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Flying Colors: Birds Do Not Take The Summer Off

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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.

Bags packed. Tickets in hand. Cooler filled. Kids buckled in. It is a fun time in the summer.

As we plan for those exotic vacations around the country and even overseas, we may forget that the wild birds in our backyards do not take the “Summer Off!” They are actually incredibly active. From dusk to dawn, they are still:

Breeding — the goldfinches are just starting.

Feeding their young — some birds such as hummingbirds and house wrens are having second broods.

Teaching the fledglings how to go it alone. Remember the first-time baby ate spaghetti on their own? Yeah it is like that with the baby birds on suet!

All of this activity takes a lot of energy. That energy burns up food. They need to replenish that food.

You see, bird feeding isn’t just a winter hobby. By continuing to feed your birds in spring and summer, you have the greatest opportunity to attract the widest variety of birds to your yard and feeders.

Access to abundant and healthy food supplies is important to birds… regardless of the season. Bird feeders provide a portion of these important nutritional needs for your backyard birds throughout the year. Birds with access to backyard feeder benefit greatly from their ability to spend less time foraging for food and more time engaging in activities that enhance their health and safety.

Bird feeding isn’t just a winter hobby. Many people stop feeding in late spring and early summer, thinking the birds have plenty of food. That is not true. Your yard, if somewhat untamed, will explode with food in the late summer and early fall. Right now, most gardens are still growing.

So, before you hit the pedal to the metal and crank up those tunes, load up your feeders. If only for a few days your birds have their restaurants open, you will be helping them. There is no need to worry that your birds will go away if there is not food. They will try out different sources of food. But I guarantee you that when you turn on the light of your feeder restaurants that you are open for business again, they will be calling to you for reservations.

Something New

Each month, we will be providing “Nature Notes” to you. These notes will give to you some of the highlights of the month as to what nature is doing.   From migration to breeding to singing to shooting stars — we will provide for you a checklist that you can use to explore some of the exciting events that will be occurring. One of my favorite moments of summer is when the fireflies come out. My yard, for the past three weeks, has been exploding with their light show. Now I know summer is on!

I did not really need the asphalt scorching heat, oxygen sucking humidity and flaming hot ball of fire in a cloudless sky to tell me summer was on!

Here are some highlights for you to start watching for in July:

  • NABA national butterfly count.
  • Cicadas start calling.
  • Watch local ponds for immature herons and bitterns.
  • First brood of immature hummingbirds begin to show up at nectar feeders early in the month.
  • Thistle plants begin to seed; goldfinches gather thistledown for nesting material.
  • Blackbirds begin to flock and appear at feeders.
  • Listen for the feeding screeches of young barred and great horned owls.
  • Shorebird migration starts.
  • Butterfly milkweed in bloom. Look for monarch butterfly adults, eggs and larva.
  • Look for hummingbirds feeding on trumpet creeper, jewelweed and cardinal flowers.
  • Delta aquarids meteor shower peaks in late-July.
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Flying Colors: Pools Open — No Lifeguards Needed!

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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.

For the past 45 days, I have driven over the Chain Bridge to get to work. And for the past 45 days the Potomac River has been roaring like I have rarely seen in my forty years of living in Virginia and Maryland.

The amount of water, the depth of the water, the explosive energy and enormity of the size of the river, at Chain Bridge, has been mesmerizing. And scary when you are stuck on the bridge in rush hour traffic barely moving, as you peer over the river that your non-moving car is sitting fifty feet above! Wishing hard that the light turns GREEN!

This week the river finally calmed down. But you would think that with all the rain we have had, your backyard birds would be doing fine.

All this rain does keep the temperature down. Good for the fledgling birds and us. And all this rain will produce an abundance of insects and beneficial flowers that will later turn to seed.

Good for the birds — but bugs — not so much for us. And the rain is good for the grass which will grow and is good for… yeah we are going to visit this issue in a later blog.

But what happens as the hot sunny, DRY days hit?

Yesterday’s and yesterweek’s storms and water do not help the birds then. Water is vitally important when it is hot. Birds do not sweat. They must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system. A reliable source of water allows birds to bathe regularly, a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in flight top condition.

All birds need water and it does not have to be difficult or expensive.

Attract more birds by offering water in a bird bath. Elevated bird baths will help to keep the birds safe from “natural” predators.

Bird baths with sloped sides permit visitors to move from shallow to deeper water and they accommodate different sized bird that need to drink or bathe. A dripper, attached to the bird bath, will provide cool, clean water all day.

A mister when located near foliage, gives birds the opportunity to “leaf bathe.” Birds exhibiting this type of behavior will flutter against the wet plants or leaves to release droplets onto their feathers.

Whenever I am watering my flower garden or filling my bird bath dishes, I always look for a low leafy tree branch and spray, for a minute, the branch. Often, I will notice many different types of birds coming close to the branch for a chance to take a leaf bathe. It is a fun way to connect a little closer to the birds.

