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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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Flying Colors: Flying Furnaces

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.

Every Fall, many customers come into my store and ask me what is the matter with the birds. They tell me they do not see them in their yards or at their feeders. They have become concerned that maybe there is some disease that has reduced the number of birds.

If you are new to feeding the birds, it is alarming to all of a sudden see the birds almost disappear. At best the birds only intermittently come to the feeders. And yet this is a perfectly normal event that occurs in the Fall. Some people think the birds have all migrated. Most of our backyards birds do not migrate. We lose the hummingbirds and warblers and some robins (although they seem to be staying around all winter now. We also receive a lot of Winter visitors like Juncos, White Throated Sparrows and Purple Finches. They will be in very large flocks usually bouncing around the ground and on platform feeders, picking up millet, sunflower chips and peanut pieces.

When Fall comes, the bounty of natural food is exploding. In our yards and gardens, in parks, in the forests, in meadows and even in the median area of our highways; there is an abundance of food. Flowers produce seeds. Shrubs and bushes produce fruit. Trees produce nuts such as acorns. And the wild birds in our yards notice and take advantage of the bounty. With all of the different sources of food to choose from, our feeders are visited less often.

That does not mean they are not coming to your feeders. But it will take a little longer for the food to be eaten. It is important to keep the food fresh. It is never a good idea to let the food stay more than a couple of weeks in the feeder if the birds have not been visiting.

But this phenomenon always occurs in the early part of Fall. For the past two months, the natural food has been eaten down. Days are getting shorter.   Nights are getting longer and colder. The birds in your area are eating more to survive.

Twenty-five years ago, I heard someone describe wild birds as flying furnaces. That description has always stayed me and I use it often to help customers visualize the challenges of birds in the wild. They need to fill up their stomachs with enough food to burn off and stay warm throughout the ten, eleven or twelve-hour nights. The more fat, in the form of nuts and suet’s, the more calories the birds can pack in and burn off at night. The longer the night, the colder the night, the harsher the night in the form of ice, snow, wind — the more birds will need the fat to survive.

But it also applies to the day, especially in the winter. You already know this when you see the first flakes of snow and your feeders are crowded all day long. Our triple pane, insulated windows masks very effectively just how different the world is outside those windows. And you cannot invite the chickadees, woodpeckers and cardinals in to watch football on the big screen.

Make sure your fat feeders (suet, peanut, bark butter) are loaded up at dawn so the birds can fill up. Their furnaces will be very depleted and in need of new fuel. This fuel will be needed all day long and if you are traveling out of town for a few days, make sure you have feeder stations up that can last more than a day. Seed and suet cylinders can last from a few days to a week or more. Set them up before leaving and you will be able to know that your birds will have a steady source of high fat food. Now when you come home, you know the flying furnaces will be there, flying and glowing; red, blue, olive, orange, black and white.

We have a great selection of seed cylinders and suet that our trained staff is ready to help you. Stop in soon so we can help you.

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Flying Colors: Thank You

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.

Thank You.

When I first started my Wild Birds Unlimited retail store twenty-six years ago, I was scared. My knowledge in the hobby of backyard bird feeding was very limited. I had two weeks training, a store full of feeders, bird food, birdbaths, books and other products for the hobbyists. But how was I going to answer the customers questions and solve their challenges when it came to attracting their favorite birds? How large would the learning curve be before I was comfortable and very secure in my answers to my customers? Little did I know that my teachers were going to be my customers.

You see, for twenty- six years, as I have been bringing people and nature together, my customers have been bringing me their stories of their backyard habitats. They have been educating me. They have been entertaining me. They have been challenging me. Like the guy who came in one Saturday morning and wanted to attract Blue Cardinals to his backyard.

After roaming this planet for 40 years I did know a few things. One there are no Blue Cardinals in Arlington, Virginia. Two, tailgate parties on Saturday mornings in the Fall start early. Three, Budweiser has a distinctive smell when someone has swigged down six of them for breakfast. So, I did not learn much from that guy.

But I learned from the customers that they have many different needs and desires when it comes to their backyards and birds. I learned that there are many favorite birds in my customers yards. That they will do anything to attract and feed them. That customers feed their birds at all times of the year. That there are year-round bird feeding hobbyists. That some customers feed only nine months out of the year.

