Winter Lovers: Dark Eyed Junco

By Stephanie Bradshaw, MNA Volunteer

Dark-eyed Junco  © Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

Dark-eyed Junco
© Gary Mueller, MO, Rolla, February 2007

It might be surprising that anyone would love the cold and snow of a Michigan winter, but it is the perfect climate for the Dark Eyed Junco. As the Robin is a symbol of the coming Spring, the Dark Eyed Junco could be called a symbol of winter. A type of sparrow slightly bigger than the ordinary house finch, Michiganders will often see these gray birds with white undersides at their feeders but only with a backdrop of snow. The slate-colored breed is the type of Junco that people in the Eastern states see only in the winter months. Dark-eyed Juncos can be found throughout the United States and Canada at different seasons. They are one of the most common birds in North America with an estimated population of 630 million individuals.

Why does the Junco appear only in the winter?             

Juncos, like many other birds, migrate “South” for the winter months; however, lower Michigan is their South. These little birds live in Canada for the rest of the year and come down to lower parts of America only in the winter. Juncos are commonly found in coniferous and deciduous forests, but during winter migration they may journey to woodlands and fields.

Where do Juncos build their nests?

Juncos prefer their nests lower to the ground: in a depression, rock ledge, or roots of upturned trees. However, these birds easily adapt, and around people they may place their nest in or under buildings, in window ledges, flower pots, or light fixtures. The females weave the nests out of pine needles, grass, and sometimes small twigs. The birds may incorporate mosses, hairs, and leaves into the nests as well. They rarely reuse nests, so they will build a new nest at each of their destinations.

What do Juncos eat?

Seeds of chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s quarters, and sorrel are the Juncos’ favorites. At the feeders they will pick out the millet and leave the sunflower seeds. They also eat insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, caterpillars, ants, wasps, and flies.

If you see a Junco, be sure to say hello and enjoy his presence because when it starts to warm up he will be heading North in search of cooler regions.

Did you see any Juncos this winter? 

Michigan bird guide, financial case for carbon rule presented and the social network of prairie dogs: this week in environmental news

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

An American Robin. Photo by John Beetham courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Winged Wednesday: A Great Lakes summer bird guide (Great Lakes Echo): There are 47 million bird watchers in the nation over the age of 16, according to a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey. With this nationwide trend, the Great Lakes State offers diverse habitats throughout both peninsulas, making it difficult for birdwatchers to pick a favorite location.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler. Photo by Ingbert Gruttner. Courtesy of the New York Times.

Peter Marler, graphic decoder of birdsong, dies at 86 (New York Times): Basic animal science in the 1950s made the claim that animals made noises very unlike human conversation. Yet, when Peter Marler, an animal behaviorist born in Britian, came along, he showed that songbirds learned to sign in varieties or dialects of their region.

White House pushes financial case for carbon rule (New York Times): According to an analysis by the White House Council of Economic Advisers released Tuesday, carbon emissions causing climate change could cost $150 billion per year. The report serves as another way to further Obama’s plan of cutting carbon emissions and reducing climate change.

Vicious cycle: Air conditioning is making your city even hotter (Conservation Magazine): Rising temperatures start creating a cycle of turning on the air conditioning, emitting carbon into the air and causing temperatures to continue to rise in the long run. Yet recent research has shown that air conditioners are also making temperatures hotter just through the absorption of hot air in a room and its emission outdoors.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Prairie Dogs. Courtesy of Conservation Magazine.

Creating a prairie dog “Facebook” to aid conservation (Conservation Magazine): In recent studies, researchers have attempted to gain more insight into the social world of animals via “social network analysis.” This method in research has helped scientists to take a closer look into the complex social networks, hubs and connections of prairie dogs.

Fishing for plastic, algae threats and California’s drought policies: this week in environmental news

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

A University of Michigan research scientist and her research assistant sift through debris from the water. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Echo.

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Researchers troll for plastic on Great Lakes fishing boat (Great Lakes Echo): Captain David Brooks of the Nancy K boat headed out to Lake St. Clair in pursuit of catching bits of plastic in the water. His curiosity was piqued by the fact that a sweater he owned was made of plastic and bits of plastic washed down the drain when he cleaned it. His intention with the plastic hunt in the water was to find out how harmful these bits of plastic can really be to the environment.

Bracing for Lake Erie algae threats to drinking water (Great Lakes Echo): The 2011 all-time high record of the algae blooms in Lake Erie was followed up by a close second high in 2013. Scientists and government organizations are becoming more concerned about the dangers posed by the toxic algae crowding the lake. Researchers take a closer look at the water, algae and problems surrounding it.

California approves forceful steps amid drought (New York Times): State officials have moved forward with implementing harsh repercussions for over-using water. Citizens could be fined $500 per day for simply washing a car or watering a garden. Still, convincing urban residents of the seriousness of the drought has been a difficult task.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

3-D images captured with help from a panda, California condor pair and a dugong,.