We are all aware of the potential for mosquito problems with open sources of water. Because of this many people will put a Water Wiggler (Solar or battery operated) in the bird bath. Water Wigglers agitate the water, creating ripples in the water. Mosquitos cannot/do not lay eggs in moving water.

Here is a fun way to get your young kids involved. Have them make a refillable bird bath dispenser. All you have to do is get a used 2 gallon soda or fruit juice plastic bottle. Flush and clean really well. At the large bottom of the bottle, attach a simple wire (it could be a wire coat hanger or picture framing wire) to the bottle. This could be installed inside the bottle or attached outside the bottle. Then take the bottle cap and poke or drill a pin size hole in the middle. Fill the bottle with water. Turn upside down, hang from a shepherd’s crook over the bird bath and the pool is open. Fill it up every morning and the birds will have fresh water most of the day.

We are all now jumping in the pool these hot summer days. Frolicking and splashing and having fun. Now get the birds pool open and keep it cold with fresh water. No lifeguards needed. But you will have fun watching. And you could blow the whistle if the young birds get to rambunctious.

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Flying Colors: Jewels in the Sky

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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.

Hey, what is that twinkling in the sky? It is not a star because it is daylight. It is not a diamond because it is in the air. It is not fairy dust from a fairy’s wand because… well that does not exist!

But that twinkling, sparkling jewel in the sky is a hummingbird. They have migrated up here from the Gulf coast and Central America and are in our yards. hummingbirds are incredible and here is why…

Hummingbirds are found only in the “New” World — North, Central and South America.

There are over 325 species of hummingbirds, making them the second largest bird family in the world. There are 18 hummingbird species in North America. The east coast generally will only see the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Hummingbirds lay the world’s smallest bird egg. They usually lay two eggs in the nest, each the size of a blueberry. A mother hummingbird only weighs about eight times more than her egg.

The ruby-throated hummingbird will have two broods, each taking 45 days from nest construction to fledging.

Even though the ruby-throated hummingbird has one of the highest success rates of any neotropical migrant, only about 20% of the fledging’s survive their first year. That said, the oldest known wild hummingbird on record was a broad-tailed hummingbird that was over 12 years old.

There are over 18 different hummingbird species in North America. Here are some more facts that are incredible to think about:

  1. Their wing beat moves at 20-80 times per second.
  2. They can hover and are the only bird that can fly backwards and upside down.
  3. Hummingbirds can fly up to 60 miles per hour. Their cruising speed is roughly 30-45 miles per hour.
  4. One research study recorded an Anna’s hummingbird visiting over 1000 flower blossoms a day. Right now, most hummingbird gardens are still coming out of the ground and have not yet bloomed with flowers for the birds. This is where hummingbird feeders come in. By mimicking the nectar these birds find in flowers in the feeders, you can provide these very active birds with the fuel they need. This is important because hummingbirds eat about every ten minutes.
  5. Hummingbirds learn to associate flower colors, like red, with food. They do not have an innate preference to red.
  6. Hummingbirds can drink up to twice their body weight every day (most birds only eat ¼-1/2 their body weight).

The ruby-throated hummingbird migrates up here every Spring. It is not the warmth of the day but the length of the day that gets them moving. You can set your calendar to April 1st for the first sightings in this area.

Many of those first birds will stop to refuel and then get going back up north. Many will settle into the lower Canadian provinces.

The ones that stay here will find a mate and build a nest. The nest is the size of a golf ball, an inch and a half in diameter! That is why they are so hard to find in the wild.

The hummingbirds will use spider webs as glue to attach the nests to a tree branch as well as binding agent for the nest building material. After the fledglings have left the nest, you will see more birds in your garden and on your feeders.

Here is the one, most important aspect to attracting the hummingbird to your feeder and keeping them there. When the temperature goes above 80 degrees, you must change the nectar daily.

The sugar water will become very spoiled in the hot summer sun. If the birds find a good source of food that is fresh they will keep coming back. And since they eat almost every 10 minutes, they could come back regularly and stay all day long.

Another great way to get these birds in your yard is to plant a hummingbird garden.

Monarda (Bee Balm), Cardinal Flower and Penstemon are some of the best plants to use to start your garden. The deep throated flowers offer a great source of nectar, which the hummingbirds need.

These perennials which keep expanding each year and bring the hummingbirds to your yard. Add in a couple of nectar feeders to your yard and it will allow you to bring them close to your windows, decks and patios to observe them up close.

I have positioned a chair, five feet from my blooming Monarda plants and filmed the hummingbirds up close. Once they became used to me sitting there, they came regularly to the flowers without any concern.

Now is a great time to plants some flowers in a sunny spot and put up the feeder. The formula for the nectar is 4:1 (water to sugar).

Make a pitcher and keep it in the refrigerator. Refresh the feeder daily and get set to watch the “Jewels in the Sky” entertain you. Fairy dust is overrated! But hummingbirds are awesome.

Stop in our store to see our Hummingbird location map with all of our customers 2018 sightings.

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Flying Colors: It’s Fledging Time

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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.

Well it is that time of year. Warm sunny days. Mild breezes. Finishing up one part of life and moving on to new adventures. New experiences. Learning how to live on your own and make your own life.

