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.
There are rainbows in your backyard. There are rainbows in your front yard. There are rainbows on your patio and on your deck.
You have rainbows in the early morning, mid-afternoon and early evening. Rainbows come during all the seasons. But what is unique about these rainbows is that they do not go away. They actually sit, perch and fly around. You can even bring one of these rainbows right to your hand with a little patience.
The rainbows I am talking about by now you have figured out. They are the dozens of beautiful wild birds that visit our yards all year round. All the colors of the rainbow show up. The radiant red male cardinal. The brilliant blue of the Bluejay. The golden yellow of the Goldfinch. Those are only a few of the many wild birds, that we, as landowners, have become stewards of. Being good stewards we provide food, water, houses to raise the young and habitat to live.
The “hobby” of backyard bird feeding is the second most popular hobby in the Unites States right after gardening. Over 60 million Americans feed the birds in their backyards in one form or another. It is very easy to attract anywhere between 20-30 different rainbows in your yard. You do not need a large size yard to accomplish this. By setting up a couple of feeders with different food types in your yard, you will attract many different birds. Fresh birdseed, rendered suet cakes and live mealworms are just three types of food that are very to many birds eat. We used to have a window feeder attached to the back office window. This location was right above the rear parking area of my shopping center. And yet over the course of 2 years we attracted more than 24 different birds to his small feeder. One of my former employees actually had her apartment balcony designated as a “National Wildlife Federation Backyard Habitat”.
Most of us have yards with diverse habitat which are filled with these rainbows. And boy can they sing! The symphony started a couple of weeks ago, and is spreading throughout the neighborhood. I have no problem with dozens and dozens of birds waking me up in the morning with their beautiful songs and drowning out the roar of car tires in rush hour traffic. I say bring on the choir! So, this is a very exciting and fun time in the yards, even if it is still a little cold in the mornings. But get a little adventurous and put on a good coat, knit cap and warm gloves. Get that hot coffee or chocolate and sit out in your yard as the sun comes up. You will create some musical memories.
Your yards and world are filled with rainbows. Bring these rainbows into your Arlington backyard. And, whenever and wherever you go outside, marvel at the brilliance, beauty and diversity of the flying rainbows in our world.
Every Thursday morning, rain or shine, the folks enjoying breakfast and coffee at the tables outside the Lee Harrison Shopping Center Starbucks get to see the delivery of two to three tons of birdseed hauled into the Wild Birds Unlimited store next door.
That’s two to three TONS of bags of wild birdseed.
“That’s how fresh it is,” says owner Michael Zuiker. “And we go through that mountain every week.”
During special promotions that mountain has been known to grow to seven tons, and it flies off the shelves as if on eagle wings.
Wild Birds Unlimited has been at the same perch at Lee Harrison for 26 years, ever since Zuiker gave up designing Roy Rogers restaurants for Marriott in the 1980s and decided to do something that connected him as well as others with the outdoors.
“I’ve always loved outdoors, always loved nature,” Zuiker says. “I always loved the concept of doing something all natural. So for 26 years we’ve been bringing people and nature together.”
Over the years Zuiker has established a loyal clientele of bird lovers in Arlington, Falls Church and McLean, and he’s heartened by the growing number of new customers who come to the store perhaps for the first time. But some of them aren’t clear on the concept when they first come in.
“Maybe twice a week people come in looking to buy birds,” he says. “I tell them, I have no clue how to sell a bird. And the other misconception they have is when they ask, Can you make a living doing this? That’s when I politely tell them feeding wild birds is the second-most popular hobby in America, next to gardening.”
Zuiker says some 60 million Americans actively feed birds all four seasons. “It’s a beautiful hobby,” he says.
Zuiker is careful not to run down the competition, but those inexpensive bags of birdseed at grocery and hardware stores are not the stock he’s carrying.
“They sell it so cheaply, I don’t see how they can make a profit on it,” he says. “But it won’t be fresh, it won’t be good quality seed. A 20-pound bag might have 70 percent cereal grain in it which the birds don’t actually eat. They’ll kick it to the ground.
