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Flying Colors: Hurricanes and Birds

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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.

We all know how intense the weather has been this summer. All the hot days. All the rain and flooding. And the dominating weather story for the past 7 days of Hurricane Florence has everyone monitoring their news feeds. I have a sister in South Carolina and nephews in North Carolina.

Nature will always remember who is in charge when weather events like this occur.

With warnings and advice and preparations, we can insulate our lives, to the best of our abilities to protect ourselves. What happens to wildlife though? Especially birds when these events occur.

Our chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited pulled together some fascinating facts about what birds do to survive.

Bird Behavior and Responses to Hurricane Events

  • Birds and hurricanes have coexisted for ages, and birds have developed many strategies to survive and rebound from the effects of these natural disasters.
  • Birds are sensitive to barometric pressure, so they can sense when a major storm is on the way.
  • In response to an approaching hurricane, some birds will migrate earlier than they normally would. Research has found that sparrows speed up their fall departure in response to falling barometric pressures.
  • Some migrating birds move toward the eye of the hurricane, staying in this calmer area until the hurricane dissipates. They often end up hundreds of miles away from their normal migration route.
  • Birds that don’t migrate often shelter in place, trying to find cover wherever they can. Many non-migratory birds seek shelter inside thick bushes or on the leeward side of trees.
  • Cavity roosting birds, such as woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches may seek shelter in their nest or roosting cavities, and some will seek out man-made nest boxes.
  • Research (although limited) seems to show that most land birds weather hurricanes well if they can find appropriate cover.
  • The most direct impact of hurricanes that occur during the storm are most evident in seabirds. The indirect effects, which occur in the storm’s aftermath due to damage to the habitat, are most evident in land birds.
  • Hurricanes dramatically affect birds’ natural habitat and food sources, which can put pressure on already stressed species.
  • A major threat to bird survival is the vegetation damage caused by hurricanes and some birds may perish since the local habitats no longer provide the food they need.
  • Due to the lack of food resources, some birds may disperse in search of more suitable habitat and others will seek out artificial sources of food.
  • Migrating hummingbirds are known to swarm nectar feeders in hurricane ravaged areas where natural nectar plants have been destroyed.
  • Population declines of land birds are often related to their diet and the loss of food resources. Fruit, seed and nectar feeding birds struggle the most with the loss of habit, while insect eating birds and birds of prey are less effected by the storms impact.
  • Providing supplemental bird foods, fresh water and shelter are very important actions to take to help the bird population in your area after a hurricane.

This hurricane will most likely stop some of the bird migration heading south. At least in the short term.

Take some time to be outdoors and watch and listen for the songs and sounds of the warblers, vireos, thrushes and other migrating birds. There is a unique occurrence that happens at times when extreme weather events prevent birds from moving.

These “fallouts” happen with thousands of birds getting out of unfavorable wind and rain conditions and settling in habitat to wait. If you time it right, you can experience a spectacular viewing of many different species of rarely seen migratory birds.

Hurricane Florence is setting up this scenario. Try to get out this weekend to a park or field with your binoculars and cameras.

Be safe.

Save The Date: Saturday, September 29, we will be celebrating our 27th anniversary with a great party and sale. Visit our website for details on all the party happenings.

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Flying Colors: Taking Flight

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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.

We have watched them all summer long. With careful observation, we started to notice a change in them. They are stronger, more confident and readier to take on the world without supervision.

No, I am not talking about your kids going back to school. Although they are and they are going to spread their wings, exert their independence and want to take charge of their life. Okay, maybe not Johnny and Susie in Pre-K! But Sierra and Asher in college and, well that could be quite an adventure.

But your feathered friends in your yards are also going through some big changes. Did you know that most of the birds in your backyard and going through the process of molting?

The birds in your yards are at peak molting stage now. They are growing their new adult feathers that they will keep with them the rest of their lives. Think of it like going to the clothing store for your kids. They need clothes for the fall and winter. So, do the birds.

But boy do they look strange! Remember when Tommy wanted that “rats’ tail” hairdo? Or when Sonja came home with BRIGHT PINK hair? It took a little getting use to. You will do a double take when you see the “bald” cardinal. And the blue jay with the mohawk will take you by surprise!