What? You think I was talking about your high school kids going to the ocean?

It is fledging time when your yards and parks are full of baby birds. They are now out of the nests or will soon be. So yeah, maybe a lot of us are empty nesters, also.

They are fully grown and ready to move on. But for a day or two they will bounce around the ground. They have been in the nest and their wings are not fully strong enough to get them air born.

It is also a very dangerous time for these vulnerable birds to survive. And just like your empty nesters who may be headed to the beach — with 4 or 5 thousand dos or don’ts from the bill payers of the house — there are a few things you can do to help these young birds.

  • Do not let your cats outdoors. Most cats prefer to stay indoors and watch reruns of the Royal Wedding anyway. It is healthier for the cats and safer for the birds.
  • If you need to cut your lawn, take a quick walk around and look or listen for the little fledging’s. They will chirp and the parents are usually in the trees above calling out to them.
  • Walk thorough your property to locate any nests. With a little detective work, you can spot them, especially if they are in medium height shrubs and bushes and low trees, i.e. Dogwoods. Look to see if there are any young hatchlings or if the nest is abandoned. But do not get fooled by the empty nest. Some birds such as House Wrens can have additional broods in early summer so you may have that opera singer taking up residence again.
  • When you spot a bird on the ground, do not be alarmed. If it looks like a teenager with unclean clothes but is bouncing around and chirping, it most likely is fine. If it is your teenager, make him do the laundry.
  • If the bird is without feathers and on the ground and moving, try to find the nest and put it back into it. The urban legend of birds abandoning their offspring because you touched it is not true. Birds have very little sense of smell. Adult birds are the best solution for feeding the young chicks until they are ready to fledge.
  • Watch for accidental bumps into reflective windows. These can be painful but many times not fatal to the birds. If you notice or hear of constant window collisions, there are many types of decals to attach to the glass to help cut way down on this problem.
  • If you find a bird on the ground that looks to be injured, you can call a local rehabilitator. The Wildlife Rescue League  of Northern Virginia (703-840-0800) is a great resource to help with the recovery and rehabilitation of the injured bird. Be aware that most rehabilitators will not take in a non-native injured bird such as an English Sparrow or European Starling.

Adventurous, exhilarating, scary, fun-filled, exhausting. All of this and more are part of the growth, from birth to adulthood. All of nature goes through this.

Get outside. Listen. Watch. Enjoy. Fledging birds are fun to watch, especially when the adults bring to your feeding stations and teach them how to eat. The softer foods, such as suet’s, Bark Butter Bits, and live mealworms are great sources of Protein and fat for these little rascals.

Remember also to keep your hummingbird feeder filled and fresh with nectar. Baby hummingbirds are also a treat to watch at the feeders. Hard to tell because of the size, but their inexperience will give them away.

Keep an eye out for those fledging’s. You never know when they may want to return to the roost!

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Flying Colors: Mother’s Day

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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.

There are 365 days in the year. My mom worked 376 days in the year raising me and my brothers and sisters. So how is it we only celebrate one lousy measly day for MOM? Seems a little unfair to me. We should celebrate every day — because Moms do a lot and are always out there for us.

Guess what? The Bird Moms of your backyards also do a lot. They are ever active this time of Spring with laying eggs, hatching chicks, feeding them and then getting them fledged and out of the nest. It is fascinating to be able to observe all this behavior right in your back and front yards.

We are very lucky because Bird moms come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Here are some of the most fascinating behaviors from around the world of mother birds.

  • Most Talented Mom — It takes as many as 12 days for a female Oriole to weave her nest. One Baltimore Oriole was observed spending 40 hours interlacing her basket-like nest. It included over 10,000 stitches and thousands of knots, all done by mom’s talented beak.
  • Most Loyal Mom — A pair bond may form between a male and a female Carolina Wren at any time of the year. She will stay with him for life, always foraging and moving around within sight of her mate.
  • Quickest Mom — Black-capped Chickadees have one of the shortest incubation periods of all birds. Their eggs can hatch in as little as 11 days.
  • Trickiest Mom — By singing a “male” song, the female Black-headed Grosbeak can trick her mate into thinking a rival male is nearby, forcing him to stay close to the nest.
  • Supersized Mom — Sharp-shinned Hawk females average over 40% larger than their male counterparts. This size difference is the largest of all of North American birds of prey.
  • Mini-Mom — A mother hummingbird weighs only about eight times more than the eggs she lays.
  • Most Overworked Mom — Mourning Dove moms may raise up to six broods per year, more than any other native North American bird.
  • Most Laid-back Mom — Unlike most other bird moms, robins do not lay their eggs at sunrise. They lay their eggs several hours later during the mid-morning. Since earthworms are easier to find during early morning, they feed first and then return to the nest to lay their eggs.
  • Most Devoted to Mom — Young Tufted Titmice often remain with their parents throughout their first winter. They have been known stay with mom into the next nesting season and help her to raise the next brood.
  • One Cold & Small Mom — The Rufous Hummingbird nests in Alaska
  • The Last Mom — American Goldfinch moms are one of the last songbirds to nest each year, waiting until mid-to-late summer when thistle seeds and down are readily available

So why not help out the moms of this world? Stop in and grab your mom a fancy new feeder, a pair of earrings or chimes. If you grab mom a feeder she can enjoy a relaxing morning watching the birds feed their babies. It’s a win-win mom moment!

