Those who feed the wild birds at a home feeder year-around know that the crowds thin out come September and October. The migratory birds are on their way south, and the best chance for color at the feeders are the goldfinches, a partial migratory bird.
Snow, however, will change everything, at least in the minds of those who believe that wildlife struggles as much as we do at the first flake of winter.
Mark Meyer, owner of The Bird Feeder in Jefferson, knows that few things are as good for business as a heavy snowfall. “The deeper the snow, the busier I am,” says Meyer, who has owned and operated his store since May 2002.
Preparing bird feeders and selecting the winter feed and suet for birds and other wildlife are topics that Meyer will cover during an outdoor bird feeding workshop on Oct. 18 at the Lampson Reservoir parking lot area. The presentation will be from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. (early bird hours).
Meyer has done numerous programs on bird feeding for organizations in the county, but this is his first at a Metroparks property. Lampson Reservoir was selected because of its proximity to wetlands, forest and Meyer’s shop. Meyer has agreed to do a quarterly program at Lampson Reservoir next year to help birders get their feeders and stock ready for each season. Metroparks has received a grant to build an observation date at the Lampson Reservoir. The deck would provide a venue for programming as well as bird feeding.
Meyer says the busiest time at county birdfeeders is during May and June, when migratory songbirds return to the area.
“There is an abundance of birds and people then,” he says. “The pretty birds come in spring and summer, and the people are back from Florida.”
People are what drive the bird watching/feeding pastime, which ranks only second to gardening in popularity among Americans. Mark says he learned that fact from a sales rep at a lawn and garden trade show, and the knowledge put him on the track to owning his own business.
The Northwest Ohio native came east after graduating with a degree in agriculture from Ohio State. He connected to a dairy farm management job in the county through the OSU alumni file. In the mid-1990s, he left that job for the manager’s job at the Austinburg Feed Mill. He soon recognized that Ashtabula County residents are very serious about feeding the wildlife, based upon the volume of seed the mill sold.
“That is when I got the idea for a store because we sold so much bird seed,” Meyer says. Even the feed mill was a good customer of itself; feeders at the mill were kept stocked. When a damaged feeder was returned to the store by a customer, Meyer was told by the company that made the feeder to just “field destroy” it rather than return it. Meyer filled it with seed and hung it outside the mill.
“It didn’t take me very long to find out that I was heading to the books all the time to find out what kind of birds were coming to the feeder,” he says.
Meyer eventually decided to open a store dedicated to feeding the birds and other wildlife. After eight months of operating in a house, the Jefferson resident opened in the plaza north of the village on Route 46. His store has been there ever since.
“I guess I have always wanted to float my own boat, row my own canoe,” he says of being in business for himself.
People who feed the birds are, by nature, kind-hearted.
While Meyer’s tangible product line is for the birds, the intangibles—knowledge, friendly service and genuine compassion for wildlife and the people who feed it—are what drives his business. He says birds are not as dependent upon humans for their survival as what we would like to think they are. If the food we put in their feeders is not of good quality, they will turn to nature or other feeders to find the good stuff.
“A wild bird is a lot different from the domesticated animal that depends on you for their food. (The wild bird) does not have to eat what you offer it,” Meyer says.
Meyer is seeing this play out with goldfinches this fall. Some customers report that the birds ignore the pure thistle seed. He suggests they try a mix that includes canola seeds and sunflower chips. Meyer says it is running about 50/50 on the preference.
This kind of knowledge is gained only through experience, and Meyer gets plenty of it by talking to his customers and watching the feeder in the back lot of the store. Customers who go for the fancy feeders will notice that Meyer’s preferred method of feeding is about as basic as you can get, a flat-surface, wood platform.
“I can use any feeder I want, but if they passed a law that you could use only one kind of feeder, I’d use that flat feeder,” he says.
Meyer has lots more advice on feeding the birds; join him at the Lampson Reservoir 8:30 a.m. Oct. 18 as he shares it. If you love birds, you are sure to be in good company.
“People who feed the birds are, by nature, kind-hearted,” Meyer says.