|Our former newsletter, J.J. Cardinal's
Notebook, used to be published annually. It offered a variety of birding and
nature topics, community announcements, new product info, and good cheer.
Today we issue regular updates & news more frequently through "J.J. Cardinal's Calendar" available in the store and online. We've distributed newsletters since 1991; some of the most popular, and timeless articles are available here; see the index below.
J.J. Cardinal's Calendar
- featuring activities and news -
Our newsletters are online!
|"Way back machine" - Volume 1, Issue 1 - yep, our very 1st issue of the Notebook from 1992. OK, stop laughing. It's not very clear, but keep in mind, it was our first issue. Back then we were still trying to figure out how to simply save a file on our new PC (another first). We like to think our technical skills and the newsletter have improved with age the past 25+ years.|
Summer Bird Feeding
If you place it, they will come
New Feeder Suggestions
Birds at my window
Fruit is for the birds
How To Keep Your Tube Feeders Inviting
Is there a difference?
Niger (thistle) seed
To feed or not to feed...
Choosing the Right Binoculars
Gardening is for the Birds
Winter colors at your feeders
Easy to attract house nester
Butterflies & Moths
|Birds||Flying in the Vee
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 1-5, October 1992
Why geese and ducks are seen flying in a V-shaped formation has always been somewhat of a mystery. Theories suggest that the lead bird can gain lift from the air-currents produced by the bird in front of them. But most scientists agree that flying in the Vee formation is mainly for maintaining visual contact with the rest of the flock, and avoiding collisions: because in practice, Canada Geese for example, are not in formation that allow the best flight efficiency.
Hawk at the Bird
The small accipiter (accipiter is Latin for "bird of prey"), Sharp-shinned hawk, is well known for consuming other birds. The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds states Sharp-shinned hawks diets are predominantly smaller birds.
Sharpies stand about 10-14 inches tall (about the size of a Blue Jay), and with a short wing span and long tail the Sharpie is equipped with rapid acceleration when in pursuit of its prey. Sharpies can be identified easily by looking for their small rounded heads, and square shaped tail tip with a thin white band at the end. These hawks are fairly common but shy with a preferred habitat in forests.
Another common hawk seen at bird feeders is the Cooper's hawk. Cooper's appear very similar to the Sharp-shinned but are larger, 14-20 inches, have thicker legs, and a rounded tail with white band at the end. Cooper's also have a slightly square shaped head. In flight, the Cooper's hawk beats its wings rapidly but they can also be seen soaring high above gliding on level wings. Only about half of the Cooper's diet is other birds. Both hawks are year around residents in Michigan.
The only thing we can do to shelter songbirds at bird feeders is to offer plenty of cover nearby. Dense shrubbery is best.
Law protects birds of prey, so there is really nothing
you can do, legally, to lessen their presence. Their predation on songbirds really has no
great effect on their populations. Their behavior has been part of nature long before
people began feeding birds as a hobby. Their activity is part of the natural laws: they
eliminate the sick and weak birds from the population, which in turn helps keep nature in
Is It A Purple Finch or House Finch?
The House Finch was first seen in Michigan in 1981, and has quickly become very common and well loved because of its beautiful plumage: brown with dark streaks on its belly and flanks with a red crown and bib. Their melodious song is most prevalent during breeding season. Many of us have been entertained by an amorous singing male, warbling out a tune to entice a female high atop a tree in spring.
Behavior and slight plumage differences will help set the House Finch apart from the Purple Finch. The Purple Finch is somewhat nomadic. They will visit your feeders in small flocks of 3 to 5 birds and eat but likely not stay. You may only see them once and not again until the next winter. Purple Finches breed during summer months in Southern Canada, and winter in Southern U.S. If we have a mild winter, you may see them throughout the year.
House Finches, on the other hand, feed and roost in flocks and will stay within a territory to breed and migrate only in the harshest of conditions. Michigan is their year around territory. The plumage differences of the Purple Finch can best be described as a bird turned upside-down, and dipped in cranberry juice. Their coloration is more blue-red, extending down across the wings. Their belly is also absent of the stripes seen on the House Finch. The Purple Finch's underside is lighter in color. Also, the Purple Finch is heavier than the House Finch. In females the differences are more apparent. The female Purple Finch has a distinctive white eye stripe.
House Finches, also known as Linnet, have been spotted with an orange variant to its coloration, or occasionally yellow, but it is very rare. House Finches are attracted to weed seeds like thistle, dandelions, as well as some fruits and insects. They nest well in man-made bird boxes in wooded settings placed 5-7 feet off the ground. They breed from February through August, and usually lay 4 or 5 speckled blue and white eggs.
Purple Finches are also mostly seed eaters, but will eat
raspberries, blackberries, tree seeds from elm, red maple, and love sunflower seeds! They
nest from April to July on branches in dense foliage in a bed they build of fine twigs,
grass, moss, and snakeskin lined with hair and wool. Their eggs are pale greenish-blue
with dots or spots covering the shell, but concentrating at the base of the egg.
Kirtland’s Warblers: Michigan’s
The program was not popular. The thought of killing cowbirds to save the warbler seemed redundant. Like the Kirtland's warbler Brown-headed cowbirds like open grassy conditions with scattered pine trees. Cowbirds do not build nests of their own. They lay their eggs in other birds' nests, and their young are raised by their hosts, often at the expense of the hosts' offspring. Cowbirds are very successful at this and pull the same trick on other species. Before the program began, each pair of warblers were producing on average less than one young per year; now they raise over four, more than any other American warbler species.
Yet, the numbers of breeding pairs has started falling again. In 1987, it's estimated only 170 pairs were returning to breed. So something is happening to the young Kirtland's warblers, possibly during migration to the Bahamas. Another theory suggests that the limited breeding habitat, now restricted to just six Michigan counties, is too small a 'target' for inexperienced migrating birds, or there may be a change in their wintering grounds unrecognized by ornithologists. Most of the warbler's breeding grounds are now in public hands, and suitable breeding and management to halt the natural grasslands progression to that of mature pinewoods is increasing nesting habitat for them. This is done by systematic cutting and burning of the Jack Pine forests of Northern Michigan. Perhaps this will be enough. The mysterious loss of so many young birds, somewhere on their long migration to the Bahamas, reminds us that a migrant bird needs more than just safe nesting grounds to survive.
What are the causes for decline in bird population?
Conservation must start at home. The more we succeed in getting our children interested
in nature the better our chances are of producing a society with respect and understanding
for our environment.
With short legs and long strong toes, woodpeckers cling to bark and use their tail feathers as a prop against the tree surface. They use their hard pointed, chisel-shaped bills to peck and hack into bark looking for insects, larvae, sap, and insect eggs, or to excavate a hole in a tree for nesting or nighttime roosting. A tough outer membrane protects the brain in the woodpecker’s skull. It also acts as a shock absorber from the pounding of the bill as the woodpecker excavated holes.
Woodpeckers depend on their sense of hearing to locate insects. They have extraordinarily long, worm-like tongues, which are bordered with bristles. Most adult woodpeckers eat wood-boring beetles, ants, aphids, caterpillars or acorns, pine nuts, and seeds.
Woodpeckers you may see are the common flicker, most noted for its yellow gilded wing linings seen during flight; they also wear a black necklace across their chest. Both male and female have red on the back of their nape, but a black cheek mustache patch can distinguish the male.
Downy and hairy woodpecker look similar. Downy woodpeckers get their name from their soft, fluffy appearance; they are our smallest woodpecker, measuring only about 6 inches, have ladder-backs (alternating black and white striped feathers), and are easily confused with their larger cousins, the hairy woodpecker.
Red-bellied woodpeckers are mistaken for the red-headed woodpecker, but males have less red on the head. Females also have a red nape but up only halfway. Measuring up to 10", these magnificent birds make quite an impression at the bird feeder.
Red-headed woodpeckers, just as the name implies are completely red-headed, male as well as the female. Sometimes seen on golf courses, they prefer open deciduous woods. Their numbers are seriously in decline because of the European starling who competes for nest sights.
Pileated woodpeckers are almost gone. This species is absent from
agricultural areas, small wood lots, and requires large territories of mature forests and
parks. They started to reappear in the 1920's after reforestation rehabilitated nesting
sights. A few sighting have occurred in this area. There is no mistaking this species. At
16-19" long and wingspans up to 30", you know when you have seen a pileated.
Nature’s Door Knocker
People often mistake this rapid drumming as the woodpecker looking for food, envisioning huge gaping holes all over the wood siding of their home. But, if you ever observe the Downey Woodpecker looking for a tasty insect grub, their search is slower, and more probing in manner.
Usually when we think of bird sounds, we often think initially of bird songs. Drumming is actually another way of communication. It identifies the chosen territory, and is an important part of the Downey’s courtship display.
However, if you do notice holes about your home, chances are Woodpeckers are probing
for insects. The experts tell us that the Woodpecker wouldn't expend the energy to
excavate the siding of your home unless insects were present. To rid your home of this
activity you need to create a deterrent. Try hanging pie plates or colorful wind socks in
the area. A customer told us that if you slap the inside wall loudly, it will scare the
woodpecker from returning to that area, and we have experienced that if your offer an
alternate food source like suet at your feeding areas this may lure them away. A product
called Ropel has also been somewhat effective. A natural insecticide would be your last
choice. J.J. Cardinal has learned recently that the Downy woodpecker will excavate holes
in siding not only to look for food but to also excavate roosting sites. Downy woodpeckers
excavate holes year round, and because they are timid, if another species shows interest
in the site the Downy will move to another location and start all over again.
The Great Gray Owl
Their range is the spruce forest along the Yukon River in central Alaska, and south to the United States border. Breeding ranges take them to as far south as California, but even there it is estimated only as few as 50 birds exist making it a very rare sighting indeed.
In Michigan, it is uncommon to see them south of the Upper Peninsula. If we experience a winter with deep snow cover and bitter cold, our chances improve of catching a glimpse of one in Lower Michigan.
Because of the Gray's plumage, they blend in perfectly unnoticed with the trunks of trees and because of this, they hunt their prey both day and night. Their diet consists mainly of mice, voles, and pocket gophers. They will sit high atop a perch, and look over a clear-cut area or meadow, listening intently for prey. Once seen, they will fly down, pounce, and cup their huge wings around the catch (called mantling), then deliver the fatal, crushing bite to its prey.
Owls swallow their prey whole. Later they will regurgitate the bones, hair, and remains. Scientists use these pellets to analyze and learn about owl’s diet and feeding preferences.
Owls breed March through May, and usually lay 2-3 white eggs. For the Great Gray, incubation is done by the female only, and lasts 30 days. During this time, the male feeds the female.
When nestlings are small, the male presents the food to the female, which is fed to the young. Later the male will feed them directly. The young leave the nest at 21-28 days but will return to the nest to roost at night or when alarmed.
There are over 140 owl species worldwide. The North American Elf Owl is the smallest in the world. Their sight and hearing are most exceptional. Their ears are more remarkable than their eyes: they can detect sounds to determine exactly where their prey is, both in direction and distance!
Law protects owls, and enemies of the owls are mostly humans who shoot and trap them.
With a wingspan of 54 - 60 inches, the Great Gray Owl may be the largest owl but its
weight is exceeded by the Great Horned Owl and Snowy Owls.
The Northern Cardinal: America’s Best Loved Songbird
With its special combination of brilliant plumage, rich song, and its human-like adoration to its mate as they stay together throughout the year, it's easy to understand why America is in love with the Northern Cardinal. In fact, the Cardinal is the state bird in seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, N. Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and W. Virginia.
The Cardinal's name came from a Latin word, "cardo"- meaning "important". The Cardinal is also known as "Grosbeak", "Cardinal Bird", "Big Red", "Crested Redbird", and other various names in other localities. However, it is most affectionately known almost everywhere as simply "Redbird".
You don't need to be an Ornithologist to identify a male Northern Cardinal. Almost everyone can easily identify the male, but surprisingly, many do not realize the female is drab olive-brown in color with red accents. The juveniles (youngsters) look a lot like the female but lack the orange beak.
Once thought of as a "southern" bird, the Cardinal has been expanding its range steadily northward; many experts claim that bird feeding has some effect on this. You will see Cardinals now into our Upper Peninsula and extreme Southern Canada, and as far south as the Honduras and Guatemala. Cardinals were also introduced in Hawaii in the 1920's; Cardinals are now well established on almost all islands. Cardinals have been in Michigan for only the past 100 years or so.
This time of year, November and December, you will see Cardinals flocking together, a common behavior at the end of the breeding season for many bird species. Flocks have a better advantage when it comes to foraging for food and protection from predators. Like the old saying goes: "birds of a feather, flock together".
A dependable food source, like a well-stocked sunflower feeder is so important for the birds in cold weather! When we feed the birds, we become somewhat responsible for them to continue to offer food, shelter, and water.
Cardinals prefer the easily cracked, black-oil sunflower seed, placed four to five feet off the ground, preferably on a "platform" feeder or a "hopper style" feeder. In addition to sunflower seeds, Cardinals like: cracked corn, cooked rice, the buds from Elm trees, wild fruits, and insects.
Cardinals use stems, twigs, bark strips, and grasses to build their nests and place them two to ten feet off the ground in dense shrubbery like honeysuckle and evergreen. Nesting occurs from March through August, and they lay two to five gray to buff white speckled eggs.
After the female incubates the eggs 12-13 days, they hatch and mature to leave the nest
in only 11 days! While the female incubates the next brood, the male supplements feeding
the juveniles from the first batch. Recipe for Cardinal Crunch Two cups ground beef suet;
two cups dried breadcrumbs; one half-cup black-oil sunflower seeds; one-cup raisins, and
one half-cup crunchy peanut butter. Mix all ingredients into a bowl, and melt in a double
boiler or microwave oven on medium. Let mixture harden thoroughly until it is solid white;
melt a second time. When semi-hard, pack the suet into a log (with perches) drilled with
1-2" holes and hang, or cut into pieces and place on a platform feeder. (Melting suet
twice will cause the mixture to become very hard, ideal for birds to peck into.)
