Dec 20
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Boy Scouts Bird Study merit badge class in conjunction with Christmas Bird Count

Boy Scouts Bird Study merit badge class in conjunction with Christmas Bird Count

It always amazes me that so many kids want to learn about birds. We can only take so many for our class and there is always a waiting list.

What class is that? We just completed our fourth annual Bird Study merit badge class in conjunction with the local Christmas Bird Count. This has been a very fun partnership between the Boy Scouts and the local Amos Butler Audubon.

It was a very snowy day for the class and we were all bundled up for the birding part. But, the snow didn’t deter us from finding our required 20 different species nor did it deter us from having fun.

One of the highlights was a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree for all the boys to see it through the spotting scopes.

Another highlight was a very common bird that is not commonly known, Horned Larks. A flock flew overhead making their distinctive flight call, listen here. Horned Larks live in fields and can sometimes be drawn to yards with cracked corn.

Hopefully, some of the boys were inspired to begin the hobby of birding or bird feeding. At minimum, they learned a little bit more about noticing and appreciating birds.

Special thanks to the Rob and Eric Ripma of Nutty Birder for assisting with the class.

Aug 28
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Banded Chickadee in the Hand

Banded Chickadee in the Hand

“Daddy, you should become a bird bander so I can help.”

Last weekend we attended the inaugural Young Birders Conference hosted by the Indiana Young Birder’s Club. My teenage daughter was interested in going and insisted on bringing me along. Of course, I was delighted to join her.

The real highlight for both of us was the bird banding demonstration. She got to hold a Carolina Chickadee (pictured above). Can you see the band on its leg?

The chickadee hatched this year. It wasn’t happy about being captured; but, it was docile enough. My daughter helped write down all the data the bander was collecting. After the band was placed on the leg, the chickadee was placed on its back in my daughter’s hand. It didn’t realize it was free to go and stayed in her hand for about two minutes. How cool is that!

My daughter also got to help collect data on a recaptured White-breasted Nuthatch. Recaptured birds are always exciting because someone has previously banded them. The whole point of bird banding is to hopefully recapture/recover banded birds so scientists can use that information to understand things like lifespan, migration, population trends, territory movements, etc.

What a special time I had with my daughter and what a fascinating, unique experience we had with the birds.

To learn more about bird banding or report a bird with a band, go here,

May 22
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Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

He must have had a strong premonition!

A few weeks ago (May 3) my colleague Brian posted a blog entitled, “Competitive Birding for Conservation.” He wrote about Team WBU’s upcoming Birdathon with high hopes and expectations and he questioned if we could surpass a total of 150 birds.

The reality is that we tallied exactly 150 birds! He must be psychic!

The Birdathon was a tough 24 hours of hardcore birding filled with exciting discoveries of uncommon birds and heartbreaking misses of some common ones.

But one of the constants throughout the day was the quest to count as many of the 40 potential species of warblers that can be found in Indiana during spring migration. While some warblers nest in the state, most of them are just passing through. So, you always revere every sighting of these colorful songsters.

We ended the day with 23 warbler species…not as many as we had hoped to find; but, enough to make for some exciting birding.

Warblers are truly the door prize for bird watchers! And while these insect-eating birds are not typically attracted to seed feeders, they can be attracted to your back yard with suet products, mealworms and/or water.

It is truly a magical moment when you glance outside and see your first Townsend’s warbler visiting the suet feeder or a Pine Warbler munching down on mealworms. And I don’t think I have to be psychic to assume that Brian would agree that attracting them to feeders is a whole lot easier than spending 24 hours chasing them all around the state!

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May 03
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John Schaust, Chief Naturalist Wild Birds Unlimited

John Schaust, Chief Naturalist Wild Birds Unlimited

Brian Cunningham, Product and Hobby Education Manager Wild Birds Unlimited

Brian Cunningham, Product and Hobby Education Manager Wild Birds Unlimited

Rob Ripma, Wild Birds Unlimited Sales Associate, Author and Blogger

Rob Ripma, Wild Birds Unlimited Sales Associate, Author and Blogger

119 species in 2011

143 species in 2012

300 species in 2013?

Team Wild Birds Unlimited is participating again in our local Audubon’s Birdathon. We found 119 species in a single day two years ago, 143 last year and hope to find close to 175 this year.

