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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
It is not rocket science. But it is a science. The science of nature and how the hobby of backyard bird feeding impacts the beautiful birds we see. Jim Carpenter, the President of the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise stores, has spent his lifetime passionately watching, studying and enjoying the wild birds.
His forty years of experience and knowledge gave him the foundation in which to write his book “The Joy of Bird Feeding.” Mr. Carpenter has developed a strategy which he calls “The Five Steps to Bird Feeding Mastery.” For the next three months, we will analyze in detail these five steps. They are:
- Offering feeder — free foods to discover what works
- Continue feeding the foods that work
- Consider the 12 elements of a thoughtful feeding station
- Improve your bird habitat to attract more birds
- Become seasonally savvy
Within each of these steps, we will attempt to guide you to be able to attract the greatest variety of birds in your habitat. We will also share with you all types of helpful practices to eliminate any potential critter issues. We will be giving you names of birds that are common and some who are spectacularly short time visitor’s.
We will also share stories from the 26 years we have been helping to bring people and nature together in their own backyards through our products and services from our Wild Birds Unlimited store.
When we are talking about the hobby of bird feeding, it is important to remember we are immersing ourselves into the natural world. So, anything we do or offer to the wild birds in their habitat will be more successful the more natural we keep it. There may be exceptions; but the closer we keep to that strategy, the better it is for the birds.
The best way to do this is to offer food in feeder-free set up. Large open trays allow you to provide multiple foods that many different birds can find. Open, food cylinders type feeders are very visible to the birds. Backyard birds find their food by sight. Placing food on open tray or food cylinders (they can be seed, nuts, insects or a combination of all the above), will give the birds the best opportunity to see and sample the foods.
There are many types of trays you can purchase, from small wood trays to large recycled plastic trays. Place different types of bird food on the tray. Sunflower seeds are the most popular bird food. Black Oil sunflower, sunflower kernels and safflower are a good start. Add proso millet, peanut meats and tree nuts, fats (suet or suet nuggets) and fruits.
You can create a buffet using blends of seeds. This may make it a little harder to see what seeds the birds are eating if they are searching and flicking seeds out looking for the one they want. Remember, keep it natural. You can eat the toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese. But don’t put it on the tray. Processed food with baking ingredients is not healthy for the birds.
If you offer the equal amounts of each food every day on the tray, you can compare what is left and quickly determine how much the birds like each food. Keep notes on who shows up and how often for 3-4 weeks. You can use this information to guide you for as long as you feed birds in your area.
The second method to use in determining which birds come to your yard is using the bird food cylinders. You will need a special cylinder feeder designed to hold the cylinder food. These feeders will hang vertically, again giving you a good view of many of the “clinging” birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees.
By hanging this type of feeder in a tree branch high off the ground, you can bring the birds living in your large tree canopy, down for a meal and for you a good look. Again, experiment with different types of foods for the cylinder’s.
Our store has 7 different cylinders to experiment with. Mixing up seed blends with nuts, insects, and no mess blends will help you determine which birds like which ones. Again, the cylinder that gets the smallest fastest is the most popular.
Make sure you have a good identification book in the room or area where you will be viewing the feeders the most. Our store carries quick fold out guides for easy identification or a field guide with color coated sides to identify them too. High quality binoculars, with good lens and optics will also enhance your viewing and enjoyment of your new visitors to your restaurants.
That is the first step to mastering the hobby of bird feeding in your yard. Once you have a clear understanding of who comes into your yard and eats which foods you offer, you will be on your way to creating “Your Joy of Bird Feeding.”
We want you to stop into our store and allow us to help you get started today. Bird feeding is such a great way to give back to nature. Our store hours are Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.. We look forward to meeting you and helping you get started.
As Halloween approaches, many people are taking time to learn about one of the holiday’s well-known icons and one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures: bats.
A lot of people do not understand the useful role bats play in helping control insect populations. Most of the myths about bats have created such fear that the topic of bat conservation is rarely discussed.
They do not drive around in fancy cars and have really cool, destructive gadgets. They also don’t have super hero friends. Although humans if they change some of their bad habits, could be those superheroes.
