Saturday, April 30, 2016


       Hummingbirds have returned to

                           Songbird Prairie

The arrival of the ruby throated hummingbird enlivens many gardens and yards with it’s presence.  An Indiana Inn and Spa, Songbird Prairie sited the first arrival on April 29th. Males are fiercely combative and will defend a single nectar source against all comers. Spectacular flights, constant chittering, the the low hum of beating wings, and the occasional smack of tiny bodies colliding is familiar to anyone staying here at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast, Valparaiso IN.
Seen in direct sunlight, the male’s ruby throat patch dazzles. Both male and female are iridescent green above. The female’s underparts are white, and she sports white spots on her rounded tail. Males appear smaller and darker overall with grayish-olive underparts and a slightly forked all dark tail. A squeaky chip is uttered constantly while feeding. It’s almost like the male is talking, “this is my nectar feeder, find your own”.  Males sing a seldom heard, monotonous song from exposed perches at daybreak.
Rubythroats prefer mixed deciduous woodlands with clearings, where wildflowers and abundant small insects can be found. They’re fairly common in forested areas across the entire eastern US, falling off abruptly at the great plains. Virtually all rubythroats leave for the winter, many making the arduous nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico on fat reserves alone. Ruby throats winter in Central America.
Though they are usually regarded as wholly insectivorous, ruby throats take a great number of small insects, which they catch by gleaning or in aerial pursuit. They may even rob spider webs of their catch. They are strongly attracted to red or orange flowers, but rubythroats will take nectar from flowers of any color. They hover and probe rapidly, often perching to feed.
Here at Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa in Northwest Indiana, you will see them perching all the time as they feed on the various nectar feeders.
Once a male rubythroat has mated, his investment in the offspring is over. The female constructs a walnut-sized, thick-walled cup of plant down and spider silk, bound tightly with elastic spider web and encrusted with lichens. This well-insulated nest protects the two lentil-sized eggs when she must leave to forage. The young hatch after about 13 days and remain in the nest for about 21 days. The female regurgitates small insects and nectar into their crops. They are fed for at least a week or longer after fledging.
Attract rubythroats with a 1:4 solution of white table sugar and water that is boiled for 2 minutes. Wash feeders with hot soapy water and rinse well every few days. Artificial coloring in unnecessary. To thwart a bullying male, hang several feeders within a few feet of each other he’ll be unable to defend them all.
Come to Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa

in Northwest Indiana to watch the male attempt to drive out his rivals.

Friday, April 29, 2016

See bluebirds at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast

A bluebird checks out Karen Beatty's yard in Hunt Club Forest, Virginia Beach
As soon as the bluebirds start their fluttering up and down in front of the picture windows in the sunroom of our Bed and Breakfast, we hurry out to serve them their ” live” breakfast of  mealworms. You can almost hear them chirp back “thank you”. The feeder is about 10 feet from their nesting box and we installed a video cam to watch them.
We have so many understory trees native to our woodlands, including wild plum, sassafras, oak , sycamore and hickory. We have planted the bluebird’s favorite tree, the redbud, with those tasty berries. We look forward to the sometimes 3 broods of bluebirds in our boxes.  The songbirds perform their daily operas from dawn till dusk, loudly proclaiming their treetop territories. Many winged sopranos-meadowlark ,warbler, wren, robin, thrush, swallow, purple martin, oriole, and red-winged blackbird can be heard through our microphones in the sunroom.
We have 5 eggs in the front box and 4 in the box in the back meadow and 5 in the garden box. The non-migratory birds blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, and goldfinches who toughed it out through the frozen months are now singing with joy for spring is in the air. Be sure to bring your binoculars and birding books, along with your camera. There are many great photo opts. See you soon! Make your reservation today.    For reservations call 877-766-4273 or book on-line at