Recently, a Birdathon team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology made North American history with 294 species recorded in a single day on April 25, 2013 in Texas. With around 400 bird species found in Indiana in a calendar year, Team Wild Birds Unlimited could only dream of that kind of number.

But, it’s not just about the number of species seen for a Birdathon team. It’s about bird conservation.

Birding teams do these Big Day Birdathon events to raise funds for much-needed bird conservation and education. Funds pledged this year for our Wild Birds Unlimited Team go toward bird habitat protection, research and education; particularly for the beautiful and vulnerable Cerulean Warbler. Check out the projects or make a pledge by clicking the links.

Will we surpass 150 species this year? 175? Follow our Big Day Birdathon progress on May 16 via the Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc. Facebook page. We’ll start the day at 3:00 a.m. EDT and will post updates throughout the day.

Make a financial pledge, wish us luck and follow our progress!

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Jan 10
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Take a closer look at that finch on your feeder. Are you sure it’s what you thought?

Distinguishing between House, Purple and Cassin’s Finches can be a bit tricky. But, there are clues to help make positive identifications much simpler.

First of all, determine which finches are in your area. Click the bird names below to see range maps.

Second, check out the coloration and/or face patterns.

You can tell the male finches apart mostly by body coloration.

Male House Finch
Red to orange (and sometimes yellow) coloration
Coloration most brilliant on the forehead
Brown cheek patch, back and wings (no red)

Male Purple Finch
Coloration looking like the bird was dipped head first into raspberry jam or red wine
Reddish on cheek, back and wings

Male Cassin’s Finch
Bright red crown – contrasts with lighter red face and chin
Whitish eye ring

You can tell the female finches apart mostly by face coloration.

Female House Finch
Basic brown and white streaked bird

Female Purple Finch
Bright white eyebrow and mustache stripe bordering a brown cheek patch

Female Cassin’s Finch
Faint white eyebrow and mustache stripe bordering a brown cheek patch

Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s helpful web page on Tricky Bird IDs for more tips on the difference between House, Purple and Cassin’s Finches.

Take a closer look. Which finches are at your feeders?

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Nov 21
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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Pine Siskin (Left), American Goldfinch (Right). Photo courtesy of Nancy Castillo.

Purple Finch, male

The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest single travel day of the year, for people; but, what about birds? This year there are many out of town birds that are enjoying being backyard guests.

It’s already been an exciting season of new birds at feeders and more backyards are being visited every week. Check out the information below on the more irregular guests showing up at feeders.

Red-breasted Nuthatch (eBird location map)
With southward movement that began in mid-summer, they are being seen in all provinces and lower 48 states. Watch for them at feeders. They prefer seed blends with sunflower, peanuts and tree nuts and they like suet products.

Pine Siskin (eBird location map)
These opportunistic nomads are still moving into many areas. Watch for them at feeders; especially visiting with goldfinches. They prefer Nyjer and sunflower chips. Click here for identification clues to quickly determine if there are any Pine Siskin on your feeders.

Purple Finch (eBird location map)
Expect strong southward movement this year. Be aware that their numbers have been declining in recent decades. Watch for them at feeders. They prefer Nyjer and sunflower. Click here for identification clues to quickly determine which finches are on your feeders: House Finch, Purple Finch or Cassin’s Finch.

What out of town guest birds are entertaining you?

Oct 31
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Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Owls at Halloween seem to conjure up thoughts of spookiness. They’ve been used in countless stories to help set the scene of many an eerie, dark night. Even an old southern legend states that if you hear a Great Horned Owl’s call coming from your left side it is forecasting bad luck for you.

How do you think they received such a reputation?

Is it because you don’t hear them coming? Owls’ feathers are especially soft and muffle wind noise. The special comb-like fringes on the leading edge of their wings channels air, allowing soundless flight.

Is it because you can’t sneak up on owls? Their heads can turn around over 270º, allowing them to look almost directly behind themselves.

Is it because their hearing is impeccable? Their ears are located asymmetrically on their head, with the right ear being higher than the left ear. Each ear hears the same sound with a slight difference, creating a form of audible “depth perception” which can be used to track the location and movements of their prey; even in near- to total-darkness.

Is it because they’re awake while we’re asleep? Owls can fly and hunt during the daytime as well as at night. However most of them are best adapted for nocturnal hunting.