When Spring comes, they put their feeders away. The belief is that the birds can fend for themselves. The reality of Spring is that the wild birds in our yards are very vulnerable because there is no “natural food” for them except insects. Were as most birds eat insects, that is not their only need. Most natural food goes to seed in the Fall. Then there is a bounty of food for the birds to choose from, including the restaurants (feeders) we have set up.

But in the Spring, plants that may provide food later are just beginning to grow. Add to that the stress of mating, building nests, and raising young birds and the birds are really hungry. This causes their need for food to increase. There are customers who want to just attract a limited variety of birds due to the size of their yards. There are customers who have a large habitat and invite any and all birds and animals to partake in their food pantry.

I have discovered there are three distinct parties (no not political) of squirrel hobbyists. The party that Hates them. The party that Loves them. The party that just kind of puts up with them. (Sort of sounds a little political, yes?) All of these customers will adjust their yards and habitats to meet their squirrel preferences.

Through my customers wisdom, we have addressed and solved many bird issues. How to deter large flocks of Grackles in the Spring and Fall. How not to attract Pigeons. How to keep Woodpeckers from pecking at your home. How to keep Squirrels from biting into those juicy garden tomatoes. How to attract the jewels of the Spring- hummingbirds. What migrating birds to look for during Spring and Fall migration. How to set up a water feature to maximize the most bird species in your yard.

All the while we learn to adjust and modify each specific need for our customers. So, when they are sitting on their deck or under the tree or in the sun room or by the kitchen counter, they are enjoying their hobby of backyard bird feeding to the maximum pleasure.

We have learned a lot from you. So, we say thank you. We say thank you for helping us keep our business, Wild Birds Unlimited, flying high for 26 years. We say thank you by inviting you to our big Anniversary Party November 18. We want you to come by so we can celebrate with you and thank you in person.

The early bird catches the worm. Or so they say. But we are not giving you worms. We will be giving away FREE $5.00 coupons for the Heidelberg Pastry shop, for the first 30 customers of the morning. Look for our coupon in next week’s edition of Arlington Now for other giveaways all day long. We are extremely grateful for your patronage to our business. We look forward too many more years helping to bring joy to you in your backyard. See you Saturday, November 18.

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Flying Colors: Do They Know?

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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 is a very big change happening in Arlington. It has been going on now for some time. No, I am not talking about the transformation of the Metro corridor, which has been happening for the past 25 years. Where the sleepy two, lane road of Wilson Boulevard is now surrounded by concrete giants and teeming with thousands of human beings. Human beings, living in village like communities, filled with shops, restaurants and entertainment, enjoying their lives.

The change that I am seeing, from my vantage point of my Wild Birds Unlimited retail store in north Arlington, is the migration of urban families to more suburban locations and lifestyles. Yes, it is only three miles away, but it could be a totally different planet. By moving out of the high rise apartments, condominiums and densely packed townhouses to the breath of fresh air single family home with a yard, a new world awaits.

A world of Nature. Nature in the form of open space. OK, we are not talking about Wyoming wide open spaces where the deer and the antelope play! Although deer do come with the real estate taxes. But there is flora; flowers, shrubs, huge trees for shade and life in the form of birds. There are easily thirty to forty different species of birds, who can filter through your yard during the four seasons. To sing, to build nests, to create families and to entertain with their forms, colors and antics.

So, as I watch the reduction of my long time (26 years in the Lee Harrison Shopping Center) customer base to the new young families, I ask myself — Do They Know?

Do they know the incredible peace and joy in partaking of the hobby of feeding birds in their new back and front yards? Do they know of the incredible bonding that happens when they engage their young children about the wonders of Nature? Do they know of the incredible color and diversity of birds that live in the tree canopies and in the shrubs and forage for seed, fruit, nuts and insects that call their home, home?

The built up Urban environment of the Metro corridor is an exciting, fun place to live, with everything anyone could want right at your doorstep. It is void of only one thing — the natural world. And sure, you could walk out your front door into a rainstorm, without an umbrella and experience nature. But the natural world does not live in concrete, asphalt, glass and steel. Nature lives in the natural world.

For the past five years, or maybe more, we have seen a new wave of young family’s peer into our store and wonder — what is this place? Many ask if we have any “wild birds,” referring to pet birds, in our store. We tell them that our store is dedicated to the hobby of “backyard bird feeding.” No caged birds for us.