We all want them to look like Rod Stewart with the perfect crop on the top! And they will get there. It takes time. But you can help.

Birds feathers are 90% protein. When they drop their first feathers, it takes a lot of energy to grow new ones. In an effort to help them, you could feed them bugs. Live mealworms are a great source of food for them. Dried mealworms are also nutritious. You can place dried mealworms in your regular seed mix or leave them out by themselves.

There are also suet cakes with a lot of bugs in them which will provide birds with both the energy from the fat and the protein from the bugs!

Why feed bugs when they can fly around and eat all the bugs, especially mosquitos in my yard? I want those bugs to go and the birds to work for them! Well it may seem like mosquitos are out all the time, but they are most active at night. So, attracting bats to your backyard habitat with the installation of a bat house, would be an effective way to reduce that population, even by a little.

Bats eat many different types of insects, mosquitos being only one of the many bugs they consume. Migrating warblers, in spring and fall also eat mosquitos. Best way to get them in your yard for a few days stay over is by providing clean fresh water in a birdbath. Using a dripper or mister, to provide continuous fresh water, works the best.

Live mealworms will also get them to visit your yard. They will eat your mealworms and other flying insect in your yard while they are resting for their journey.

Let us get these rascals off to a good start with new clothes; i.e. bird feathers, high protein foods to eat and they will look better than ever come this Fall. You and your birds will be ready and prepared for the adventures of adulthood. Johnny and Susie may have to wait a little while longer.

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Flying Colors: Plan In Place, Gorgeous Chaos — Part II

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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 Part I of this article, click here.

I would suggest you have a plan in place. Maybe start out with a cutout at the corner of your lawn.

That is what I did when I lived on 6th and Monroe. The small front lawn faced south; which was in full sun. It was also on a slope which made it tough to cut grass.

The full summer sun did its job. Plants thrived. Insects flocked to the flowers. Soon a pond was installed with a pump and running water and the birds came soon after. Within three years, the grass was gone. In its place was a beautiful garden with plants exploding all over.

Because my street had no sidewalk, I made a gravel path so commuters walking to the newly opened Metro, could come in to my garden and explore and enjoy. It was a magical little place for many years. When I sold my house, I found that years later a dead, grass zone was installed; where once life lived.

Change is tough. But knowledge and science and a willingness to not conform and be like everyone else can be freeing of one’s mind and heart. Not to mention one’s body when they do not have to mow the lawn every ten days.

My front yard in Silver Spring is Gorgeous Chaos. Even I do not know what is coming up. I do know that milkweed has taken over a large portion of the garden and someone (hopefully caterpillars) are eating the leaves.

Maybe not this year, but the next, the larvae will pupae and monarchs will roam my garden. Bees are definitely pollinating the tops of the milkweed. Goldfinches have visited my purple coneflowers. Ruby throated hummingbirds are darting in and out of the milkweed stands to drink at the red petals of the bee balm.

All in the chaos of my wild and gorgeous garden. It may not look like anyone else’s garden, but it is alive. It is safe. It is non-toxic.

When I was a little boy, growing up in the Roseland area of Chicago, every fourth block in the neighborhood had a 2 lot, corner wide, wild prairie. The insect and bird life, in this two-lot size prairie, was incredible. It was wild and untamed and brightly colored and bursting with life.

Lots, in our urban world, are too expensive to leave to nature to embrace. Yet each house could embrace nature and turn blocks into prairies. Prairies that vibrate with the life of living things. Those living things will call out to more living things in the form of birds, box turtles, bats and bugs, bugs and bugs.

I gladly open my windows and sensitive ears to the morning calls of cardinals and mourning doves and evening songs of cicada and crickets then to have my ears abused by the sound of angry engines grinding the dead grass to smithereens.

Walk around your neighborhood. Look for the color of gardens. Look at the life those gardens hold. Visualize what your garden could be on your lot. Embrace the thought of six months of freedom from sweating with lawnmower in hand. Freedom from poison flags saying beware — stay off. Freedom from noise and dirty air.

Freedom to sit in a field; your field; of flowers and insects and birds and color and life. There is “Glorious Chaos” waiting to be built in your yard. One dig is all you need to start.

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Flying Colors: Gorgeous Chaos — Part I

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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.

