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Tag Archive | "bird watching"

Bird Watching Hotspots

Ranger Steve Mueller



Almost 100 bird watching “Hotspots” is listed for Kent County on ebird. Ebird is a web site where people enter bird-sighting observations. The benefit of entering data to ebird for you is the site organizes personal data, keeps record of all the bird species you have seen with dates and locations. Hotspots are locations where many people list sightings for a particular location.

Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC) between Cedar Springs and Kent City currently has the seventh most bird species sightings for Kent County hotspots. The six locations with more bird species sightings are in Grand Rapids population centers that have many observers and thus larger species lists. HCNC has more varied and wilder habitats with greater solitude for enjoyable birding. It remains an undiscovered nature niche resource that waits your visit.

Currently 141 species of birds have been documented for HCNC. The number will grow as more people discover and enjoy the variety of habitats that support bird life at the nature center.

One February afternoon I encountered a Long-eared owl standing on the railing of Thunderwood Boardwalk. It was my first experience with the species. We looked at each other for a moment; it flew into a white pine and looked down at me. The experience invigorated my heart, mind, and spirit. Long-eared owls are quite secretive and usually do not show themselves in daylight.

Another species that does not show itself during the day is the American Woodcock. During spring it dances nightly in the evening sky for about six weeks. In the field north of the Red Pine Interpretive Center at dusk, it will start pneeting on the ground. A pneet is a buzz-like call. It stomps its feet and turns from side to side in the dim light. After many pneets, it takes flight and circles higher and higher before diving toward the ground and quickly leveling to land, where it repeats its ground dance with more pneets. Over the years, I have led many field trips to watch the mating dance display.

Scarlet Tanagers do not arrive until May and are surprisingly difficult to see. They have brilliant red bodies with black wings. It seems they would be easy to see but somehow they blend into the new spring green foliage high in trees. People refer to their song as sounding like a robin with a soar throat. The coarser sound helps locate the bird’s singing location and with careful search the bird can be seen.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spring songs is made by Wood Thrushes in the deciduous forest. Its Ee-o-lay song is clear, loud, and beautifully musical. Another thrush called the Veery makes one of my most favorite bird songs. It stays well hidden. As a young birder it took me about 10 years to discover what bird was make the song. Its spiral-descending warble is most intriguing.

The Common Yellowthroat, unlike the Veery, will readily show itself. It wears a black mask over it eyes. Maybe it thinks the mask keeps it hidden. A bright yellow breast helps locate this bird in shrubby wetlands. I could describe 141 different species that have been seen at HCNC. Each has a unique nature niche. People would quickly tire of descriptions. Instead, become entranced with sights and sounds by walking nature center trails during spring.

Google “ebird” and explore listings for various locations in the County. Enrich your life and contribute to citizen science efforts by documenting bird species that visit your yard. I have observed 102 species at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.


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Help nurture kids’ love of nature with easy, basic, backyard bird-feeding tips


(BPT) – Parents and children enjoy spending quality time together, but it’s not always easy to find shared interests. The backyard, however, can provide the perfect place for generations to meet when parents help kids learn the delights of bird-watching and bird-feeding.

Interacting with backyard birds benefits children on many levels, including teaching them the responsibility of caring for other living things to nurturing their appreciation of nature. Fall and winter are the perfect times to introduce kids to backyard bird care; as food sources dwindle in their natural habitat, birds will frequent a backyard where feeders serve up seed and suet daily.

The wild bird experts at Cole’s Wild Bird Products offer some guidance for families launching bird feeding lessons:

N-Birdfeeding2Feeder facts:

Different bird species like different types of feeders, but some styles, such as tube feeders, will attract a large variety of birds. Basic bird feeder styles include:

* Tube – Best for serving seed, tube feeders keep the contents clean and dry, providing birds with access to the food through feeding ports. They’re great all-purpose feeders and will attract the most variety of songbirds. It’s important to clean tube feeders regularly, so choose a model that’s easy to clean. Cole’s high-quality tubular feeders are made with state-of-the-art materials to prevent warping, discoloration, and they feature Quick Clean removable bases that make cleaning fast and simple. Feeder bottoms pop off with the push of a button.

* Bowl feeders – If separating seeds into different feeders gets too complicated, bowl feeders can be an all-in, easy solution. Options like Cole’s Bountiful Bowl Feeder can accommodate a variety of feed types, from seed and suet to mealworms, fruits and nuts. Bowl feeders are especially good starter feeders for children since they are easy to fill and clean.

* Suet feeders – During cold winter months, suet is an essential source of energy for birds. Suet feeders can range from a simple mesh onion bag to a wire or plastic mesh box that affixes to a tree, or post. Woodpeckers, warblers, nuthatches, titmice, jays and chickadees love suet.

Whatever styles of feeder you choose – and a mix is ideal – be sure to select feeders that are sturdy enough to withstand winter weather and unwanted visitors, like squirrels. They should be tight enough to keep seeds dry, and easy to disassemble for cleaning. Most importantly, keep them maintained and stocked – if you neglect to feed them, birds will go elsewhere.