American Kestrel: Swift Flyers
This swallow-like falcon (it has long pointed wings like swallows) is about the size of a Blue Jay, averaging nine to twelve inches in length. Its plumage (feathers) are very striking. No other falcon has such a rufous colored back or tail; it’s a rich cinnamon color. The wing coverlets are slate- blue and both sexes have black markings about the face that suggest a mustache.
Kestrels have also been called Sparrow Hawk, which is really incorrect because the Kestrel diet is mainly insects. Occasionally Kestrels will catch and eat small birds, so if you plan to place a nest box for Kestrels, do not place it near other birdhouses or feeders in your yard. They prefer an open habitat with a mixture of trees and shrubs. We often see them when driving along the expressway perched erectly atop a dead tree limb or street sign looking for prey.
Like hummingbirds the Kestrel has the ability to hover in flight allowing them to
aerially forage for insects! This rare flight ability is also shared with the Belted
Kingfisher. Kestrels are common around the state of Michigan in the summer, according to
the Bird Finding Guide to Michigan, and during winter months they are considered uncommon
because of Southern migration habits.
Belted Kingfisher: A Regal Angler
Such is the life of the Belted Kingfisher. A single Kingfisher could never accomplish this feat all by itself, so a mated pair work at it together on their stubby legs, taking as long as three weeks to complete the project. They use their bills as picks, digging in the ground and their feet to kick out the dirt. Then Belted Kingfishers can be seen around ponds and streams.
This chunky bird, with its too-large head and top feathers that look like a bad
haircut, make identification easy. Their plumage is slate gray-blue above, with a white
throat and underside. The female has a rust colored band across her breast, making her one
of the few bird species more colorful than the male. Nesting usually starts around May,
laying typically five to seven eggs. The young hatch featherless and as their plumage
develops, each feather is encased in a sheath, so for a time they walk around their borrow
looking like little porcupines. After the sheaths come off, they resemble the adults
without the rust colored breast band. To see Kingfishers, look around the edges of a calm
pond or stream. They like to perch on a dead tree branch over the water as they hunt for
fish, so named “Kingfisher”.
Birds of Prey Fun Facts
....that the turkey vulture’s wings, with uptilted tips seem best suited for soaring
Blue Jay has its quiet moments
Blue Jays are a strikingly beautiful bird-with vibrant blue, black, and white feather patterns; they posture themselves tall and strong, with raised crest when alarmed. Once we get past the behavior they exhibit, few of our native bird species can compare in beauty of plumage.
Although not a true migratory species and considered somewhat resident, Jays have been observed gathering into flocks of dozens or more, moving about in fall and winter, remaining relatively silent when compared to their noisy cousins, the Crow. W. Bryant Tyrrell (1934) describes a striking assembly of Blue Jays at Whitefish Point, Michigan. He says: I saw hundreds-if not thousands-of Blue Jays. There was a chilly northwest wind blowing off Lake Superior. The Blue Jays made very little noise. I did not see a single flock actually start to fly off across the lake, but by morning there was hardly a bird to be found.
Blue Jays prefer to live in mixed woods, and are fond of oaks because acorns, in fact, Jays gather acorns and actually cache a variety of foods year round. J.J.Cardinal had flying squirrels take up residence in a nesting box on his property. One day he observed a Jay putting whole peanuts into the nest box. J.J. suspected the Jay thought he was caching food, when in reality the Jay was feeding the squirrels!
Many customers of J.J. Cardinal’s have enjoyed feeding peanuts to Jays, too. Grand
Blanc [MI] residents Carl and Shirley C. found Jays to be very intelligent in their food
selection, siting that Jays visiting their feeders actually lift and weigh the peanuts
knowing the heaviest is the meatiest! They tried an experiment: remove the peanut from the
shell and fill the shell with peanut butter. The Jays caught on right away! And, Frank K.
of Grand Blanc has actually trained a Jay how to come into his library for a nut: he
places peanuts one after another until the Jay is actually into his home. J.J. Cardinal
wonders just who has trained who?
Bluebird Behavior & Activity Tracking Tool
Care of Abandoned or Injured Wild Birds
With each new breeding season, we receive scores of phone calls concerning emergencies that arise when a bird’s nest is blown out of a tree or disturbed in some way. Eggs, newly hatched eggs or half-grown birds are found scattered on the ground.
What should one do for help? If the nest and contents are not harmed, place it securely back from where it came. It’s better to let the bird parents go about the job of raising their young, after all they alone are best suited. If the nest has been dismantled, a new nest can be formed of dried grasses, cupped to form a snug surrounding. They can be also placed in a basket with nesting material where the bird parents can come to feed or incubate their young. It is a myth that birds will abandon a nest or their young if touched by human hand. Birds’ sense of smell is the least developed of all their senses and their instinct to tend to their offspring is very strong.
A young bird found alone is seldom abandoned. If you do not see parental activity after four hours, then capture the bird if you can place the nestling in a box, perhaps with grass, lined in soft cloth or tissues. Keep the box warm by covering with a cloth to protect them from drafts. The job of being a foster parent is continual. Young birds need to be fed in 15-minute intervals at least 12 hours during the day. Nighttime feeding is not usually necessary.
Basic Food Recipe - This should be given only in the event that a
licensed wildlife rehabilitator cannot be reached immediately. Mashed yolk of hard-boiled
eggs with finely sifted breadcrumbs that have been slightly moistened with milk or
cod-liver oil. This recipe agrees with blue jays, cardinals, robins, and most other small
songbirds. Exceptions are hummingbirds and pigeons, to name a few. Leave these species to
the experts. Small birds may be killed by forcibly giving them water or milk. In the wild
they receive sufficient moisture from the foods they ingest. But, in captivity they may
not. Feed them a little water with an eyedropper. Injured birds need to be placed in a
secure place. Frequently birds will fly into windows and stun themselves. If the bird
lands in an unnatural posture, right the bird to ensure open airways and place in a secure
area or in a covered box until it recovers. If the bird fails to recover soon, call us for
a wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
Cedar Waxwings - Masked Marauders
Cedar Waxwings (Bombbycilla Cedrorum) were named “waxwing” because of the brilliant red, tear drop shaped “wax-like” substance that ends at the adults secondary wing feathers. These colorful protrusions are actually an extension of the feather’s shaft. Scientists cannot determine why Waxwings evolved with this unusual characteristic.
The Cedar Waxwing’s feathers are so soft and silky; they look “fur-like” and are light brown to dark gray-brown in color. They sport a “mysterious-looking” black bandit mask that’ll remind you (those old enough to remember) of Zorro. Their tail is tipped with yellow feathers and their sleek body style gives them a regal stance. Generally found in tight flocks around coniferous forests from S.E. Alaska to Newfoundland and South from California to the Gulf of Florida, their lifestyle is somewhat nomadic, not strongly territorial in their search for food and shelter.
Cedar Waxwings prefer to feed on wild berries, crab apple, small fruits, insects and as mentioned in our “Summer” newsletter (1993) - flower petals. To attract them, plant such favorites as fire thorn, mulberries, the mountain ash. Having one to two broods (families) per year, Cedar Waxwings nest mid-May through September.
Their nests are placed usually four to 50 feet up in the fork of a horizontal tree limb, and made of fine twigs, grasses, paper, pine needles and stems. Sometimes they (both male and female assist in nest building) line the nest with moss and caterpillar silk. Their eggs are light gray with speckles, and a typical clutch size is two to six eggs. After only 14 days of incubation by the female only, they hatch (it has been noted that sometimes the female eats the egg shells, possibly for the calcium they contain?) and are fed protein-rich insects for the first few days then they switch to berries. After only about 15 days, the young nestlings are fully developed and ready to leave the nest, (J.J. Cardinal always finds this completely amazing) with the gentle prodding by the adults and completely on their own after only ten days, ready to join other youngsters in small flocks.
You’ll hear Waxwings before you see them. They have a rather high-pitched
"Seeeeee" call which they sing almost continually during flight, which is
undulating and graceful. The oldest recorded (banded) Waxwing found was five years, seven
The Downy Woodpecker is black and white with a bold white stripe down its back. Its bill is shorter than its cousin the Hairy Woodpecker, and no longer than the width of its head. Female Downys lacks the red nape patch; juveniles may have reddish to yellowish crown that is lost with the first complete annual molt in fall: July through September.
Most woodpeckers glean insects from the bark of trees and are known as “one of our most useful species” because of the insect food selected. Almost all insect species selected by the Downy are economically harmful and because of this you should welcome them to your habitat.
To attract woodpeckers try one of our feeders featured (right). It will attract all “tree-clinging”
species like woodpeckers, nuthatches and titmice. Our Woodpecker Delight™ seed blend
mixed with lard and crunchy peanut butter is just right for this feeder.
Hooting good time (great horned owl)
The largest owl, and the one most frequently described in literature, is the great horned owl. Great horned owls hunt from dusk until dawn (nocturnal), and have such an acute sense of hearing they can actually detect their prey under heavy snow cover. Their primary prey is a small mammal such as mice and rabbit; they are completely carnivorous, and they will eat large insects, too. Great horned owls are an important element in our gardens and habitat as they eat varmint, sometimes as many as five to six a day that would otherwise create a problem.
Special wing feathers silence an owl’s flight and muffles the sound of the air rushing over the surface of their wings: this allows an owl to hunt by taking their victims by surprise, it also allows the owl to listen for prey movements while still flying. Wingspans of a great horned owl can be as much as 60 inches; the females are slightly larger. Owls use their enormous sharp talons (claws) to catch and carry off their prey, devouring them whole or shredding them to smaller bits.
Great horned owls are fairly abundant and common; they are non-migratory. Typical range
size is about two miles, however great horned owls are seldom seen, they are often only
heard at night. A soft five-note hoot is a male great horned owl; a seven-note hoot is the
female. Because owls can see well in the dark, they were once believed to possess
supernatural powers and why owls are often seen as Halloween icons.
Nature’s flying jewels
In the wild, hummingbirds have two main sources of food: flower nectar and tiny insects, such as gnats and spiders, which provide protein. They gather insects from flowers or snatch them out of the air as they whiz around looking for nectar. Hummingbirds readily use nectar feeders, and since ninety percent of their time is devoted to finding nectar, you really should have one or more of these specially designed feeders in your yard.
There are two basic feeder styles: saucer and vacuum. They come in a wide range of capacities, materials and designs, and are easily hung from a tree limb or pole. They also can be mounted directly to the outside of a window. Saucer style feeders are basin feeders covered with a lid, have several feeding ports, and an advantage over vacuum style feeders: they do not leak; lids lift off completely for thorough cleaning. When selecting a hummingbird feeder look for:
Sidebar: Bees and ants are attracted to the same sugar water mixture
as hummingbirds, often creating a nuisance to feeding birds and even fouling the nectar.
Stop ants by putting a barrier, such as water filled moat, between the ants and the
nectar. Bees and wasps have short mouthparts, so bee guards over the end of feeding tubes
help deter their reach. Newer designs in feeders make it difficult for bees and wasps to
get at the nectar.
Hummer’s marvelous proficiency of flight
The Ruby-throated hummingbird has the largest range of all North American hummingbirds covering almost two-thirds of the United States. These small, sprite-like birds are white below and radiant green above. Males have a brilliant flame-red throat that flashes when the sun strikes it.
Hummers advance north when their favorite flowers open. In our gardens bee balm is the most attractive to hummingbirds. Diantha Martin, naturalist at ForMar Nature Preserve in Burton, MI says “when you see the forsythias with their welcomed early yellow blooms, its time to put out your hummingbird feeders.”
There’s a plethora of hummingbird feeders available. Hummingbird feeders deliver nectar: a sugar and water solution. Some feeders are designed better than others with features that allow for easy cleaning, built in ant traps and bee guards. J.J.Cardinal’s has a wide assortment of feeders we feel deliver the nectar in the safest and most natural way.
This year we will once again offer a pre-packaged hummingbird food (there was some concern about the use of certain additives in years past) which contains no preservatives, food colorings or other additives. What it does contain are two simple sugars: ones that will most closely mimic the natural sugars found in flowers. [Editor's Note: though written in 1998, J.J.Cardinal's continues to sell this popular product.]
It is still very important to change the solution often-in hot temperatures every day.
Earliest reports of Hummingbirds in Michigan are April 28th; a lot depends on weather and
growth of natural food available. Placing feeders out early might ensure success in seeing
them as they move into our area.
The Gentle Mourning Dove
Mourning Doves are very easy to attract to feeding stations because they’ll eat just about any grain. Ideally low, large platform style, screened or unscreened, covered feeders should be used.
Mourning Doves roost together sometimes in groups of fifty or more during most winter months. Though not migratory, they will move about in flocks in search of food. In A Guide to Bird Behavior, volume two, by Don and Lillian Stokes, flocks in northern states seem to have a higher percentage of males and contain a social hierarchy with “peck-dominance,” in which certain birds are dominant over others.
Doves produce one to two broods per season with usually two eggs that hatch in 14 - 15 days. Both the male and female incubate nestlings. Mourning Doves use their beaks like a straw to sip the water. Most birds require a head-tilt backward to drink. In March courtship behavior and song will begin: a sure sign spring is on its way.
