St, Paul, Minn. The bird-feeding enthusiasts have gotten younger at the Cardinal Corner bird-supply store in West St. Paul.
"Years ago, it was all older people," says co-owner Le Braun. "Now, we get every age, from people with tiny kids to singles in their 20s."
That's not all that has changed.
"When we first started our business 15 years ago, we couldn't find many unique feeders," says co-owner Pam Kaufenberg. "Everyone carried the same kind. We couldn't find any bird gift items, either."
Now, besides a variety of bird feeders, birdhouses and bird food, the store is full of gift items like china with birds painted on it, stationery with birds flying across the pages and fragile bird figurines.
Perhaps that's because bird-watching experts point to the oft-quoted national statistic that while gardening might be America's No. 1 hobby, bird-watching is No. 2.
"It's part of the whole cocooning thing in the last six or seven years," says Anne Schmass, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in St. Paul. "People are staying at home, so the same thing that is happening in the gardening industry is happening in the bird-feeding industry.
"I think watching birds makes people feel connected to outdoors and nature; it makes them feel as if they're out in the woods a little bit," Schmass says. "A lot of birds are really beautiful and interesting to watch. You can set up an unpredictable show right outside your window."
The options for attracting that bird show continue to grow. They include:
Copper and glass. The most fashionable bird today hangs out on copper bird feeders, birdbaths and birdhouses.
"More and more, you'll see copper," Kaufenberg says. "I think it's because people want them not only to be functional, but decorative in their gardens."
That also goes for hummingbird feeders, which often are so intricately made that they look like handblown glass ornaments for the Christmas tree.
Squirrels. Bird-feeding fanatics are continually battling to keep squirrels away from their bird feeders. The latest gizmo on the market is the Yankee Flipper, a battery-operated feeder that has a weight-activated feeding perch. When a squirrel steps up to eat, the feeder's motor makes the perch spin and the squirrel is flipped off the feeder. The contraption is causing a lot of excitement.
"It's the only one I'll deem as squirrel-proof," says Brant Rooney, owner of the Bird House Too in Woodbury, Minn. "Nothing else I've seen in 11 years in the business comes this close to baffling the squirrel."
Specialty feeders. With the rising interest in bird-watching, backyard enthusiasts have grown more inclined to invest in specialty feeders, such as those for orioles that cater to their likings for oranges and jelly; suet feeders that welcome woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches; or in-shell peanut feeders that blue jays enjoy.
"The Jail" feeder, which houses mealworms, a protein-rich bird snack that is growing in popularity at local bird supply shops.
"Mealworms are the hottest bird food in the country," says Dave Ahlgren, whose wholesale company, Ahlgren Construction, makes 87 different kinds of birdhouses and feeders. "Every bird in the world loves mealworms."