July 2018

Wild Birds Unlimited: Enrichment and Appreciation Through Understanding

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

On July 21, the team at Wild Birds Unlimited on Hilton Head Island will be welcoming some special guests for a visit with their friends and customers. Lowcountry Raptors, a 501©(3) that promotes awareness and fosters a connection between people and birds of prey, travels from their headquarters in Ruffin, South Carolina to Sean Dennis and Julia Woodcock Dennis’s shop, offering the opportunity to get up-close and personal with an array of owls and other raptors.

Just one of many unique events, offerings and activities hosted at this fully-outfitted retail birding store, the Raptors’ time at Wild Birds Unlimited expands on the shop’s mission to connect customers and guests with the birds who share nature here in the Lowcountry. The Lowcountry Raptors visit offers a chance to look into the knowing eyes of an owl, watch hawks and raptors interact with the knowledgeable, volunteers and staff, and listen to facts and stories about the organization’s efforts and the birds they help.

Raptor Review
Digger is a Burrowing Owl who hails from the Great Basin Wildlife Rescue Center in Mapleton, Utah. He was found in a roadway after being hit by a vehicle. Digger had a pin surgically inserted into his wing, and once it was removed, he could no longer fly. This tiny owl is also blind in one eye, which keeps him from hunting successfully.

“The Lowcountry Raptors events provide a unique opportunity for people to see hawks, owls, vultures and other raptors up close and learn more about their physical characteristics, abilities, and personalities,” Julia said. “We see hawks and vultures in the air fairly frequently here in Beaufort County, but owls are nocturnal and less common. People’s lives are enriched when they gain a greater appreciation and understanding of the natural world and the ecosystem we all share. And with that comes, we hope, a better understanding of the impact of our activities on birds and wildlife, and what it means to be good stewards of the environment.” The raptor events generate donations for Lowcountry Raptors and introduce new customers to the store.

Customers have described Wild Birds Unlimited as their happy place and their home away from home. The shop’s team welcomes seasoned birders and appreciates the opportunity to help newbies find their comfort zone when it comes to purchasing feeders, food, accessories, and gifts. Their selection of all things birding is expansive, and whether customers are looking for some advice, or know exactly what they need, the options are plentiful, and then some.

“I never realized how happy a store like ours can make people,” Julia said. “We love being involved in something that can be such a meaningful part of people’s lives. Birds are important to people, and people really enjoy shopping for them. It’s nice to be a part of something that can bring so many people so much joy.” Ferris, the shop cat, has become a special fixture at the store as well. On August 8, Wild Birds Unlimited will be celebrating his birthday with a Hilton Head Humane adoption event and party, including a donation drive for pet items and a raffle for participants.

Despite the rain, a large crowd gathered early on a Friday morning in March to accompany the Wild Birds staff for birding at Jarvis Creek.

Offering an excellent way to expand understanding of the birding world, Wild Birds Unlimited hosted their Birding for Beginners bird walks through the end of May. On hiatus during the summer, the walks will start up again in early fall. Over the course of several walks, Master Naturalist Bob Speare has led over 200 people on guided experiences through Jarvis Creek Park. The walks included learning identifying techniques, and discussions about field guides and birding Apps. Speare shares the bird-calling technique of “pishing in the woods” … where watchers make a call that sounds like “pish, pish, pish,” which attracts birds to come and see what’s happening. It sounds a bit silly, but it really works. He also shares first-hand knowledge about the best binoculars to use and how to adjust them for great birdwatching experiences.

Having joined one of their walks in April, I was captivated. It was fascinating listening to Speare make several extremely accurate bird calls that all actually attracted the birds he was calling; hearing him describe the wing position of a bird that was rather far away, and identifying that bird based on this knowledge; and watching him pull his well-worn copy of Sibley’s Guide to Birds from his back pocket and quickly finding the page he was looking for to help impart a bit of knowledge about a particularly unusual sighting. On average, participants see 23 different species of birds on each walk, with some walkers seeing 30 or more kinds. Wild Birds Unlimited is excited to be adding a new bird walk in the fall: a nighttime “Owl Prowl,” and plans are set, with reservations and deposits being taken, for a September 2019 birding expedition to Costa Rica with Carlos Chacon of EcoAdventures, LLC.

“The guided bird walks introduce people to the joy of birding, and to the panorama waiting for them in their own backyard,” Julia said. “The walks have also ended up being a community-builder—a way for people to meet others who enjoy birds and nature. Like the raptor events, the bird walks foster a greater appreciation of birds. If you feed the birds in your backyard, you’ll get even more chances to watch them and get to know their behaviors. And of course, we do know some good folks who sell only the best bird seed, feeders and other bird-related garden accessories.”

Developing a love for all-things birds, the Dennis’ can identify a couple of birds they find particularly captivating. “I have trouble naming a favorite,” Sean said. “Red-bellied Woodpeckers are fun and quirky. Brown-headed Nuthatches are cute and very social. And Anhingas are plain ol’ funky.”

The Wild Birds Unlimited crew (Owners Sean & Julia Dennis, Aaron Palmieri and Ashley Ashton) with their mascot, Ferris the Formerly Feral Kitty.

“I think most bird folks will say that it depends on the day you ask,” Julia said. “I have always loved owls, but I also really like the Brown-headed Nuthatches. They seem to have a sense of humor and are very athletic and active.”

With their marks settling in the branches above or taking to the sky, bird enthusiasts find Wild Birds Unlimited to be a dynamic epicenter of activity for their passion, whether in their own backyards or in more wild climes. Everything, and everybody, is looking up.

Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 45 Pembroke Drive, Suite 130, Hilton Head Island. For more information, please call (843) 802-2010, find them on Facebook, or visit wbu.com/hiltonhead

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