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The rich and burbling song of the house wren is surprisingly loud for such a tiny (4 3/4 Inch) bird. House wrens are named for their preference for living in the close proximity to humans, often in tiny houses we provide. This mostly plain brown bird makes up for it’s small size and drab coloration by being a fierce competitor for nesting boxes. House wrens nest in a variety of cavities from woodpecker holes to natural cavities and nest boxes. They will also nest in flowerpots, drainpipes, and other such sites. They are very competitive about nesting sites, often filling all or most available cavities with sticks. The male builds these “dummy” nests, and the female selects one in which to nest. The twig structures are lined with soft materials, such as grass or hair and the female lays six to eight eggs. She performs the incubation duties, which lasts from 12-14 days. Fledglings leave the nest two or more weeks after hatching. House wrens are known to pierce the eggs of other cavity nesting birds in their territories. House wrens are notable for their lack of field marks. The warm-brown upper parts and tail are matched by a grayish breast. Looking closely, you will see a variety of small white and black spots, the only variation in the bird’s plumage. Males and females look alike and both have the wren like habit of cocking their tails up when perched. The thin, slightly curved bill is ideal for capturing and eating the house wren’s insect prey. They spend their summer in thickets and bushy edge habitat to woodlands. The house wren is a familiar bird in parks, backyards and gardens near human settlements. Their diet is insects; grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, and moths, but they will also eat snails and caterpillars. Come to Songbird Prairie to see the small bird and hear them through the microphones with their powerful song.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Today the rose breasted Grosbeaks returned to the feeders. With it’s triangular scarlet breast patch, black back and white underparts the male rose-breasted grosbeak is a North American beauty. This gorgeous songbird remains plentiful in a variety of habitats. Songbird Prairie is a certified wildlife habitat. The male’s robin like song is punctuated by a chip. I think it sounds like a robin with a cold. I think they are so striking in flight, the male flashes rose-red under his wings with a wide rectangular white wing patch, just gorgeous. The female has a dramatically different appearance. She resembles a large finch, streaked below and has a broad white line both above her eye and below her dark ear patch. In fall, immature males look similar by having an orangey wash across the underparts. The grosbeak prefers to nest in open woodlands or at a forest edge. They vacation over the winter in the tropics. What a long flight! It has a versatile, heavy bill, and feeds both on vegetable and animal matter. During fall migration, it mostly east berries and seeds. including sunflower seeds. That is why they stay at the feeders for several minutes. Insect prey in summer, may include beetles, bees, ants, bugs, and caterpillars. The female grosbeak builds her nest in a tree or tall shrub usually between 5 and 20 feet above the ground. Assisted a bit by the male, she works twigs, weeds, and leaves into the loosely woven open cup nest then usually lays four eggs. Both parents incubate for about two weeks, then feed the nestlings, which leave the nest between 9 and 12 days. Why they are so plentiful here at Songbird Prairie, their diet consists of elderberry, juneberry, raspberry, blackberry and mulberry, all of which we have here. They are a beautiful sight. You may view them while you are enjoying your breakfast here at Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa, here in Northwest Indiana. Cone to have Breakfast With The Birds!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Songbird Prairie has John James Audubon prints in guestrooms