Suggested reading for more information on Mourning Doves: The Audubon Society
Encyclopedia of North American Birds, and: The Birder’s Handbook, a Field Guide
to the Natural History of North American Birds available at your favorite nature book
Species profile: Pine siskin (Carduelis
Finding and identifying pine siskins among wintering flocks can be exciting, and a challenge; their appearance in our area is very “irregular.” They look very much like the female house finch, but upon closer observation you may notice their bills are a bit pointed instead of chunky and conical, and their wing edges and rumps are tinged in yellow. They are also “high flyers” and are seen flitting from treetop to treetop; flight is undulating as with the American goldfinch.
Siskins seem almost tame. They will accept niger (thistle) seed from finch feeders, and will let you approach quite close before taking wing.
According to National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America, the
pine siskins’ range is north to mid Canada and across the United States. They prefer
mixed woods and coniferous forests in summer, forests, shrubs, and fields in winter.
Songbirds and salmonella
Tests are underway at the USDA’s Veterinary Services and until tests identify cause they say people who feed birds should not blame themselves for the outbreak-still three precautions are in order: 1) Clean bird feeders with a 10 percent bleach solution, 2) Do not try to rehabilitate sick birds without the legally required permits from federal and state authorities and, 3) If you handle dead birds wrap and place in outdoor garbage container.
It is also suggested we should clean feeders on a regular basis and to provide several feeders so the birds aren’t competing for the same food.
The Cornell scientists suggest that people with suspected salmonella cases contact the
wildlife conservation office in their home state for directions. “We’d like to know
what stressors are making birds susceptible this year,” says Cornell veterinarian Barry
Hartup. “Maybe the mild winter with a few severe storms?”
Screech Owl: They Could Teach a Horse How to Whinny
One of Michigan’s smallest Owls, 7-10” with ear tufts, can be seen in red or gray colored plumage. Screech Owls are a familiar and common resident preferring open woodlands and deciduous forests.
You can attract Screech Owls with a nesting box. These large boxes with a three-inch opening can be securely mounted on a large tree or utility pole. Males are attentive during nesting, feeding the females during incubation and, the pair will often nest and roost together. After a group hatching that takes place during the evening hours, the young will stay in the nest box and in the same tree for most of the summer season.
Live snakes have been known to be brought into the nest where they live with the young owlets...feeding on insect larvae and, may reduce harmful insects that thrive in nests. It has been noted that baby owlets from nests that have snakes grow quicker and healthier than nests without snakes! Our Eastern Screech Owl was put on the “Blue List” in 1981, apparently because of declining populations in the Midwest. One theory is that utility poles (a favorite nesting spot of Screech Owls), once soaked with creosote, caused nesting casualties.
The National Audubon Society created the “Blue List” in 1971 to provide us with an
early warning of species that were undergoing reductions in populations or range. In
contrast, by the time a species makes it to the “Endangered” list...it is often
thought to be on its last legs.
Species profile: Purple finch (Carpodacus purpureus)
In A. C. Bent’s Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds, the purple finch is described as follows: the male, above, is pale geranium-red (often carmine or brick-red), hoary on the nape, the feathers of the back with dusky shaft lines and broad greenish buff edgings. Below, a hoary geranium-pink blending into white on the abdomen, and the flanks are buff colored with a few dusky streaks. Purple finches are easy to identify by their color; no other finch is so rosy red.
The female purple finch is actually easier to distinguish from the house finch in that it has a distinctive white stripe above and below the eye.
Purple finches are quite outgoing, especially in winter, they are quite friendly at times, except when feeding causes rivalry. Providing several well-spaced feeding stations will reduce this behavior.
Purple finches have been known to wander as far south as Louisiana in winter in search
of food. You will find them in mixed flocks of goldfinches, house finches and pine siskins
on catkins, weed seeds and at feeders.
White-Breasted Nuthatch: Topsy-Turvy Bird
The White-breasted Nuthatch is five to six inches long with short tail, short legs and a strong "tree-clinging" feet. Their bill is chisel-shaped like woodpeckers. The sexes are similar with blue-gray cape across the shoulder and back with clear breast, white face and neck. Under the tail is tawny colored feathers. Females lack the black cap and nape.
Nuthatches are easily tame. When hungry, they'll land on a hand for sunflower seeds or a peanut half. They prefer a platform type feeder or a peanut feeder to a perch-type feeder and will readily accept peanut butter or suet smeared on a tree limb.
Nuthatches like to hang around with the Black-capped Chickadee and Tufted Titmouse and sometimes the Brown Creeper joins them in winter. You'll see them all feeding together in a flocking behavior that ends with the onset of the breeding season in the spring. Nuthatches will use nest boxes. They prefer to nest quite high up, usually 15-50 feet in a big tree. In making or purchasing a nesting box, make sure the entrance hole is 1-1/8 inches in diameter and the inside floor dimension is four or five inches square; nine to twelve inches high. Although they don't use nest boxes as readily as other species, it's worth the try.
Nesting begins in mid-March for the Nuthatch. It depends on the weather. They'll use shreds of bark, rabbit's fur, and feathers; they have also been seen nabbing a few hairs off the neighborhood squirrels! A typical egg count is eight per clutch. You'll know they're Nuthatch eggs if it is white marked with browns, purple and gray. Incubation takes only twelve days and is usually the responsibility of the female--in some rare instances, the male joins in.
The oldest White-breasted Nuthatch on record is one caught in Longmont, Colorado when
it was 9-years, 9-months old. Nuthatches have some strange nicknames. They're also known
as: Topsy-Turvy Bird, after their feeding habits; and also as Yank, probably after their
nasal “yank-yank-yank” call.
Where Are All My Songbirds?
May through September is the usual courtship and breeding season for many species that frequent our back yards. Many of the beautiful songs we hear in early spring announce the start of territorial divisions. Songbirds sing to communicate. Some songs proclaim that this is their chosen breeding and nesting domain. Donald and Lillian Stokes have published a series of books called Bird Behavior, available in three volumes. In these books, the Stokes have been able to identify territory sizes through careful and lengthy field observations.
In Stokes' behavior guides, the black-capped chickadee, for example, demands almost a full ten-acre breeding range! The flocks of chickadees you may have enjoyed all winter have now split up and have established boundaries. You may only see two black-capped chickadees in early summer. Small chickadee families return in late summer. The same is true for the tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch and several other species. Robins, on the other hand, require only 1/4 an acre for breeding and nesting. This is why they continue to be so abundant.
Another reason you may see fewer birds and especially at bird feeders is most songbirds' diets change dramatically during active nesting. Nestlings develop very fast; chickadees leave the nest in only twelve days. Seedeaters turn into bug eaters for the rich protein they provide. When they leave the nest, be on the alert as mother and dad may bring the young ones to the "fast food restaurant" in your back yard.
Blue jays, so noisy and gregarious in spring, become silent and secretive during nesting season. Just about the time you notice you have not heard blue jays in awhile, they are back with a vengeance.
Using pesticides and herbicides is another reason for altered populations of songbirds. If there is no food present, the birds go where it is. Nesting hawks nearby will cause songbirds to vacate the area for a time.
Keeping your bird feeders full and clean year round is the best way to attract an
abundant crop of colorful back yard buddies.
The nature of bird behavior
Most bird’s skills are inherited, but many are instinctive behaviors that are learned through their experiences. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, for instance, seeks out red colored flowers not instinctively but because most red flowers produce larger nectar pots; hummingbirds have found through experience that red flowers have more food.
Instinctive behaviors allow for quick responses: life-saving in predacious circumstances. Other instinctive behaviors are finding a mate, foraging and locating food, rearing of young, and seasonal movement. Birds act in predictable manner in certain situations, while we humans have the ability to consider other options and contemplate outcome.
We acquire new information by learning, by experience, and by exposure to certain conditions; so do birds. In A Golden Guide to Bird Life by Stephen W. Kress, birds that eat a variety of foods are usually the quickest to take advantage of new food sources and consequently must be considered the most intelligent. For example, gulls, crows, and ravens have diverse diets; their bills are multi purpose. These birds are quicker to learn and thought of as very intelligent.
Another behavior humans and birds have in common is the desire to play. Young children
develop motor and sensory skill while playing and so do birds. In The Audubon Society
Encyclopedia of North American Birds by John K. Terres, adult crows, ravens and magpies
have been seen playing with pebbles, and marsh hawks and other birds of prey are known to
play with their prey. Feeding birds and creating a habitat to attract birds is a rewarding
hobby. If you desire to go further in the study of birds and bird behavior we suggest the
reading material all available at J.J.Cardinal’s: A Guide to Bird Behavior, by
Donald and Lillian Stokes, Vol. I, II, and III; The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of
North American Birds, in encyclopedia treatment with abundant photos; and The
Birder’s Handbook, by Paul R. Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye.
New Character In
In fall, one somewhat migratory bird, red-breasted nuthatch, seems to cause quite a bit of confusion because it looks very similar to its cousin, white-breasted nuthatch. Its behavior of climbing down tree trunks is similar, too, however it is smaller, has a white stripe above the eye (suggesting an eyebrow), and a reddish blush on the breast. Vocally they sound the same, except the red-breasted nuthatch’s call is higher pitched, and sounds nasal-as if the bird has a cold.
In, The Birds of Michigan, author Stan Tekiela reports the name “nuthatch” comes from the Middle English “nuthack,” referring to the birds’ habit of wedging a seed into a crevice and chopping at it with its bill to open. Nuthatches seldom eat their meal at the bird feeder: they will snatch a seed, fly away, and look for a vice to wedge the seed into; closely-related black-capped chickadees do the same thing but usually use their feet as the wedge.
If you would like to attract red-breasted nuthatches to your feeding station, their favorite foods include black-oil sunflower, peanut butter spreads, and shelled peanuts. Nuthatches also communally roost in tree crevices in winter to keep warm. Installing a “roosting box” (a box with inside perches and bottom entrance hole), away from birdfeeders, will attract the attention of nuthatches and chickadees, too.
The life expectancy of the red-breasted nuthatch is only 10-months to two years
(because of its northern lifestyle), and we can help the nuthatch survive harsh conditions
by offering food, water, and a place to keep warm in winter.
|Bird Feeding||Summer Bird Feeding
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 2-3, June 1993
Every year about this time, customers inquire about summer feeding--should stop feeding the birds or continue? Two fears are it will cause wild birds to become overly dependent on the human-supplied offerings, thus they will loose their natural abilities to forage for food in the wild. The second anti-feeding argument suggests that the availability of easily obtained food might lure migratory birds to linger longer at the feeder, causing them to miss their optimum chance for a successful trip south. As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article, bird experts reject both theories. The rhythms of migration are hormonally driven, and no amount of food, no matter how tasty (even J.J.'s Suet recipes!), will delay a bird's takeoff to warmer climates. The idea that birds lose their natural abilities to survive or that their young will not learn to eat naturally because of our offerings has been firmly disapproved by scientists. As reported in the spring 1992 issue of the Journal of Field Ornithology, wildlife ecologists at the University of Wisconsin carried out a controlled experiment involving two groups of Chickadees. One bunch well fed at feeders for three years was left to fend for themselves, the other a carefully monitored Chickadee flock that had no possible experience with feeding stations. These two groups were compared during a harsh winter, and the former-feeders proved to have the same survival rate as the feeder-virgins. We put up feeders of course to feed the birds, but also for our pure enjoyment, education, and the entertainment of watching nature up close. So, do not put away that bird feeder this summer. Keep it filled and enjoy the show!
If you place it, they will come
If you choose to provide feed throughout the winter, it is best to begin in mid-autumn prior to wintering birds’ decision on territory and flocking choices. Many species of birds will “flock-up” during winter months-these species include: Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and White-breasted Nuthatch to name a few. We are often asked which kind of food is best to attract birds-our answer is usually “a variety.” The birds visiting feeding stations generally fall into three major groups: those who feed mainly on seeds, those who choose insects, and those who eat both. J.J.’s Best Mix (one of five Quality Custom Blended™ mixes we offer), will satisfy any seed-eating species who visit feeding stations.
J.J.’s Best Mix contains a mixture of seeds shown to be highly attractive during field testing sessions. In the National Audubon Society Birdfeeding Handbook you will see a variety of foods recommended: nut meats, peanut butter, bread crumbs, pancakes, doughnuts, raisins, fruits, etc. In essence, the more variety you have, the more types of birds you will attract.
If you want to attract a gaggle of birds, you will need more than one feeder. A good feeding set-up would include: a platform feeder for offering a mixed seed blend; a tube-style feeder for offering sunflower seeds, or mixture of seeds; a thistle feeder for finches; a suet feeder for insect eating species, and fruit feeder. Variety and location are very important. Variety will not only increase overall numbers but also species.
Inevitably, you will have wild mammals visiting your feeding stations. Be assured, there are effective, inexpensive devices to deal with this if it becomes a problem. In addition to offering seed, suet, and fruit, consider adding plants that will not only supply food for birds but offer shelter and nesting sites. Viburnums, mulberries, birches, cherries, elderberries, dogwoods, grapes, and bayberries are good choices.
We invite you to provide our naturalists a simple plan of the site you wish to develop into a wildlife feeding area including: home and tree placement, types of plantings, and types of feeders (if any) present. This will help determine what would be necessary to round-out the habitat for the species of wildlife present in your area.
[Note: In the fall of 1999, Cornell Institute of
Ornithology recommended spacing feeders well apart to thwart the spread of disease. In
years when birds migrate widely, also known as “interruptive” years, the movement
stresses the birds and makes them more susceptible to illness. We had high numbers of
salmonella and lost large flocks of Common Redpolls, and Pine Siskins in 1999. Feeder
cleanliness is also stressed.]
New Bird Feeder Suggestions
Remember to keep the ground under the feeder free of seed husks. If you are seeing a
lot of uneaten seeds on the ground, check with us to make sure you are using the right mix
of seeds for the species you are attracting. Bird droppings mixing in with this mess can
harbor bacteria that could be potentially harmful to the birds and other wildlife eating
at the feeding area. If you have any questions concerning bird feeding, species
identification, or any other topic about birds, please feel free to call J.J. Cardinal’s.
