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A Q&A with Kate Furtaw, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing

What is Wild Birds Unlimited? 

WBU is a backyard-bird-feeding store and hobby shop. There are over 350 locations in the U.S. and Canada. All stores are independently owned and operated. 

When did you purchase the business? 

I purchased the business in February 2021. I had been a customer of this store for several years when I heard it was for sale. It felt like a great opportunity to try something new. The more research I did, the more it felt like a perfect fit. 

Did backyard bird-watching gain in popularity due to the pandemic as people found themselves at home? 

Definitely. Many people set up feeding stations outside their windows while working from home. Since many people weren’t traveling as much, people were enjoying their own yards more. 

What is the joy people get in bird-watching? 

I think it is a nice way to connect with nature and something outside of ourselves. It feels good to set up a feeder and quickly have birds coming to your own yard. 

How can people attract birds to their feeders while keeping unwanted ones (as well as other critters) away? 

By serving high-quality seed. All of the food in our store is considered no-waste, meaning it contains no filler seed such as milo or wheat. If you want to keep critters away, you can add a baffle, which would block anything from climbing up the pole, or add a cage around your feeder to block access. Another option would be to serve food that the critters would not like. For instance, the squirrels and blackbirds do not like safflower. Another option is to serve a food treated with hot pepper, which will detract the mammals. 

Everyone needs a supervillain. Are squirrels the nemesis of your business? 

I think people are pretty divided on their opinion of squirrels. We have many customers who try very hard to avoid feeding them, and we have other customers who buy special feeders and food just for the squirrels.  

What is the best part of your job? 

Without a doubt, the best part of my job is the people — my staff and the customers. I have an amazing staff that I love working with. The customers are incredible. We know most of our customers by name and enjoy getting to know them and their families. People come into the shop excited to tell us about their feeders and the birds they are seeing. 

Wild Birds Unlimited is located at 2200 Coolidge Road in East Lansing.