Birds of America
Audubon would like to thank Richard Buonanno for compiling the content for this online version of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, now available for display on It is from an 1840 “First Octavo Edition” of Audubon’s complete seven volume text, and presents Audubon’s images and original text descriptions. Bird species can be found listed alphabetically, or categorized by family. Audubon’s drawings of some species’ anatomical features are also included in the “Figures” section. The list of species that have gone extinct since Audubon’s time was provided by Mr. Buonanno, as was the list of State Birds.
Note: This online edition utilizes the following conventions:
  • Within the text, you will see many names in capital letters. This was the convention that Audubon himself used in his text to set off proper names.
  • The Greek words that Audubon used in his Family and Genus descriptions have been “Latinized.”
  • The letters sometimes used in Audubon’s species descriptions refer to the specific parts of the Figure for that article. These letters have been enclosed in square brackets in order to make them more visible.
    Birds of America
    John James Audubon as Artist
    John James Audubon was a daring and colorful character renowned for his adventurous nature, his artistic genius, and his obsessive interest in birds. Learn about his life by reading “John James Audubon -The American Woodsman: Our Namesake and Inspiration“. He explored the natural history of much of the central and eastern United States, painted almost 500 species of the 700 or so regularly occurring North American species, worked tirelessly to promote his project, and set a new standard for artistry and printing. Perhaps above all else, Audubon was a lover and observer of birds and nature.
    Audubon drew birds from life whenever possible rather than from specimens alone. He did, indeed, shoot specimens that he wired and propped into life-like positions as models for his paintings. Of equal or greater importance, he spent much of his life traveling the continent observing the birds (and animals) in remarkable depth and detail. He studied the creatures in all of their plumages. He attempted to tease out mysteries of aberrant plumages and apparent hybrids. He took note of the birds’ food and habitat preferences meticulously. And, he watched them move, interact, and behave. He strove for action and reality; this was a new approach to the painting of birds.
    Audubon has been accused of presenting his subjects in too theatric a manner. The occasionally awkward postures he often used, however, emphasize outstanding features or fieldmarks. The exaggerated curves and stretches in some of his paintings also reflect his artistic eye; they work in the context of the painting. Finally, these paintings reflect Audubon’s love and fascination with the beauty and dynamics of our birds and the rest of our natural heritage; lively action jumps from the pages.
    As you explore this portfolio of his artwork, consider the complex story that each painting is telling and the fragile beauty it is depicting. Look at the Worm-eating Warblers eating pokeberries. It is a balanced, beautiful painting of curves and subtle colors; it shows all aspects of the adult birds’ plumage, and it includes a bird foraging on dead leaves – a very characteristic behavior of Worm-eating Warblers. Notice in the painting “Green Heron,” that Audubon shows us not only an adult male and “young in September ” but also appropriate botanicals and a Luna Moth. Explore the frenzy of activity depicted in “Northern Bobwhites and Red-shouldered Hawk” and “Northern Mockingbirds.” And finally, think of Audubon the conservationist when you view his painting of the Carolina Parakeets. Audubon knew that this species was declining and that birds in general were finite and often fragile because of the complex individual needs of each species. He knew that they needed and deserved conservation.
  • The Cardinal suite has a print of the male and female cardinal
  • The Warbler suite has a variety of warblers in one print
  • The Bluebird suite has a male bluebird print
  • The Purplefinch suite has picture of birds on nests
  • The Robin Suite has a pictue of a robin, the male and female look alike

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Nicknamed “wild canary”, the American Goldfinch is a prized visitor at Songbird Prairie. This little finch is welcome and common at our feeders, where it eats primarily sunflower and nyjer seed.  At Songbird Prairie, they also cover the salvia along our walkway to the Inn.  They love to drink and bathe in our shallow birdbaths and are attracted to the watercourse that runs through this Indiana Dunes Bed & Breakfast’s woodlands.  The American Goldfinch is a frequent visitor to our feeders and you would be assured to spot these vibrant yellow birds and hear their twittering call on your visit! 
In nature, the goldfinch feeds primarily during the day on seeds of grasses and trees. They may occasionally feed on insects and berries. They frequently visit backyard feeders – particularly those filled with thistle seed.
Size and Color: 
A small bird, the American Goldfinch is generally between 4″-5″. The male is a vibrant yellow in the summer and an olive color during the winter months. The female is a dull yellow-brown shade which brightens only slightly during the summer. The brightly colored plumage of the male is to impress the female during the breeding season and attract a mate.
A long, twittering “per-chic-o-ree” or “po-ta-to chip.” The American Goldfinch is known for singing in flight, which adds to their cheerful, “wave-like” flight pattern.
These are active and acrobatic little finches that cling to weeds and seed socks, and sometimes mill about in large numbers at feeders or on the ground beneath them. Goldfinches fly with a bouncy, undulating pattern and often call in flight, drawing attention to themselves.
The goldfinch’s main natural habitats are weedy fields and floodplains, where plants such as thistles and asters are common. They’re also found in cultivated areas, roadsides, orchards, and backyards. American Goldfinches can be found at feeders any time of year, but most abundantly during winter.
Backyard Tips: 
To encourage goldfinches into your yard, plant native thistles and other composite plants, as well as native milkweed. Almost any kind of bird feeder may attract American Goldfinches, including hopper, platform, and hanging feeders, and these birds don’t mind feeders that sway in the wind. You’ll also find American Goldfinches are happy to feed on the ground below feeders, eating spilled seeds. Enjoy your breakfast while hearing and watching these amazing birds.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