Moms also need water — we have some beautiful new birdbaths in stock, you can add a dripper or a mister and watch those little babies learn to bathe. Whatever you do this Mother’s Day, make sure to remember to get mom something special!

If you’re a mom who is reading this, stop on in and treat yourself to whatever you want! 😉 Or leave your kids a giant photo of a feeder and we will help them out!

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Flying Colors: Here’s Looking at You!

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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.

So, there is a knock on the door. There is a knock on your window. There is a knock on your metal exhaust vent in your roof. What gives?

This is spring and a bird’s mind turns to love! And if there is one thing a bird does not want — it is competition. So, birds will knock on a hard surface such as a tree or deck post or even wood trim to make its own distinctive territory call.

You have heard it in your neighborhood. The rat a tat tat on the trees or even telephone poles. That is the bird telling other birds of its same species that this his home turf so don’t come calling around.

Most often this is done by the woodpeckers. We have five different types of woodpeckers in our area; Downy, Hairy, Red Bellied, Northern Flicker and Pileated. It is really a fun sound to hear when they are hitting the trees and poles.

But it is not a very nice sound when they are banging away on your siding. Worst than that is when they are banging away on your metal roof exhaust vents! When that happens — the noise can be very loud as it vibrates throughout your house. Especially at 5:30 in the morning. But as loud as it seems, more often than not there is a minimum of damage. When there is damage to a home, the woodpeckers are usually looking for bugs they sense in the siding. Rarely do they try and build a nest cavity in your home.

So then why are they banging on my glass window or sliding glass doors. Because again during mating season, the birds are not keen for competition. When they approach the windows, they see their reflection. Most windows in the last 20 years have a reflective coating that makes the birds reflection so clear it looks real to them. So, the bird will attack the window.

This is very stressful to the birds and usually a large amount of bird waste gets deposited on the window or sill. The birds rarely hurt themselves.

But you want to eliminate the stress for the bird. One thing you could do is close a shade on that window to take away some of the windows reflective quality. You could also break up the reflection with stain glass figures in the window.

There are also window decals which when applied to the window break up the reflection. You can also put soap suds on the outside of the window, black paper or black hawks. A last resort would be a small chime hung outside, most birds try to avoid unusual movement and or sound.

Spring is a special time with the birth of wild birds. Setting up a few bird houses will give you a unique opportunity to witness the whole process from egg laying to hatching to the fledging of the baby chicks.

Here is a list of the most common cavity nesting birds in our area.

  • Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Carolina Wren
  • House Wren
  • Downy, Hairy, Red Bellied, Northern Flicker and Pileated Woodpecker
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Outside the beltway area — the Eastern Bluebird.

We carry most of these birdhouses in our store. We also carry nesting perches which accommodate the Robins and Cardinals. Our houses are made of pine and will last a few years.

We also carry recycled plastic houses, and houses made from cypress and mahogany. The rat a tat tat will only last for a month or two while the birds are nesting, soon you might miss the sound. But we promise it will end soon and before you know it there will be beautiful baby birds ready to eat and fly around.

Recent studies have indicated that you want to stay away from animal hair, yarn, string and dryer vent lint. In the past people have been told to hang string or dog hair out for the birds to make their nests. But, the studies have shown that the birds have been getting tangled in the string.

It is better to just offer pieces of cotton. We carry large cotton balls that you can hangout for the birds.

You can help these babies and their mama with a food source nearby for the dad. The mama needs all the extra calcium she can get, and plenty of protein to help stay strong and keep her chicks stronger. Offering a simple dish of mealworms, or a square cake of suet will help give her and them lots of protein.

Having a birdbath nearby also helps her stay hydrated while her mate feeds her.

We just received a huge shipment of birdhouses and birdbaths. Stop in soon and help your feathered friends out while they are nesting.

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Flying Colors: The Symphony at Dawn

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.

The maestro is ready. Resplendent in his red garment, he mounts the stage. The arena is respectfully still and quiet. The maestro sings his 8 note song to get the attention of the musicians.

Slowly, the musicians awaken and test out their vocal instruments. There are long, slow base notes. There are high pitched notes. There are repetitive notes. There are melodic notes.

The musicians begin to interact and the notes and songs begin to intertwine to become a symphony of grand proportions. When you think another layer could not be offered, the percussion comes in and anchors the performance.

You have been to this performance. It is FREE!

You know the orchestra. It is right in your neighborhood. The performances are every day. Right at the break of dawn.

The magic of Spring (when and if the darn wind would ever stop) is the magnificent orchestra of the wild bird’s dawn symphony. Any small patch of woods, shrubs and landscaping will give you a performance of 15-20 different songbirds each calling out their signatures notes.