They do not fly into your hair. More than likely they fly near you when you are outside because you are attracting flying insects- which they love. On average one bat can consume 600 to 1,000 insects an hour. Over the course of the night, that would equate to 6,000-8,000 flying insects including mosquitos. They also eat coach roaches, beetles and flies.
Bats have vision, but it is very limited. They navigate at night and find their prey through a process call “Echolocation.” Think of it as a sophisticated type of sonar. Echolocation uses sound waves to determine where objects are in space. Bats use this to navigate and find food in the dark.
To echolocate, bats send out sounds waves from their mouth or nose. When these sound waves hit an object, such as an insect, they produce echoes. The bats follow those echoes for a tasty meal. Some species of insects have developed a false echo that when emitted, will misdirect the bat and allow the insect to escape.
Bats are the only flying mammal on the planet. Air Force-funded projects have been created to learn how the wing motion and structure work on these mammals in an effort to create better flying machines.
There are 16 different species of bats in Virginia. Three of these species of bats, Virginia Big-Eared, Gray and Indiana are federally endangered. The Rafinesque’s bat is state endangered. The Big Brown Bat, Evening Bat and Little Brown Bat are three common species you could see at night. These three are the most likely to take up residence in a building.
If a bat is found indoors with people, the VA Department of Health recommends capturing the bat and having it tested for rabies. While less than half of 1 percent of all bats actually carry rabies, this is a time of caution. If you must handle the bat in any way, heavy gloves should be worn. But it would be better to contact a professional to help with the safe removal of the bat.
In recent years, significant populations of several hibernating bat species have declined. The cause of death is connected to Geomyces destructans, a cold temperature-loving white fungus, commonly known as White-nose Syndrome (WNS). Little Brown and Northern Long-eared Bats appear to be the species hardest hit.
WNS has been reported in 19 states in the U.S. and four Canadian provinces. It is believed that infected bats are depleting their fat reserves more quickly during hibernation, awaking more often and/or for longer periods of time. The fungus spreads across the wings causing scarring and, in the worst case, complete holes.
Secondarily, the fungus agitates the bats during hibernation causing them to wake thus expending energy. With no food source to be had during the winter, bats must rely on their fat reserves to make it through. The smallest species are most at risk because they simply are not large enough to store enough fat to last the winter.
What can be done to help? The Organization for Bat Conservation (OBC) suggests building or buying a bat box to provide roosting sites. They also suggest planting moth-attracting wildflowers to give bats an additional food source. Also, leave up dead or dying trees, as long as it is safe, to provide bats with natural shelters.
The OBC, in conjunction with Wild Birds Unlimited, has developed a bat box that meets OBC specifications and provides the features that successfully attract bats. In addition, a portion of the sales from each OBC bat box goes to OBC for bat research, rescue and public education.
These are truly amazing and beneficial creatures. The more people know about bats, the less frightening they are. If you have questions about bats, bat conservation and/or attracting bats to your yard, visit Wild Birds Unlimited, in your area.
It’s that time again. The sun begins to set a little earlier every day. The heat of the day does not reach as high as it did before. The gardens are beginning to go to seed. And your loved ones are beginning to leave the nest and head out on their own.
No, not those loved ones. The wild birds in your backyard. Off the nests and fully grown, they are out to explore. Some will set their GPS and head down south. There, in warmer climates, they will spend the winter.
Hummingbirds are ready to go. All they need are a couple of strong cold fronts from the north to set them flying. They will not fly against a strong southerly flow of wind, because too much energy will be spent. Hummingbird plants are drying up so a feeder will go a long wait to refueling them for their journey.
Keep your feeders loaded with fresh nectar (Four parts water to one part sugar) until early October. These tiny jewels of a bird will feed anywhere from seven to 12 times an hour to keep bulking up for the long flight south.
Nighthawks are grouping up and have already started their long migration south. Look to the skies just before dusk and you may see hundreds of these hawks gliding south. Common grackles are also beginning to develop their large flocks for their journey.
