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Flying Colors: Challenges of Spring

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Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

Most of us welcome the coming of spring with warmer weather, longer days and the colorful beauty of flowers and plants. With this change of seasons, we often have customers who come in and tell us this will be the last bag of food they will purchase until the fall. They tell me that the birds have plenty to eat and do not need the feeders anymore. Yet for those who feed the wild birds in their yards, this is exactly the opposite time you should stop feeding.

Most of our local birds who reside in our yards are seed, nut, fruit and insect eaters. Of those four foods, there is really only one that is in abundance naturally. As you swat your arm, you know which one that is. There are very few seeds, nuts or fruits out in the natural world in the spring.

In my front yard, which has been turned into a flower garden, all the plants are just coming up. There is no food on these green and flowering plants. Holly tree berries have been eaten during the winter. Large trees, such as oaks will not produce acorns until the Fall.

Now combine this with the fact that the wild birds in your backyard are much more active in the Spring. They are fighting for territory. They are finding mates. They are building nests. They are raising the young chicks. They are much more active during these longer days. The bird’s nutritional needs are greater with a reduce source of food to forage.

Even my perennial hummingbird plants are just coming up and will not be in flowering stage for another three to four weeks. But the hummingbirds are already here. You can be sure they are looking for a source of high energy food, i.e. sugar water, which will help them whether they stay here all summer of migrate north.

With the spring nesting season upon us, offering seed blends and suets with calcium is highly recommended. This added calcium will help with egg production and nestling growth. You can find the extra calcium in many seed blend mixes and suets. Another great source of protein is mealworms. Why give them bugs when so many insects are flying around? Giving the adult birds an easy source of high protein for their young, in the form of a juicy mealworm, can help the chicks and the parents. In addition, many migrating, insect eating birds, will come to a mealworm feeder. This may include warblers, thrushes and vireos.

Even if you do not see these birds up in the newly leafed tree canopy, you can hear their varied songs at the break of dawn. This free concert, in the spring mornings, is one of the bonuses of spring.  That brings us to another bonus of continued feeding.  During the winter, we are closed inside our homes looking out at the birds.

With the springtime, we are now free from the shackles of the cold wind and actually outside with the birds. The colors, the songs, the activities; we are right there in their midst to observe and enjoy. This is one of the hidden joys that I get from feeding birds in the warmer months. Not only do they need the source of food, but my presence outside makes me feel like a part of the environment.

Springtime for many of us is a more leisurely pace with less layers of clothing and more outdoor activities. Springtime for the birds is a more hectic pace with migration, breeding and raising their young. Feeding the birds now will help to ensure you have beautiful songbirds in your yard all year long.

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