Is it because their gaze seems to pierce your soul? Owls’ eyes are unique among birds being located on the front of the head, instead of the side. This not only gives them a very human appearance; but, also enables them to match our level of depth perception.

Whatever you think of owls, I hope you can enjoy them for the amazingly adaptive birds that they are.

Interested in learning more about owls? Click the link for our partner’s site, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, to learn more about the typical owls in your area.

You can also download owl sounds in time for Halloween through their site by clicking here. This is perfect for using as ringtones on a phone.

Have a safe and happy Owloween!

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Oct 24
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Every few years there is an irruption of Pine Siskin out of the Northern Boreal Forests due to a lack of natural foods. This winter is shaping up to be a great year to see Pine Siskin at backyard feeders.

Often feeding with American Goldfinches, siskin are quite attracted to finch feeders that offer Nyjer®. They can also be seen eating sunflower chips from other feeders and, as finches do, drinking from birdbaths.

Pine Siskin, at first glance, are often assumed to be American Goldfinches when visiting feeders in winter. And for good reason. They are the same size and have similar winter color patterns. However, take a closer look and you can tell them apart. Here are some identification clues for quickly telling if there are any Pine Siskin on your feeder.

Pine Siskin

  • Heavily streaked head and body
  • Yellow or buff in the wing bars, wings, and base of tail
  • Thinner, more sharply pointed bill than goldfinch

American Goldfinch

  • No streaking
  • White or buff in the wing bars
  • White rump or base of tail

Check out the photo below. Can you spot any Pine Siskin?

American Goldfinch (top left)
Pine Siskin (lower three perches)

Top photo: Pine Siskin (left), American Goldfinch (right)
Photos by Nancy Castillo (co-owner Saratoga Springs, NY WBU store)

Click here to see where Pine Siskin are being spotted this season via It is an interactive map where you can zoom in, change dates and more.

Do you have Pine Siskin at your feeders?


Sep 26
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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Recently, I was birding in Sapsucker Woods at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Which, by the way, was totally cool! There was a nasally “yank” call from high in an oak tree that caught my attention. It was higher-pitched than the call of the White-breasted Nuthatch that I often hear.

It was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

It is a colorful bird that is best characterized by its posture; often seen upside down. Nuthatches are known for hanging upside down, sideways and right side up while looking into tree trunk crevices and under branches for small insects, insect eggs and other tasty morsels.

They can be enticed to visit feeders when they are in the area. They prefer blends with sunflower seeds, peanuts and tree nuts. They also really like suet products like Naturally Nuts and Bark Butter Bits.

The best part is; they may be in your area. Red-breasted Nuthatches are on the move. They are “irrupting” southward this winter in search of more abundant food sources. Check out an interactive map from to see where they have been spotted recently.

Have you seen any Red-breasted Nuthatches?

Aug 16
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Ever find a feather on the ground and wonder what bird dropped it and why?

Right now is prime feather-finding season. Birds are dropping old feathers as they replace them with a whole new set; a process called molting. Feathers can be found in your yard, fields, woods or anywhere birds are found.

I recently went camping with some extended family. A younger cousin and I love the outdoors and we have lots of fun investigating and discovering nature together.

We found a feather while on a hike that was too cool to pass up. So we picked it up, snapped a picture (above) and began the investigative questions.

? What does it look like – length (3 inches), shape (slightly curved), colors (black and white), color pattern (kind of mottled, kind of spotted)
? What part of the bird did it come from – wing (yes), body, tail
? Where did we find it – habitat (woods), state (Indiana), season (summer)

All these clues are important to help in the identification process to quickly narrow down the possible birds from which it fell.

Just using an iPhone app right there on the trail, we were able to quickly narrow down the options to a woodpecker. A good field guide book works well too.

We then did a more detailed search using a book called, “Bird Feathers” by Scott & McFarland. Also, there is a new on-line tool from the US Fish & Wildlife Service that is very helpful, The Feather Atlas.


We had a lot of fun investigating and then discovering the feather was from the wing of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Have you ever found a feather you wanted to ID? Which bird did it come from?

The “fine print” on possessing feathers:
We recommend taking pictures or making drawings of feathers then leave them where you found them. As is stated on The Feather Atlas home page, “The possession of feathers and other parts from [Migratory Bird Treaty Act]-protected birds without permission is prohibited.” Click The Feather Atlas link to learn more.

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