When they come through your yard later in the fall, in 300-bird flocks, your yard can not sustain them. They too eventually will move down to warmer climates and more open pastures. If they are attacking your feeders, switch to white safflower seed. They will not eat this and will leave your feeder alone. When they have left your neighborhood, you can switch back to your birds favorite blend of food.
We will lose a few of our summer birds, but we also are very fortunate to receive a number of birds for the winter. Most common birds coming through here are the many species of hawks. Every time I go out to deliver a bag of seed to a customer’s car from now until November, I will look up into the sky, because there will be an excellent chance that I will see a raptor gliding in a thermal in the sky.
Coopers Hawk, Sharp Shinned Hawk, Golden Eagle, Northern Harrier and Red Tail Hawk are just some of the raptors who migrate down on the wind rivers to settle in for the winter. If you have never been to “Hawk Mountain” near Kempton, Penn., you should give yourself a weekend gift. This mountain from now until November will put on a raptor aerial show like none other.
From the large to the small, we have two birds that become very common in the fall and winter. One is called the snowbird because as soon as we receive our first dusting of snow on the ground they can be seen everywhere.
The Dark Eyed Junco migrates down in large flocks and if you see one in your yard you will see dozens. They feed on the ground and love millet. But do not throw the seed on the ground. It is healthier for them to be eating on a large tray type platform just off the ground or on a hanging feed from a pole.
Millet will also be eaten by the White Throated Sparrow. This beautiful sparrow will be in and among the Juncos and are very common and abundant in the Fall and Winter.
These are just of few of the birds that are on the move. There is also a very large and diverse group of birds that will fly through our area and keep going to Central America. This group consists of Warbler, Vireos, Thrushes and other insect eating birds as they migrate they look for insects and water, for they are not seed or suet or nut eating birds. Their diets consist mainly of insects.
For the short time they are migrating through, you could attract them for a stay by offering them insects. Mealworm larvae is a tempting treat that many of these birds cannot resist. You can offer these mealworms as live, freeze dried and even in a suet type food source.
Water is also vital for these birds. Their travel is always long, and depending on the weather, can be hard. If you are fortunate to catch it just right when a strong storm from the south comes through, thousands of these birds will “Fall Out” and drop into the trees and wait it out. It is a magical moment in nature that affords you a great look at a beautiful and diverse species of birds.
So rather than anguish over the empty nest, celebrate the freedom of these colorful, singing birds that call our backyards their home; even for just a season. Thank them by feeding them a good healthy meal or two and send them, with the winds help, on their way.
Last week, my son and I traveled to a different world. It was still on the planet Earth. It was still in the United States. It was actually in Wisconsin. But it was a different world.
For you see, my son and I travelled to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Where you can stand on a bridge or hill and have a 360 degree view of beauty. Beauty in the form of tall Spruce, Norwegian Pine, Cedar, Oak and Maple trees rising up to the sky. Clean, strong, perfect in their shape and form; not pulled down or suffocated by invasive walls of vines and killing weeds. A sky that is at once crystal clear cerulean blue, and slate grey and robin’s egg blue. A sky that changes in a blink of the eye from bunny rabbit soft pillow clouds to massive Cumulus Nimbus “Big Momma” thunderstorms that dare you to get in their way.
And a landscape that offers you wide open vistas that are not decimated into 4,000 irregular pieces by telephone lines, power poles, billboards, buildings or cellular towers which allows you to watch these majestic storms roll over the corn and wheat fields, laying down their torrential rains from 45 miles away.
A world where animals and birds live and die as the natural order set it in place. Where loons make daily recordings of their spooky and siren call. Where geese fly low over water with their natural call as they settle in for the night.
Ducks swim mightily up the Wisconsin River as if going to the gym to build up strength for the coming seasons. Great Blue Herons stand straight and erect on shallow ground waiting for the unsuspecting fish to come into striking range. Where squadrons of Cedar Waxwings put on nightly aerial shows that rival Cirque de Soleil as they feed on flying insects and ripe berries from the shrubs. Warblers, sparrows and Kingbirds all feast on the flying insects; which there are no shortage of.