We will try to answer your questions, and if we do not have an answer, we will find it for
Birds at my Window
When a bird selects a nesting site, the immediate area becomes its territory and it assertively protects it by driving other birds away with aggressive behavior and calls.
Birds have a strong instinct for territory protection, especially during breeding season. This instinct helps curtail competition for food and nesting sites. Songs and calls, usually sung by adult male birds, are familiar indicators of nesting territoriality in birds. A species' typical song, sung from chosen perches in its territory, says, in effect, "Here I am. This is where my mate and I plan to nest; others of my species respect my boundaries."
The size of territory varies with the time of year (breeding or non-breeding season), species, and the availability of food in the area. If you are feeding birds during nesting season do not stop feeding. Birds will depend on your offerings; populations may be inflated because of food offered. Plentiful food means smaller territories, and less food means birds have to forage for food over a larger area. Birds defend their territories most insistently during the nesting season when they are protecting a nest site. It is during this period, usually April through August, when most birds begin their courtship, breed, build a nest, and raise their young (probably 2 or 3 broods), that most "window fighting" takes place. Territories vary in size; a typical suburban songbird such as an American Robin requires only approximately ¼ acre for its territory while a pair of Black-capped Chickadees will chase off trespassers in an area of eight to seventeen acres.
When a bird sees its reflection in a window or other reflective surface (birds have also been known to fling themselves at other shiny objects), it takes it for a rival and tries to drive the other bird off. Unlike a real bird, which would normally back off, the rival in the glass appears to fight back as often as it is attacked. Birds have no ability to reason or to comprehend the concept of reflection. To a male cardinal, for instance, its own reflection is a rival and he has no choice but to attack it until it leaves.
Territorial behavior at windows occurs most often in birds that frequent yards and have nest sites in trees and shrubs near houses. The birds mostly frequently reported displaying the behavior are the American Robin and Northern Cardinal. During their search for a nest site these birds probably catch a glimpse of their reflection in a window and the battle begins.
Despite the forceful appearance of this behavior from the other side of the window, the birds rarely kill themselves. An individual may, however, become very stressed because the other bird keeps reappearing and, if the behavior continues, cause injury to its bill.
The breeding season (the time in which birds mate, build
nests, lay eggs, and rear young) is the time when birds are most territorial. For
cardinals and robins the breeding season may total five or six weeks; but the window
bashing could continue off and on between May and August as two or three broods are
hatched during that time. The best solution to the problem is to cover the outside of the
window with a non-reflective material such as a sheet of plastic. A medium-weight, plastic
painter's drop cloth (available in hardware stores and home centers) works well; it is
clear enough to allow light into the room but cloudy enough to eliminate reflection.
Attach the plastic to the top of the window and allow it to hang freely over the outside
of the window. The bird will no longer be able to see itself in the window, and the
movement of the plastic will frighten it as it blows in the wind.
Bluebird Food Recipe A basic recipe that you can adapt by adding your own ingredients as seen in The Bluebird Book by Donald and Lillian Stokes:
Add chopped raisins, nut meats or peanut hearts. Raisins, especially those that have been softened by soaking briefly in boiling water are appealing to Bluebirds. Other foods to try are small pieces of suet, currants, sunflower hearts, mealworms, or berries such as those of dogwood, multiflora rose or sumac.
Books, Journals, and Newsletters about Bluebirds
Almost everyone who feeds the tiny hummingbird knows the importance of keeping the feeder sanitary. Experts suggest changing the nectar (sugar and water solution) daily, or certainly every two or three days in cooler temperatures.
When you offer grains and seeds at the bird feeder, be aware of the dangers of spoilage and act accordingly. If you erect a feeding station, be responsible for it. You would not eat a slice of moldy bread-so why would you offer moldy seed to wildlife?
When you fill your feeder, don’t just routinely “top” it off. Remove the old seed at the bottom of the feeder. Even just a little moisture can cause seed to spoil. Usually the birds will stop eating the food or eat enough to become exposed to some illness. Salmonellosis is the most prevalent at dirty bird feeding stations and is usually fatal.
To reduce the risk of this disease and other disease, we offer these tips:
When using platform feeders, the good rule of thumb is not to offer more food that birds can eat in a day. Hanging tube feeders can be cleaned by loosening the screws at the bottom and removing the perches. Long-handled bird feeder brushes make tube cleaning a breeze. Brushes only $6.95. Keeping your back yard feeding stations clean and free from avian disease should be as high on your list of importance as keeping your feathered friends fed, watered and well!
The practice of peanut feeding has become very popular.
When offering shelled peanuts it is especially important to make sure the peanuts are kept
dry. Wet peanuts may expose birds to a toxic mold. Even humid hot conditions should be of
special concern. If the peanut feeder you have is not emptied in a few days-do not fill it
completely until feeding activity increases. [Editor’s
Note: prices mentioned above are subject to change.]
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 7 Issue 1 Spring, 1998
Did someone decide for you this past holiday that bird feeding would be your new hobby? Chances are (if you’re typical), you received a bird feeder or critter feeder as a gift. Perhaps you may not have figured out what to do with it, yet. Creating an attractive wildlife habitat is an easy task with the appropriate tools, information, wildlife food and advice you’ll find at J.J. Cardinal’s Wild Bird & Nature Store.
If this new hobby turns into a passion, you are in good company. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, more than 65 million people are feeding and enjoying birds and wildlife in North America.
While planning feeder placement take a few notes and
maybe sketch a simple diagram of the area: note the design of your deck railing and how it
has been trimmed out (finished); how trees and shrubs are situated and, most important of
all-where you can best observe the colorful, cheerful show about to happen! Bring all this
information when you visit J.J.Cardinal’s so we can assist you with hardware selections
and food for your new life-long hobby.
Fruit is for the birds
Many different kinds of fruit can be offered to birds. Migrating birds we commonly see in Michigan during the spring and summer, like tanagers and orioles, return from the tropics. There, they have been accustomed to feeding on fruits of many kinds and they recognize oranges and even bananas.
Birds do not care if the fruit is fresh or has been frozen, so some customers harvest grapes, blueberries or other wild fruit and store them in a freezer. “Raisins are by far the most popular fruit in winter here in my urban backyard,” says Mary M. of Grand Blanc. “If the raisins are extremely hard, they should be softened for a few minutes in a little hot water.” Mary also puts out other dried fruit, such as mangoes, pineapples, and blueberries. “Whatever I have on hand, it always gets eaten!”
Following is a list of fruits and the birds that prefer them. Depending on your habitat (the environment of your yard including natural cover, a source of water and suitable nesting sites) you may experience results that may differ from ours. We encourage you to experiment, practice patience, and share with us your personal experiences!
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 10 Issue 2 June 2001
You bet there is! We are asked this question daily in reference to our birdseed, and seed mixes. Yes, there is a difference, there’s a huge difference, and it is not just the price.
The extraordinary seeds in every bag at J.J.Cardinal’s have proved to be the most attractive to the widest variety of bird species that visit back yard bird feeders. You will never find “filler” seeds in any J.J. Cardinal Quality Custom blended seed mix. Filler seeds are seeds that have shown to be unattractive or low preference for typical seed-eating bird feeder birds.
We offer five different blends:
Yes, there is a difference, there is a huge difference,
and it is not just price. Our regular customers and newcomers, alike, are surprised how
affordable our mixes and bulk seeds are. When comparing our grains to other quality
grains, you will find you save money, and attract a faithful following of birds to your
feeders. Speaking of faithful followers, ask about our “Faithful Feeder” seed card to
save 10% on your seed purchases! Purchase ten like size and price of any bulk grain or
seed mix to receive your eleventh bag absolutely free.
Troublesome Grain-infesting Moth
Sometimes mistaken as clothes moths, homeowners notice small moths flying in a zigzag fashion around rooms (kitchens, pantries and near birdseed bins) in the home. These moths fly mostly at night and are attracted to lights and may appear in the living room near or in front of television sets. Occasionally, the larva or “white worms with black heads” crawl up walls and suspend from the ceiling attached to a single silken thread. Most complaints occur during the months of August and September. Some adult moths do fly into homes during summer months through open doors or windows, but most “hitchhike” inside packaged goods and birdseed.
Since birdseed is not a highly processed like flour and pet foods, Meal Moths can sometimes be an unavoidable problem.
J.J. Cardinal’s suggests bird seed be purchased in
small quantities to prevent long storage periods of a month or more. Store all seed in
insect-proof containers of glass, metal or plastic ware with tight-fitting lids. Birdseed
can also be stored in the refrigerator or freezer which will destroy the pest and not
alter the nutritional value of the seed.
Niger Seed (thistle, or
"Guizotia abyssinica" seed)
Niger/thistle is not the pink to purple flowering plant of the thistle species. It is not a perennial or biennial noxious weed, nor is it the aggressive, opportunistic thistle strain from Europe, Africa or Asia. Niger is an oilseed crop that is cultivated in Ethiopia, India, Myanmar and Nepal. The average plant height is four feet but can be up to seven feet. It traditionally is harvested while the buds are still yellow and then it stacked to dry. The seeds, loosely held in the flower head, are black, club-shaped, and narrowly long. It is the only major wild bird feed ingredient imported from overseas.
In 1985, the US Department of Agriculture ruled heat treatment as a "condition of entry" when bringing niger/thistle into the US. In 1997, the treatment temperature was set at 250 degrees (F) for 15 minutes to devitalize all weed seeds that may be present in niger/thistle shipments.
These seeds have been marketed as birdseed for about 40 years and
it is highly attractive to American goldfinches, house finches, black-capped chickadees,
downy woodpeckers, and if in the north, pine siskin and common redpoll. There are many
styles of feeders for offering thistle seeds. These feeders have very small openings that
conserve seed. If you would like a feeder specifically for attracting small birds,
consider a niger/thistle feeder. This seed seldom attracts larger birds and squirrels do
not have much interest in it.
Pecans Aren’t Just For
We can will only theorize however on the outcome of the
pecans because there are so many factors that effect bird feeding activity. In addition to
the expected backyard birds we had reports of Warblers, Wrens, Kinglets and even Bluebirds
eating the pecan pieces. We have decided to offer pecans on a continual basis. Currently
priced at $1.49 per pound, we propose you offer them on a pole mounted tray protected by a
squirrel baffle, in a mesh suet sack or in a metal “peanut” feeder.
Suet: important and nutritional
Songbirds rely on suet’s protein, fat, and fiber-nutrients that are so scarce in winter months. Suet also provides birds with a rich source of calories required at all stages of their growth. Suet feeders can be hung almost anywhere (many seed feeders also have holders for suet). Hang them from tree branches, from other feeders, or on separate poles. Suet is best kept out of direct sunlight in summer.
Popular No-melt Homemade All-season Suet Recipe
More Suet Recipes
To feed or not to feed...
Other related bird feeding questions (and answers):
We’d like to thank David Harper, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex.
|General Birding||Bird Watching
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 2-2, April 1993
An experienced bird watcher is often able to quickly identify common species of birds after years of study and many birding trips; so as a beginner, don't become frustrated in your initial attempts to recognize birds. Taking time to learning the fundamentals of identification, you will begin to understand the 'Tricks of the Trade’, which experienced birders, come to rely on.
Birding is a wonderful combination of enjoying our great outdoors and a learning activity. You may expand your awareness of birds and nature around us.
The first tool needed to improve identification skills is a field guide. Field guides identify, group, and arrange birds in several different ways. Find a guide you are comfortable with, and then study it! Become aware of the birds seen in your area, the type of habitat they prefer, this way you will eliminate certain birds seldom seen. J.J. Cardinal's offers a free list of birds most common in Michigan to help get you started. Next time your are in ask for a copy.
When studying an identification guide, note the body shape of the bird, and its posture. You may see patterns or similarities, which will aid in identifying the family or species. Flycatchers, for example, all seem to have a common shape and bill type. Grosbeaks have large beaks. Warblers usually have yellow somewhere within their plumage. Look for details such as wing bars. Is the bird’s breast clear or striped? Does the bird have an eye-ring or an eye bar (stripe)? Go ahead and make notations inside your field guide. Some people put a date next to the birds' photo as a way of keeping track of what they have seen. Some highlight birds commonly seen in their area.
One of the first things you will learn in bird watching is the bird is just what it appears to be, and not some exotic sighting continents away from their natural turf. It is a natural tendency for most beginners to question each identification, however, you never know--you could have a rare sighting. The point is it probably is not. As you study your field guide, you will begin to know what you are looking for. Examine the guide pictures and distinctive field marks, locations, and behaviors.
There comes a time when you will need to purchase a pair of binoculars to help you clearly spot details difficult to see from a distance, and with the naked eye. Binoculars are handy when viewing birds outdoors or while inside viewing your backyard feeding stations. (For more information on selecting a pair of binoculars, see J.J. Cardinal's Notebook Vol. 1, Issue 4).
Purchase a bag to carry a field guide, pen, note pad, bug repellent, and Kleenex. This way you will not be fumbling with a zillion items when you need quick access to the binoculars as that new species quickly flits by. We also offer a custom made vest with well placed, multiple pockets in sizes for adults and children.
While on a bird trip, the best way to see a bird is to remain stationary and "see" the area. Notice the small movements in the brush. Keep your eye the object, and raise your binoculars to your eye to not lose sight of the bird. Most importantly, you must teach your eyes to be aware of the smallest details.
Look for non-blending colors; a different leaf shape on a bush may end up being something spectacular! You may want a journal or notebook to record your observations. Next to your field guide a notebook is the single most important learning tool. Do not disregard anything in notes taken of your observations including the weather, wind speed and direction, and natural sounds. Are you really hearing?