Food fun:

In order to attract birds, it’s important to serve high-quality food. Seed blends with too much cheap seed, known as fill, won’t satisfy birds, and you’ll end up with a mound of discarded fill under feeders and few feathered friends in your backyard. Here are some basic foods birds look for in winter:

* Suet – Long gone are the days when serving suet was a messy proposition. Kids can serve suet without messing up their little hands when you choose convenient suet cakes, kibbles, nuts and pearls. Many of these suet options are mixed with other treats birds love, such as nuts, grains and berries. You can even find options with habanero pepper infused in the fat to dissuade squirrels from dining on the suet. Nutberry Suet Blend, by Cole’s, mixes human-grade cherries, apples and blueberry-flavored cranberries, preferred nuts, nutritious insect suet kibbles and whole kernel sunflower meats into an energy-packed, powerhouse feed.

* Seed – Many songbirds favor seeds, and in winter it can be difficult for birds to find seeds in nature. From black oil sunflower seeds and Niger to seed mixes, it’s important to serve a variety of high-quality seeds. Choose mixes with large proportions of sunflower seeds and avoid ones with fillers like wheat, milo and corn; birds will pick out the appealing seeds and kick out the filler. You can learn more about seed mixes at www.coleswildbird.com.

* Dried mealworms – Although the name might imply an “ick factor” that appeals to kids, serving dried mealworms is easy and mess-free. High in protein, mealworms are favored by bluebirds, flickers, woodpeckers, siskins and nuthatches. Plus you don’t have to feed them or keep them in the fridge like with live mealworms!

Introducing kids to backyard bird-feeding is an enjoyable and easy way to connect families with nature and to each other. All you’ll need is a feeder, bird feed and some time. The birds will come, kids will surely enjoy the experience, and you’ll all have some good family fun.


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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

National Bird Feeding Month (Part 3)


OUT-Birdfeeding-month-eastern-bluebirdsWater is available in Little Cedar Creek within one hundred feet of feeders at Ody Brook. I do not provide additional water near the feeding area. Heat probes are sold to keep birdbath water from freezing and available for wildlife. It is a nice benefit for people to have liquid water viewable from the house as an added opportunity for bird watching.

Principle food choices were described in the last Nature Niche article but a broader variety is available and offers valuable options to benefit birds and you. I suggest people focus on benefits for birds but some friends contend bird feeding is to bring birds into view for our pleasure. Whatever your motivation, it can be beneficial for birds and humans.

Finches in particular like thistle seeds so placement of a feeder in close view is desirable. You may not have a good tree or sturdy eve for hanging a feeder, but steel shepherd’s hooks can be placed in the ground and come with varying numbers of hooks. In winter we hang feeders and in summer hang flowerpots on them for year round enjoyment.

Peanut butter is favorable for birds like cardinals and woodpeckers but squirrels find it great. Place peanut butter in a two-foot long two-inch wide log with recessed notches that have been drilled about a half-inch deep. It is good to have a rough surface for birds to grip or even better to place dowels below the feed cavities for easy perching.

People asked when should hummingbird feeders be taken down. The best response is before they freeze. Hummingbirds migrate and people suggest that some will stay too long and die if feeders are kept available. Experts suggest this is not true. Keeping hummingbird feeders available to December may help late or misdirected migrators. Unexpected hummers show up during migration season. We observed a western Rufous Hummingbird at a feeder on the last day of December during a Christmas Bird Count. It was visiting the feeder for a couple weeks prior to our viewing.

Locally, Penny Folsom raises mealworms and places them on a platform feeder for Eastern Bluebirds. The bluebirds appreciate the special gift of protein. There are those that think animals cannot be appreciative or experience emotion. After observing feathered neighbors many of us have learned that they have greater depth than some may be willing to accept. Pet owners know the animals they live with experience joy and sadness. Birds also have greater capacity for feelings and learning than some people are willing to accept.

Cracked corn is a favored ground feed. Choose finely cracked corn and add white proso millet. This will attract more ground feeding birds but may draw European Starlings and House Sparrows as well. I try to discourage non-native species by not using ground feed and am quite successful with our yard landscape and choice of feed. Enough sunflower and suet fall to the ground to satisfy ground-feeding birds. Milo seed is used as inexpensive filler in some mixed seed bags but it is largely thrown to the side and wasted. Bread is a poor food with bulk but little nutrition and should be avoided.

Some people report towhees at their feed this winter but none have come to mine. One reason might be that I do not provide ground feed. The best advice is to experiment with various feed types and then use what attracts the species you want to encourage in your landscape. A coming Nature Niche will address landscaping for wildlife.

Of course, budget is always a critical factor. Make sure your kids are fed but be benevolent and help wild neighbors when possible.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, 616-696-1753.

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Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union


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