Known as National Bird Feeding Month, February is an important time of year within the bird feeding community. And Wild Birds Unlimited, a retail business specializing in nature and backyard bird feeding products with over 300 franchise locations throughout the United States and Canada, has discovered new ways to celebrate the month. The brand is the original and major supporter of the Great Backyard Bird Count, which helps to obtain important data about birds while also encouraging participation by the wonderful customers who shop at Wild Birds Unlimited retail stores.
“February is a great time for National Bird Feeding Month because it is one of the toughest months for birds, when you’re in the dead of winter and a lot of natural foods become pretty scarce,” said John Schaust, Wild Birds Unlimited Chief Naturalist. “The real value of the activities that take place during the month, however, is that it gives a standardized set of data every year so you can start seeing trends, like if there is a change in individual bird populations or a shift in the regional movements of a species.”
The celebratory month was instituted in 1994 by Illinois Congressman John Porter. The significance of the bird-feeding month lies within the history of individuals both in and outside of the scientific community documenting the birds they observed, giving a deeper understanding to birds’ migratory paths and population, as well as providing other vital information. To take part in the month and contribute to the understanding of birds in a significant way, Wild Birds Unlimited helped create the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a four-day citizen-scientist project where individuals from all over the world keep a detailed list of the types and quantity of birds they observe. The GBBC is a joint program of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Birds Studies Canada.
“The Great Backyard Bird Count was actually [founder and CEO of Wild Birds Unlimited] Jim Carpenter’s idea,” said Schaust. “Trying to observe birds every day throughout February just isn’t possible for most people, so Carpenter proposed just having a four-day period where people could really commit to tracking their observations. Now, the information gathered from the event has created this really incredible database, where thousands and thousands of observations are being sent in.”
As chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited, Schaust wears a variety of hats, from helping create the bird feeding hobby products being sold at the retail locations to ensuring that franchisees and their staff are equipped with the knowledge to provide customers with helpful and factual information.
“Providing an activity that puts people and nature together was something my wife Heidi and I really wanted to be involved with,” said North Carolina-based Wild Birds Unlimited multi-unit franchisee Steve Muma. “I love how dedicated Wild Birds Unlimited is to making sure we have all the information we need to best serve our customers. We feel like we’re giving back to the community in a way, and National Bird Feeding Month is a large part of that.”
Another one of Schaust’s major responsibilities includes managing the brand’s sponsorship of and involvement with the Great Backyard Bird Count. This year marks the event’s 20th anniversary, taking place from February 17th through the 20th. Anyone can participate in the event for free, and can upload a checklist of the birds they observe online or via the eBird mobile app, making it easier than ever to help scientists glean information about birds anywhere and everywhere throughout world.
“For the Wild Birds Unlimited team, doing our part to encourage others to help preserve nature and different bird environments is at the core of our brand’s vision,” said Jim Carpenter, founder and CEO of the bird feeding retail franchise. “When I started the business, it started as a hobby. But over the years, as the business grew, I came to understand the important role we can play in protecting birds and preserving the environments they depend on.”