This summer’s full solar eclipse offered Wild Birds Unlimited store owners an opportunity to show off their specialized knowledge of nature and wildlife
On August 21st of this year, millions of solar-filter-covered eyes turned to the skies to get a glimpse of a full solar eclipse. Billed in most news and social media channels as a rare cosmic occurrence—the eclipse was the first to be visible across the contiguous United States since 1918—the event also had a number of unusual implications for life right here on earth, and wildlife hobbyists were eager to learn how the eclipse might affect birds and other animals who are largely guided by the patterns of the sun. Wild Birds Unlimited owners throughout North America were thrilled to join the conversation and offer their expertise.
To stoke interest in the eclipse’s effects on wildlife, Wild Birds Unlimited rolled out a multi-faceted marketing campaign titled Solar Shenanigans: Will the Eclipse Fool Birds and Wildlife? The campaign created eclipse-specific content for multiple customer-facing channels, including Facebook, individual store websites, and customer newsletters. Many stores even offered eclipse-education programs and viewing events.
When preparing store owners for the influx of interest, Wild Birds Unlimited Chief Naturalist John Schaust reminded them that little about the eclipse’s effects on wildlife is known with certainty, and he cautioned owners not to let their excitement get the better of them.
“Our owners are so knowledgeable and so passionate, and they have all these amazing insights they want to share with customers, but we are always very careful to be clear about which insights are anecdotal and which are scientifically established,” said Schaust. “There are a lot of really interesting observations and theories about how and why wildlife reacts to a solar eclipse, but there are very few official, peer-reviewed studies, so we want to be clear about that with our customers.”
With that caveat established, Wild Birds Unlimited owners were encouraged to share their excitement with their customers. Schaust even provided stores with a list of some of the more intriguing observations to share with customers.
Those observations mostly describe confusion and disorientation among birds of nearly all species. Songbirds become silent, morning birds begin to chirp as the sun emerges, and nocturnal birds become active as the sky is darkened. Other wildlife, too, show unusual behavior during eclipses. Crickets and katydids begin chirping during the eclipse, cicadas fall silent, mosquitos emerge in mass during the darkness, honeybees return to their hives, skunks retreat to their nests, and orb-weaving spiders, which re-weave their webs every night, may begin to dismantle their webs.
For many WBU store owners, the days surrounding the eclipse became a sort of festival. Laura Rancour, a WBU store owner in Kentwood, Michigan, described how she turned her store into an eclipse hub for her community.
“My goal was to inform customers and create excitement about the eclipse,” said Rancour. “I sold eclipse glasses and printed out handouts with information regarding the eclipse’s effects on birds and wildlife. We decided to have an Eclipse Across America watch party. I set up chairs in the parking lot, served moon pies, and played music. We put signs in the window, posted about it on Facebook, and sent out emails. The event helped bring like-minded people together, and everyone had a great time.”
It is not often that a niche interest suddenly captures the attention of the entire country, and Wild Birds Unlimited was determined to take advantage of their niche’s time in the spotlight.
“It is rare to have a single natural phenomenon with the potential to impact all of our 300 stores,” said Schaust. “The solar eclipse not only presented that opportunity, it also attracted strong media attention and the interest of millions of eclipse watchers. So we made sure we were well prepared to get involved.”