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Flying Colors: Facts for 2018

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.

We all have our theories. Most of them are based on facts and our emotional connection to those facts. But what happens when those emotions skewer those facts? Then a theory or feeling or philosophy can misdirect people who may not be as knowledgeable to the actual facts.

So, this year, my goal will be to share with you as much factual knowledge I have about the hobby of backyard bird feeding. For 26 years, my store Wild Birds Unlimited, has been bringing people and nature together through the hobby of bird feeding.

For 35 years, our CEO, Jim Carpenter, has been bringing people and nature together with over 300 stores in the country. His vast knowledge has led him to write the definitive book on this hobby — “The Joy of Bird Feeding.” With the information in this book and other scientific studies, we will explain what does and what does not happen in your backyards.

With that said, Mother Nature has a really good sense of humor and will shake things up just for kicks. So, if I tell you Nyjer/Thistle seed is really only for the Goldfinches, you can bet someone will have a Cardinal on their feeder eating thistle. So, I teach my staff and tell my customers there are absolutely no absolutes when it comes to the laws of nature.

One of the most common questions that is posed to me is, “do the birds need us?” My first gut reaction would be to say, “if we were not here, they would not need us.” They would be fine. But we are here and we — humans — have radically altered their environment. Birds do not go to the grocery store to get food. But we cut down their trees, dig up their shrubs, filled in their streams and built a store.

So, where is their food? It is broken and scattered and eliminated from their habitat. With that analysis, I would say, yes, the wild birds do need us. All the time? Not likely. The birds are always foraging for food. But to supplement what they can and cannot find, they come to the feeding stations that we put up.

Their visits will change based on their needs for the seasons and the seasons conditions. We are all aware of how cold it has been and continues to be. In this instance, for this season, there is a greater need for high fat food for the birds. Seeds, with a high concentration of oil which give the birds needed fat to fuel them through the cold nights, are something I strongly recommend for you to put in your feeders.

Rendered beef in the form of “suet cakes,” is a very valuable source of food during the Winter. It is easy to use and can be hung in numerous locations to give the birds plenty of options to feed. Suet cakes with seeds, peanuts halves and berries are very attractive to many of the birds in your yard.

Make sure you look at the label of the suets you buy and not just the price of the suet. There are many suets with many claims and promises. It is important that you study the ingredients list and the guaranteed analysis information. This information will tell you the percentage of crude protein, crude fat and crude fiber in the cakes. Remember the point of the suet cakes is to add fat and protein to the birds’ diet. No minerals or vitamins add any value to suet products.

Nyjer seed is also a very important food to have in your yard; especially in the winter. All of your flowers in your garden have long gone to seed and are withered. Coneflower, Blackeyed Susans and Sunflowers are favorites of the Goldfinch. You may not see any Gold flying around your yard anymore, but there are flocks of Goldfinches everywhere and they are looking for food and water. You will rarely see a Goldfinch on a suet feeder, but you will on the Nyjer feeder which will provide them with much needed fat from the seeds.

Goldfinches are also very attracted to small sunflower seeds that are shelled. You can mix those in a Nyjer feeder if they are very fine. You can also use a No Mess blend of food that is shelled. Most of the good no-mess blends on the market will consist of 50% or more of Sunflower pieces or chips.

Do the birds needs us? That is a question that will have many theories with answers. But looking out my sliding glass doors while writing this blog, I received a text from a Cardinal who was looking back at me and it read — fill up the feeders’ dude — it is cold out here! You tell me.

Stop into our store this weekend, January 5-7, and we will give you a FREE one pound sample of our No Mess Blend.

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