Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Nest Boxes - It's not too late!

On Sunday we noticed  a pair of Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) intently checking out the nesting box located in a tree outside our kitchen window.  One bird would enter the box, stay for a minute or so, and then exit the box.  At this point the other bird of the pair would enter the box and repeat the process.  They went t this for quite some time.  We think they must have found the accommodations to their liking; Shara and I both saw Chickadees entering and exiting the box again on Monday.  

It's not to late to put out a nesting box.  The cold, wet weather seems to have delayed nesting for many species.  I use the plan below for all of my small nesting boxes - I am not sure of the original source of the plan as it is found all over the internet.  They are very easy to construct and can be built in less than an hour even by someone with no woodworking experience. 

One note on construction:  The box outside our window was built specifically for Chickadees so the entrance hole is only 1 1/8 inch diameter.  We live in town and there are lots of House Sparrows - they would quickly take over the box if it had a 1 1/2 hole as shown in the plan below. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Upcoming Event - Sacred Seeds Symposium (21 April 2018)

Join me this Saturday (21 April 2018) at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways for the Sacred Seeds Symposium.  This event begins at 8:30AM with breakfast and continues until 5:00PM.  This event will focus on preserving and maintaining tradition crops and foodways of the Anishinabe.  I will be manning a booth at this event and will have free posters, handouts, and information about pollinators (and probably some other stuff).  The Ziibiwing Center is located just east of Mt. Pleasant at 6650 E. Broadway Rd.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The weather we want and the weather we get

By the middle of April, we want our flower gardens at home to look like this...

In reality, this year it looks like this...

The top set of photos is from 22 April 2017; the bottom set is from today (16 April 2018).

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

National Library Week (April 8 - 14, 2018)

It's National Library Week!

Do you notice where the compass arrow is pointing in the picture above?

Libraries have had a huge impact on my growth as a lifelong learner.  I have probably had library cards from a dozen different library systems in my life.  Every member of my family regularly reads books, magazines, and newspapers.  My parents always made sure we went to the public library on a regular basis. 

The most influential library in my life was the Elsie Public Library in Elsie, MI.  I went to the Elsie library from 4th Grade until I graduated high school.  Even in 4th Grade, I mainly checked out books from the adult section of the library.  History was by far my favorite subject; I especially liked the Time-Life series of books that covered World War II, the Civil War, and the Old West. 

The librarian in Elsie at the time was Ms. Orpha Clement.  She would have been in her eighties at the time and was the sweetest lady.  When she finally retired, she moved into the retirement home right next door to the library.  I remember stopping to visit her there one summer when I was home from college.

After high school, I attended college at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago on an Army ROTC scholarship.  I graduated in 1997 with a degree in History.  During my senior year I spent hours not only in IIT's Paul V. Galvin Library, but in libraries across the city of Chicago doing research for my senior thesis.  Even better, this was the early age of the internet and I was able to request books from libraries across the state and even across the country!  Today we take instant access to knowledge for granted, but back then I had to wait days or even weeks for books or articles that today can be accessed in seconds.  I couldn't have survived without the library and its staff.

I don't visit the library as often as I used to.  I have so many books at home to read now - I think I am almost finished with #19 for the year, and am part way through #19 and #20.  Even though libraries don't play as an important part in my life now as they used to, it is entirely possible (probably likely) that I would not be where I am today or who I am today if I had not had access to the public library as a kid.

If you don't have a library card, go get one.  It could change your life!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Native Species Profile - American Robin

American Robin - note brown head and wings, orange chest, and white lower belly

One of the quintessential birds of North America is the American Robin (Turdus migratorius).  This species can be found from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and everywhere in between.  This bird is home in a wide range of habitats from tundra to forest, from urban and suburban areas to farm fields, from coastal plains to mountains.  It is reasonable to think that you could find an American Robin in every US state except Hawaii, in every Canadian province and territory, and in the winter throughout much of Mexico.  The American Robin is the official state bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.  

The American Robin is named after an unrelated European species.

The American Robin is so common that many field guides use it as a reference size - other birds are often listed as "robin sized".  A large songbird in the Thrush Family, American Robins measure approximately 10 inches long and have a wingspan of 14 -17 inches.  Robins are easily identified by their distinctive coloration.  Robins have grey-brown heads, backs, wings, and tails.  Males often have a darker head than females.  Both sexes have a white ring around their eyes, a streaked throat, and yellow beak.  Their chest and belly are orange or reddish-orange.  Their lower belly and the base of the tail are white.  Young birds often have a streaked or spotted chest and belly.

Overwintering American Robins feed on fruit and berries.
American Robins are migratory.  The arrival of American Robins is often interpreted as a sign of spring.  However, this is only part of the story.  Robins from Alaska, Canada, and the northern United States do tend to migrate south for the winter, but a certain percentage of Robins will choose to remain in northern states throughout the winter months.  Robins are able to do this because of their omnivorous diet.  During the warmer months of the year, their diet consists of large numbers of insects, worms, snails, and other invertebrates supplemented by berries and other fruit.  They are opportunistic feeders; I have personally watched Robins consume large numbers of newly metamorphosed American Toads.  Robins that overwinter in northern states switch to a diet composed almost entirely of fruit - especially important are berries that are high in protein such as those of Red-Osier, Silky, and Grey Dogwood.

Three to five eggs is a typical brood size

American Robins typically reproduce in the spring.  Nesta are made in trees and shrubs or on buildings;  Robins will use nesting shelves placed under the eaves of houses.  Robin nests are tightly formed cups made of small twigs, grass, roots, and occasionally man-made materials such as paper.  The nests are plastered together with mud and lined with fine grasses and moss.  Females normally lay three to five sky-blue or blue-green eggs.  The eggs take approximately two weeks to hatch and the young remain in the nest for another two weeks.  American Robins will sometimes raise as many as three broods in a single year.

A young Robin peaks over the edge of a nest

Basic Information

American Robin
Turdus migratorius

Size: 10" long
         14-17" wingspan

Habitat: fields, lawns, parks, open areas, woodlands,

Eats: insects, worms, snails, other invertebrates, berries, other fruit

Nest: in trees and shrubs, on building and other structures; a cup made of twigs, grass, moss, roots, and mud; 6-8" across and 3-6" high

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Sign of Spring? - American Robin

Every year, someone will call the local newspaper to declare that Spring has arrived - they have seen the first American Robin!

But, is the American Robin (Turdus migratorius) really a good indicator of the arrival of Spring?

The answer is maybe.  It depends on where you live.

Upcoming Event - World Migratory Bird Day Celebration (12 May 2018)

Bineshiyag n'ganawaabmaanaanig! (We watch the Birds!)

Join the Isabella Conservation District, Ziibiwing Center of AnishinabeCulture & Lifeways, and Chippewa Valley Audubon Club on Saturday 12 MAY 2018 for our 7th annual World Migratory Bird Day Celebration.  Begin the day at 9:00AM with a Bird Walk at the Soaring Eagle RV Park (5514 E. Airport Rd, Mt. Pleasant, MI) for a bird walk hosted by the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club.  Later at 1:00PM join us at the Ziibiwing Center (6650 E. Broadway, Mt. Pleasant, MI) for an afternoon of educational activiites, arts and crafts, and give-aways.  Cap the day off with a live raptor presentation by Wings of Wonder from 3:30PM to 4:30PM.  This a great family friendly event!