“And it’s very possible it’s been sitting on the shelf for months, which, because there is larvae in it, it could produce bugs.
“Or it could have very few seeds that only a few species will eat and not the kind people are trying to attract to their backyards.”
In Arlington, that would be cardinals, chickadees, titmice, winter wrens, English sparrows, goldfinches, blue jays, doves — “a lot of color, a lot of songs in your backyard,” he says–or any of the six species of woodpeckers that inhabit the area.
A different bag of bird food, when used strategically, will bring in the migrating birds. Zuiker says there are some 10 to 20 species of those who swoop in for a snack before headed home.
Zuiker and his staff make sure customers have the seed and the feeders they need to accomplish their goals, and in Arlington and Falls Church, which are famously leafy neighborhoods, it’s not hard to do. But it has to be done right.
“You can put a feeder out and have birds on it within an hour,” he says. “But we tell our customers to give it a couple of weeks to really get going because the birds don’t recognize it as a food source right off the bat.”
Then there’s the squirrel challenge. “Everybody has a squirrel challenge,” he says, “but we can make any feeder in our store 100 percent squirrel-proof if you set it up correctly.”
Unsure about squirrels, feeders, seeds and the difference between a tufted titmouse and a white-breasted nuthatch? Just ask.
“I train my staff really hard to be real educators,” says Zuiker. “We want people to walk out the door with their solution for what they want in their backyards, and we try to educate them on the different ways they can do that. And it’s fun!”
Still fun, after 26 years?
“I never get tired of listening to the birds, I never get tired of feeding the birds and I never get tired of going out into the woods and exploring,” Zuiker says.
“But what really motivates me is, I don’t think I’ve maxed out [the customer base]. I don’t think it’s reached its potential. And I’m not interested in growing just to grow, but to help the staff and help other people–I’m still motivated by that.”
And not to mention helping the wild birds.
Wild Birds Unlimited is in the Lee Harrison Shopping Center at 2437 N. Harrison Street, Arlington. Call 703-241-3988 or email at [email protected].
The preceding business profile was written by Buzz McClain for our sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited.
A bald eagle was seen flying around the Clarendon area Saturday afternoon.
Ryan McNey snapped a couple of smartphone photos of the majestic bird in his neighborhood.
“I was about to pull into my driveway when I noticed a bunch of birds chasing another, bigger bird past my house,” McNey told ARLnow.com. “It took my a few seconds to realize that the bigger bird was actually a Bald Eagle. As I was trying to snap some pictures the eagle turned back toward where I was and swooped down to grab a squirrel that had been hit by a car earlier today.”
North Rosslyn Profiled — The neighborhood of North Rosslyn has been profiled by the Washington Post. The neighborhood is a bastion of “tranquil residential life” in the shadows of Rosslyn’s high rise office buildings, the Post’s Eliza McGraw wrote. [Washington Post]
Children Participate in AHC ‘Olympics’ — About a hundred children who live in affordable housing managed by AHC Inc. participated in their own version of the Olympic Games last week. The competition included both academic contests like “word weightlifting” and “math distance medley,” as well at athletic events like wiffle ball, soccer, jump roping and the 100 yard dash. [Sun Gazette]
Hawk Found Dead — A hawk was found dead over the weekend in the Radnor-Fort Myer Heights neighborhood. It had apparently flown into a window. [Ode Street Tribune]
Flickr pool photo by Enigmatic Traveler
Eaglets Hatched? — Flickr pool photographer Philliefan99 says the eagles in the photo above are exhibiting behavior that suggests they have eaglets in their nest. The nest is located near Spout Run. [Flickr]
No Streetcar Stalemate, Arlington Says — There is no discord between Arlington and Alexandria when it comes to plans to build a streetcar line along the future Route 1 transit corridor, according to a joint statement issued by Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan and Alexandria City Manager Rashad Young. The statement was in response to an article that suggested diverging transit plans were causing tensions between the two jurisdictions. [City of Alexandria]
New Data on Remodeling Expenses in Arlington — Households in Arlington spend an average of $5,801 per year on remodeling expenses, well above the national average of $1,907 per year, according to new data from the National Association of Home Builders. Falls Church households, meanwhile, spend the most on remodeling of any southern jurisdiction: $6,099 per year. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Philliefan99
The birds of prey have been spotted around the county, often with an eager eye trained on a potential meal.