We could blame it on the Europeans! I mean they came over here first and brought their structured sensibilities with them. I mean, if you cut down enough trees, anyones yard could look like the gardens of Versailles or of Buckingham Palace.

We could blame it on the really potent marketing of the sexiness of grass. The short croppings. The fine shades of green. The perfect, weed-less patch.

We could blame it on our need for order and sameness to feel secure and not alone.

But I cannot do grass, folks. Just can’t. I find grass dead. Except when you have to cut it every eight days because it won’t stop growing.

My grass cutting career started in 1958 when I was seven years old. My neighbor Mr. Vallee paid me $2 to cut his lawn. Two dollars to a seven-year-old, in 1958, made me feel like the man!

Except when I had to clean up for his two dogs before I cut the lawn. The math, which I could not do at the age of seven, said 2 dogs times 2 poops a day, times 2 weeks before cutting, was a lot of poop.

Definitely not the man.

After cutting the lawn and removing the poop, the place did not really look any better.

My mother’s backyard was half flower and vegetable garden and it always look beautiful. It was also alive. Bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, birds, squirrels lived and loved the backyard. The birds loved the cherry tree a little too much, and the peaches were challenged to make it to ripeness with hungry squirrels always checking them out, but the yard was alive.

I am struck how often I drive through neighborhoods and see the lifeless, stillness of lawns. No squirrels, no bunnies, no birds, no insects — nothing at all on the lawns. Not even little children playing tag or wrestling.

When my brothers and sisters were young, we did not have T-J Tumble indoor playgrounds. We had lawns. It would not be a stretch to say we had 10-15 games we could play every night after dinner.

No one sprayed their lawns. They were our outdoor blankets. We hugged our lawns and caressed them. I do not see that very much anymore.

But I do see a lot of little yellow and red flags. And the poison that those flags represent makes me sad. Sad because I am hard pressed to find beauty on manicured lawns. No flowers, no bees, no butterflies, no grasshoppers, no birds or insects down below. It is as if they were just “dead zones!”

Why do we destroy what is natural and plant sod, grass and seed that holds nothing that is alive?

For the beauty? I would challenge you to compare a manicured grass lawn to a garden of hummingbird flowers. Or purple cone flowers with brightly colored goldfinches on them.

For the value? I would venture to say most real estate agents would much rather market a beautiful 5 bedroom/5 bathroom (no one really needs 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, do they?) two story Cape Cod house with a big, colorful summer garden of bright flowers to greet the potential new owner!

For the joy? Please raise your hand if you like going outside in the heat of summer, with high humidity and walking back and forth with a noisy, polluting (or non) lawn mower as millions of flying insects get in your eyes, nose and mouth every 10 days? Because it grows that fast in the late Spring and all Summer long!

There are not many raised hands going up.

So why not dig it up? What is the resistance? What is the compelling reason to keep something that has very little value to the environment, causes you physical discomfort and gives you no real tangible pleasure?

Big changes are scary. But the first dig is the deepest. And the hardest. And the most exhilarating!

Because after one dig, you will want to dig more. And more and more and…

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Flying Colors: Why You Don’t Stop Feeding The Birds in Summer

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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.

Recent articles and news stories have been circulating encouraging people to stop feeding wild birds in summer. There were a number of reasons and assertions given to not feed the birds, especially the young fledglings not learning how to feed for themselves.

With the full disclosure that I own a business that is dedicated to the backyard bird feeding hobby and make my living selling bird seed, lets dig in deep as to what bird feeding is.

Why feed?

Most of my customers feed the birds because they love to connect to Nature. They love to see the many different colored birds in their yards. Spring and summer are great times to feed not only because of the variety of birds that show up, but because of the nutritional health those feeders provide to the birds during the breeding season.

