As pretty as some birdhouses go, the ones that make Mike Dessert cuckoo are those outfitted with a tiny stick poking out of the front.
“If you ever see a birdhouse that has a perch, it’s not a real birdhouse,” Dessert said. “You don’t find perches around cavity holes in the wild. There’s a reason for that. It’s so predatory birds don’t eat the young birds.
“If you see a perch outside, it’s a decorative.”
Dessert is a retired shipyard worker who takes his part-time job at the Whidbey Wild Bird store seriously.
Well, sort of. He said he works one day a week for the employee discount he gets to feed his “seed habit.”
He also finds sharing his bird knowledge to be quite fun.
“I was supposed to be here three weeks,” he said. “I’ve been at it three years.”
Dessert even precedes the store’s owners, Bob and Claudia Olson, who purchased the business on Pioneer Way from Phil and Lydia Sikes two years ago.
The Olsons, Dessert and Connie Kemp make up the knowledge base that offers bird lovers and other nature enthusiasts on North Whidbey a place to gain insight, buy seed or shop around for field guides, feeder, or other accessories for wild birds or other outdoor creatures.
“Our interest in the bird store goes back about 35 years,” Bob Olson said. “We were very interested at one time in purchasing the Wild Birds Unlimited franchise down in Clinton from the original franchise owners. We wanted to move it up to Oak Harbor.
“I was still active duty Navy at the time and was thinking about getting out because I was approaching 20 years.”
But deeper financial considerations and “a set of orders to Japan” tabled that dream for another day. It turned out, that opportunity arrived more than three decades later when a store that catered to wild birds in Oak Harbor went up for sale and the Olsons dreams of a bird business took flight.
“I’ve always been interested in nature and natural things,” Claudia said, “even when I was a little girl.”
According to a 2011 survey released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, about 46.7 million people in the United States observed birds at home or on trips. The large majority, 41.3 million, stayed home to watch them.
“I think we both find watching the birds to be soothing and just relaxing,” Bob Olson said. “Here are creatures that God created that have no real care in the world. They provide pleasure and calmness if you will.”
With birdwatching by far the most popular form of recreational wildlife viewing, it’s little surprise to Olson that birdseed is his biggest seller.
But not just any birdseed.
“Seed has always been the big thing,” Olson said. “We try to provide very best and highest quality seed we can. Our blends are such that the birds are going to eat most of it with a minimum amount of wastage. There’s always going to be some.”
Olson sells specialty blends but all of his mixes steer clear of two particular types of seed: Milo and red millet.
“There are three different types of millets,” Olson said. “There’s red millet, white millet and yellow millet. The birds in the Pacific Northwest will eat the white and the yellow. They don’t like the red, and they don’t like the milo. They won’t eat it. None of my blends have red millet or milo in them.”
Olson, known for his gift of gab, can spew out all sorts of bird facts. He used to work in pest control after retiring from the Navy so knows a thing or two about insects, rodents, bats and squirrels, too.
But birds are the prize attraction for the Olsons, who’ve been married for 42 years after meeting on a blind date.
It is now their mission to learn as much as they can about them and share facts and stories.
“I learned the Anna’s hummingbird is resident year-round here,” Olson said, “and the Rufous hummingbird is migratory, is here from about the Ides of March and leaves late August. The Rufous can be very territorial and aggressive toward its feeder, the Anna’s not so much.”
There are feeders aplenty in the store, along with optics, books, wind chimes, kites, games, puzzles, decorative yard art, hangers, hooks and other accessories.
In the store, a CD plays with birds calling.
“I love hearing the birds,” Olson said. “Whether you see them or not, I just love hearing them.”