The cardinal is the maestro, always seemingly the first to awaken the day. Its two to three second call — birdie, birdie, birdie or cheer, cheer, cheer is very easily distinguishable.

The American Robin cheer-up, cherrio is also fast and repetitive. The Carolina Wren tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea has a fast and distinctive rhythm. Listen for the Carolina Chickadee asking for a cheeseburger. But don’t give him one! They prefer seeds, nuts and bugs.

Most yards can easily contain an orchestra of 20-30 different bird species, all with the unique calls. Add to that the percussion of Five woodpecker species banging on trees, telephone poles and metal exhaust vents on your house, and your rock and roll band is grooving.

What makes this even more exciting is that every Spring, guest artists migrate up from the south to join the band. These are Neo-Tropical birds migrating north from their Winter home in the tropics. Many Warbler species, Thrushes, Vireos and other singers can visit your yard.

Being mostly insect eaters, the best way to see them is to offer water. Dripping or misting water is always the best option to attract birds to a bird bath.

Their visit may be short; but their songs and distinct colors are breathtaking. Offering bark butter bits, fruit or dishes of mealworms is another sure way to get these migrating beauties in your yard singing a happy tune.

Customers have been coming in praising the songs of Grosbeaks, Cedar Waxwings and Chipping Sparrows. Stop in and fill up on these specialty foods and tell us about the amazing birds you are seeing this Spring.

Northern Virginia-check out these great birding spots for Spring.

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Flying Colors: Up, Down And All Around

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 walk straight up. Looking straight ahead to insure we do not walk into buildings, fast moving trains and dinosaurs. Or, at least we did. These days, some of us would never know the dinosaur was on us until it was too late.

Yet, this is a great time to look Up, Down and All Around. Because Spring is finally here! And with it, an abundance of exciting things Up, Down and All Around. Not only in our backyards but in our parks, on the lakes, in the rivers and in the sky.

Many birds are coming up into this area with their normal migration. Many can be seen in our yards. Many can be seen in state and local parks. Many birds can be seen just walking along the Georgetown waterfront.

With the southerly flow of warm air, many migrant birds such as warblers, thrushes and other insect eating birds will be moving into our area. Many are small and hard to see. But you can begin to hear their many songs, especially in the quiet of the morning.

Experiment with different foods in your feeders, especially insect — live or dried — to attract some of these birds.

Also, start to clean your birdbaths and if you have a dripper or mister, set that up. Running water is a fantastic way to attract the insect eating birds. And every other bird in your yard.

So, shed some of the layers you have been dragging around for the last 4 months and flex your muscles as the weather warms. Put your phones in your pockets. Take to the woods, parks and fields.

Look Up, Down and All Around!

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Flying Colors: More is Less


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.

Two weeks ago, I talked about how more and more of Nature’s natural wardrobe is being removed by human actions. I discussed the impact it had on the birds and their challenge to find food and shelter.

Well, just after that, Mother Nature showed us how to really shake things up and walloped us with a WIND storm for the ages. I hope that everyone is safe and no one sustained any injuries. That was scary.

But what of the birds?  Where did they go? How did they survive? How many lost homes or potential homes with so many downed trees and broken limbs?  They did survive. Although my instincts tell me some did perish during the storm. But these tiny birds are very resilient.

Before the storm, every morning at 5:45, a Cardinal sang an eight–note song near my bedroom window. “Siri” did not have to wake me up for work! Then the yard would be silent until six o clock when the bird would start to sing.

So you can imagine my surprise when at 5:45 in the morning, when the winds were howling at 60 miles per hour, the eight-note song came on at exactly 5:45.  How, I wondered, could it survive out there when I was up all night scared to death in my house? And what of the simple wakeup call? How and why would that bird do that in the storm?

My answer would be that it needs to keep to its internal rhythm to make it through the day. The bird made it through Spring hatching and fledging.  It made it through the heat and drought of Summer. It made it through the cold and dark of Winter. Now it was time to herald in the light and love of Spring and the bird needed to test its songs.

I was up all night; but I gladly welcomed my familiar song; even if it was only for eight notes. I will have to research why this bird only sang eight notes and then did not sing another note for 15 minutes.

Nature does not take any rest. The world keeps spinning around, the sun and moon define the seasons with their visit every day. So too bird’s cycles go on. Weather patterns do not slow that down. Sure, a late Winter Nor-Easter can cause undue stress on all species. But migration, breeding and raising young must continue. All the birds are continuing to look for homes to raise their young.

You can be a vital key to their survival by keeping out those bird feeders filled with seed. Having a birdbath ready to bathe and drink from. Putting up nest boxes to watch them feed and raise their young. Chickadees, Nuthatches, Woodpeckers, Titmouse and Bluebirds are some of the more common cavity nesting birds. Robins, Cardinals and Mourning Doves do not used this type of box. Robins and Doves will make nests on Nesting perch boxes.

If you already own a nest box, GREAT! If it’s looking a bit shabby it might be time for a new one. There are a few things to look for in a nest box, not all are the same.

