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Saving the birds, one yard at a time: Store owners set out to help reverse habitat loss

By Taylor Thompson

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — A local Asheville store is working to save the North American bird population one yard at a time — that store is Wild Birds Unlimited in South Asheville.

Saving the birds, one yard at a time: Store owners set out to help reverse habitat loss

Wild Birds Unlimited Incorporated partnered with the National Wildlife Federation after studies showed that the bird population had decreased by almost 3 billion. That decrease was due to habitat loss.

In an effort to reverse that, over 350 Wild Birds locations have been working to certify yards as a haven for wildlife.

Mark and Jennifer Waligora are the owners of Wild Birds Unlimited in South Asheville. While they’ve only owned the store for a year, the love they have for birds began long ago.

Mark said he believed that there’s a mental health aspect of feeding the birds that can be very calm and relaxing. He began working at the store and then when it was put up for sale, he believed it was a sign.

“I really started seeing just the joy it brought me and the joy that it brings our customers,” he said. “And I said, well I’ve got to be involved in this.”

Since the decision to take over the store, both Mark and Jennifer have been working to spread the message of reversing habitat loss.

Jennifer explained how the wildlife federation has a program that encourages people to certify their yards by creating habitats.

Wild Birds Unlimited Incorporated partnered with the NWF back in 2019; since Mark and Jennifer have taken ownership of this location, they’ve been working to build the program’s popularity in Asheville.

“We’re just kind of a small part doing what we can in our own community,” expressed Jennifer.

To begin the process of certification, people can head over to Wild Birds in South Asheville or go online to fill out the form.

The form walks you through what in your yard needs to be checked off to become a certified habitat.

The list includes five different actions that the NWF asks for prior to your yard becoming certified. Those five actions include food, water, cover, a place to raise their young and sustainability.

Mark explained that people don’t have to meet every requirement on the list, but they do have to meet a certain amount.

One of the most important actions is sustainability, as Mark explained, means for people to stop using pesticides and fertilizers and go back to more of a natural landscape.

A yard can be any type of green space and once that space is approved it becomes officially certified as a wildlife haven.

Mark expressed that the more people who get certified the faster we can begin to reverse the trend of decreasing population.

“By us doing this, certifying the yards, creating habitats, providing foods, spaces like that, the scientists have said that we can reverse this trend very quickly,” he said.

He added that the amount of people working to certify their yard in Asheville is growing daily. His hope is to have everyone involved throughout the entire city of Asheville and all of its surrounding cities.

Their goal is to bring people and nature together.

Jennifer explained that it’s taken them the last year to get settled in their ownership and that they’re now looking to partner with businesses to not only help with this program but to also bring the joy of bird feeding to as many people as possible.

Anyone who certifies their yard is asked to bring their certification into the South Asheville store to be added to the hero’s board.

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