“Making your backyard ‘bird friendly’ is a wonderful way to reconnect with nature,” says Kristin Collins, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited (WBU) in Kiln Creek. “I have been interested in birds since I was a child. My grandmother was a bird enthusiast, and I would spend hours watching birds at her feeders when I visited her.”
Unfortunately, a recent study found that since 1970, there has been a 3-billion decrease in the bird population. A big reason is loss of habitat. Pesticides, window strikes and outdoor cats are also major problems. There is a “Save the Songbirds” initiative underway. WBU has partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to promote bird conservation.
Collins encourages her customers to look into certifying their backyards as a Wildlife Habitat (through the Federation). “We are delighted to help people with this simple process,” she says. Basic bird needs are food, water, cover and a place to raise their young.
Native plants that provide fruit and seeds are helpful. “More plants and less lawn are good,” says Collins. “And eliminating pesticides,” she adds.
WBU is a franchise, one of 350 in the nation. At a recent convention in Indianapolis, WBU was recognized with two other franchises for its positive impact on the community through environmental stewardship. The store received a “Save the Songbirds” award.
Opening in 2003 at another location, Wild Birds Unlimited expanded to its present location in 2013. Next to the store is a garden area complete with trees, flowers, a path and, of course, birdfeeders. There is a deck with comfortable chairs where customers are invited to sit, sip coffee and watch birds. The store has its own award for customers: Songbird Hero. After certifying the home backyard, the customer receives a basket of goodies and special discounts. The winning recipient’s name is posted on a wall in the store. “We currently have 230 ‘Heroes,’” says Collins.
Michelle Schopp is the community outreach coordinator. She presents programs at senior facilities, schools and various organizations. The topics vary. A recent program was titled, “The Secret Love Life of Birds.” Schopp is a longtime bird lover. While picking up supplies at WBU, she noticed a “part-time help needed” sign. She took the job, which turned into full-time. She has been there two years.
WBU stocks a variety of bird food, feeders, poles, houses, greeting cards, gifts and books. Choices depend on the type of bird the customer wants to attract. Schopp says birds are picky. Bluebirds want a special home. No bird likes moldy or dry seeds. Hummingbirds require a special feeder that holds nectar/jelly. Hot pepper seed cylinders ward off non-birds. “Bark butter” attracts the most birds — 150 species like it.
Are squirrels and raccoons a problem? “We have a solution for every situation,” says Collins. “We can figure out anything.”
Collins was born in Roanoke and moved to Newport News with her family. She has always been a nature lover and ”an outdoor gal.” She has a son in California.
Schopp moved with her military family. “I was born in Massachusetts and grew up overseas,” she says. “I was young when I lived in Europe and I would like to go back. Our longest assignment was in Japan. I can still speak a little Japanese.” Schopp joined the Coast Guard and was stationed in Yorktown. She met her husband while stationed in the Virgin Islands. They were married there. Her husband is an environmental planner. They have lived in Newport News for 12 years and have been beekeepers for nine years.
Collins is a fountain of fascinating bird facts. Birds need twice as much food in winter to keep them warm. They need “high fat” food. The goldfinch lives here year-round but it undergoes a “wardrobe change.” It sheds its gold feathers and grows dull gray-yellow feathers. The pine warbler is the “coolest bird.” In the right situation it will eat from a person’s hand. The resident pine warbler at WBU does just that.
TO THE POINT:
Wild Birds Unlimited
Address: 3120 Kiln Creek Pkwy., Ste. A, Yorktown VA 23693
Contacts: Kristin Collins, owner; Gregory Millslagle, owner; Michelle Schopp, community outreach coordinator