At songbird Prairie we carry a "flame" for the Northern Flicker

One of our favorite birds, a familiar and fairly large (13  inches long) woodpecker, the northern flicker is a distinctively marked bird that unlike other woodpeckers is often seen foraging on the ground. The Eastern form of the flicker is known as the yellow-shafted flicker for it’s bright lemon-yellow underwing and tail color. The field marks are bright yellow wing flashes, white rump, spotted breast, and barred back. It is not easily confused with any other bird. In the east, both male and female have a red crescent on the back of of the head, but only the male shows a black “moustache” mark on the cheek. The flicker has several calls including a single note kleer, a short wickawickaseries, and a monotonous wickwickwickwick song. It also communicates by drumming on the resonating surface of a tree, pole, or even metal downspouts and chimney flues. The flicker is widespread across Northern America. We see them all spring, summer and fall here at Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa, Valparaiso, Indiana. They are found everywhere wooded habitats exist though open woods and woodland edges are preferred. Songbird Prairie is a certified wildlife habitat. Flickers migrate southward in winter. Flickers feed on the ground where they specialize in eating ants. A flicker pokes its long bill into an anthill and uses it’s lone, sticky tongue to extract the ants. They also eat other insects, as well as fruits and seeds. At bird feeders, they will eat suet, peanuts, fruits, and sunflower bits.
Excavating a new nest cavity almost every year, flickers perform a much needed service for may other hole nesting birds from chickadee to ducks that use old flicker nests. Both the male and female excavate the nest cavity in a dead tree or branch. The female lays between 5 and 10 eggs both share the 11 day incubation period. Young flickers leave the nest after about 25 days. Flickers use nest boxes with an interior floor of 7 x 7 inches, and interior height of 16-24 inches and a 2 1/2 inch entry hole. Because excavation is a vital part of courtship, boxes packed full of wood chips are more attractive. Competition for cavities from European starlings is fierce and may be causing a decline in flickers. Offering suet, corn or peanuts and nest boxes in your wooded backyard is one way to attract flickers. Equally important is the presence of ground dwelling insects (leave those non threatening anthills alone) and dead trees or dead branches. A large dead tree branch placed vertically in your yard may entice a flicker to stop.  As you walk the grounds of Songbird Prairie’s 6 acres, you will find may dead trees left to entice all species of woodpeckers.
Come to Northern Indiana to discover the Norther Flicker.

Mother’s Day Special

Is your mom a “Red Hatter” or a Tool Belt Diva?

Whether she’s a “Red Hatter” or a “Tool Belt Diva”, plan a night reminiscing with Mom at Songbird Prairie Inn and Spa. Remember those breakfasts in bed, where you served her burnt toast and cold tea? Let us serve you both our Gourmet Hot Breakfast in our sunroom where songbirds serenade and entertain.