Animals live in 3-D, now scientists do, too (Conservation Magazine): Finding animals’ home ranges have been part of recent studies. These home ranges would help scientists study animals and their habitats and employing 3-D mechanisms has helped them to get a closer look at animal life.

Still poison: Lead bullets remain a big problem for birds (Conservation Magazine): The Bipartisan Sportsman Act of 2014 may have given different parties a chance to unite in support, but would have had other implications for birds during hunting season. The bill would have called for an exemption for lead ammunition and fishing tackle from “longstanding regulations.” Recent studies have shown a growing issue with lead poisoning leading to the death of birds.


MNA and The Nature Conservancy to host hikes at Echo Lake

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A view of Echo Lake. Photo by Andrew Bacon via MNA archives.

A view of Echo Lake. Photo by Andrew Bacon via MNA archives.

MNA in coordination with The Nature Conservancy will be hosting themed hikes throughout the summer at the Echo Lake Nature Preserve.

The hikes will be a series of events throughout the summer called Saturdays at Echo Lake. The events are free and open to the public.

Echo Lake Nature Preserve is a 480-acre sanctuary located in Marquette County in the Upper Peninsula.  The preserve is home to several diverse habitats. It is known for its 20-acre lake which is surrounded by mountains, bedrocks, wetlands, three small high-rock ponds, creeks and mix of deciduous and coniferous forest.

While there, visitors can expect to see incredible views while hiking on rocks and bluffs from the highest points of the bedrock areas. Some sights include: Hogsback Mountain, Little Presque Isle and Lake Superior. There will also be several migratory birds to look out for who only appear for the warm seasons in Michigan. The preserve has been relatively untouched for most its existence, boasting a high water quality and dense wooded areas which provide protection for large mammals in the winter season.

MNA has worked with The Nature Conservancy for several years helping with stewardship services to help maintain the land and preserve its natural heritage. MNA has a conservation easement over the property which helps provide it with more levels of conservation protection. The Nature Conservancy has also partnered with several other organizations and departments on the conservation of the preservation.

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Guests will meet at Moosewood Nature Center to carpool to the hikes. For more information and to RSVP, please contact Andrea at (906) 225-0399 ext. 4019 or

Species spotlight: the Peregrine Falcon

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

In a story by the Great Lakes Echo, a Peregrine Falcon was found outside the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s electrical generation plant creating a nest.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A young Peregrine Falcon peers over a ledge. Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Although the thought of a bird nesting and laying eggs doesn’t come as a surprise to many Michiganders this time of year, the Peregrine Falcon is a rare bird to the state, making the news more fascinating than usual and piquing the interest of environmentalists.

The Peregrine Falcon, about the size of a crow, boasts a wingspan of 44 inches at the maximum. The Peregrine is not usually found in wooded areas because of its need to hunt from the air in open spaces. The falcon mainly feeds on small birds — sometimes small ducks, giving it a misleading nickname of “duck hawk.” When the Peregrine hunts, it swoops down from high above to snatch its prey which is called stooping. During their stoops, the falcon can reach up to 180 miles per hour.

Peregrines mate for life and establish nesting areas called “eyries” which the falcons revisit annually.  The usual nesting sites for the falcons were in the cliffs of the Upper Peninsula prior to the decline. The recovery team released birds in the Upper Peninsula as well as urban areas including Detroit and Grand Rapids. The falcons would have the opportunity to feed on smaller birds in these areas and not be threatened by the Great Horned Owl.

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of

The Great Horned Owl, a predator to the Peregrine Falcon. Photo courtesy of

There Peregrine Falcon was considered a national endangered species until 1999, but is still classified as an endangered species in Michigan today. A major decline in falcons started in the 1950s, when harmful pesticides and chemicals were used, killing many birds by affecting eggshells during the incubation period. The chemicals made the falcons lay eggs with extremely fragile shells, which broke and cracked easily causing several fewer chicks to hatch.

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of

A Peregrine Falcon with its prey in its talons. Photo courtesy of

The Eastern Peregrine Recovery Team was formed in 1975, in order to help restore the lost bird in the Eastern U.S., five years after the harsh chemicals used were banned due to negative effects on the environment. At the time the team was formed, the falcons had shrunk to 10 percent of their original size. The recovery was found extremely successful as 400 falcons were released in the upper Midwest. Prior to the decline, there had been 109 pairs recorded nesting Peregrine Falcons in the state of Michigan.

For more information on the Peregrine Falcon visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.

Bird migration: Why does it happen?

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The Kirtland's warbler migrates from Michigan to the Bahamas. Photo by Cindy Mead.

The Kirtland’s warbler migrates from Michigan to the Bahamas. Photo by Cindy Mead.