Learn to identify birds by their calls and songs. The easiest way to learn the birds’ calls and songs is to purchase audiotapes or CDs of bird songs and calls, and study them. It is like learning a new language: the language of birds.
Bird watching is the favorite sport of millions. With
these helpful hints, you will build on your basic knowledge of birds. Please join us on
our next birding adventure.
Choosing the Right Binoculars
The factors determining the quality of a pair of binoculars include the quality of optic lens, the lens coatings, structure, design of housing and focusing devices, magnification power, field-of-view, weight, size, exit pupil magnification, interpupillary distance, and eye relief.
The objective lens (front lens) magnification power of 6 to 10 is recommended for birding (7 or 8 is most popular). The diameter of the front lens is measured in millimeters, typically 22 to 44mm. A pair of binoculars labeled 7x35 has a magnification power of 7 with a 35mm objective lens. The "field of view" is the image seen through the binoculars measured as the width of clear viewing in a circular dimension, and is determined by the optical design. As a rule, the field of view decreases as magnification increases because images appear closer.
A larger lens will gather more light, and depending on the quality of the ground lens, capture more detail in low light conditions. Improvements in lens coatings, optical glass, and design have expanded the field of view in small lens compact models.
For comfortable viewing, it is important to select a model with the proper eye relief. This is the distance behind the eyepiece where the entire field of view is clearly visible. Those wearing eyeglasses should be sure the rubber eyecups fold down to bring the image closer, and the eye relief is over 11mm.
The final analysis in selecting binoculars is what feels right for
the user. Come in and try a pair on for size! You will find the prices very competitive to
many mail order houses; most are discounted up to 40%, and you will save on postage and
handling--plus you have the ability to compare models.
Banding birds began in 1918 with the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The main purpose was to be able to trace birds’ migratory rout, chart behavior, population shifts, life expectancies, etc. In the United States, banding is conducted through the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
For those interested in the practice of banding birds, you need to work with an experienced ornithologist or bird-bander as an apprentice so you will learn the skills needed to accurately identify the birds. There is also a certain amount of skill needed to band the birds properly. Usually only migratory birds are banded.
Bird bands are made of aluminum, and range in size from large for birds like Swans and Flamingos, to the tiny for Hummingbirds and Kinglets. A 'mist' net stretched to cover a woodland opening is usually how birds are caught. Sometimes nestlings are removed temporarily from the nest and banded. Information recorded at the time of banding is: the band number, date, birds age, sex, species, health, anything unusual about the bird, and weight.
Information gathered is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland where it is cataloged and recorded. If you find a bird with a band, contact the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They will ask for information like the band’s serial number, conditions in which the band was found was it taken off a dead bird’s leg, along with other details. You will see on the band the address where to send the band along with the info. You'll receive an acknowledgment on the band sent with a report about the bird, where it's from, age, etc.
From this procedure much has been learned. We have learned that
many species return year after year to the same nest site. Also many species return yearly
to the same wintering territory. Great fly ways (migratory routes) have been charted for
the vital study and preservation of our natural habitat. For more information on the
practice of bird banding an excellent source is Bird Banding, a Journal of Ornithology
Investigation, available at most major libraries.
Gardening is for the Birds!
Birds feed on the seeds of flower heads such a coneflowers, marigolds, zinnias, cosmos,
coreopsis, and sunflower. Leaving the plant material over the winter also provides
protection for the birds. Use your mower to mulch leaves in an area of your yard where you
can leave them. The leaves will attract insects and provide food for foraging birds. You
can also place some leaves right in your garden to compost. Birds will not only dine on
the food you offer, but will also find over wintering garden pests quite
tasty. Black-capped chickadees love over wintering aphids!
Winter colors at your feeders
Winter finches are often migratory, moving vast distances in search of food and shelter; many return annually to the same wintering grounds, this is called “site faithful,” northern juncos (or slate gray juncos) are such a bird. Other finches you may possibly observe are common redpoll, pine siskins, purple finches, snow buntings, American tree sparrows, evening grosbeaks, and more. Last winter, one customer had a zebra finch overwinter with a mixed flock of other finches; zebra finches are a domesticated species purchased through pet dealers, this colorfully striped and unusual finch had clearly made the great escape.
Watching birds outside a window has become the second most favorite pastime for millions of people, especially in winter when we are often kept indoors. Many nursing-home residents benefit from having a birdfeeder outside their window; watching birds’ behavior can be quite therapeutic-we hear it all the time.
To prepare for our winter visitors, remove feeders and give them a good scrubbing with a 10% bleach solution in hot soapy water; rinse well. Many people find new year’s eve (or other Hallmark-created holiday), as a reminder for this pleasant task. We have cleaning brushes designed for use with feeders that makes the process easier. Clean the ground and surfaces around feeding areas of all old seed debris and birds’ droppings; check wooden feeders for loose screws or nails, and tighten if necessary. Replace wooden feeders at least every five years or sooner; because of the porous nature of wood, it is hard to sanitize thoroughly. Sometimes painting the feeder may extend its life.
We suggest large covered wooden platform feeders for attracting winter finches and other avian visitors, and with these techniques your yard can become a window for nature that allows you, or your loved ones a chance to see and enjoy the dynamic and daily changes that make this a great time to enjoy birds at your feeders.
Easy to attract house nester
House wrens are clearly a migratory species; they winter south of Tennessee and often as far south as Argentina. Ninety-eight percent of what house wrens consumed is insects: grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and other bugs. As far as their feeding habits are concerned, house wrens are very beneficial and great for capturing insects about to devour vegetation--now if only we could teach them to eat earwigs!
The earliest arrivals of house wrens appear (in the Midwest) the last week of April or early May--it will not be until the middle of May that nesting and courtship behavior will commence. Males arrive first to establish nesting territories usually one-half acre in size. They establish territory by immediately singing a rich descending burble, “territory song,” that is up to four seconds in duration. This song, given from an exposed perch, is repeated many times with a brief pause in between sets. Another early behavior by the male is building stick-filled “dummy” nests in every available cavity (other nest boxes or tree holes) within the territory; having more than one house wren box within a one-half acre area is redundant.
With the arrival of the female courtship begins. The male has an extensive repertoire of songs and calls to aid in communication; a territory song including shrill and high-pitched squeaks signals females are present. Males and females also “wing-quiver” during courtship with tails held high and body position stretched forward. Because of a short nesting season intense courtship displays last only a few days before active nesting begins.
We have heard of innumerable curious house wren nesting choices over the years: in the pocket of bib overalls hung on a clothes line, in a shoe, in a fish creel, and even in a rusty can laying on the ground in a garden. In Arthur C. Bent’s Life Histories of North American Birds it is reported one pair of house wrens built their nest on the rear axel of an automobile, which was, used daily. When the car was driven, the wrens went along! However, most nest sites are four to thirty-feet above the ground and in an abandoned tree cavity. Nesting materials include thin twigs, fine grasses, spider webbing and egg cases, feathers of other birds.
Although house wrens show aggression toward other birds, it is not a new but a long-established trait. Noted ornithologist, McAtee, in his article “Judgment on the House Wren,” writes, “This behavior is evidence of superior intelligence in the battle of the survival of the fittest. He (the male house wren) is activated to secure and dominate a definite area assuring the reproductive season for the sake of his own preservation.” Thus, we recommend placing wren boxes away from other nest boxes.
House wrens typically lay five to six small mauve colored speckled eggs that are incubated by the female for a period of twelve to fifteen days. After the eggs hatch, both parents feed the young a rich diet of insects. The nestlings fledge (leave) the nest in about two weeks. Fledglings will continue to be supplemental fed by both parents for about one to two weeks.
Bee: Nature’s Pollinators
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook, Vol. 2-3, June 1993
Spring returns many things to life, some that we may prefer to avoid. But there is no mistaking the large, fat Golden Northern Bumble Bee (Bombus Fervidus). They are up to an inch long, and quite hairy with varying bands of black and yellow. Bees belong to a large family of insects with over 108,000 species worldwide, of which 17,000 in North America consisting of ants, wasps, and sawflies.
The Bees have a mouth different from other insects. They have a tongue-like structure for drinking liquids, and are valuable as pollinators of crops and wild plants. The female bee has a special "pollen basket" located on the hind legs. When the bee lands on a flower, the pollen sticks to the hair. The pollen is transferred from plant to plant as the bee seeks nectar.
Sometimes you will see bees and yellow jackets flying around on your bird feeders in the spring. Some seeds ferment and convert into sugars. This unusual source of food is attractive to bees before natural nectar is available from budding flowers.
Only the fertilized females survive through the winter in underground holes, sometimes in the abandoned nests of the mouse and chipmunk. In springtime, they emerge to lay eggs, and establish new colonies.
Bumble Bees can sometimes be coaxed into using a nest box. Use a structure similar to a nest box used for Chickadees or Titmice, but the entrance hole should be 5/8 inch in diameter and angled slightly upward. The entry should be made from a block of wood to simulate a tunnel, 1 inch thick. Inside dimensions should be 7" X 6" X 6", and lined with upholsterer's cotton 3/4 inch thick. Drill holes in the box (3) 5/8 inch in diameter and place a screen over them on the inside for ventilation. The roof should overhang the box by 1 inch on all sides and you may want to hinge it at the back for easy access.
To attract Bumble Bees, plant asters, spirea, wild rose, dandelion, pearly everlasting, and thistles. Red clover is a favorite with Bumble Bees.
These fuzzy creatures are slow flyers, flying erratically as they seek out pollen from different vegetation, and are not normally aggressive unless you disturb them or step on them. Some people are very allergic to bee stings, and require medical care immediately.
For those not allergic but experience a bee sting, look to see if the bee's stinger or
venom sack is present at the wound. Do not pull it out; you will likely release more of
the venom. Medical experts recommend to "scoop under the stinger" by squeezing
the skin around the bite, then flush with cold water. Apply an ice pack to keep swelling
down, and treat with calamine lotion, non-prescription cortisone creams, and take aspirin
for pain. For more information treating bee stings consult your physician, or reference
guides such as "Complete Home Medical Guide" available at most public libraries.
Bats are mammals. There are nearly 1,000 varieties, and are found almost everywhere, in all sizes (the smallest, found in Thailand, weighs less than a penny, and is the size of a bumblebee). There are about 40 species living in the U.S.
They communicate with high-frequency sounds allowing them to "see" in darkness, and roost during daylight hours, hanging upside-down in hollow trees, barns or other sheltered places.
Bats eat insects mainly, but many species feed on fruit and nectar. Some varieties are carnivorous hunting fish, mice, and frogs. In this area, their main diet is night-flying insects, such as mosquitoes and moths, and they can eat as many as 600 an hour!
Like other mammals, bats can contract rabies, but it is a common myth that all bats are rabid. Less that 1% of bats ever contracts rabies, no higher than other mammals.
Bats have very little courtship, and males are not monogamous--mating with many females. Mating takes place in the fall prior to hibernation. Fertilization takes place in the spring as females awake from hibernation. After about 2 months, birth occurs, and the young, who grow rapidly, taking wing within 3 weeks. On average, bats have only one birth per year--making them the slowest reproducing mammal for their size. Like humans, bats give birth to poorly developed young, and nurse them from breasts. The bat group of mammals is known as Chiroptera, which means, "hand-wing".
If you would like to invite bats to your yard, you need to put up a bat house, which simulates their natural nesting habitat. Used for years in Europe to assist insect control, bat house popularity is increasing in the U.S. To successfully attract bats, houses should conform to particular specifications concerning size, shape and materials. Houses contain several compartments (3/4" to 1 1/4" wide) and are mounted 10-15 feet from the ground on trees or on the side of buildings. As many as 75 bats will reside in a single bat house.
For more information, stop by for a free copy of our Special Edition of J.J. Cardinal's
Notebook on bats. We also have several styles of quality, pre-assembled bat houses. For
even more information, we offer "America's Neighborhood Bats" by Merlin D.
Tuttle, University of Texas Press.
Bats: Nature’s natural insect
Bats are in need of protection if they are to survive. Bats have proven themselves as valuable members of our ecosystem. Bats are declining, worldwide, at an alarming rate due to human misunderstanding; conservation products can help.
Bats have long been maligned by humans-a taboo, a creature to be shunned. These furry little animals that fly seem half-bird, half-mammal and, ugly to look at, yet really pose no threat to people. Bats are the second most common land animals, with rodents being first.
The easiest and safest way you can help control insects is by placing a bat house or
two in your habitat. We offer several different bat houses built to Bat Conservation
International (OBC) suggested standards.
Experiencing nature alone
When we are alone we are more alert, and things seen are completely digested. We say nothing because there is no one to talk to, no one to listen. We step wisely, look closely, and hear much more. We are not really alone-we are one with our senses. Our senses reach out, and strain to hear distant peeps, soft whistles, and calls; smells intensify as we catch a breeze. We walk more slowly, pause often, and with no planned rendezvous-there’s no need to hurry. We meander; our path is directed by stimuli that strike unexpectedly.
It is impossible, realistically speaking, for two people to be really quiet. Two friends go birding--they talk. They talk about what they just saw, what they are hearing, what they saw on their last walk, and what they would like to see this time around. It is pleasant, it is cordial, it is enjoyable-but it is not quiet. No doubt you may miss birds when you are alone: you have only one pair of eyes, and one pair of ears. The excellent thing about birding alone is not quantity of sight but the quality of the observation. Alone, your ability to sneak through the woods, unnoticed, is enhanced. You may take the time to let things happen, naturally, around you.