Fun Facts About Young Birds Nutritional Needs

  • Young birds need calcium, protein and fat among other nutrients while growing.
  • Most dietary calcium in young birds is used for the formation of skeletal (bone) production.
  • Birds are able to easily digest and use the calcium from calcium carbonate, limestone, oyster shell and calcium phosphates. The WBU Plus Blends contain calcium carbonate.
  • Protein is essential for growing strong feathers.
  • Fats are essential for feather coloration.
  • Every young bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation. They need extra fats for energy to grow feathers and provide proper coloration to best attract a mate when they are mature.
  • A diet low in proteins and fats may cause feathers to be improperly colored or form defectively such as being frayed or curved. If their colors are duller, birds may have trouble attracting a mate. If the feathers are defective, it could seriously hinder their flying or insulation abilities.
  • It takes extra energy to grow feathers and also the right building blocks to grow them. The main ingredients in growing feathers are amino acids (protein) and lipids (fats). Birds will eat more of their daily diet and/or seek out foods high in protein and fat to satisfy both the extra energy requirements and the needed building blocks.
  • In many bird species, carotenoids are required for breeding success… poorly colored birds are less likely to breed. Carotenoids help communicate reproductive fitness to prospective mates by providing a vibrant and bright plumage… a sign of being successful at obtaining both a sufficient quality and quantity of food.

Do birds become dependent?

Absolutely not. Birds use feeders as a secondary source of food most of the year. During brutal winter conditions, when natural food is in short supply, wild birds do need those feeders full.

The notion that birds will become dependent on those feeders and not forage for themselves is a proven falsehood. The other Urban legend that has no basis for fact is that Migratory birds will not migrate if you feed them. Most migratory birds eat insects. There is an abundance of insects in warm climates.

You will not see Warblers or Vireos or Thrushes or Flycatchers in the Northern Virginia area in the winter. They migrate to survive. The main trigger for their migration is day length.

The majority of your backyard birds; Cardinals, Woodpeckers, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Titmouse — to name a few, who come readily to your feeders, do not migrate.

Do seeds cause rodents?

Seed blends that have bird food ingredients that have been tested and proven that birds eat them, will not attract pests. Very inexpensive seed blends that have “filler” seeds in them will!

Most native backyard birds do not eat milo, flax, rape seed, wheat kernels, cracked corn and numerous other grain products. These seeds will be knocked out of the feeders and a pile of food will build up on the ground. If that is not cleaned up, you can attract mice and other nighttime visitors.

Seed blends with oil sunflowers, safflower, peanuts meats, sunflower chips and tree nuts will attract the greatest variety of birds in your yard. Isn’t that why we feed?

With a good blend of food that the birds eat, there will be little if any throwing the seed on the ground. Using a “NO mess” blend that consists of only bird food meats and no shells will eliminate any chance of the food causing any problem on the ground.

Do migrating birds eat seed?

One of the great pleasures of spring and fall is the natural migration of birds. The two main reasons that these birds migrate is for mating and finding food.

Most migrating birds such as Warbler, Vireos, Thrushes, Buntings and Purple Martins eat almost an exclusive diet of insects. They are not big seed eating birds. Their beaks are small and pointy which is perfect for catching bugs on the fly.

It is not big and strong like the Cardinal, Chickadees and Nuthatches. They crack seeds like no one’s business. They also eat bugs. Bugs are good for protein. Seeds and nuts are good for fat. Fat is fuel. Fat is needed for healthy eggs.

Where is the food?

We keep cutting down their homes, which provide shelter and food in the form of nuts, seeds and berries. If we keep removing all the natural food from the birds ecosystem, where are the birds to find food?

The silly notion that the birds only eat insects is not a scientific fact. Unless you dig up your grass lawn and plant a wild Sunflower garden, the birds are going to have to find other sources to get that fat.

Our calendars are backwards.

The other urban legend that says stop feeding the birds in spring and summer because the days are long and they have plenty to eat is incorrect. There is nothing in the wild to eat, except bugs.

Even if you have a wild sunflower garden planted, it is only stems and leaves in the spring and early summer. Your flowers do not go to seed until late summer and early fall. Yet many people take down their feeders or stop feeding in the spring. That is the worst time to do that.

The fall is when nature “harvests” its bounty and there are plenty of resources for birds to forage.

For twenty-six years, my business has been “bringing people and nature together.” Nature in the form of wild birds, trees and gardens, softens the cold, harsh environment we have created in our urban landscapes.

Knowing the facts of the natural science we live in will make our lives more meaningful and beautiful.

Every major bird conservation organization (Audubon, NWF, Bird Studies Canada, Cornell Lab, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, etc.) and many state and federal wildlife agencies support summer bird feeding.

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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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