If you see one mosquito, you see 10,173 in every 10 square feet of space. In other words, the size of one adult male, six feet tall. But mosquitos drift and they like water. And when they fly over a watery surface and hungry carnivores lie waiting underneath, the show is about to begin.
Panfish species of fish, aptly named for fitting in a frying panning heated with butter, explode out of the water with mouth wide open to gorge themselves before nightfall. When the water is stone cold grey and still like a sheet of ice, the fish bug show is mesmerizing. Nature though has one more surprise in store before the day ends.
With a clear view of the horizon and with a water canvas for the foreground, the sunsets can create colorful masterpieces for up to two hours. The bright yellow setting orb begins to pull in colors of orange and tan and sienna and red into its sphere. With charity in its heart, the sun then explodes out these colors it has gathered and paints the sky. Minute after minute the sky changes. And just when you think the sun is done, lost below the horizon, it paints with more colors a masterpiece.
More often than not, this area of Wisconsin is called the cool Northwoods. With high temperatures in the upper 50s and lower sixties on some summer days, this name is appropriate. But even with high temperatures in the lower 80s, the nights cool off. That is what happens with large areas of undeveloped green space.
Trees, grasses, prairies, wildflowers all gather heat during the day. For their growth. They do not retain it. So, days and nights are regulated naturally. The minimal footprint of asphalt and concrete keeps the balance as it should be. That balance allows wildflowers to explode in the fields and the prairies. Dragonflies, bees, hummingbirds all dance around the bouquet helping to pollinate and grow the flowers.
When I was 10 years old and growing up on the south side of Chicago, we had natural wildflower prairies of an acre or more everywhere. We did nothing to make them grow. It was all natural. No tilling, no fertilizing, no pesticides, and no poison weed killer. What clearly stands out in those memories was that the field was exploding with millions of insects. Insects that were not destructive or intimidating. My brothers and I explored these prairies daily because it was exciting and because it was fun. It could have been educational but I was having too much fun!
I’ve since learned that you can have both. Enjoying the incredible natural world around you is both an opportunity for fun and for learning. Our store boasts many waterproof pamphlets that are perfect for a hike or camping trip. You can easily identify the species you’re seeing, while simultaneously learning about their typical habitat, size, and mating patterns. More comprehensive books that we have in store even go so far as to tell you how to coax a bird into feeding out of your out of the palm of your hand!
The thing to remember is that Different Worlds are everywhere. You do not have to go to Wisconsin to see them. Great Falls National Park, Lake Fairfax, Potomac Overlook Regional Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains are different worlds waiting to be discovered within a short drive, and the opportunity to observe and learn never ends. So, grab your camera, strap on your binoculars, stuff your bird book, flower book, and reptile book in your back pack and pack a water bottle and explore. You’ll uncover a wonderful new world in your world!
So, you are driving down the road and you are very hungry. You pull over to a new place that you have never tried. But you notice the place is really crowded and looks very run down and dirty. Would you go in and try it?
Feeding the birds is a very popular hobby in North America, second only to gardening. With that many customers coming to our backyard restaurants, it is very important to provide birds with a safe feeding environment. Responsible bird feeding techniques are crucial in helping to keep birds healthy safe.
Normally, people who feed the birds do not receive complete and accurate information on bird diseases or how to safely offer food and water to the birds. It is essential for those who enjoy the bird feeding hobby to understand the importance of proper feeding methods to promote bird health.
When the hot and humid days of summer come upon us, the food we put out for the birds can become spoiled if not properly taken care off. Many quality seed blends do not have shells. This unprotected food can become moldy and buggy if left out for too long. Heavy rains and humid days can also accelerate the spoiling process.
Wild Birds Unlimited Recommends Responsible Bird Feeding
The following strategies will help improve the health and safety of birds:
- Clean bird feeders, bird baths and all hardware regularly with a 10 percent bleach (one part bleach to nine parts water) solution. Rinse thoroughly and allow to completely dry before refilling feeders.
- Use Wild Birds Unlimited EcoClean Feeders. These feeders have a special technology built-in that keeps the feeders clean and there is no need for chlorine bleach.