First, you want to make sure that it has ventilation holes near the top to let out warmer air. Second, you want the box to have drainage holes so wind driven rain can exit out the bottom. Third, do not buy a nesting box with a perch stick on the front. This allows Sparrows, Starlings other non-nesting birds to land in front of hole and attack the nestlings in side. All cavity nesting birds do not need a perch to enter the nest box.

Check the hole size of the box, depending on who you are trying to attract to the box depends on what size hole you need. Decide where to put it. We highly recommend placing it on a pole with a baffle. The baffle helps keep out snakes, chipmunks, squirrels, and raccoons. You can also attach a bird guardian to your box, this helps if you decide to hang it. The bird guardian sticks out and doesn’t allow critters to reach their paws inside to get the chicks.

Let’s talk about how they make their nest. The birds will roam around looking for things to make their nest comfy and warm for their eggs. They collect moss, sticks and some collect mud. The birds will also look for feathers, hair and string.

Do you have a cat or dog? You can brush them and leave their hair in an empty suet cage; the birds will use it for their nest. You can do the same thing with your hair or if you have extra yarn from a project. We carry cotton balls that you can place in a tree that will do the same thing.

Please, please, please do NOT use dryer lint! Dryer lint is full of chemicals and when it gets wet it does not dry the same way.

During the “Year of The Bird”, it is great time to think about how you can help out your backyard species. Between Man and Mother Nature, their habitat is being removed. Stop in our store and my staff will help you pick out the right addition to your property to watch the life cycle of the birds this Spring.

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Flying Colors: Changes

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.

Three hundred miles north of Chicago is a town called Tomahawk, Wisconsin. When I was a little boy, I am 66 now, my family would go up there and camp and swim and fish and enjoy the great Northwoods.

Back in those days, there were 3,345 people living in Tomahawk. Today, there are 3,346 people living in Tomahawk.( +/- ). Very little has changed, especially the environmental footprint of the area. The Wisconsin river still runs through the town. The old growth pine and cedar and fir still reach to the sky. And the wild birds still have abundant fields and food to forage.

Forty years ago, I moved to Arlington. It was a cute little bedroom community, ten minutes from my favorite pizza restaurant in Washington. But in those forty years since, there has been an incredible amount of construction and destruction to the environmental footprint. The Metro corridor has exploded with high rise buildings blocking out the sun and sky.

Where once stood two story garden style apartment complexes, with green space and trees and gardens, “GIANT” steel and concrete structures live. Where fifteen acres of old growth trees and dense vegetation existed- Lee Highway between Harrison and George Mason Dr.- 1.5 million dollars homes now crowd the site. Gone is the green, except for patchy grass.

Five acres of beautiful trees and wildlife habitat on 16th St and George Mason Dr. are now removed and replaced with two million dollar homes, crushed together in tight formation. Gone is the homes for birds and foxes and butterflies and bees.

Patchy grass now exists. All throughout every neighborhood in Arlington, whether rich, middle class or relatively poor, small homes are being wiped away; along with 100 years of natural habitat. In their place are massive homes of every shape and size; in the same footprint. With patchy grass added.

Here is my point. I do not suggest that anyone not build their dream home wherever they want. But when Spring rolls around and people come into my store and say we do not need to feed the birds because they have plenty of food, I just cringe. Because if you look outside, you will clearly see that the birds have less and less food every year. In the same footprint of Arlington, Virginia.

So, no, the birds do not have plenty to eat. Especially in the end of Winter and beginning of Spring. Sure, all the hanging plants at the nursery look great; but birds do not eat pretty plants. Oh, but I see lots of bugs starting to hatch, so the birds have a lot of food. Yes, but they still need more in the form of fat. Fat from seeds and nuts and suet to replace the natural nut trees that have been taken down and replaced with Patchy grass.

Nesting season is right upon us. Many birds are setting up their breeding territories and beginning to attract a mate. Once they do and turn off the TV in their nests, eggs will come and chicks after that.

Then it is feeding the chicks, and the mate, and sending the fledgling young birds packing, and then maybe turning off the TV in the nest again. This is a very long and exhausting period of time for the birds. They need a lot of food. They also need nesting boxes for the birds that build in tree cavities. Patchy grass does not cut it. Although now you have to cut it every 8 days in the Spring and Summer.

Tomahawk, Wisconsin is a town frozen in time. That is one of the reasons I am contemplating retiring there in the future. The town is also “Frozen” for 4 months out of the year with -10-30 degree temperatures, so maybe I may have to contemplate a little farther south! Tomahawks birds are fine for the most part. Arlington, Falls Church, Mclean and most of Northern Virginia birds are constantly under duress from habitat destruction. They need help.

Look out your window. Look at nature in all of its forms, from sunrise to storm clouds, to rollicking Robins to the ending of the day. And Listen! Because now for the next 8 weeks, your mornings will explode with a symphony of sounds at the break of dawn. Feed your birds and the music will not stop. The birds do not have plenty to eat.

