Photos by Kara Thorpe
Wild Birds Unlimited is a franchise of stores whose mission is to “bring people and nature together.” The stores offer a variety of bird food, feeders, houses and baths and they are dedicated to helping turn your yard into a bird habitat that benefits the environment but also brings wild birds and, in turn, songs, color and joy to your home. And we are lucky enough to now have our very own Wild Birds at Madison Crescent in Gainesville.
Owners Mike and Leslie Larson know a thing or two about birds. They’ve always been outdoorsy types, both love riding horses and hiking, and Michael’s passion for photography created the perfect partnership of spending time observing and capturing nature. This love of the outdoors led them to research how to bring local nature into their own backyard. Over the past handful of years they’ve transformed their home into a National Wildlife Federation certified property that is full of exclusively native plants which means the flora on their property are beneficial to our ecosystem. Local plants attract local birds and animals. This natural evolution led Michael to become interested in Wild Birds Unlimited.
They haven’t always been entrepreneurs. Michael spent his career in IT supporting various government agencies. He always enjoyed coming home and marveling at the beauty in his backyard and after enjoying that part of his day most, he realized it was time for a change.
“You always hear people say, ‘do what you love’ and I realized it was time. When I found Wild Birds Unlimited I thought, this can’t be real,” he said. He researched the company and was amazed at the support and education they provided and knew it was the right fit.
More than just a store that sells bird seed and squirrel-proof feeders, Michael feels what makes Wild Birds Unlimited unique is that people come in because they want to, not just because they need to. Customers love to tell stories of the birds in their yards, share photos and discuss ways to invite more feathered friends to visit. Many bird watchers will agree that the hobby brings a sense of peace and joy into your life, which Michael and Leslie found to be a win-win situation.
Michael always loved spotting birds, but since he was introduced to the franchise, he’s gone full speed ahead learning everything he can about every type of bird. If he doesn’t know, he researches. He has found that in this business, education is key. Whatever is happening in your yard, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, there are solutions to invite (or politely say vamoose to) local animals. Some examples include offering bear proof feeders, or advanced pole systems, called baffles, both of which keep local critters out of bird feeders.
And local is the key word. As mentioned previously, Michael and Leslie worked hard to have their yard certified by the National Wildlife Federation. They started with a visit from Audobon.org who helped educate them and then, through their research, they learned that many of the beautiful shrubs and plants that are commonly planted in our area are not conducive to our local fauna. Take nandina for example. While it is a beautiful shrub, the berries are toxic to cedar wax wings, which are native to Virginia. Replacing the non-native plants with those that are attracts fauna and pollinators (such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds), plus visitors of all types that you didn’t even know existed. Learning about our ecosystem “really opened my eyes about the impact of native plants and how they do or don’t support birds,” Michael said.
Wild Birds Unlimited will offer educational classes twice a month and Michael plans on hosting guest speakers from the Virginia Plant Society and other organizations. Children will also have a chance to learn about birds and native plants. He plans to partner with the Clifton Nature Institute and the Warrenton-based Pollywog Kids program.
After all his research, you’d expect Michael to have a favorite bird, and he does. The Eastern Bluebird is his favorite. The male has a bright blue color with a striking orange chest. These birds are easy to provide a nest for, in case you want to attract one to your yard. And they are savvy house hunters, too! The male will look for a new home, but it’s the female who ultimately chooses it. When she finds the home she wants, she leaves a deposit of a pine straw in it, to let the male know. Hmm. Except for the deposit of pine straw, it seems female humans have a whole lot in common with female Eastern Bluebirds!
More than just a local store, Wild Birds Unlimited is a valuable resource to our community.
Wild Birds Unlimited, 7998 Crescent Park Dr., Gainesville/703-753-7333/Facebook: @wbugainesvilleva
Did You Know?
Birds need more than just food to survive, they also need fresh water. Many homeowners shy away from bird feeders because of misconceptions about attracting mosquitoes. Simple solutions like a water wiggler or bubbler solve that problem. Add a bird bath with a wiggler near your bird feeder, sit back and when the word gets out – watch away!
Birds need to be fed all year long. Spring and summer are their nesting season and they need calcium to grow and feed their babies. Don’t forget to fill your feeders in the fall and winter.
Birds provide natural pest control. In addition to bird food, they eat insects – who needs pesticides?
Bird houses should be at least 10 feet away from trees or shrubs (and not on fence posts!) and Michael recommends a predator guard be used as well.