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.
For 25 years now, my business, Wild Birds Unlimited, has been helping bring people and nature together with the hobby of backyard bird feeding. All types of people, from very young to very old, have come into my retail store and purchased products to feed the wild birds in their yards.
When I first started my business, I found that people feed for various reasons. Many people grow up with this hobby learning from their parents. Many feed the birds as a way of helping the birds survive in an ever-changing urban environment. But year after year, from behind my counter I discovered many more reasons why people feed the birds.
We are very fortunate to have four seasons of different climates in our area. With each season, nature and the birds change. Winter, spring, summer and fall all bring different challenges for survival. Each season brings a different level and type of joy to our backyards. From 20 bright red cardinals on snow covered winter tree branches to four fuzzy bird heads peeking out of a nest in the spring, there are visual joys to absorb all year long. Bird feeding is a yearlong hobby.
We are all connected to nature, that is all around us, in different ways. I, for one, find no pleasure in cutting grass every eighth day, in searing heat and dripping humidity, with 7 billion gnats, per square foot, attacking me. So, for the past 30 years, in the two homes I have lived in, I dug up my lawn and planted a hummingbird, butterfly and bee garden.
I enjoy the beauty the flowers give me, the sounds the many different types of bees give me and the joy of the hummingbird zipping around my Bee Balm and Cardinal flower. The eight feeders on my back deck give me nonstop action as I sit and write this story in my office. I am surrounded by natural life.
One of my customers told me every night he and his wife would pour a glass of white wine and sit in their small backyard and watch the birds. It was their church he said. It gave them peace and tranquility. This became so much more important in his later life when his health was fading.
One day, a familiar customer came into my store to purchase seed. When I asked how she was, she started crying. Tragically she has just lost her oldest son. But she said she had to feed her birds. For many of us there is an incredibly strong emotional connection, that cannot be broken, with the natural world around us.
Many of my customers feed the birds as a sense of environmental duty to help the different species survive. There is a weekly routine I have with some customers when they come into my store and ask me: “do the birds need us?”
I will look out my storefront window and tell them 100 years ago if we were standing in the same spot and looking, we would see fields and trees and flowers. Now all we see looking out the window is concrete and asphalt and wires and buildings. With that perspective, it becomes clear that the more the natural habitat is removed, the more the wild birds will be challenged to find food and survive.
In that way, yes, the birds do need our help. That does not mean you cannot take a two week vacation this summer to go to the beach. The birds will find other sources of food. They will also readily come back to the little restaurants you have in your yard once you fill them up again.
My customers — my friends — have created and embraced the hobby of bird feeding in their yards for their own special needs. Be it emotional, spiritual, environmental or physical, the feeding of the wildlife including chipmunks and squirrels, along with the birds, fulfills a need which enhances their lives. It is only natural that nature does that. For we are just a part of our natural world. It is just that the birds sing better.
With apologies to Mick Jagger, Bono, Beyonce and Willie Nelson!