Stay at Songbird Prairie with your mom in the Purple finch or Warbler suites and make her a bracelet of hand-blown glass beads and silver-plated metal beads which are topped off with a touch of rhinestone bling! Bracelet included in package with beads of your choice up to $50.00 retail value. Package starts at $249.00 Children 12 and over welcome for this special. Can’t make it overnight? Come for Breakfast, Afternoon tea, ( 4 person minimum) or spa treatments. Make your reservation today or buy a gift card! 219-759-4274


Friday, April 8, 2016

Where do hummingbirds winter?

Jim Williams, Special to the Star Tribune
Ruby-throated hummingbird, juvenile male, at geranium flower
As ruby-throated hummingbirds are returning to the state, researchers are learning more about where they spend the other half of the year.
By VAL CUNNINGHAM, Contributing Writer
Around the first of May each year, ruby-throated hummingbirds begin returning to the midwest. Wonder where they’ve been all winter?
So do the scientists.
At the end of each summer, some 7 million ruby-throats from across the eastern United States and Canada essentially disappear.
There are indications that they travel to the tropics, going as far south as Panama. But hummingbirds are so common in Central America that few people even notice them, much less track them. These little mountain birds also disperse widely, making it even less likely they’d draw attention. So, much of what we know about ruby-throats outside the United States is based on assumptions.
A South Carolina naturalist and educator is working to change that.
Bill Hilton Jr. has been banding U.S. ruby-throats for decades. Over the years, Hilton and others have slipped tiny aluminum rings on more than 200,000 hummingbirds. Still, none of the banded birds have been reported in Central America.
And the value of banding birds lies in them being reported after being caught by another bander or found dead. It’s only when a banded bird is rediscovered that researchers can learn where its band was attached. That, in turn, tells a great deal about a bird’s itinerary.
But Hilton isn’t giving up. For the past several years, he’s been leading groups of volunteers to the other end of the migratory trail. In winter, they head to Costa Rica to study and band hummingbirds there.
The banders found an aloe vera plantation popular with ruby-throats. By banding a few dozen of these birds over several years, Hilton could tell that the same ruby-throats were returning from year to year, a practice called “site fidelity” in ornithological circles.
To date, an estimated 400 ruby-throats have been banded on their tropical wintering grounds. That’s a small percentage of the estimated population. But the banding work has already proved its worth: The birds that return each year to the aloe plantation send a strong message about conserving such sites.
“Site fidelity like this gives us pretty powerful evidence when we talk about the need to protect the birds’ habitat,” said Hilton.
And, in the summer of 2008, Hilton got some exciting news. A bird he’d banded in Costa Rica had turned up in the United States.
This hummingbird, encountered in Georgia, was the first-ever ruby-throat banded in Central America to be captured in the United States. That makes it the first hard evidence that ruby-throats migrate back and forth.
You can help
If you’re a hummingbird fan, you can help learn more about these birds. Here’s how: If you come across a ruby-throat with a band on its leg, contact the federal Bird Banding Laboratory. Either fill out a form on its web page ( or call 1-800-327-BAND. They’ll ask for the band number and where the bird was found, and report this information to the original bander.
If you’d like to join one of those winter bird-banding trips to the tropics, go to and click on hummingbirds.
Val Cunningham, a St. Paul resident, writes about nature for local and regional newspapers. She’s also the author of “The Gardener’s Hummingbird Book.” She can be reached at

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

                      Afternoon tea for bridesmaids 

                          or celebrate Mom

Experience Afternoon tea while the birds serenade and entertain             you with their antics just outside the sunroom windows. 
      Wednesday and Thursday afternoons 4 person minimum 
 $30 Plus tax and gratuity $25 when combined with spa services

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Eastern Kingbird Treated Royally at Songbird Prairie