- Always keep the ground below and around feeders clean. Discard seed debris and bird droppings on a regular basis. One great way to do that is to purchase a small 6 gallon “Shopvac” from your local hardware store. This powerful tool will clean up the ground in a very short time.
Wear a simple painter’s mask to make sure you do not breathe in any dust or particles from the bird droppings. Then discard in a paper leaf bag for your trash collector. Seed Shells do not make good compost.
- Give the birds more space. If using multiple feeders, place the feeders farther apart from one another. This will reduce crowding and the potential for disease transmission between sick and healthy birds.
- Only use feeders that can be easily cleaned. Wooden feeders are difficult to sanitize. A fine grade sandpaper can be used to clean any dropping residue or potential mildew or mold.
- Tray or platform feeders are fun to use. But if your area has too many birds visiting the feeder, you may need to use a cage cover over it to regulate the flow of breakfast, lunch and dinner avian guests. Think of the cage as a good bouncer at the door of your popular food establishment for the birds.
- Limit the amount of seed you provide during these hot months. Offer only as much food as the birds will eat in one or two days. Rake up waste material in the area before refilling.
- You can use Seed cylinders, which are condensed bird food that fits on special feeders. These are good to use if you are going out of town and want to leave your bird food restaurant open. Make sure you have a rain guard over the cylinder to protect it from too much rain. Some cylinders can last two to three weeks, depending on the size and type of cylinder.
- Always discard any seed that has become wet.
Wild Birds Unlimited is committed to keeping everyone safe and informed about issues that may affect the hobby of bird feeding. People’s safety and the health of wildlife are our primary concern. Take some simple steps to keep your bird food restaurant healthy and the OPEN sign up.
For more information about backyard and responsible bird feeding practices, stop by Wild Birds Unlimited at 2437 N Harrison St, Arlington, VA, to speak with a Certified Bird Feeding Specialist.
Most birds undergo a seasonal transformation in summer, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. Bird and nature enthusiasts can help birds with the molting process by providing foods rich in protein.
Molting describes when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. Birds will also molt if they have lost feathers that need to be replaced immediately. You should not be surprised if you look into your backyard and see a bald cardinal, a chickadee with a Mohawk or a robin with a Bieber haircut!
Different species of birds molt at different times of the year and for different reasons. Some birds molt twice a year. During spring/summer, birds (especially males) molt to a much brighter, more colorful breeding plumage to be more attractive to potential mates. The male American Goldfinch is one of the more spectacular molting changes of your common backyard bird. In the fall/winter, birds return to a less attention-grabbing, non-breeding plumage.
Molting is a critical part of birds’ lives. It’s a complicated process that takes time and energy, and it takes place as birds carry on with their other daily routines.
Feathers are more than 90% protein, primarily keratins. Because of the nutritional demands on their bodies to produce feathers and feather pigment, birds must increase the amount of protein and fats in their diets.
Molting can be so physically demanding that many species of birds cannot fly during this time. Some birds such as geese, ducks and swans will molt in seclusion to avoid predators.
Offering bird foods high in protein and fats in backyard bird feeders is helpful during molting seasons. Foods such as Nyjer (thistle), peanuts, mealworms and Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter aid birds in replacing their feathers and help ensure that their pigmentation is bright. Having the right food in your feeders isn’t just a wonderful way to see a variety of birds, but it’s also a way to provide birds with an easy-to-find food source during a very crucial time of their lives.
That is also why it is important for you to have your feeders filled when you leave town for a vacation. In order to meet your birds’ needs, it is important to have at least one foundational feeder that dependably provides food every day. Studies have demonstrated that a constant, and reliable source of supplemental food helps to improve health and body conditions. Good food: Good Molting: Good healthy bird.
JOIN OUR TEAM! Some of our team members have migrated to new horizons. We are now accepting applications for 4 new members. We are hiring for a Full time Manager, Part time Manager, and two Sales Associates. We are energized to bring joy to our customers hobby of backyard bird feeding, and we strive to do that with excellence. If you want to explore being part of our flock, stop in and pick up an application! Ask for Michael or call 703-241-3988
American Goldfinches are beautiful year-round residents. Their brown feathers molt in the spring, giving way to beautiful golden feathers for the summer, and they molt again in the fall.