What is striking to us, is that the young children are the ones who are always curious, excited and knowledgeable (thank you grade school natural science teachers) about the prospect of starting the hobby. Without statistical scientific data to prove it, I am sure most of the young adults have had a parent, aunt or uncle actively involved in the hobby (52 million Americans are currently engaged in the hobby of back yard bird feeding).

So, I am saddened to see so many of our long-time customers move to a different phase of their lives. For without them, we would never have survived. Their friendship and love for the hobby of feeding wild birds in their yards, has been the best part of owning my store. Now a new migration of humans are settling in. It is up to the cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, robins, hummingbirds and us to share our knowledge to these humans on the Joy of Nature in their new backyards, with the hobby of back yard bird feeding. We are ready.

So are the birds!

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Flying Colors: Five Steps to Bird Feeding Mastery — Part Two

Flying Colors column banner

Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

You have been testing out different bird food and have discovered who is visiting your yard and what they prefer. The second step to Bird Feeding mastery in your yard really is a twofold process.

By using the appropriate food, in good quality feeders, you will have created a joyful experience that will last for many years. There will also be challenges that you will face when feeding your birds — shall we say it — SQUIRRELS! Yet, there will also be many opportunities to find better solutions to feed the birds you want and not the ones you do not.

You can offer a number of different blends and seeds as long as you give the Cardinal a good space to perch. They are not comfortable on small metal perches usually found on tube feeders. Hopper feeder with a large base, tray feeders and certain types of squirrel proof feeders with Cardinal rings and perches are perfect.

If you found that the cardinals ate multiple seeds, you can use a quality blend with most of the seeds in it. The good seed blends will almost always have Black Oil sunflower seed as the most dominant food in the bag. Safflower, striped sunflower, sunflower chips and peanut meats are in most quality blends.

Never purchase a bag of “bird food” if the ingredients include milo, wheat, flax and grain products. These are all filler seeds that the birds will not eat. The cost of the bag may be much less, but much more of the food will be thrown to the ground and not eaten.

If you were visited in your yard by Blue Jays, a strikingly large color bird with a bad guy reputation, you can give them their own feeder. Whole Peanuts or Peanuts in the Shell are one of the best foods to attract this bird.

A whole peanut feeder will keep them busy and help to keep them from visiting other feeders and intimidating the smaller birds. Do not be surprised if Titmice, Woodpeckers and even the small Carolina Wren sneak in a grab a large peanut in the shell.

Many yards have goldfinches visiting them. If you were successful in attracting them, more than likely you used a Nyjer or Thistle feeder. There are very few birds that will eat the thistle. Giving the Goldfinch its own feeder also works to keep them in the yard and reduce the stress of competition.

Surprisingly, what has been discovered over the last ten years is that the Goldfinches really like the sunflower chips (sunflower seeds shelled leaving the pure food). It is not unusual to see them mingling with the other birds to grab a chip.

Many people do not realize that the Goldfinches stay around all Winter long in very large flocks. Most Winters, I am able to feed around forty goldfinches with multiple Nyjer feeders.

Since the Male Goldfinch loses the bright yellow plumage, it can get lost in the winter flocks of other birds. But with a quick look with binoculars, you will be able to see the white and black wing bars and know they are goldfinches.

Nyjer seed or a finch mix of Nyjer seed and fine sunflower chips always works better in a tube feeder.

If you identified nut eating birds such as Chickadee, Titmouse, Nuthatch and Woodpeckers, you will want to provide them with foods rich in fats. Suet, made of rendered beef fat and mixed with ingredients such as seeds, nuts, fruits, and mealworms is an excellent way to feed and view these birds.

From simple wire cages to tail prop feeders to fancy containers, these feeders will give you the opportunity to view the birds for a long time.

The easy convenience of bird food cylinders might really appeal to you. They are very low maintenance. They may last for a couple of weeks, with regular bird activity before a new cylinder must be replaced.

There are many different types of cylinders with a variety of foods which has the ability to entice a variety of birds to use it. We guide many young families with young ones and active schedules to use these cylinders.

Once you have established the seed types you were successful with, you can look to add different foods to compliment those seeds. Mealworms and especially dried mealworms have become very popular foods to use in your backyard habitat. Very rich in protein and fat, this food helps the birds in the colder months when insects are not as abundant. Catbirds, Mockingbirds, Robins (which stay all winter long), Cardinals, Jays and many more birds will come to your mealworm feeder.

You are ready to start designing your backyard setup. Our next article will discuss the “Twelve Elements of a Thoughtful Bird Feeding Station.”

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