Birding alone is not something you should do all the
time, or even most of the time. Observing nature is something to be shared, with a
companion or even a child. Share your discoveries and experiences with those you love. The
enthusiasm shown when describing experiences to others may create a desire to look a
little closer the next time they are seeing nature alone.
World-wide amphibians have been classified into about 3,500 species. Amphibians are in the order Anura and are found in all 83 Michigan counties. Michigan has twelve species of frogs and two toads. Recent statistics show amphibian populations declining world wide. Wetland degradation is a prime factor in diminished populations. The Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union initiated the formation of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force after reviewing disappearance of or reduction in amphibians, even where suitable habitat was available.
For more information on Michigan’s frogs and toads
contact: Michigan Department Of Natural Resources Wildlife Division; Natural Heritage
Program P.O. Box 30180 Lansing, MI 48909-7680
Keeping Ladybird Beetles
[Editor’s Note: prices mentioned above are subject to
Insulate metal perches?
When we look at a bird’s leg, what appears to be a knee bending backwards is actually its heel. Its knee joint is usually hidden in feathers and bends forward. Birds (with exception to a few) do not stand on the flat of the foot as humans do, but on its toes. We learned earlier this year (while researching for a J.J.’s in-store trivia game) that songbirds usually have four toes and that the first toe (hallux) turns backward, and the other three forward. Cool uh?
Still concerned about metal perches on feeders? Plastic
to cover perches are available at J.J. Cardinal’s.
Ladybeetles are good for the
Ladybeetles are gathered in the Sierra Foothills of California. Before shipping, our supplier “crawl-cleans” them. This is the process of separating the live Ladybeetles from mulch and other debris. The live Ladybeetles are packed in excelsior-filled, cotton sacks and placed in a well-ventilated box. It is important to purchase your ladybeetles in cotton sacks as opposed to the usual mesh bag. Ladybeetles will sometimes get their legs will get caught in the mesh, tearing them off, thus increasing the mortality rate.
Release the Ladybeetles when the plants become foliated and some pest insects are present. For a quick clean up, if you have a very heavy aphid infestation, release all the Ladybeetles in the bag at one time. For normal to light infestations, release a few at a time. Try to maintain a balance of a few pests for food and enough Ladybeetles to keep them in check. This management of both the good and the bad insects is the way to achieve biological control of insects.
For your bushes, shade trees, greenhouses or gardens, the
best method is to keep on hand a small bag of Ladybeetles. They may be stored in your
refrigerator for up to a month. DO NOT FREEZE. Release a few at a time twice a week during
the season when leaves are young, tender and attractive to pest insects. About a
tablespoon of Ladybeetles on each shrub and a handful on each tree should keep them free
from pest damage. Retie the bag and place in the refrigerator until all Ladybeetles are
You Can’t Eat This Cucumber
So called wild cucumber because the fruit looks a lot like small cucumbers. They are up to two inches long, and full of soft spikes. Inside, it contains two to four seeds similar to watermelon seeds in color and size that wildlife love to eat, especially birds, and since the seed are transported by birds, you will sometimes find them growing in well-watered lawns.
When the fruit dries in fall the bottom mushrooms and curls invitingly outward to expose the seeds inside the fibrous interior, thus ensuring its dispersal.
The leaf is six petaled, and similar to that of the cucumber we grow in our gardens.
Wild cucumbers dry so well that they are sometimes cultivated commercially, and used to
make beautiful dried arrangements.
Praying Mantis: Good for the
For a fun kid's project or if you want to know approximately when the mantises have hatched, place the egg cases in a paper bag and paper clip. Place the bag on a windowsill in the direct sunlight. Periodically open the bag carefully and, if already hatched, take outside and release. Be patient-sometimes it takes up to eight weeks of warm weather for them to hatch. The praying mantids (also known as soothsayers or rear-horses) are familiar to most people. The mantids are primarily a tropical group, but well-meaning individuals introduced two species into our region many years ago. These mantids have feared well and have increased their range even without the direct assistance of humans.
Mantids are highly beneficial as predators of noxious
insects, but their actual value in the battle against pests is often overrated. In view of
their nonselective feeding habits that are likely to eat other insects, as they are to eat
pest insects. Mantids appear to be fearless. When approached they rear up on their back
pair of legs and partially raise their wings in a threatening manner (no doubt this
behavior led to the common name “rear-horses”). Mantid behavior is bizarre, at least
from a human standpoint-so, enjoy seeing them this summer in your garden.
The History of Gargoyles
During the Middle Ages, gargoyle sculptures decorated the flying buttresses of Cathedrals and allowed rain water to flow from its roof. With streams of water pouring from its mouth, the gargoyle thus is related to the word gargle.
Not only did they channel water, but gargoyles also taught important lessons. To the illiterate peasants of the Middle Ages, the Cathedral was a museum of information. Detailed sculpture explained scenes from the Bible. Even delicate wood carvings explained farming techniques and flower identifications. Gargoyles served a similar purpose; they illustrated religious happenings and the mistakes of nature.
In Victor Hugo’s famous novel, Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) dwelled among the gargoyles in the belfry of Notre Dame Cathedral. Hugo turned Gothic art into legend when he familiarized the world with the French gargoyles. To Victor Hugo, the gargoyle represented an ashamed spirit, and Quasimodo the Hunchback seemed a perfect companion to their misery.
At the turn of the century, popular film actor Lon Chaney starring as Quasimodo, drew attention to the Gothic architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This silent movie exposed American audiences for the first time to these French figures. In one scene, Chaney, as Quasimodo, fought for his life while dangling from a gargoyle’s feet atop the Cathedral. In the dramatic altercation, a villain attempts to plunge the Hunchback on a fall to his death.
From this film, American architects soon picked up on the
gargoyle’s popularity. Today, gargoyles can be seen at the tops of sky scrapers in New
York or even at building entrances in Chicago...and now you can see them at J.J.Cardinal’s.
These creatures have come in droves and range from the innocent and playful to the Gothic
and grotesque. So we invite you to stop in and hear the legend behind each figure!
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 9-2, Summer 2000
Downy Woodpeckers are one of our more familiar, year round residents of our parks, cities and yards. Noted ornithologist Dr. Wilson says of the Downy “the principal characteristics of this little bird are diligence, familiarity and perseverance” when speaking of the Downy’s nest building and territorial behavior. In fact, most authorities regard the Downy as a bird with stable and well-balanced nature, a bird unconcerned by the rush of traffic or people.
The Downy Woodpecker is black and white with a bold white stripe down its back. Its bill is shorter than its cousin the Hairy Woodpecker, and no longer than the width of its head. Female Downys lacks the red nape patch; juveniles may have reddish to yellowish crown that is lost with the first complete annual molt in fall: July through September.
Most woodpeckers glean insects from the bark of trees and are known as “one of our most useful species” because of the insect food selected. Almost all insect species selected by the Downy are economically harmful and because of this you should welcome them to your habitat.
To attract woodpeckers try one of our feeders featured (right). It will attract all “tree-clinging” species like woodpeckers, nuthatches and titmice. Our Woodpecker Delight™ seed blend mixed with lard and crunchy peanut butter is just right for this feeder.
J.J. Cardinal’s Online, November 2002 by Vickie Newell, former J.J. Cardinal Naturalist
In the winter, birds spend their days searching for food to get through the long, cold nights. We can help them survive the harsh season by providing bird feeders, suet, water, shelter and planting fall and winter fruit bearing plants.
Since insects hibernate this time of year birds seek out berries as a source of food. There are many fruit bearing vines, shrubs and trees you can plant to feed the birds, and provide them shelter and nesting sites. These plants also contribute to a beautiful and natural setting for people to enjoy as well. Dogwood, mountain ash, crabapple, blueberry, winterberry holly and cotoneaster are a few fall fruit bearing plants.
Keep in mind that migratory birds will eat these fruits as they are trying to build up fat reserves before they embark on their long journey south. Winter fruit bearing plants are those whose fruit remain attached to the plant long after they first become ripe in the fall. Some of these are juniper, chokeberry, viburnum, Virginia creeper, eastern wahoo and chinaberry. Pine, spruce, red cedar, oaks and hickories to name a few provide a variety of birds with meals of broken nuts and acorns.
Shelter as well as food is essential for survival of
birds in the winter. A brush pile or discarded Christmas tree near a feeder is a great
help for birds seeking shelter and protection. Gardening and bird watching go hand in
hand. We are rewarded with the beauty of the plants and the birds!
One way to increase humidity for our houseplants is to sit them on a tray of pebbles with water. As the water evaporates it creates a more humid climate around the plant. You can get creative with the trays as well as the pots the plants are in to achieve a unique look. Some plants that do well in low light environments are cast iron plant, wax plant, impatiens, ferns, ivies and heartleaf philodendron.
Did you know that plants not only provide a more pleasant place to live or work, but they can clean the air we breathe as well? NASA research has consistently shown that living, green and flowering plants can remove several toxic chemicals from the air in buildings, including our homes. NASA aggressively studies how plants reduce pollutants because astronauts must deal with toxic emissions from synthetic material on spaceships.
Based on their research we know which plants are more
effective in removing certain toxins from our air. Formaldehyde emissions are found to be
from foam insulation, plywood, particleboard, clothing, carpeting, furniture, paper goods,
household cleaners and water repellents. The plants to take care of these emissions are
azalea, philodendron, spider plant, golden pothos, bamboo palm, corn plant, and
chrysanthemum. Another pollutant, benzene, can be emitted from tobacco smoke, gasoline,
synthetic fibers, plastics, inks, oils and detergents. The plants to handle benzene
emissions are English ivy, chrysanthemum, gerbera daisy, peace lily, Dracaena warneckeii,
Janet Craig Dracaena and Dracaena martinata. Last, but not least is the pollutant
trichloroethylene. The sources are inks, paints, varnishes and lacquers. The plant
solutions are Chrysanthemum, peace lily, Dracaena warneckeii and Dracaena marginata. Many
of the above plants are quite beautiful, and the added bonus is cleaner air!
Vickie Newell, naturalist
Wildlife: Part of
Natural Gardening by Vickie Newell, former J.J. Cardinal Naturalist
A natural garden is a place that is attractive and welcoming for both people and wildlife. Gardening with nature is about working with the natural climate, the sun and the shade, the soils, and the topography as well as the local wildlife. You cannot get much more natural than using native plants as much as possible. They are generally easier to maintain because they are well suited to the local conditions and may be more resistant to pests and diseases.
Plantings to attract wildlife can provide homes for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bees, butterflies, and other species of beneficial insects such as lady beetles and praying mantises.
Gardens are best when they are designed and created with inspiration from nature, rather than by radically altering nature. It takes a little time and effort in researching what you want to accomplish, but the learning experience is definitely worth your time. Remember that your garden should serve you as much as it does the wildlife you hope to attract to it. Make sure there is a comfortable spot to sit, watch, listen to and enjoy the natural world you have helped to create.
At J.J. Cardinal’s Wild Bird & Nature Store we have praying mantis egg cases you can purchase (January through May) for your garden; we will be receiving lady beetles probably in late May. Both the mantises and the lady beetles are an excellent means to organically rid your garden of aphids, spider mites, and other harmful insects.
Frogs, toads, and insect eating birds such as bluebirds, house wrens, warblers, woodpeckers, grosbeaks and indigo buntings to name a few are beneficial to have in the garden as they all will help to control the insect population and as an added bonus--you get to enjoy their song, behavior, and added color.
If you spray your plants with insecticides you will inadvertently be killing off wildlife that are not only beneficial to have in your garden, but enjoyable to have around such as butterflies, hummingbird sphinx moths, lady beetles, mantises, etc. The toads, frogs, and birds will move on if there are no insects to eat. If you feel you must spray with an insecticide, limit your spraying to the infected plant only or hand remove the insects. We also have several natural recipes to help control fungus, aphids, and other harmful pests you may have the next time you visit J.J. Cardinal’s.
I will close with a wonderful quote by Herbert Ravenel
Sass, an American nature writer, “Nature, wild nature, dwells in gardens just as she
dwells in the tangled woods, in the deeps of the sea, and on the heights of the mountains;
and the wilder the garden, the more you will see of her there.” Vickie Newell,
Natural Garden: testing soil & developing a plan
This is the second in my series of articles to give you a few ideas on how to create a natural garden. The wide spread loss of habitat along with the use of toxic chemicals has put both plant and animal life at risk. Anything we can do, even in a small way to reverse this destruction can be very beneficial.
Most modern American gardens pretty much look alike, whereas natural gardening will produce a scene opposite from the like-minded conformity we usually see. Much of the pleasure of gardening lies in the creative process.
Before you run out to stock up on plants, you need to be clear about which ones will thrive in your yard. J.J. Cardinal’s offers soil-testing kits to help determine what may be needed to amend soil for plantings. Now is the time to prepare a planting plan. Survey the area or areas in your yard you have chosen to start with by noting the conditions there. If you have a sunny, hot, dry location you will need to choose plants that will do well there. Same thing if you have an area that is shaded. If the shaded area is moist as well, make sure your plantings need not just the shade, but moist soil.
There are few straight lines in nature, so when planting small groups, use odd numbers of plants and of different size. For example, three hemlocks of the same size, evenly spaced would look dull and unnatural, instead if they are of different size and irregularly spaced, they would have the charm of a grove of hemlocks in the wild.
Another thing to keep in mind is to group plants according to their water needs: it is one of the most efficient ways to reduce water use in the garden and many native plants once established require little watering and with drought in many parts of the country, this is an excellent way to conserve. Water efficient landscaping has been shown to cut water usage by as much as half.
Until next time, work on that planting plan for the area you want to rework or get
started on for the first time.
