Fox Sparrows

April 21st, 2013 • Categories: Birds, spring eventsNo Comments Yet

Fox Sparrows are one of the most beautiful of our sparrows. They are currently passing through the area on their way to nest near Hudson Bay. They are large sparrows with rich rust-colored spots on the breast and a rusty, fox-colored tail. The head and back is often gray. The plumage is quite variable and some are more gray than rust.

You’ll usually find Fox Sparrows in leaf litter, scratching backwards with both feet at once to expose tasty insects. Their song is a sweet whistle, not often heard in our area since they’re just passing through.  They like an area where they can duck quickly into cover such as conifers or brush piles.


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Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

April 12th, 2013 • Categories: Birds, spring events3 Comments

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers have returned to Nortwestern Lower Michigan. This is an interesting woodpecker with a name that sounds like a joke. They make rows of oblong holes in the bark of trees and lap up the sap that oozes out as well as insects that are attracted. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the sap and insects and feed from sapsucker holes.

Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are identified in all plumages by the vertical white stripe at the front edge of the folded wing. They are the easiest woodpeckers to identify by the pattern of their territorial drumming. It starts quickly then slows down, tapering off with a few last taps. The pattern is somewhat remiscent of “Shave and a haircut six bits…..bits………….bits……………..bits.”


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Sandhill Cranes

March 31st, 2013 • Categories: Birds, spring eventsNo Comments Yet

Sandhill Cranes have returned to Northwest Lower Michigan! Their pre-historic sounding, rattle is a stirring sign of spring. Listen to it at All About Birds.

The local population of Sandhill Cranes has been growing in recent years. The first confirmed nesting in our area took place around 2000 in Benzie county. Now there are many nests each summer.

At this time of year Sandhill pairs are beginning to establish territories by chasing off intruding cranes and engaging in duet calling.





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Mourning Doves

March 11th, 2013 • Categories: Birds, spring eventsNo Comments Yet

One of the earliest birds to sing in spring is the Mourning Dove. They began singing here a week ago. The Mourning Dove’s soft song is a sure sign that spring will soon come. Listen closely to the song at  all about birds or on the phenolog page of this website. How many notes? What are the pitches of the notes?

Mourning Doves are very early nesters. They’re  beginning to court already. Their nests are flimsy and often fail, but the strategy of nesting early and frequently overcomes that shortcoming.

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Northern Cardinal

March 4th, 2013 • Categories: Birds, Uncategorized, winter events1 Comment

Northern Cardinals have begun to sing! Theirs is one of the earliest and most welcome “spring” songs — February. On sunny days their loud clear slurred whistles promise that winter won’t last forever. You can listen to the cardinal’s song by clicking HERE. Northern Cardinal males are a bright spot of color in winter, but because they are so conspicuous they are quite careful. Cardinals are often early morning and late evening visitors to a bird feeder and seldom venture very far from cover. Female cardinals are a muted tan with reddish tones, but have the same pink bill as the male. Now the males are very attentive to their mates, feeding them seeds at the feeder. Soon you might have the experience I did last spring when I observed a male displaying to his mate by keeping his brilliant red breast turned always in her direction. He went through some interesting contortions to do so.


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Bohemian Waxwings

February 18th, 2013 • Categories: Birds, winter eventsNo Comments Yet

This week’s post will feature Bohemian Waxwings…continuing the thread of visiting birds from the north in this year of major bird irruptions. (Irrupt – (of a plant or animal population) To enter a region suddenly and in large numbers.)

Bohemian Waxwings are a cousin to the more common and familiar Cedar Waxwings that nest locally and are in the area year-round. Both travel in flocks and visit berry-bearing trees and bushes. Bohemian Waxwings are larger and have lower-pitched voices. (Listen to recordings: Bohemian Waxwing  or  Cedar Waxwing ) They have rust-colored feathers under the tail, rather than the white under-tail of the Cedar Waxwing. Other differences are the gray belly of the Bohemian Waxwing, contrasting with the yellowish wash on the Cedar Waxwing and white marks in the wings that are lacking in the Cedar Waxwing.

Both species of Waxwing do indeed have brilliantly colored waxy tips on their tail and wing feathers.

This winter Bohemian waxwings have invaded northwest lower Michigan in large numbers.

(Click on photos to enlarge)


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Common Redpolls

February 11th, 2013 • Categories: Birds, winter eventsNo Comments Yet

Another northern finch that visits Northwest Lower Michigan in great numbers some years is the Common Redpoll. This is one of those years.

Common Redpolls are about the same size and shape as a Common Goldfinch. They move from feeder to feeder in large flocks and can eat quite a bit of seed while they’re there. Poll means cap, so the name is quite descriptive.

Lately there has been an outbreak of Salmonella locally among the Redpolls. Since they feed in large flocks they easily pass diseases through the population. If you are feeding large numbers of Redpolls, it is important to clean your feeders. The recommendation is to scrub them, soak them in a 10% bleach solution, then rinse them well. A few times each winter should suffice. If you notice sick Redpolls it is best to stop feeding long enough to disperse the flock.


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Pine Grosbeaks

February 3rd, 2013 • Categories: Birds, winter events1 Comment

Pine Grosbeaks

This is an invasion year for winter finches. These are and seed and fruit eating birds of the boreal forest that only move as far south in winter as needed to find food. Some winters they stay to the north of northern Lower Michigan, other years a few species like Redpolls and Pine Siskins make it into our area. In years like this we get to see species that rarely come this far. One of these species is the Pine Grosbeak.

The Pine Grosbeak is the biggest of the winter finches. It’s 7-9” long and quite plump-looking. As its name suggests it has a large bill. Males are a lovely rosy color and females and immatures are gray underneath and golden on the back. All have 2 white wing bars.

You’re most likely to see Pine Grosbeaks where there are berry-bearing bushes or trees like Mountain Ash and crab-apple.

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