A lot of people think that Goldfinches leave us in the winter, but they stay right here. They just unfortunately loose that gorgeous yellow color, but still will come visit your feeder.
Goldfinches are our acrobat seed eaters: they enjoy eating upside down. They enjoy eating from a mesh feeder filled with sunflower chips, Nyjer (thistle) or a mixture of both. The mesh feeder allows them to cling and eat at any angle. This allows dramatically reduces invasive birds like the English Sparrow from getting on the feeder.
You can also add a rain guard on top to keep the seed dry. It can take a week or two for a full feeder of Nyjer to be eaten. Keeping it dry for the goldfinches consumption keeps the food from getting clumped up and possibly spoiled.
What is Nyjer? Nyjer is a seed that is grown in Ethiopia and India and is a registered trademark of Wild Birds Unlimited. People are typically worried that it grows if it fell out of the feeder.
It is not hot enough to grow here but if it does it makes beautiful yellow flowers. Thistle is a wild plant that grows all over. You may see if along highways. That plant grows a purple flower and the leaves are very prickly. We sell Nyjer and although it might grow a bit, it is not the invasive thistle you see everywhere.
Nyjer is a thin black seed that can spoil if moisture is present. It should be stored in a dry cool place and it should be replaced every three to four weeks in a feeder. If the seed becomes moldy you should dump it out and clean the feeder, let it dry overnight and refill with fresh seed. Nyjer is a highly nutritious food with a high oil content.
American Goldfinches are also our late nesters. They will have their broods in August, so keep those feeders filled with fresh seed. Be sure to keep your birdbaths filled too; for they love moving birdbaths and drippers. If you have purple coneflowers or black eyed susans in your yard they will pick at the seeds in them.
We have a good variety of finch feeders in stock and rain guards to add to them. We carry 5, 10 and 20-pound bags of Nyjer. Our seed comes in fresh once and week. We can guarantee with fresh seed and a little patience you will get the gold.
Come on, jump in! The water is fine. And just in time with the first really hot weather of the summer. So, for humans, we have many options to stay cool. But what about the wild birds in our backyards? Going to the movies is not an option.
During the hot, dry conditions of summer, wild birds will continuously look for reliable sources of water.
Water is crucial to birds, sometimes more so than food. Water is vitally important when it’s extremely hot, because birds do not sweat and must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system. So when temperatures rise, birds’ respiration rate increases, sometimes to the point where they can pant like a dog. This activity dehydrates birds.
A reliable source of water also allows birds to bathe regularly, a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in top-flight condition. However, offering water does not have to be difficult or expensive.
There are many ways to set up a water station to offer birds a safe and clean place to bathe and drink. From a simple plant dish to a 400-pound granite sculpture bath, any and all water features will be accepted. But they must be safe and they must be secure.
Attract more birds by offering water in a bird bath. These water sources are normally elevated to protect birds from natural predators. Bird baths with sloped sides permit visitors to move from shallow to deeper water, and they accommodate different sized birds that need to drink or bathe. The bird baths should be shallow so there is no accidental drowning; two-inch depths are the norm. Dark colored baths retain the heat in the winter whereas light colored dishes stay a little cooler in the summer.
Some people use misters and drippers to provide birds with water. These devices are connected to the hose bib on the side of the house with a Y connection. This allows for a separate hose to be attached for yard work and filling up the bath.
In my front yard, I have a six-foot slope with three baths in line. A water dripper is attached to the top bath and the excess water drips into the second and third baths. The excess water then drips onto my fern garden.
The baths are constantly receiving fresh water for the birds. The moving water prevents the mosquitoes’ larva, that may be deposited in the water, from hatching. When located near foliage, misters give birds the opportunity to “leaf bathe.” Birds exhibiting this behavior will flutter against wet plants or leaves to release droplets onto their feathers.
Open sources of water, such as bird baths, can cause a potential mosquito problem. For this reason, many people use a Water Wiggler, an agitator that creates ripples in water (mosquitoes cannot/do not lay eggs in moving water). Also, water in motion is far more attractive to birds than a stagnant pond.
