Moving Water

Moving Water Attracts Birds and Customers

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

ALTHOUGH BIRDWATCHERS NATURE VIEW IS LOCATED ON MAIN STREET in Wakefield, Rhode Island you don't enter from this busy commercial street. The entrance is around the corner in the back of the building.  After you park your car and head toward the main entrance you realize that this is not the typical bird supply store. Between you and the door sits a large (8 ft x 22ft) pond skillfully lined with thriving water plants and native plants, alive with fish, frogs, dragonflies and other pond life. The sounds and splashes from a 3 1/2 foot waterfall draw in local birds. Nectar-rich plants lure squadrons of hummingbirds and butterflies. In order to enter the store you cross a small bridge spanning the pond. The naturalness of the pond represents the transition zone from the hectic everyday world to a more peaceful one inside.

After passing over the pond and entering the store you are fully aware that this is not the usual retail store in a typical strip mall. Inside you see all the familiar elements you expect in a birding store (feeders, houses, seed, baths, hardware) but also much that is unexpected. Products are displayed in clever and attractive ways with excellent signage. Phil Owen, owner, and his staff are not only friendly but also truly enjoy what they do. The aroma of freshly brewed shade-grown coffee is inviting. Customers react like they are visiting old friends. They chat at length with staff about the latest news and their backyard birds. Re-circulating baths and dripping water add a relaxing natural background sound. But the store pond is the standout water feature.

Phil Owen installed the pond for multiple reasons. First, he frequently preaches to his customers about the 3 basic elements that birds require - food, shelter and water. Just food and shelter are not enough. Birds definitely need them. But they also need water, daily, for drinking and bathing. Not all birds eat seed so the non-seed eaters won't be attracted to even the finest seed in your feeder. But all birds need water, even the non-seed eating ones. Water can attract the largest variety of birds in your yard. Owen has always been a proponent of traditional bird baths. However, once he built a small pond in his own backyard he experienced the value of moving water firsthand. "It was amazing. Like a magnet. The birds loved it." When he had the chance to purchase commercial property and relocate his 5-year old business he jumped at the opportunity. And one of his first steps was to install the store pond at his new location. 

Its uniqueness and natural beauty sparked many customer comments which naturally led to a discussion of the importance of water for birds. As a result the sales of traditional baths increased. In warmer weather Owen scatters baths around the periphery of the pond. Soothing sounds and spreading ripples from the waterfall attract local birds in swarms creating a first-hand advertisement for moving water. Faced with the choice of drinking from a stagnant puddle or from a fresh flowing stream which do you think a bird will choose? Moving water is their obvious favorite. A sign near the pond reading "Don't Look. Birds Bathing" reminds customers of the importance of water. As a result, the sale of devices that attach to traditional baths (drippers, misters, and re-circulating pumps) increased.

Occasionally, a customer would say "Boy, would I love to have a pond like that." Owen heard such comments often enough to recognize a potential customer need - the design and installation of custom ponds. He felt it was definitely a business opportunity, a natural extension to bird baths. But one demanding a much different set of skills than the birding business. You need knowledge of landscaping, plants, masonry, electrical and plumbing skills, municipal ordnances as well as special equipment and available labor. Owen gained knowledge via on-the-job training and by attending seminars and workshops conducted by pond equipment vendors. But eventually he partnered with a suitable friend and entered the business of design and installation of ponds.

The custom pond business was brisk during the economic boom times. The cost of an individual pond installation could run to $50,000 or more. But when the economy soured, discretionary spending for new custom-designed ponds dried up. So Owen no longer focuses on new ponds. Rather he has now redirected his pond business to focus on resurrecting older and poorly designed ponds. Customers can easily improve their existing pond with minimum outlays and still achieve improved results.

Owen also feels enthusiastic about another current trend - "pond-less waterfall systems", such as those from Aquascapes, Inc. They provide the same moving water features but without the need for a large open pond. Pond-less systems are easier to install, require less space in the yard, are cheaper to operate, and require much less on-going maintenance. You get the same benefits that traditional ponds provide but with a substantially smaller investment. It is an easier sale than a large custom pond. In addition, pond-less systems provide the same magnetic attraction for backyard birds. Despite the slowdown in large custom pond building, the pond business still represents a significant portion of his overall business.

Birdwatchers Nature View is still primarily a birding store. Seed, feeders, houses, everything you need for your backyard birds you can find there. But Phil Owen still truly believes in his basic mantra of "Food. Shelter. Water." So water products will always be a part of his business.

Birdwatchers Nature View
484 Main Street, Wakefield, RI 02879
Phil Owen, owner
(401) 789 - 8020 _ (800) 270 - 8020