Regional Specialty Stores for Wildlife Watchers

(This column was first published in the December 15, 1997 Buffalo News.)

    The 1996 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation offers insights into the pervasive character of these outdoor activities. Indeed, nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults participated in one or more of these wildlife related pursuits. And they spent billions of dollars while doing it.

    It is interesting to compare the three categories considered in this Fish and Wildlife Service report. It records 35 million anglers spending $38 billion, 14 million hunters spending $21 billion, and 63 million wildlife watchers spending $29 billion. According to the reporters, that category "wildlife watchers" includes those who "observe, feed and photograph wildlife." Although hunters, who spent about $1470 apiece, and anglers, who spent $1070, clearly have the deepest pockets; those wildlife watchers contributed as well. They spent about $460 each.

    Last year I wrote about two Amherst nature stores that respond to this special area of wildlife watching: Robbyn and Shiela Drake's Squire Books and Crafts in the Port of Entry complex at 270 Campbell Boulevard and Bill and Ellen Beamer's Wild Birds Unlimited in the Premier Plaza at 7900 Transit Road. Those stores continue to offer nature related products.

    This year two other stores compete in this same marketing category. They too offer a range of items that should be of interest to wildlife watchers.

    Ed Fuchs operates The Wild Bird Shoppe in the Sheridan-Hills Plaza on Sheridan Drive, also in Amherst. (This town is clearly the regional center of gravity for this type of store.) Ed has been for several years the refuge committee chair of the Buffalo Audubon Society and he is a member of the Buffalo Ornithological Society and the Niagara Frontier Botanical Society. Last spring we shared a program as speakers for the Adirondack Mountain Club. His background and interests well qualify him for this new endeavor as many of the customers who shop in these stores need guidance in choosing the most appropriate bird feeder or reference book. His store is well stocked with these items as well as bird houses, binoculars, and decorative pieces. He has bird food in small packages as well as bulk containers.

    Ed also operates a national mail order business which gives him quick access to books in a wide range of natural history fields.

    Without question the most enthusiastic store owner in this area is Marilyn Peccoraro-O'Connell who, with her husband Tom, operates another Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in Hamburg. Their store, which just opened October 1st, is at 3835 McKinley Avenue just south of the McKinley Mall. The O'Connells' personal affiliation is with the Erie Bird Club in Fredonia but they too are both well known and highly regarded by Buffalo birders.

    The O'Connells enjoy one advantage over all the other regional stores: half of one wall is a picture window through which shoppers can observe birds feeding in a wooded grove at the same kind of feeders that are for sale. The day I was there a several goldfinches perched at a thistle feeder, a downy woodpecker worked feverishly at a suet block and frustrated squirrels picked up cast-off seeds from the ground below. Marilyn said that they had not requested the window and were concerned at first by the display space lost to it. Now she realizes its great value.  She also told me about a fierce Cooper's hawk that swooped in to pick off a squirrel to the amazement of a store full of customers.

    These stores provide another useful resource for our community of naturalists. For many of us they will also answer those last minute holiday gift choices.