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 1-5, October 1992
One out of three Americans watches wildlife, and watching wildlife has become one of our most popular pastimes. Not only are we watching birds in our backyards, we are becoming “observers of nature” from watching acrobatic squirrels to the quiet tone of a mother bird calling her fledglings to the dinner table. A recent customer commented: "people spend too much time in front of the big screen TV and not enough time looking at the wonderful, educational entertainment right out our back windows!"
A favorite is the chipmunk, and from customers’ comments, this is shared with many folks. Did you know that there is 21 species of chipmunks in North America? These prancing little bundles bring enjoyment to many people. Not only are they charming tiny chatterboxes, they are fun to watch as they flit by, tail held high on their way to a food source.
Chipmunks are a ground species, meaning they spend most of their time of the ground, although, they will scurry up a tree at every chance to get at a bird feeder or away from a predator. Chipmunks feed on acorns, hickory nuts, and all the birdseed they can get. They are single-minded in their food gathering pursuits; making trips from a seed sight (probably your well-stocked bird feeder) to their burrow almost continuously. It is estimated that in 3 days one chipmunk stored a whole bushel full of seeds and corn kernels! All chipmunks are burrowers, and their burrows consist of a complex series of chambers. Some hibernate, but others like our familiar Eastern chipmunk pop out every now and then on a sunny winter day.
Michigan is home to two species of chipmunk. In addition to the Eastern, the Least chipmunk is found in the Upper Peninsula. The Eastern is reddish-brown with a white belly, and one white stripe on sides (bordered by two black stripes), ending at the rump. You will also see light facial stripes. While the Least chipmunk is a lighter yellowish-gray above with tan stripes, which continue to the base of the tail. Both are small and charming.
Chipmunks have two breeding seasons; three to five baby chipmunks are born naked and blind after a 31-day gestation. After about three weeks, tiny ears open and their bodies begin to grow fur. At about four weeks their eyes open and they are weaned.
If you want to attract chipmunks, build a woodpile, stone wall or low shrubs, all ideal sights for a chippy. If you are already feeding birds, chipmunks are probably already present.
Excerpts from: Hinterlands Who’s Who - Canadian Wildlife Service Biologists have not yet determined the meaning of all the chipmunk's many calls. For example, when a chipmunk is startled, it runs quickly along the ground giving a rapid series of loud chips and squeaks. Perhaps this sudden burst of noise startles predators, helping the chipmunk to escape. Also, chipmunks frequently call with a high-pitched "chip" or "chuck,” repeated repeatedly at intervals of one or two seconds. A chipmunk watching an intruder from a safe vantage point often makes this scolding noise. Some scientists think that it may also be the mating call of the female chipmunk.J.J. Cardinal customer, Cindy Mead of Lupton, Michigan, photographed a black phase Eastern chipmunk in October 2001. It is not known at this time if black chipmunks have been seen before. Further research needs to be done. Google "Cindy Mead" to find more info.
Outsmarting Squirrels: Foil or be
J.J. Cardinal has discovered four squirrel baffling devices that are quite effective (when properly placed) to help make your feeders virtually impermeable to those little rascals. As J.J. Cardinal always says, "there are three things certain in life: death, taxes, and squirrels trying to get in your bird feeder".
The baffle designs are simple but effective, and watching the squirrels trying to figure them out is well worth the price of admission, not to mention the seed you will save! Baffles usually pay for themselves in only a couple weeks, depending on the squirrel population*.
Perhaps a trade-off to the problem could be to provide a feeding area stocked with inexpensive food like corn, and some sunflower seeds. Often thought of as a deterrent, we find all this does is send up a flag to all area squirrels to put on the feed bag! You might just as well ring the dinner bell and holler: "Come and get it!"
The first consideration on squirrel proofing your feeders is having them pole mounted or hung at least ten feet away from a tree limb or trunk. You may end up moving it out farther still if you encounter "Mr. Olympic J. Squirrel" with record-breaking jumping abilities. It can be fun to catch the death-defying plunge (and sadistic to witness their agony of defeat).
When pole mounting, J.J. recommends a simple "can baffle" device . At 12 inches long and six inches in diameter, it has thwarted his squirrels for five years. J.J. tested this one for six months and found it exceptionally effective. This baffle even comes with a money back guarantee from the manufacturer.
For hanging feeders there are two very effective designs for linear style, (tubular) feeders. Both are dome shaped. One is endorsed by the Audubon society, and for J.J. it does not get much better than that!
Some have claimed squirrels have a dislike for Safflower seeds. J.J. decided to put it to the test and mounted a feeder right to a tree trunk which is so heavily traveled he's certain squirrels call it "Acorn Ave." He found that yes, indeedy, the squirrels leave it alone. However, when other bird foods are offered like tasty black-oil sunflower seeds, the safflower is last to be eaten. Northern Cardinals like it, but you may see some decline in feeding activity.
For those who enjoy feeding the squirrels right along with the birds check out the
entire fun squirrel feeding equipment assortment at J.J. Cardinal’s Wild Bird &
Nature Store. You may even want to try a new suet mixture especially for squirrels called
Squirrels Delight: a mixture of beef suet, corn and grain products.
Those Crafty Squirrels
It is incredible how creative some people are in their efforts to thwart off the squirrels. One customer riveted a 24" skirt out of sheet metal around an Oak tree in his yard, converting the tree into one big bird feeder. With no other trees within jumping distance, the squirrels could not get up it, and he could hang many bird feeders off its branches well out of the squirrels reach.
Others string thin wire between two trees and hang their feeders off the wire, only to see a squirrel using the hand-over-hand technique, dangling on route to their seemingly safe feeders. Or, another person purchased one of our armored Droll Yankees tube feeders and found a squirrel headfirst shimmied completely inside the feeder. He'd somehow lifted the lid and ate his way around the perch bars to the bottom. Being upside down, the only way to get him out was to unscrew the bottom, drop it, and run like heck, because the squirrel was hopping mad. It never fails though: as soon as we have a proven, effective method to keep the squirrels away from their feeders, half of the folks get all sad and say "You mean the squirrels couldn't get at the feeder at all?” They change their minds. Our most effective devise is the cylindrical baffle for pole mount feeders. There should be ten feet clearance from trees.
We have five different kinds of squirrels in Michigan. The Gray, Fox, Red, and two Flying squirrels. The family name, squirrel means "Shade-Tail", alluding to the bushy tail they hold on their backs.
Our Gray squirrel, also black in North and eastern parts of the state, build leaf nests in high tree crotches. In summer, they are used for "cooling beds" or "loafing platforms". You can easily see these in winter when the branches are bare. These year around residents bury seeds but do not always remember where. Yet, even through a foot of snow they can smell their buried snacks! Mating is in mid-winter; a litter of 2-3 young are born in spring, often a second litter in late summer. Their tails serve as an umbrella in rain, a blanket in winter, and a rudder when swimming.
The Fox squirrel is the largest tree squirrel family. They have grayish brown fur on the top of their body, with white markings on the face and legs. A sign of their presence is the evidence of food debris. Fox squirrels commonly carry nuts to a favorite perch, and leave the shells. They will also eat an entire cob of corn while the Gray squirrel bites the kernels from the cob, and eats only the germ of the kernel.
The Red squirrel is our smallest squirrel. It is rust-red to grayish-red above and white below. In winter they develop large ear tufts.
The Southern flying squirrel is grayish-brown above, and white below, is our smallest flying squirrel. The Northern flying squirrel is generally larger and a richer brown. Being nocturnal they are seldom seem. Flying squirrels do not actually fly, but glide though the air, up to 80 yards or more.
Attracting squirrels? Are you nuts! Many people actually do want to attract squirrels or offer diversions from their bird feeders. There is a variety available and simple to erect. You can choose from a simple screened-platform near the ground, or a decorative green Adirondack Chair Feeder for offering corn.
Like 'em or not, squirrels are an important part in the cycle of life. They spread
seeds to build our forests, and taunt and entertain the neighborhood dogs.
Original Johnny Apple Seed?
Since the our original story ran, J.J.Cardinal has learned that even though squirrels may not remember exactly where they planted their food cache, their ability to smell allows them to recover approximately 98% of what is planted. This makes our Johnny Apple Seed theory a little fruity! Seriously, though, squirrels are amazing animals.
We frequently have in-store seminars on various wildlife topics. One of our most popular is about squirrels. This year Jackie Richardson of Holly (a.k.a. Squirrel Lady) assisted in teaching area children about squirrels. What follows is some of the information Jackie shared with the children and adults in attendance:
Just mention squirrels and people break into a long discussion about how smart, mischievous and ravenous squirrels are. It’s obvious, people either love or hate them. So you want to attract squirrels? (Are you nuts?)
Many people actually desire to attract squirrels or offer a
diversion from their bird feeders. Manufacturers have picked up on this trend and now
offer a variety of fun, well designed and sometimes entertaining feeders just for
squirrels. Our most popular squirrel feeder and one that bring rave reviews is our Squirrel Munch box. Squirrels
actually lift the lid to find peanuts, whole corn or other treats.
Squirrels can be managed
[top]It’s wake up time for chippy
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 8 Issue 1 Spring, 1999
Some people think “spring” with the arrival of migrating birds, for others it’s the site of a crocus popping through the snow, for J.J.Cardinal spring is not official until he sees the first eastern chipmunk scurry through his Chipmunk is the common name for any of 25 species of small rodents native to Europe, Asia, and North America. The various species all have reddish-brown fur, with white and black stripes on the back and long, furry tails. Their cheek pouches extend to the back of the head and, in some, even to the shoulders! It was once reported that a single chippy transported an entire bushel basket of grains, about 30 pounds, in one week. They are distinguished from other ground squirrels by their striped faces.
Chippies are neat and clean and are among the most adored species of backyard wildlife; they are also entertaining to watch as they scamper energetically, tails held high, along well traveled paths. J.J. Cardinal’s offers an array of fun feeders for chippies and other backyard wildlife, which will eat just about any grain offered, but “go nuts” over our “Drives ’em Nuts!” blend that contains 40% whole and shelled peanuts.
For more information on this cheerful chatterbox, J.J.Cardinal’s recommends America’s Favorite Backyard Wildlife by Kit & George Harrison and Peterson’s Field Guide to Mammals by William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider.
Water is an essential part of a songbird’s habitat, and is required by birds throughout the year. Birds need water for drinking, bathing, for making mud to build nests, to soak their food, even to cool off on a hot day. Though birds need plenty of water in the summer, they need it even more in the winter, since their feathers must be kept clean in order to insulate them effectively.
As with offering food, it is important to provide a source of water consistently to keep birds coming back again and again. Using a birdbath year round, with a small thermostatically controlled heater to prevent icing in the winter, will help keep your songbirds nearby.
Birdbaths mimic puddles, and should be only 1 inch to 3 inches deep at the most, or birds will not drink from them. Ideally, the outer rim of the bath should be shallow, and then gradually slope toward the center. Keeping water fresh and clean is critical to your birds’ health. If water is left unchanged, birds will not drink it or bathe in it, and it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and mosquitoes.
It is also important to keep your birdbath clean and free from bacteria, algae, Salmonella, and other disease organisms that may foul the water. We offer CareFree Enzymes natural additive to help keep the water fresh and bacteria free. 6 ounce, $6.95. Clean your birdbath frequently, every three or four days, by flushing it with water and using a stiff birdbath brush. For more thorough cleaning mild bleach solution (9 parts water to 1 part bleach) can be used. Rinse thoroughly to ensure no bleach remains in the bath. Never use any other chemical in a birdbath.
Place your birdbath out in the open, away from shrubs and other potential predators’ hiding places. In freezing temperatures, you'll find plenty of activity if the water is offered, and several heating devices are available to fit most any bird bath. We offer a variety of birdbath heaters starting as low as $22.95. This simple, economical, 44-watt heater is perfect for shallow plastic birdbaths, and even has a one-year warranty. Other heaters have thermostatically controlled heating elements start at $47.95. Our personal preference are the Allied-brand heaters.
If you do not have a birdbath or would rather not use your existing birdbath with a heater we offer several sytles of birdbaths with heaters built into the unit. (More info)
Most birds habitually drink and bathe during the winter, regardless of the severalties of weather, as long as open water is available. But if none is to be found, drinking requirements are usually satisfied by pecking at ice and eating snow. A noted authority on birds once observed a flock of Cedar Waxwings repeatedly flying back and forth from their perches in a tree as if they were catching insects. But it was a cold wintry day and snowing. Upon taking a closer look through binoculars, the Waxwings were seen catching snowflakes in midair! Birds end up wasting valuable energy (up to 12 times as much), by using their own body heat to warm up the snow and ice they eat.
Ornithologists are undecided on the exact function of bathing. Cleaning the feathers doesn’t appear to be the main purpose. It’s possible that preen oil spreads more easily over damp feathers. The oil apparently kills bacteria and fungi and helps to lubricate the barbules on the feathers so that they don’t become brittle and break. Experiments have shown that feathers become more flexible when wet, so bathing might also be a means of restoring feathers to their proper shape.
Birds need to bathe even in frosty weather. Maintaining their plumage in peak condition is crucial to their survival. By not bathing, both their flight efficiency and their insulation will be impaired and this will cost them dearly in wasted energy.
To guarantee birds access to water, keep the birdbath free of ice. It’s easiest to do this by installing an electric, submersible heater designed for use in a birdbath. They don’t use much electricity, are safe for the birds, and keep the water just above freezing. The best heaters are thermostatically controlled and are SA approved. It’s important to be sure that your bath never becomes empty when using a heater.
During the coldest months of winter (when the outside temperature falls below twenty degrees), prevent birds from immersing themselves in water by creating a barrier. You can do this simply by placing a plastic-coated wire fence over the birdbath that will permit the birds to drink, but not bathe; a substitute for this might be a bushy branch or several sticks laid across the birdbath in a criss-cross pattern. This will insure protection from frostbite, which could lead to the loss of toes and feet. When the temperature rises, remove the barrier so birds can once again bathe.
