Flying Colors: Winter Irruptions

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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.

When little Johnny or little Susie “irrupt” at the restaurant table, that is not a good thing.

When sports coaches “irrupt” on the sidelines, that is not a good thing.

When politicians irrupt… well you know!

But winter bird irruptions are a really unique experience. They happen, in varying degrees, every year. That is what makes them so exciting.

When natural winter food supplies are scarce in northern Canada, numerous bird species “irrupt”, migrating in large numbers to other areas in search of food.

Winter is a great time to attract these visiting species. Keep your feeders full and look for birds associated with irruptions. Juncos, white throated sparrows and finches may be making a repeat appearance to your yards this winter. Purple finches, pine siskins and common redpolls are “irruptive winter finches” attracted to finch feeders filled with nyjer or our WBU finch blend.

Sometimes nyjer seed takes a while to be eaten in the feeder. Make sure you keep the seed fresh and do not let it get wet. Once the seed starts to spoil, the birds will leave the feeder and find other sources of food elsewhere.

Many of these birds come back to the same exact location each year. Juncos and wintering sparrows can now be found hopping backwards on the ground scratching for seeds. They love blends with millet and sunflower chips.

We always recommend putting the food in a tray on the ground to keep the seed from getting spoiled with dirt, moisture, bird wastes, etc.

Birds are also developing into “foraging “guilds. They are forming small winter-feeding flocks. They can learn each other’s warning calls to stay safe. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets and titmice may join together.

Attracting these hungry and irruptive winter guests can be a lot of fun. So, be prepared. Before you know it, these out-of-towners will be just that, headed out of town.

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