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Flying Colors: The Beauty and Joy of Bird Feeding

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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.

It is not rocket science. But it is a science. The science of nature and how the hobby of backyard bird feeding impacts the beautiful birds we see. Jim Carpenter, the President of the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise stores, has spent his lifetime passionately watching, studying and enjoying the wild birds.

His forty years of experience and knowledge gave him the foundation in which to write his book “The Joy of Bird Feeding.” Mr. Carpenter has developed a strategy which he calls “The Five Steps to Bird Feeding Mastery.” For the next three months, we will analyze in detail these five steps. They are:

  1. Offering feeder — free foods to discover what works
  2. Continue feeding the foods that work
  3. Consider the 12 elements of a thoughtful feeding station
  4. Improve your bird habitat to attract more birds
  5. Become seasonally savvy

Within each of these steps, we will attempt to guide you to be able to attract the greatest variety of birds in your habitat. We will also share with you all types of helpful practices to eliminate any potential critter issues. We will be giving you names of birds that are common and some who are spectacularly short time visitor’s.

We will also share stories from the 26 years we have been helping to bring people and nature together in their own backyards through our products and services from our Wild Birds Unlimited store.

When we are talking about the hobby of bird feeding, it is important to remember we are immersing ourselves into the natural world. So, anything we do or offer to the wild birds in their habitat will be more successful the more natural we keep it. There may be exceptions; but the closer we keep to that strategy, the better it is for the birds.

The best way to do this is to offer food in feeder-free set up. Large open trays allow you to provide multiple foods that many different birds can find.   Open, food cylinders type feeders are very visible to the birds. Backyard birds find their food by sight. Placing food on open tray or food cylinders (they can be seed, nuts, insects or a combination of all the above), will give the birds the best opportunity to see and sample the foods.

There are many types of trays you can purchase, from small wood trays to large recycled plastic trays. Place different types of bird food on the tray. Sunflower seeds are the most popular bird food. Black Oil sunflower, sunflower kernels and safflower are a good start. Add proso millet, peanut meats and tree nuts, fats (suet or suet nuggets) and fruits.

You can create a buffet using blends of seeds. This may make it a little harder to see what seeds the birds are eating if they are searching and flicking seeds out looking for the one they want. Remember, keep it natural. You can eat the toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese. But don’t put it on the tray. Processed food with baking ingredients is not healthy for the birds.

If you offer the equal amounts of each food every day on the tray, you can compare what is left and quickly determine how much the birds like each food. Keep notes on who shows up and how often for 3-4 weeks. You can use this information to guide you for as long as you feed birds in your area.

The second method to use in determining which birds come to your yard is using the bird food cylinders. You will need a special cylinder feeder designed to hold the cylinder food. These feeders will hang vertically, again giving you a good view of many of the “clinging” birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.

By hanging this type of feeder in a tree branch high off the ground, you can bring the birds living in your large tree canopy, down for a meal and for you a good look. Again, experiment with different types of foods for the cylinder’s.

Our store has 7 different cylinders to experiment with. Mixing up seed blends with nuts, insects, and no mess blends will help you determine which birds like which ones. Again, the cylinder that gets the smallest fastest is the most popular.

Make sure you have a good identification book in the room or area where you will be viewing the feeders the most. Our store carries quick fold out guides for easy identification or a field guide with color coated sides to identify them too. High quality binoculars, with good lens and optics will also enhance your viewing and enjoyment of your new visitors to your restaurants.

That is the first step to mastering the hobby of bird feeding in your yard. Once you have a clear understanding of who comes into your yard and eats which foods you offer, you will be on your way to creating “Your Joy of Bird Feeding.”

We want you to stop into our store and allow us to help you get started today. Bird feeding is such a great way to give back to nature. Our store hours are Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.. We look forward to meeting you and helping you get started.

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