With the proper care and attention to your birdbath, you
can attract and enjoy birds year round. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you have
The late Roger Tory Peterson once said that birds, like us, only need three things: shelter, food, and water. Adding a birdbath to your feeding sanctuary will surely double the species you will see. Water makes up approximately 75% of our bodies. Birds depend on water to not only survive but also to keep their feathers healthy.
Offering water will attract species not usually drawn to seed, suet, or fruit. J.J. Cardinal welcomed a Red-tailed Hawk one summer; the bird used the bath as a favorite perch when eating his prey, and upon returning from a trip, J.J. filled the bath with fresh water only to be rewarded immediately with a flock of twenty or more Cedar Waxwings.
If you purchase an unpainted cement birdbath you will only need a firm bristle brush and water to keep your birdbath clean. Changing the water daily will prevent stains from algae developing. If stains do occur, we recommend using a wire brush or wet/dry sandpaper to scrub the surface or see related story (right).
Painted birdbaths need special attention and require a soft bristle brush. Most manufacturers suggest using Soft Scrub™ for stains. Rinse any cleaning product well. Painted surfaces will require touch-ups from time to time. Touch-up kits are available through J.J.Cardinal’s for a fee based on the complexity of the painted finish. Most kits start at $11.00.
Enzymes - To help keep your birdbath clean and attractive consider using natural enzymes formulated and designed for birdbaths and small ponds, and combats problems frequently associated with them. Several products are available at J.J. Cardinal’s or your favorite nature center. (Though it’s difficult to imagine that’s anyplace other than J.J. Cardinal’s!)
We began carrying one such product in 1999: CareFree
Enzymes. CareFree is designed to keep water features problem free, naturally, by
preventing: stains, organic contaminates, mineral deposits and scum from forming. Water
remains clean, clear and natural looking. BirdBath Protector makes clean up a
simple task, simply spray away debris, refill and add one capful of BirdBath Protector per
|Butterflies & Moths||Butterflies &
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook Vol. 9-2, Summer 2000
In Michigan Butterflies and Skippers: A Field Guide and Reference by Mogens C. Nielsen the collection and study of Michigan Lepidoptera (butterflies and skippers), began some 100 years ago. The first list of butterflies and skippers was first published in 1892, recording 79 species; in 1999 when Nielsen’s book was published the list had grown to 159.
Nielsen says that much of what is currently known about Michigan butterfly fauna can be credited to the enthusiastic efforts of private individuals and avocational lepidopterists. He has been collecting, studying and, more recently photographing Michigan’s lepidoptera for more than 50 years in more than 60 counties, including Isle Royale.
The aims of Nielsen’s book are to update older records and provide the background to which additional information may be added in the future. It provides illustrations of Michigan’s recorded butterflies and skippers and comments on their identification, habitat, adult food sources, larval host plants and distribution in the state. He also hopes to stimulate awareness and interest in Michigan’s butterfly fauna, to assist in the identification of species and to promote their study.
Avocational collecting of insects in a reasonable manner
is encouraged and the author requests new sightings data. We offer an assortment of
butterfly nets; identification books including Michigan’s Butterflies and Skippers,
$29.95; Riker mounts; and information for the amateur lepidopterist.
J.J. Cardinal’s Notebook, Vol. 8-3, Fall 1999
Did you participate in our monarch-hatching program in 1999? Would you like to witness the emergence of a giant silk moth this coming spring? Hundreds of folks have enjoyed our various insect programs; watching praying mantis and ladybeetles devour aphids, scale, and spider mites on our area’s crops delighted both young and old.
This fall we will be taking orders for three types of giant silk moths common to our area: luna, Actias luna; polyphemus, Antheraea polyphemus; and cecropia, Hyalophora cecropia.
The luna moth is unmistakable: it is large and uniformly pale green with long tails on the hind wing; polyphemus is large and mostly golden brown, with circular eyespot surrounded by dark brown in the middle of the hind wing; and cecropia is very large with the body and a marginal band on the hind wing reddish, the wings deep brown to brownish red, with a crescent-shaped mark on the center of each wing, and an eyespot near the tip of the front wing. Cecropia is the largest, sometimes reaching to a magnificent 5 1/2” wing span!
Moths spin a cocoon of silk and sometimes incorporate other substances: bits of leaves, earth and wood, then pupate. A pupa is the stage in a metamorphosis into which the larva transforms into the adult, in this case, the moth. Pupa is Latin for doll; apparently it is thought the pupa looks like a doll swathed in blankets. Hatching takes place in late spring.
If you would like to reserve a moth and witness this
fascinating and interesting insect growth and development, see a J.J.Cardinal’s
Naturalist the next time you visit. Luna moths, $5.00 each; polyphemus and cecropia, $6.00
each. Quantities are limited. For more information of silk moths or other insects in are
area we suggest Insects of the Great Lakes Region by Gary A. Dunn, 1001
Questions Answered About Insects by Alexander B. and Elsie B. Klots, and Insects:
A Golden Guide by Herbert S. Zim. All are available at J.J.Cardinal’s Wild Bird
& Nature Store.
Raising monarch caterpillars to adulthood is a fairly simple process if you follow the basic guidelines described below.
[Editor’s Note: For more information, see the following
article: Rear Your Own Butterflies.
We hope you enjoy the process of watching your caterpillar grow into a beautiful adult
butterfly. Hundreds of our customers, ranging from physicians (their patients rave about
the excitement it provides while lounging in the waiting office) to school teachers, have
called us to tell us how much they’ve learned to appreciate one of nature’s truly
Update 1/20/99 (and information sheet accompanying monarchs bought at J.J.'s)
Congratulations on the purchase of your Monarch Chrysalides or caterpillar! Your butterfly-rearing participation will insure that Monarchs are flying and migrating for generations to come. Monarchs are not yet an endangered species, but because of habitat destruction and interference with their migration process the numbers of returning adults have become fewer and fewer with each passing year.
You are about to witness some of nature’s fascinating events: the pupa stage and the emergence of a new butterfly! The butterflies you release have beaten the odds and made it to the adult stage. They are fully prepared for their long journey.
Butterfly rearing chamber / Materials Needed:
Wash and dry jug. Cut two, 3-inch diameter holes with a utility knife for ventilation and viewing. Place stick or twig inside jug on an angle with one end sticking out from hole made in top of jug. Secure chrysalides with strait pin. Place chamber inside a nylon stocking and tie to a tree limb outdoors. You may keep the chamber indoors; if air conditioning is used emergence may take a few days longer.
Hang your chrysalides so the pupal foot (silk pad) suspends the green body upside down. Do not allow the chrysalides to touch each other or the sides of the container. Upon emergence it takes about two hours for the adults to expand and dry their wings. Release the butterflies outdoors (by cutting the nylon net off container), when the temperature is above 50 degrees.
Frequently Asked Questions
“Leps” is a cool way to refer to butterflies and moths. It is short for Lepidoptera, the Greek word for the order of butterflies, moths, and skippers. The appreciation of leps is recorded as far back as the Bronze Age, since the dawn of civilization. Raising butterflies and moths is cool.
Materials you will need for rearing Luna:
1. Plastic container with lid for eggs and young larvae. Poke very small holes in container for ventilation. If moisture develops, wipe dry.
2. Paper towel cut to fit container.
3. Fresh “host” plant leaves, washed and dried.
4. Mesh (screened) container for older larvae. Day one:
A. Place egg in a plastic, lidded container.
B. Place one rinsed and dried leaf next to the egg.
C. Keep warm, but out of direct sunlight.
Day of hatching:
Detailed information: If you purchased a Luna egg the egg may hatch in eight to thirteen days or sooner depending on temperature and humidity. Place one fresh, rinsed and dried leaf of the host plant next to the egg in the lidded container with paper towel covering the floor. Change food daily. Keep container out of direct sun, and in a warm location. If you have an air conditioned home the emergence may take much longer. Grow lights help.
The newly emerged caterpillar will be hard to see; it is only 1/8 of an inch long. It will be predominantly green throughout the five instars (shedding of the skin), and spend roughly one week in each stage except the longer fifth stage. You will also notice the caterpillar becoming somewhat inactive as it prepared to shed its skin. When the caterpillar has shed its skin you may see the remains of it along with its full-face plate intact. The caterpillar will sometimes eat its skin.
It is recommended you do not handle the caterpillar at any time. If you need to move the caterpillar during cleaning of the cage or offering fresh leaves, tear the surrounding material the caterpillar is on and transport the caterpillar to the new surface, or use a round, natural bristle, clean paint brush to gently nudge it onto the new surface. It is recommended you change the paper toweling and caterpillar droppings daily, twice daily when the caterpillar is full-grown. Always wash and rinse your hands well before and after handling the caterpillar.
After the caterpillar is a week old you can move it to a mesh container. Remember to keep humidity around the container high. You can lightly mist the outside of the container if needed. At this time make sure you have at least three leaves at all times for the caterpillar to eat from. Keep a paper towel layer on the bottom of the container to make cleaning easier.
When your caterpillar is full grown it will become very quiet and not eat for a few days. It is getting ready to transform into a pupa! Some caterpillars will use a leaf to wrap into a cocoon, others will descend into whatever ground protection (paper towels) they can find to use as to make a cocoon. You may notice a runny stool just prior to cocooning-the caterpillar is “clearing its guts.” When you see this you may think your caterpillar is sick. It is not; this is normal.
Luna cocoons are papery thin and pupae outlines can easily be seen when the cocoon is held up to a bright light. After your caterpillar cocoons remove all foodstuffs. Adult Luna do not have any eating mouthparts. Allow cocoon to lie on the floor of the container out of direct sunlight. Your Luna moth should emerge in twenty to thirty days depending on temperature and humidity conditions. Add to the rearing container a few sticks especially if the container you are using has smooth sides.
Most of the Lunas we have raised have eclosed (emerged) in the late morning hours. You may hear a rustling sound as the moth chews itself out of its papery cocoon. You will notice your newly emerged moth will have a huge abdomen; the abdomen contains all the fluid necessary to pump up the wings. Some Luna crawl up a stick, others will attach themselves to the side of the container so they can open their wings. It is very important you do not disturb the Luna at this time. The moth should fully expand its wings within a few hours; drying and hardening of the wings takes 12-24 hours.
Adult Luna moths emerge with enough body fat to sustain it through this life cycle, which lasts seven to ten days. Enjoy your moth a few days and then release it in the evening hours. If it is a windy, rainy or very cool day wait for favorable weather. Host plant for Luna:
Listed below are the primary food plants for Luna moths:
*Starred items are successfully used by our livestock supplier in New Jersey
Wintering Cocoons and Pupae
Here in Canada, I overwinter all breeding stock of silkmoths, regal moths, and hawkmoths in Ziploc plastic tubs in my refrigerator crisper section. The tub lids are on tight, there are no breathing holes, and for the most part no moisture is put in with cocoons. The crisper compartments, where a normal person would store lettuce, celery, cucumbers, etc., remain at a fairly constant temperature of 35-40 F. (2-5 C)
For the swallowtail pupae, I usually put two or three paper towels on the bottom of the quart-sized containers and add (literally) two drips of water, so little water that you would hardly know that it is there. I then add another layer of one dry paper towel and insert about 10-15 naked pupae. Another paper towel covers the lowest layer of pupae; I continue building layers of paper towels (dry) and pupae until the container is full. The lid is snapped shut and in late September the container goes into refrigerator crisper or into a mini refrigerator which also remains around 38 F (3-4 C).
I inspect the pupae and cocoons about once every 1-2 months just to make sure there is no mold or mildew forming. I do not mist cocoons or bathe pupae. Moth species from areas that encounter freezing temperatures can be handled as described above: luna, polyphemus, io, promethea, cecropia, and columbia do not need to experience a freeze as is so often reported in texts.
Earth pupators from more southerly regions where temps likely would not dip below 40 F., can be stored in an unheated basement or in a mini refrigerator that doesn't drop below temps they would normally encounter.
I begin taking my cocoons out of cold storage in late April. The cocoons are put into mesh containers. A layer of paper towel is put on bottom of cage to absorb fluids released during eclosions; the cages are kept indoors at fairly constant temps of 65-75. Moths begin emerging in late May.
In New Jersey, my father, Donald Oehlke, stores his cocoons (breeding stock) in an outdoor enclosure where the cocoons are exposed to rains, snow, and warm spells. I do not encourage outdoor storage of cocoons unless you are sure that the enclosure is rodent proof. I have heard of too many stories where cocoons stored in outdoor sheds or in other outdoor enclosures become food for chipmunks and mice. Birds will also peck at emerged moths in outdoor cages. A fine screen is needed for protection.
For the naked pupae of the regal moths and hawkmoths, I offer a more humid emerging environment: wet paper towels are put on the bottom of a 3-5 gallon plastic tub, a layer or two of bubble pack is placed over wet toweling, a couple of layers of dry toweling are placed over bubble pack, and naked pupae are placed on top of dry paper towels. Paper towels are draped top to bottom over sides of plastic tub so moths can climb and inflate. The lid is on tight to maintain humidity. I also keep these plastic tubs indoors.
If you live in an area where indoor air is very dry or
where your refrigerator might have exceptionally dry air, then you might want to mist
pupae or cocoons periodically after they come out of storage or you might want to add a
few drips of water to paper towels in cocoon and/or pupae storage tubs. Outdoor air does
tend to be much more humid than indoor air, especially during cold weather. I would avoid
wetting cocoons though unless they also have ample opportunity to dry thoroughly.
files - care of butterflies & silk moths
(Note: Adobe® Reader® software is required to view the files above - this free program can be downloaded from the Adobe website. Likely your 'puter already has it, though.)
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