Water is essential to wild birds’ survival and many people see that necessity as an opportunity to be entertained by the birds. Make sure your birds pool is open and filled with good clean water before they jump in. Then grab a “slushy” and enjoy. No lifeguard needed.
For 25 years now, my business, Wild Birds Unlimited, has been helping bring people and nature together with the hobby of backyard bird feeding. All types of people, from very young to very old, have come into my retail store and purchased products to feed the wild birds in their yards.
When I first started my business, I found that people feed for various reasons. Many people grow up with this hobby learning from their parents. Many feed the birds as a way of helping the birds survive in an ever-changing urban environment. But year after year, from behind my counter I discovered many more reasons why people feed the birds.
We are very fortunate to have four seasons of different climates in our area. With each season, nature and the birds change. Winter, spring, summer and fall all bring different challenges for survival. Each season brings a different level and type of joy to our backyards. From 20 bright red cardinals on snow covered winter tree branches to four fuzzy bird heads peeking out of a nest in the spring, there are visual joys to absorb all year long. Bird feeding is a yearlong hobby.
We are all connected to nature, that is all around us, in different ways. I, for one, find no pleasure in cutting grass every eighth day, in searing heat and dripping humidity, with 7 billion gnats, per square foot, attacking me. So, for the past 30 years, in the two homes I have lived in, I dug up my lawn and planted a hummingbird, butterfly and bee garden.
I enjoy the beauty the flowers give me, the sounds the many different types of bees give me and the joy of the hummingbird zipping around my Bee Balm and Cardinal flower. The eight feeders on my back deck give me nonstop action as I sit and write this story in my office. I am surrounded by natural life.
One of my customers told me every night he and his wife would pour a glass of white wine and sit in their small backyard and watch the birds. It was their church he said. It gave them peace and tranquility. This became so much more important in his later life when his health was fading.
One day, a familiar customer came into my store to purchase seed. When I asked how she was, she started crying. Tragically she has just lost her oldest son. But she said she had to feed her birds. For many of us there is an incredibly strong emotional connection, that cannot be broken, with the natural world around us.
Many of my customers feed the birds as a sense of environmental duty to help the different species survive. There is a weekly routine I have with some customers when they come into my store and ask me: “do the birds need us?”
I will look out my storefront window and tell them 100 years ago if we were standing in the same spot and looking, we would see fields and trees and flowers. Now all we see looking out the window is concrete and asphalt and wires and buildings. With that perspective, it becomes clear that the more the natural habitat is removed, the more the wild birds will be challenged to find food and survive.
In that way, yes, the birds do need our help. That does not mean you cannot take a two week vacation this summer to go to the beach. The birds will find other sources of food. They will also readily come back to the little restaurants you have in your yard once you fill them up again.
My customers — my friends — have created and embraced the hobby of bird feeding in their yards for their own special needs. Be it emotional, spiritual, environmental or physical, the feeding of the wildlife including chipmunks and squirrels, along with the birds, fulfills a need which enhances their lives. It is only natural that nature does that. For we are just a part of our natural world. It is just that the birds sing better.
With apologies to Mick Jagger, Bono, Beyonce and Willie Nelson!
Hummingbirds visit us for a short period of time from the Spring until Fall. There are 18 species of Hummingbirds in North America. The most common hummingbird seen in Northern Virginia, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
They commonly are referred to as the Emeralds and Rubies in our sky. These little beauties can fly backwards, upside down, weigh about the weight of a penny and lay the world’s smallest egg. They typically only lay 2 eggs a brood the size of a blueberry.
Hummingbirds eat about every 10 minutes and they drink up to twice their body weight in nectar every day. When using a Hummingbird feeder, we recommend filling them with a 4 part water to one part sugar solution. This solution can be made by using plain table sugar, no Splenda or Equal. Boil your water and add in the sugar, let it dissolve. Once it is cool you can pour some into the feeder and place the remaining solution in your fridge.
