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by ARLnow.com Sponsor — April 28, 2017 at 3:35 pm 0

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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.

Most of us welcome the coming of spring with warmer weather, longer days and the colorful beauty of flowers and plants. With this change of seasons, we often have customers who come in and tell us this will be the last bag of food they will purchase until the fall. They tell me that the birds have plenty to eat and do not need the feeders anymore. Yet for those who feed the wild birds in their yards, this is exactly the opposite time you should stop feeding.

Most of our local birds who reside in our yards are seed, nut, fruit and insect eaters. Of those four foods, there is really only one that is in abundance naturally. As you swat your arm, you know which one that is. There are very few seeds, nuts or fruits out in the natural world in the spring.

In my front yard, which has been turned into a flower garden, all the plants are just coming up. There is no food on these green and flowering plants. Holly tree berries have been eaten during the winter. Large trees, such as oaks will not produce acorns until the Fall.

Now combine this with the fact that the wild birds in your backyard are much more active in the Spring. They are fighting for territory. They are finding mates. They are building nests. They are raising the young chicks. They are much more active during these longer days. The bird’s nutritional needs are greater with a reduce source of food to forage.

Even my perennial hummingbird plants are just coming up and will not be in flowering stage for another three to four weeks. But the hummingbirds are already here. You can be sure they are looking for a source of high energy food, i.e. sugar water, which will help them whether they stay here all summer of migrate north.

With the spring nesting season upon us, offering seed blends and suets with calcium is highly recommended. This added calcium will help with egg production and nestling growth. You can find the extra calcium in many seed blend mixes and suets. Another great source of protein is mealworms. Why give them bugs when so many insects are flying around? Giving the adult birds an easy source of high protein for their young, in the form of a juicy mealworm, can help the chicks and the parents. In addition, many migrating, insect eating birds, will come to a mealworm feeder. This may include warblers, thrushes and vireos.

Even if you do not see these birds up in the newly leafed tree canopy, you can hear their varied songs at the break of dawn. This free concert, in the spring mornings, is one of the bonuses of spring.  That brings us to another bonus of continued feeding.  During the winter, we are closed inside our homes looking out at the birds.

With the springtime, we are now free from the shackles of the cold wind and actually outside with the birds. The colors, the songs, the activities; we are right there in their midst to observe and enjoy. This is one of the hidden joys that I get from feeding birds in the warmer months. Not only do they need the source of food, but my presence outside makes me feel like a part of the environment.

Springtime for many of us is a more leisurely pace with less layers of clothing and more outdoor activities. Springtime for the birds is a more hectic pace with migration, breeding and raising their young. Feeding the birds now will help to ensure you have beautiful songbirds in your yard all year long.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — April 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm 0

Flying Colors column banner

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.

Who wouldn’t like a healthy meal full of protein? Well maybe you wouldn’t if the meal were live mealworms. But if you are a wild bird surviving in the wilds of Arlington, then you certainly would.

Everyone who enjoys the hobby of backyard bird feeding knows about the different choices of bird foods to offer their backyard visitors. In many yards you will see different feeders offering seed, nuts and suet. But many people are missing out on attracting a much greater variety of birds by not offering bugs, specifically, mealworms.

Mealworms, whether they are alive or dried, offer a tremendous source of protein and fat. During the nesting season, most birds need the protein as they build nests, breed, and raise the chicks in the nests until they fledge. I am sure you are probably saying, “Let them eat all the mosquitos in my yard!” Well, some birds will and do.

But a juicy mealworm is a better meal for the adult and baby birds than a tiny mosquito. It would be like comparing going to dinner at Ruth Chris’ to 7-Eleven. At least, that is what the birds told me.

Here is the great thing about offering a feeder filled with dried and live mealworms. During the migration season of the songbirds, which is occurring now, you have the opportunity to try and attract 20-30 different species of birds that do not eat seeds. For the next two months, warblers, thrushes, vireos, flycatchers and other birds will be migrating through our yards and parks. When they travel, they use up a lot of energy.

So a quick and easy rest stop at a new restaurant will be very attractive to them. Mealworms are the larvae of the non-flying beetles. When offering them in feeders, they mimic natural insects. This is just too good to pass up for birds.

Offering this as an add on to their other bird foods, give the birds a good source of fat and protein. Live mealworms provide approximately 22 percent fat and 18 percent protein. Dried mealworms provide the birds 32 percent fat and 49 percent protein. Whereas live mealworms are more attractive to the birds than the dried mealworms, the dried mealworms are easily added to other foods for the birds to eat. Most insect eating migratory birds readily eat this live treat.

When feeding live mealworms, you will need to use a feeder with slippery sides. There are many styles made of wood, plastic, metal and glass. The slippery sides prevent them from climbing out. In my yard, I will put out 50 or so at a time. This feeder is close to my sliding glass doors in my back office and offers me a great view of the birds. The smaller bird feeders help to prevent the bigger birds, like the European Starlings, from dominating the feeders.

