of water to replace lost fluids.

Offering a bird bath is probably the simplest and most important step you can take to greatly increase the variety of birds in your yard. It can also significantly increase your enjoyment of your birds by allowing you to watch their often comical antics as they drink, bathe and preen.

However, as entertaining as it is for us, water (or the lack thereof) can be deadly serious for birds. Birds must be ready to fly at all times, and bathing is a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in top-flight condition.

Baths & feeders can save lives. Foraging for food on brutally hot days could raise a bird's body temperature so high that the proteins that shuttle vital information to a bird’s organs begin to break apart. To help beat the heat, one stop at the feeder and then bath allows them to return to the shade and keep their cool.

North American Goldfinches

There are three species of goldfinches native to North America. If you live in Michigan, then there is little question what goldfinch you have at your feeders: it is always an American Goldfinch. But their relatives the Lesser Goldfinch and Lawrence's Goldfinch, are common feeder birds out west.

Goldfinches can be found throughout most of North America. In Michigan we are lucky enough to have the American Goldfinches year round in our area. These bright yellow and black birds have the largest range and can be found in most areas of the United States and the southern regions of Canada.
The other two goldfinches in the U.S. are found more in the southwest. The Lesser Goldfinch lives in the larger portion of the western States and Mexico and the Lawrence's Goldfinch breeds in California and Baja California and winters in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
Lesser Goldfinch male
Fun Facts on Goldfinches:
- Due to their almost exclusive diet of seeds, the goldfinches drink frequently and will stay close to reliable sources of water during dry periods.
- Unlike many birds, goldfinches molt their body feathers twice a year, in the spring before breeding and after nesting in the fall.
- Goldfinches are sometimes referred to as wild canaries, but are actually in the finch family as their name suggests.
- The genus name, Caruelis, is from the Latin word carduus, which means “thistle.”
- Goldfinches are vegetarians and are dependent on flower seeds for food and even use plant down to line their nests.
- Young goldfinches are dependent on their parents for at least three weeks after fledging. Be sure to watch and listen for their energetic begging as they harass their parents for food at your feeders.
Lawrence's Goldfinch male
- Male Lesser Goldfinches in the eastern part of their range in the U.S. tend to have black backs. Along the West Coast, their backs are green, with only a black cap. Elsewhere, the amount of black varies, with many birds having partly green backs. South of central Mexico, all of the males are black-backed.
- The Lesser Goldfinch is the smallest of the North American goldfinches at 4.5″ compared with the slightly larger Lawrence’s and the American Goldfinch at 5″.
- Lawrence's Goldfinch was named by John Cassin in 1850 for his colleague George Lawrence, a New York businessman and ornithologist.
- Unlike most migratory birds, Lawrence's Goldfinch moves mostly to the east and west, rather than northward and southward, between seasons.

Red bird with black head

Most birds’ feather loss and replacement is gradual and you may notice they look a little ruffled. But then there are also a select few that go bald. A bald bird at the feeder is a somewhat common sight to see from the end of June to the end of August in mid-Michigan. After the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of new feathers, that will last until the next breeding season.

However, some Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers that results in an almost complete loss of head feathers at one time. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds go bald and some don’t or why it’s just the head. Whatever the reason, we know 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, it’s best to offer high-protein bird foods, such as Nyjer® (thistle), sunflower seed, peanuts, suet, seed cylinders and mealworms, to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them during this stressful time. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete.

Bird molting begins

Ruby-throated with pin feathers via Wikimedia Commons
During the summer months you are going to see a lot of scruffy looking birds. Usually after nesting season, and in preparation for migration or a harsh winter, most birds go through full molt to replace all their worn out feathers. This 6 to 8 week molting period is a critical stage in a bird’s life.

Most birds’ feather loss and replacement is gradual. Birds must retain sufficient feathers to regulate their body temperature and repel moisture. After a bird begins to shed some old feathers, then pin feathers grow. A pin feather is a developing replacement feather that comes out in a waxy coating. You may observe more birds bathing in the sun, water, or even the dust as they try to remove itchy waxy coatings, and allow the new feathers to unfurl.

During molt, birds may become less agile in flight and have a difficult time evading predators. Some species of birds even become flightless during an annual "wing molt" and must seek a protected habitat with a reliable food supply during that time.

Because feathers make up 4–12% of a bird's body weight, it takes a large amount of energy to replace them. For the next few months, keep your feeders clean and full of fresh food to ensure that your birds have a reliable food source to help them during this stressful time.