High in the treetops a medium-sized black and white bird flutters out to catch flying insects and aggressively attack other birds in flight, all the while emitting a sputtery series of sharp notes that sound like the zapping of an electric current. No need to look high in the tree tops here in Northwest Indiana at Songbird Prairie B&B, the Kingbird sits on the fence in front of the Inn for his breakfast. They are excellent fliers, able to catch flying insects and aggressively defend it’s breeding territory with its aerial mastery. Both male and female are black above and white below. The female’s chest is grayish. Male kingbirds have a small, red-orange patch of feathers on the crown, though this is rarely seen. A thin, white band on the tail margin clinches the identification. Spending the breeding season in open areas with scattered trees, eastern kingbirds prefer locations near water, probably for the bounty of insects. Fairly common in agricultural areas, pastures, city parks, and suburban neighborhoods with large trees and open understory during summer, most eastern kingbirds migrate to central and south America in winter. In migration, the kingbird travels in loose flocks, and it is not uncommon to see a dozen or more birds in one tree in spring or fall. The eastern kingbird or bee bird, is an insect eater, specializing in bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, on other large flying insects. That’s why they are here at Songbird Prairie we have a virtual buffet of them all! Sit and watch hunters, kingbirds find an exposed perch and wait for something edible to fly past. They then sally forth and grab the prey in their bill, returning to the perch to stun and eat the insect. Kingbirds also eat fruits at all seasons, including mulberries, cherries, and elderberries. These are most abundant here at Songbird Prairie B&B. Fruits make up the bulk of their winter diet in the tropics. The Kingbird’s nest is placed high in a tree and is a large, loosely woven cup of bark, twigs, and weed stems. Females do all of the nest building in incubation. A typical clutch is two to five eggs with a 15 day incubation period. Hatchlings spend about 16 days in the nest before fledging, after which they are attended to by both parents for several more weeks. They are very active in their territories in summer,  especially here at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast so if you want to watch for their fluttery fly catching flights and listen for their loud zapping calls, give us a call come for the weekend, come for the night, or come just for breakfast. The old myth that eastern kingbirds prey primarily on honeybees resulted in many of these birds being shot. Studies have now shown that the kingbirds eat relatively few honeybees, mostly drones.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Black -throated Green Warbler visits Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast here in Northwest Indiana in the spring. Easy to identify both by sight and by voice, the black-throated green warbler brings spring, summer, and fall cheer to many birders. Listen for its wheezy-zee zoo zee or zee zee zee zoo zee song. Both the male and female black-throated greens are colorful and easy to identify. This bird often appears in trees high above your head, but even a quick side or belly view reveals important identification clues, such as the bright yellow head framed from below by sharply contrasting black on the breast (and throat on the male) and from above by olive green. The sides are streaked in black and the birds sport two white wing bars. They also have a yellow bar that runs across their white under-tails, or vents. The warbler breeds primarily in coniferous and mixed forest from as far as British Colombia, east through the Northwest, and down into the Appalachians. A few winter in southern Florida but most migrate to Mexico and Central America. During migration black-throated green warblers are among the most conspicuous migrant warblers, actively foraging along woodland edges. While nesting black-throated green warblers eat insects, particularly caterpillars, they capture prey by snatching it from leaves but also by hovering at the tips of branches to locate and grab insects. During migration poison ivy berries are among the fruits eaten. There are plenty here at Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast to our dismay but to the warbler's delight! Male and female black throated green warblers share nest building duties, making a cup of grassy stems and twigs, spider webs, and bark which they line with softer materials such as feathers. This construction may take up to eight days and the female seems to choose the nest site, which is frequently between three to nine feet off the ground in a conifer, where two or more branches meet the trunk. Only the female incubates the four eggs, usually for 12 days. The eggs are grayish or whitish drizzled with reddish brown markings. Females feed the young initially, joined after a number of days by the male. Young leave the nest after about 11 days, following one of the parents for about a month. During migration the black-throated green warbler flies in flocks with chickadee and titmouse. We would love to have you come to Songbird Prairie here in Northwest Indiana to see all of these marvelous birds. The apple trees are in full bloom the  last week of April around the windows of the sunroom. Pansy faces greet you as you come up the walk as well as daffodils and bleeding heart. Bring your walking shoes and binoculars!