Mealworms typically come in containers of 500 worms. They can be kept in your refrigerator for up to a couple of months. Even if your significant other sleepwalks and raids the refrigerator for a midnight snack and grabs a handful, they will be fine. Some cultures eat mealworms regularly as a snack.

Feeding mealworms is part of the “new school” of bird feeding. When you stop in, we will help you understand this new way of feeding to see how you can incorporate “mealworms” in your bird feeding stations. We carry a variety of glass feeders and trays to get you started. Live and dry mealworms work well in these feeders.

Don’t miss out on this great chance to feed this unique food to the breeding and migratory birds.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — March 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Flying Colors column banner

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.

Are you ready? Have you laid out the welcome mat? More accurately, have you installed any new houses that your new neighbors would be interested in moving into?

In your great backyard, side yard and front yards, wild birds are looking for homes. They are singing, courting and ready to mate to start new broods of families. For cavity nesting birds, this means looking for safe and solid places to build nests and raise their young.

There are at least 12 different species of birds that will build nest in cavity boxes in our area. The most common birds are House Wren, Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse and a variety of Woodpeckers. Depending on the size of the bird, the box will have a few different characteristics.

A very small hole size of 1″ to 1 1/8″ in diameter will restrict most birds and give the House Wren a safe place to breed. The larger the hole size, the greater the number of birds you could have checking out the house. Most floor sizes of our common cavity nesting bird boxes will be around 4″ by 4″. The larger woodpeckers, such as the Hairy Woodpecker and Red Bellied Woodpecker, require a larger floor space in the boxes. They also require a larger hole opening and usually are deeper to accommodate the larger chicks.

We at Wild Birds Unlimited feel there are three very important characteristics that must be adhered to, to make the box attractive to the birds and a success in breeding.

  1. There must be adequate ventilation at the top of the box. If there is a spike in early spring temperatures or a second late spring brood, the box must be able to vent the hot air that could build up in the box. If you find a decorative house that has a metal roof, make sure it is a light color that will reflect the suns rays and not a dark colored roof that will absorb the heat of the rays.
  2. The nesting boxes must have good drainage. This is very simply a number of small holes or a small slight opening in the bottom to allow water to drain out. Even if the box has a large roof overhang, a strong wind driven rain could enter the opening and flood the nest.
  3. There should be a simple method to clean out the nest after the chicks have fledged — left the nest — to give the birds an opportunity to breed again.

You can also help your feathered friends by hanging out nesting material.  Examples of safe nesting material are dog hair, cat hair, your own hair, yarn, string, or alpaca wool, which we carry in our store. These materials can be placed in a small suet basket. Please do not use dryer lint, it is full of chemicals and when it gets wet it gets clumpy and hard.

After nesting season is over in late summer, you could take the box down and if it is wood, sand down the sides and bottom to clean any waste. This will also help remove any mites and other insect webs or cocoons from the inside. Recycled plastic houses can be cleaned with a 1 to 10 solution of bleach, rinsed very well and then left out to dry. All houses can be left out for the birds to use all year long as a roosting area when very harsh winter conditions arise. Installing a “Roosting Box,” which is different from a house, would be potentially more successful during these times.

When young birds fledge, and leave the nesting boxes for the first time, they are not strong enough to fly. They usually leave the box and are on the ground for some time.  The adult parent birds are always around. If you see them bouncing around on the ground and squawking, do not pick them up. The adults are getting them to stretch and strengthen their wings.

But please do not allow your indoor cats to go out during this vulnerable time.  If your neighbor has a cat that comes into your yard, ask them to please keep them inside or controlled in their yard. It has been scientifically proven that all cats love to sit in an open sunny window with the remote control to the TV and watch The Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel and the Kardashians! But maybe not in that order.

If you need a chart of the cavity nesting birds in our area, we have them available free for you in our store. We can also go over in detail types of wood to use and decorative additions you can make to your house, should you chose to build one yourself.

The love songs are unmistakable. They are all throughout the neighborhoods. Set up some new homes and invite the new neighbors to start a family.

by ARLnow.com Sponsor — March 17, 2017 at 2:55 pm 0

Flying Colors column banner

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.

Bird - Flying Colors share imageThe 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.

by Buzz McClain — March 13, 2017 at 6:00 am 0

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.

by ARLnow.com — October 26, 2015 at 12:30 pm 0

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.”

Bald eagles have been known to reside in and around Arlington, mostly in wooded areas, but are occasionally spotted in local neighborhoods.

by ARLnow.com — August 20, 2012 at 8:42 am 3,591 42 Comments

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

by ARLnow.com — April 9, 2012 at 8:45 am 2,497 10 Comments

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

by ARLnow.com — March 1, 2012 at 1:15 pm 5,791 61 Comments

It seems that a small flock of vultures has taken up temporary residence in Arlington over the past week.

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

by ARLnow.com — February 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm 3,676 28 Comments

A Continental flight departing Reagan National Airport made an emergency landing at Dulles after the pilot reported hitting birds on takeoff this morning.

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.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — February 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm 4,159 11 Comments

Regular readers of this site may be familiar with these photos of a nesting bald eagle, taken near Spout Run by Flickr pool contributor Philliefan99.

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!

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