Stop into our store to save during our biggest bird seed sale of the year. All of our seed, suet, seed cylinders, seed characters and mealworms are on sale until March 11, 2018! We look forward to helping you find just what you need to help your birds. Also check out our nesting boxes, they are made in the USA!

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Flying Colors: April Fools

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.

Wait? What? It is only February 16. What are you talking about? There is no April Fools in Winter.

But you can easily be fooled in Winter. When the thermometer skyrockets into the 70’s and short sleeved men and women whack little balls on the golf course. It’s easy to see how you can be fooled. In February in Winter. When Cardinals start their melodic songs before the first light of dawn and brown lawns show signs of sprouting new garden flowers, it is easy to be fooled. In February in Winter. When outdoor seating is filled to capacity in cafes and coffee shops and the brisk walk of Winter has slowed to a leisurely pace, it is easy to be fooled in February in Winter.

Oh, and don’t look now, but our temps are going to drop by 48 degrees in the next day, so no Winter is not over. Even if the cold and snow do not come back, all of your backyard birds are still in need of foods that you have been providing. While we are snuggling in front of the fireplace watching the Olympics, they are hanging on — literally — the branches and shrubs at night staying warm.

They can only do that if they are sufficiently filled in their stomachs, with high fat foods. Suet and tree nuts are two great sources of fat that your birds need. The nights are still longer than the days. Your chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and all the other wild birds need to eat a lot. Also, those early morning love songs are not for our pleasure.

Although who cannot be enthralled when those songs come floating down the street into your yard. Birds are beginning to stake their claim for breeding territory and to attract mates. You know how hard it was to race around town to get those flowers and chocolates! Well the birds have to stand out also or they will be left out in the cold. This requires a lot of energy to set up a breeding territory, attract a mate; fight for that mate; mate; and then with success, feed the mate and offspring.

That is were your feeders are invaluable. Multiple sources of high fat foods and foods with protein will help the songs in your backyard multiply. And multiply they will. Many of our birds will start breeding in the middle of March. By the middle of April there will be a tremendous amount of new activity flying around your yard.

Sadly, many species of birds are in a decline. After watching 250 robins eat every berry off many large holly trees in the last month you would think they are doing well. That is not the case for this iconic bird of our yards. It is in decline. Installing and monitoring their nest boxes can help this bird try to recover and build a healthy population.

So, don’t get fooled. Keep your feeders filled. Enjoy the operatic singing of the excited birds. Stop in to get a bird house chart to start to design your yard for new bird houses. As the temperatures warm up, spend more time outside with the birds to watch and listen.

Oh, and don’t be fooled. Keep the warm jacket close at hand. Just in case.

There are still 3 days left for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology ‘s “GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT.” We have a FREE 1 pound bag of seed for you to use with any purchase.

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Flying Colors: The Great Backyard Bird Count

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.

So, your mom wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer. Well how about a scientist. Well you can be. We all can be!

How can I do that you ask? I am only eight years old. You can become a scientist for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

Each year, for the past 21 years, the Cornell Lab has been recruiting volunteer scientist to help them study the wild birds all over the world. All you need is a pen, a piece of paper and internet access, and you can help them with this study. You will need to set up an account at http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

This year the GBBC takes place from February 16-19. It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

  1. Find a comfy spot, grab some snacks and hang out for 15 minutes. Have a pen and paper ready and jot down what species you are seeing. You can sit and hang out longer if you like, just keep track of how long you recorded the birds.
  2. Keep a tally of the birds you see, if there is a large flock just try for your best estimate. Make sure to account for gender.
  3. Finally hop online and enter your data. Voila! You are a scientist.

You don’t have a feeder you say? No problem. You can also go out hiking or just walk your local neighborhood and keep a tally that way too. Or better yet stop on in and we will get you started on the best hobby ever.

There is no better way to start your “Year of the Bird” like helping out and being a scientist. In 2017, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 100 countries counted more than 6,200 species of birds on more than 180,000 checklists.

Why do we count the birds? Scientists keep track of the birds with our help to answer many questions. How will their migration this year differ from last years? How will weather and climate change affect the bird population? Why do large numbers of winter finches show up one year but not the next?

While you are on the GBBC site, check out their tab marked “Explore Data.” Under this tab you can check out other peoples check list, who knows maybe your neighbor three blocks over has a bird different from you. You can also watch the map for live updates, and there is a tab where you can search for sounds.

Are you a skilled photographer? You can enter the 2018 photo contest located on the home page of their site. There are gifts for the winners: a squirrel proof feeder and a finch feeder are just two of the great prizes you can win!

We hope you will help the Cornell Lab this February and count the birds. We look forward to helping you find the perfect set up for your yard. Stop in our store and you can get a FREE one-pound bag of our No-Mess seed blend with any purchase.

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Flying Colors: The Year of the Bird

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 a movie. It is not a Hallmark special event. It is simply the “Year of the Bird”. All Birds.  Any bird. But not simply a year.  It is a recognition; an awareness that birds, which dominate most of the planet, are an incredibly diverse, beautiful and important living species.  A recognition that will be observed all year long.

