After leaving the oil and gas industry 20 years ago, Mario Burrull and his wife, Laura, decided to turn their hobby into a career by purchasing Wild Birds Unlimited in Oak Ridge North.
Wild Birds Unlimited is a franchise nature shop with more than 300 locations nationwide. The store specializes in backyard bird feeding for wild birds in addition to making backyards wildlife-friendly with birdhouses, bird baths, bird feeders, squirrel feeders and bat houses.
“Education and teaching people to respect wildlife are our main purposes, and we really love what we do,” Burrull said. “Our motto is that ‘We bring people and nature together,’ and that’s basically our niche in the community—there really isn’t any other shop like this in the area.”
The store’s most popular item is its birdseed, of which Burrull said the store regularly sells about 3 to 4 tons per week depending upon migration patterns. The shop carries various flavors and blends to cater to a variety of bird species.
“Our suppliers have to meet certain specifications for the seed we carry—it has to be 99.8 percent edible, meaning there are no fillers,” Burrull said. “That’s what really distinguishes us from the big-box stores because our seed is not only fresh because we get deliveries every week, but it also has no fillers. Because of that, we have a lot of customers who refuse to buy birdseed anywhere else.”
The shop also sells nature-related gift items, such as wind chimes, rain gauges, thermometers and garden accents.
Burrull and his staff—all self-proclaimed “bird nerds”—are also heavily involved in the community. Employees lead bird walks through the new ExxonMobil campus in Spring several times throughout the year and do bird talks at garden clubs, senior living facilities and local schools.
In addition, Burrull taught continuing education courses at Lone Star College System, sharing his love for wildlife.
“A few years ago, we teamed up with The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. and set up a bluebird trail, which is a series of houses to attract bluebirds,” he said, referring to The Woodlands GrassRoots Environmental Education Network. “They were at one time endangered and were suffering because they didn’t have enough houses, so we set that up with permission from The Woodlands Development [Company] and that worked out pretty well.”
Burrull and his staff have also taken customers to visit the bald eagle nests in The Woodlands and have compiled a library of photos both staff and customers have taken of their respective backyard wildlife.
Burrull said some of the future plans for the store include starting a home delivery service and possibly expanding the store to include more gift items.
“I’ve always loved nature, and I love talking to the customers and sharing stories and photos of birds—that’s what I love most about this job,” he said. “We know most of our customers by name, and when a customer comes into the store, I want him to come in happy and leave even happier.”