“A raccoon got smushed by a car on the street by my house Sunday and when I drove down the street, I saw about 4 vultures gathered around the carcass, trying to get at it between cars streaming down the street,” said Dana M., a Lyon Park resident, in an email. “Thought this was a weird sight to see in urban Arlington. I’ve seen raccoon, possums, foxes, and hawks, but never a vulture.”
In another instance, a county employee spotted two vultures casually hanging out on a deck outside the Department of Human Services building at Sequoia Plaza.
A third possible vulture spotting happened amid the high rises of Ballston.
Photos courtesy of Dana M., @BrianKal and Anonymous
According to a recording of air traffic control radio, the pilot of the 737 reported a left engine failure as a result of the bird strike. The plane landed safely at Dulles just before 8:00 a.m.
The bird strike caused a bit of a scare on the ground. D.C. Fire and EMS crews near the Potomac River were put on alert after reports came in of an aircraft in distress. The situation recalled the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” — when pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed a US Airways jet on the Hudson River after both engines were disabled by a flock of birds.
Bird strikes are actually not uncommon at Reagan National.
Despite the use of systems designed to scare birds away from the runways and alert air traffic controllers to their presence, a total of 24 bird-related incidents were reported at Reagan National last year, according to an FAA database. Of those incidents, 21 were reported as birds striking an aircraft and 3 were birds simply found injured on or near runways. Five incidents involved large birds, which are more likely to cause damage to an aircraft fuselage or engine.
Among the incidents:
- On May 1, 2010, a US Airways 737 ingested a large vulture into its #1 engine on approach. No damage was reported and the plane landed safely.
- On July 28, a United Airlines Airbus 319 struck a large bird on takeoff. The flight continued on to Chicago, where bird remains were then cleaned off the plane’s nose. No damage was reported.
- On August 8, a regional jet struck a large osprey on takeoff. Minor damage to the landing gear door was reported, but the plane continued on to Albany, N.Y.
- On October 7, an injured bald eagle was found near a runway. Crews retrieved the bird and brought it to an animal hospital. No bird strike was reported.
The photos sparked a dialogue in the comments about where exactly the photo was taken. That was enough for reader Alan H. to decide to take his son on an adventure to find the nest Sunday afternoon.
He emailed us with the photo above and the story below.
A few weeks ago I saw a bald eagle next to the Mt Vernon trail by Memorial bridge and thought – “I wonder if there is a nest nearby?” Shortly thereafter ARLnow posted the picture of the eagle nest and a commentator chimed in on approximately where it was located.
This afternoon, under a warm and sunny sky, I took my five year old son on an adventure to find the nest (the bald eagle is his favorite animal). Given the nest approximate location we tried Dawson Terrace park. Sure enough, about 50 yards down the trail at the back of the park we saw the nest. A little further exploration found the place where your photographer probably took the shots. Using our binoculars my son actually caught a glimpse of the bald eagle – most likely sitting on a clutch of eggs – and we saw one of the eagles fly into the nest. Needless to say, my son was hopping with excitement and it was the highlight of his (and my) day. We will be going back regularly to check on the progress of the eggs and hatchlings through the spring and summer.
So thanks for a great local news site – and for inspiring my five year old son!
We spotted this big flock of birds flying north, in formation, over Arlington and the District. It’s a sure sign that spring is just around the corner.
The official start of spring, by the way, is March 20. And don’t forget to set the clocks forward an hour this weekend. Daylight Savings Time starts in the wee hours of this coming Sunday, March 14.