The solution should be changed every two to three days and every other day when it hits 90 degrees outside. Most WBU stores carry 8oz and 24 oz packages of sugar as a convenient way to make the solution for these flying jewels. We also recommend adding a rain guard to your feeder to help protect it from getting watered down. Another great tip is to keep it in the shade or near some flowers. Bee Balm, Cardinal Flower and Bleeding Hearts are great perennials to plant in your sunny garden. When the hummingbirds are not at your feeder they can be found drinking nectar from flowers, eating small gnats, spiders, aphid and flies.
How do you feed these little guys? Well we have a great selection of feeders to choose from. We have beautiful glass ones called droplets, or glass ones that look like a potted plant. The sphere feeders can do double the work, when it’s not a hummingbird feeder it can be used as a small watering dish or hold mealworms. Our number one best sellers are our Wild Birds Unlimited brand. That are easy to clean, can be put them in the top rack of your dishwasher or simple rinsed at the sink of your kitchen.
Our WBU feeders come with an ant moat molded into the nectar dish. Ant moats are an important item to add onto any hummingbird feeder to prevent the ants from getting into your nectar. Just add a little bit of water to the ant moat and a drop of oil to keep it from evaporating too quickly. These can also be used when hummingbirds season is over, for bark butter bits, mealworms, or water.
The NEVER list: never add food dye to your feeders, flower nectar is colorless and pure, that’s what your hummers want. Never use honey, it spoils too quickly and if it ferments cause a fatal fungus to form on hummers tongues. Never use sports drinks, fruit juices or other sugary substances like soda.
Look for these little jewels flying through your yard this weekend. Then come into our store and put a pin in our “Hummingbird Location Map” so we can all see where these beautiful little emeralds and rubies are!
Today I want to tell you about the benefits of feeding Jim’s Birdacious Bark Butter. Bark Butter is a peanut butter, calcium and rendered beef suet concoction. It was created by Wild Birds Unlimited president Jim Carpenter to attract Brown Creepers to his yard.
Bark Butter can be smeared on any tree, seed cylinder, suet plug feeder, or a specialty Bark Butter feeder. It is a sticky recipe that allows it to be smeared with a fork, but not stick to the fork.
Many of our customers have used it on the sides of their seed cylinders for added calcium during nesting season or added fat for cold winters. Birds will grab on to any of these surfaces to grab a bite-sized chunk and fly away with a delicious meal.
As I told you, Jim created Bark Butter to attract his Brown Creepers which wouldn’t come to any other food he offered. Well he got them plus so many more birds. Jim found that about 140 species, from the East Coast to the West Coast, are eating his Bark Butter product and the list keeps growing.
Nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, mockingbirds, catbirds and cardinals are just a few of the many interested birds. Birds that migrate through our area also loved Bark Butter. Summer tanagers, bluebirds, indigo buntings and many warblers are frequent visitors to Bark Butter feeders.
Why Bark Butter and not peanut butter you ask? Well for one peanut butter is loaded with sugar, salt and other unnatural ingredients that are not intended for birds.
Two, even if you buy organic it is full of salt that can dehydrate a bird quickly. The soft pliable texture of Bark Butter allows the adults birds to bring new fledgings to the feeders to eat. Bark Butter also comes in a “Bit” size formula which can be added to any regular seed and nut feeder.
Bark Butter can be a great addition to any backyard. Everyone can benefit from this nutritious snack. Mama and Papa birds can easily grab a chunk and feed it to their young, Nuthatches can creep up and down a tree trunk and enjoy a nibble and you can enjoy watching your feathered friends snack on a nutritious meal while sitting back drinking your cup of coffee.
Spread the Bark Butter on a large tree at dusk and you have a great chance to see “Flying Squirrels” come down and feed. Flying Squirrels are very common in this area. But they are nocturnal and quite secretive.
Bark Butter and Bark Butter Bits is the most popular food you can offer the birds in your backyard. Easy to use and absolutely no mess to clean up makes this a great food source to offer your wild birds. We are the only store in the Northern Virginia area that carries this unique food. Stop on by and pick up a tub. Your birds will be very happy you did.
For an extended list of the birds that eat Bark Butter, go to www.barkbutter.com.