Many people know that birds migrate south when it starts to get cold and that they can be seen flying in a V-shape as they leave, but not much more than that. The large-scale movement of birds as the weather changes is imperative to their survival and is stamped into their genetic makeup.

The migration of birds happens because there is a difference between their breeding home and nonbreeding home. Their breeding home is where they spend the summer months building nests and laying their eggs. The nonbreeding home is where they spend the winter months. The two main resources birds look for when they migrate are food and nesting locations. They typically move from areas of decreasing resources to areas of increasing resources.

In the northern hemisphere, birds migrate north in the spring. They thrive on insect populations and budding plants. There are also plentiful nesting locations for the birds to build their homes. When it starts to get cold, the insect populations decrease and the plants are no longer budding, so the birds migrate south.

Birds can cover a span of thousands of miles in their migration. They often travel the same route with little deviation from year to year. Researchers believe birds use a variety of techniques to navigate, including navigation by the stars, changes in the earth’s magnetic field and smell. Birds have important stopover locations in their migration pathways that provide food supplies.

Raptors such as hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons use landmasses such as the Keweenaw Peninsula as a stopover point in their migration. This shortens their flying time over Lake Superior and the updrafts carry the birds so they exert minimal energy.

The Kirtland’s warbler is another bird species that uses Michigan as one of its homes. The bird arrives in Michigan anywhere from late April to early May and constructs its nest between mid-May and early June. Egg-laying occurs from late May to mid-July. Incubation takes about 15 days with fledging occurring nine days afterward. The bird migrates from northern Michigan where it nests exclusively in young jack-pine forests to the Bahamas in the winter, where they nest in pine woods, broad-leafed scrub and Australian pipe. The Kirtland’s warbler makes the journey to the Bahamas sometime between August and October without any stops, following a narrow band that crosses Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Recently, there have been increasing migration hazards for birds as more communication towers and tall buildings are being constructed. The lights of tall buildings attract birds and are accountable for millions of collision deaths each year. Food supplies, weather and exposure to predators can also affect the journey. Organizations like MNA have been working to protect these important flyway areas for migratory birds. You can read about MNA’s efforts to discourage the building of a cell phone tower on Brockway Mountain in the Fall 2013 issue of Michigan Nature magazine

Scientists use banding and satellite tracking to study migration, with the hope of locating important stopover and winter spots. The goal is to make steps toward protecting and saving these important locations.

4 birds to watch for during springtime birding activities

By Annie Perry, MNA Intern

As MNA gears up for some of its spring bird watching events, we thought we’d feature a few different birds that come back to Michigan in the spring. Keep an eye out for these four birds as you go birding this season!

Red-winged blackbirds can weigh roughly 3 ounces and can have a wingspan of nearly 14.5 inches. The male and female look strikingly different—the male is black with a large red spot on the shoulders, while females are brown and lack any red color. They prefer marsh habitats during the breeding season and open fields and croplands in the winter. While breeding, red-winged blackbirds can be found in cattail, tule, sedge and salt marshes, as well as wetlands. They begin building their nests between March and May.

Male indigo bunting

A male indigo bunting in breeding plumage. Photo by Kevin Bolton. Coutesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Indigo bunting males are easy to spot during breeding season. The adult males are small—their bodies only range from 4.5 inches to 5 inches—but they are a brilliant blue with a purple crown. Females and young are brown and have a tinge of blue on their tail and shoulder. Indigo buntings are mainly found through eastern North America and south of the coniferous forest region, though some breeding populations exist in the western United States. They winter in the coastal regions of Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. Indigo buntings breed between May and September in brushy and weedy areas at the edge of openings, or in weedy open areas like old farm fields or swamps.

Green herons, unlike great blue herons and other herons, are small and stocky. The green heron has relatively short legs and a body length that ranges from 16 to 18 inches. Adults have a greenish-black cap, a greenish back, wings that are gray-black and fade into green or blue, and gray undersides. Young herons have a white and brown striped neck and chest, and their backs are brown with white and beige spots. Green herons have a wide range and are generally found near wetlands in North America. They spend their non-breeding season in Mexico and Central America, but some live year-round in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America. Green herons that do migrate travel north from March to April, which is earlier than most other herons.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny birds, with a body measuring between 3 and 3.5 inches long and weighing between 2 and 6 grams (0.071 to 0.21 ounces). Both males and females have an iridescent green back and head and a white belly. Males have a bright red, shiny throat and a forked tail, while females have a dull, grayish throat and a square, white-tipped tail. Ruby-throated hummingbirds breed throughout eastern United States and southern Canada and spend their winters in southern Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. These birds return to their breeding areas in April.

This spring, MNA is hosting a variety of birding events for members and guests. Be sure to check out one of MNA’s events this season!

For more information about MNA’s upcoming events, check out our website and events calendar.