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Audio Guide to Spring: Birds and bees

An osprey lands in a nest with another osprey.
Ospreys are large, eagle-like hawks with a banded tail, white body and mask through the eyes. They build nests at the tops of large trees, utility poles and nest platforms, and they compete with bald eagles for fish. (Photo: Randy Jordan, RJordan Images)

IPR's Red Pine Radio brings you nature spotting tips and wildlife news from northern Michigan.

Wildflowers are popping up this week, much to the delight of northern Michigan's numerous bee species.

Today, we hear more about those bees, learn about birds' nesting habits and get updates on other natural happenings in the region.


Red Pine Radio contributor Cheryl Bartz recently noticed a small cloud of insects in her yard, zooming around less than a foot off the ground.

Male bees emerge from the burrows where they have spent the better part of a year in larval form. They congregate where they sense a female is about to emerge. The males only live about a week. (Credit: Duke Elsner)

Curious about the bugs, she sent a video to entomologist and retired extension agent Duke Elsner.

He said they were one of our region's native bee species, and that they spend the winter underground as larvae.

Adult males emerge first and hover in groups where they sense a female will emerge, but whether they find a mate or not, they die off in about a week. The females live on, and their first task is to dig a burrow.

Bee burrow in sand
Duke Elsner
There are hundreds of species of native bees in Michigan, but they don’t live in colonies or hives - they're solitary bees. Females dig burrows where they lay eggs. This photo shows two burrow entrances. The slightly lighter sand has been dug out and spread on the surface of the soil. (Photo: Duke Elsner)

“It may take them many days to dig as deep as they want to go. They’ll go over a foot sometimes. There will be little side branches off the main channel, and those are going to be where they’ll store food," Elsner says.

If you’re lucky, you might see these bees eject soil from the burrow as they dig or bring in pollen and nectar. They use these substances to make a kind of dough that serves as food for bee larvae. The female then stashes it in each of the burrow's side chambers, which she lays eggs in and seals for the winter.


It may look like there are not many flowers blooming yet, but trees are loaded with flowers that bees rely on.

“Willows are one of the really critical early food crops for these super early bees,” Elsner says.

You can also find bees around serviceberry trees in early spring.

Native bees are critical to pollinating native trees and plants, and Elsner says Michigan is home to hundreds of species of solitary bees - those who don't live in hives or colonies - alone.


You might have seen a bald eagle soar into a nest in a tall tree, but if you see a large nest under construction, that's probably an Osprey. These birds inhabit similar territory, and both build large nests. The Benzie Audubon Club's Doug Cook says their nesting habits give them away, though.

Ospreys nest at the very top of a tree, but you won't find an eagle's nest that high.

"It'll be down from the top 10, 15, 20 feet depending on where the crook of the tree is that they need,” Cook says.

A bald eagle nest sits in a tree.
Bald eagles can now be found nesting in tall trees. Some are sitting on eggs already. The eaglets will hatch around the first or second week in May and will remain in the area all summer. (Photo: Leslie Hamp)

Both species do nest near water, though, where they can easily swoop down and grab fish.

“So they, in a sense, compete,” Cook says.

We met Cook at Crystal Lake in Benzie County, where an eagle nest sits high on a ridge, overlooking a lake. Cook says that's important to the species - the view from the nest. Ideally, it spans 360 degrees.

The nest is about four feet deep and four feet wide, and the eagle in it is likely sitting on two or three eggs. We don’t know for sure. But she is watching our every move … or is it he?

A bald eagle sits in a tree.
Bald eagles like to nest near water, high on a ridge with a 360-degree view. They'll come back to the same place year after year and add to the nest. (Photo: Leslie Hamp)

“They look the same. So if they're standing side by side, the female is a little bit larger sometimes than the male, but it's hard to just look at them and tell,” Cook says.

It’s estimated there are 800 nesting pairs of bald eagles and 250 osprey nests in Michigan, and you can see both species all summer long.


Today is Earth Day, and Duke Elsner, who told us about bees today, will be in Traverse City with a butterfly display at the Civic Center's Earth Day Celebration from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. along with other exhibitors, food and music.


Spring flowers! Despite snow earlier this week, they're popping up in quick succession. This weekend, look for spring beauties, yellow trout lilies and blood root in woods and even along roadsides.

Yellow trout lilies in a forest
Yellow trout lilies are one of the first spring flowers to emerge. They’re called ephemerals because the leaves don’t last until fall. Instead, they die back shortly after flowering. (Photo: Bill Erickson)
A blood root bloomed amidst dead leaves.
Blood root has just one green leaf that is nearly round, with a split in it. The stem bearing the flower pokes up through that split. On cold days, the leaf curls up, but it will recover when the sun returns. (Photo: Cheryl Bartz)

Let us know what you’re seeing! Send your photos of northern Michigan flora and fauna to Put "Audio Guide to Spring" in the subject line.

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