Going Wild for Feeding Wild Birds

Retailers have much to gain by stocking products for the many consumers who enjoy caring for and feeding wild birds.


Most people love owning pets, as proven by the fact that approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population shares their home with some sort of furry, feathered or scaled creatures.

Of course, there are many people who cannot have a pet due to allergies, where they live or other reasons, and will instead channel their love for animals toward the wild. For many such animal lovers, wild birds make for perfect “pets.” However, even customers with indoor pets often feed wild birds. For this reason, it makes sense for pet stores to take advantage of this easy-to-sell category.

A pet shop’s assortment of wild-bird product somewhat depends on its geographical location and should be broad enough to meet the needs of various wild birds. “Variety is important in providing an appealing wild bird retail selection, and retailers can benefit from offering multiple options in terms of flavors, sizes, colors and shapes,” says Bill Gleason, president of Wildlife Sciences in Minnetonka, Minn.

Pet stores can offer many types and formulas of wild bird food. Seed is the most popular option, and there are many varieties, such as black oil sunflower, safflower and thistle, that can attract many species. There are seed mixes designed to attract specific groups of wild birds, as well. It is important for a pet store to carry seeds that are appropriate for the region’s wildlife.

Pet specialty retailers should aim to stock products that do not contain fillers, like many of the options offered in the mass market. They may also take the opportunity to educate their customers about the value of feeding seeds without fillers and waste. Signage and educational materials can help explain the benefits of high-end wild bird food.

Gleason’s company specializes in suet, the second most popular wild bird food on the market. There are two types of suet available—one for warmer seasons and regions, and one for colder places and times of year. During the spring as daylight lengthens, birds go into breeding mode and can use some extra fat. In the summer, both baby birds and their parents will benefit from the extra energy suet can provide. Of course, during winter, birds that live in colder areas will benefit from any extra fat they can consume, given that other food items are more scarce. It is important for retailers to offer appropriate suet formulas for their regions and the season, as well as help keep customers informed about the needs of their local wild birds.

Like seed mixes, suet can come in many varieties and with various additions such as nuts, insects and fruit. Some suet even has added nutritional elements, including protein and calcium to support laying eggs and raising young. Gleason says that stores should carry 10 to 12 flavors of suet cakes as well as multi-packs, gift packs and accessory items such as suet balls and plugs to help round out this category.

Giving customers lots of choices is a great way to sell more of any product, thus retailers should stock a wide selection of bird seeds, suet and other specialty items such as dried mealworms, insects, pellets, nuts and healthy nectar for hummingbirds.

Besides a variety of wild bird food types, feeders are a beneficial addition to the product assortment—otherwise it would be like selling parakeets but not stocking any bird cages for them to live in. Wild bird feeders are made for every type of food and are available in more sizes, designs, colors and shapes than ever before. Some are made to keep squirrels out when needed, can hold two or more types of food and can be put on a stand, hung from a branch or attached to a porch railing.

“Avid bird feeders are not simply feeding birds, they are decorating their backyards and searching for better and better methods to attract wild birds,” says Gleason. Placing a number of feeders in one area will create a great bird “oasis,” where many species will come in looking for a snack. When possible, retailers may want to consider offering bird baths as well, as they will attract more birds than feeders. Bird baths, like feeders, come in many types including heated ones for cold regions.

“When consumers write in to our wild bird food company, they often use the term ‘my birds,’” says Gleason. “Avid birders view wild birds as their outdoor pets. Retailers can benefit from this by providing a variety of options for them to spoil their wild pets.”

Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.


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