Four great organizations — National Geographic Society, Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Orinthology, Birdlife International — will be embarking on a yearlong effort, dedicated to celebrating and protecting birds and their habitats.  

What exactly is Year of the Bird?  That is a good question. Throughout the year, all four of these organizations, along with more than 100 other participating organizations, will be celebrating birds while raising awareness about their troubles. These organizations are calling on you to “Bird Your World”, by discovering why your backyard is an important jigsaw piece to an entire continent.

Birds are so easily dismissed.  How can that be?  Well first of all, no one looks up into the sky anymore.  Or straight ahead for that matter.  But that is where they are! There are over 10,000 species of birds on the planet. They fly.  That is reason enough to take notice. One minute they are here. Then they are gone.  But they are not gone.  

They fill our world with a musical symphony of songs.  They stimulate our eyes with majestic colors.  They confound us with aerial flights that seem impossible against the earth’s gravity.  They help control the vast insect populations.  They reseed plants from one yard to another; from one block to another; from one town to another.  

The raptor species, of birds, helps keep in check the mice, moles and other vermin in yards, parks and city alleys.  They also help cull the small bird populations that sometimes becomes overcrowded and stressed in our small ecosystems where we live.

Birds use a lot of their energy helping our planet thrive. They are the behind the scenes workers, constantly out in the rain, sleet, cold, and hot summers. They don’t ask for anything in return, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t have to?

By putting up birdfeeders in your yard full of sunflower seeds, suet pellets, mealworms, and so much more, you can help them survive all of these elements. A birdbath filled with warm clean water, or cold clean water is another way to say thanks to your feathered friends. Water is an essential part of a birds’ survival any time of the year.

This year, we will focus on bringing the lives of birds into your life. We will do this with our bi-weekly blog. We will do this with live talks in our store.  We will do this by highlighting the great organizations that are promoting and educating us on the health of all birds.

Here is a link for the National Geographic Society that will get you started into this great yearlong event. Click on the count me in button to become part of the worldwide effort to protecting birds today and for the next hundred years.

Next issue we will continue to discuss the efforts and effects your feeding has on the birds in the Winter months. We will also help you become involved in the Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 16 through 19, which our CEO Jim Carpenter helped to create and in which all 300 plus Wild Birds Unlimited stores sponsor and support.

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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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Flying Colors: The Darkest Day

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 have just ended the darkest day of the year. With it comes the longest night. In our region of the country, this night comes with cold temperatures. And who is sitting out in the dark on cold nights like this? Cardinals, chickadees, woodpeckers, titmouse and many other species. To make it through the night, there are two very important things these birds need. They need water and high fat foods.

Why water you say? It is cold. Why would they want water? All birds need water during the entire year. Winter is extremely critical time to provide water for the birds to bathe and drink. I am sure you have noticed that we have been extremely dry for the past three months. So many natural areas of water have dried up or are very low. Many of us have turned off our outside water faucets. Gardens and lawns are dry and gone to seed. So, very little moisture is retained in these areas. Yet the birds need to find sources of water to bathe and drink every day.

Bird baths, especially in Winter months becomes a magnet for many species of birds. Birds that may not frequent the bird feeders, will come to the bird baths. Filling up the bath every day is critical. Cleaning the bath is also very important. This is especially true if the bath is used heavily by many different birds. You should not see much mildew or algae on the bath. But a strong brittle brush will help knock off any bird droppings that may accumulate on the edges.

The biggest challenge may be trying to monitor the temperature swings that occur this time of year. A small amount of water in the bath, over the course of a 10-12 hour night of freezing temperatures, will freeze up rock hard. One of the best ways to prevent that is to use a thermostatically controlled bird bath heater. These heaters are set to turn on when the water temperature goes below 34-35 degrees. The small amount of current will prevent the water from forming ice. If the temperature starts to rise during the day, the heater will turn off and not use electricity. There are also some good bird baths that have the heating element built into the bath. A simple outdoor extension chord from the house to the bath gives your birds a sauna for the Winter.

A birds’ clean feathers will help it to insulate its body from the cold of the night. To retain warmth though, a bird needs to have its body fueled up with high fat foods. Suet cakes with tree nuts and insect and peanut pieces are excellent means of fat for the birds.   There are many suet types to choose from and putting up a couple of suet feeders will allow the birds to stay a while and get their fill. Bird food blends with tree nuts consisting of walnuts, almond, pecans and other nuts are high in fat. Birds will fill up their stomachs with these foods and slowly burn them off and create heat. Clean feathers on the birds will help retain the heat with good insulation.

When we are cold, we reach for another layer of clothing and hats and gloves. Sometimes we just stay indoors. The beautiful birds in our backyards do not have those options. We may have just past the Darkest day, but Winter has just started. There will be many more dark and cold days. Make sure you give your birds the best opportunity to survive during these months with a good source of water and high fat foods. Make sure you spend sometime outdoors watching and listening to the birds. Winter can be a beautiful time of the year. Get out and enjoy it.

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