Most pet stores you go to, if they have birds at all, just have a couple. A cockatiel or two, maybe a parrot or a canary.
But the minute you walk into Birdville, you're aware that this is no ordinary pet store. Instead of just having a bird or two, they just have birds — dozens of birds. It takes a second for your ears to adjust, to pick out all of the individual songs and chirps from the chorus that greets you, but when you do, it's an experience.
It's also an experience 20 years in the making. That's when Birdville owner Becky Ladson started working at a Pet Connection store. Already interested in birds, she slowly convinced the owner to bring in and offer more birds. With each new one, Ladson found herself researching the bird's species, figuring out how best to approach and feed each bird.
After she moved to Valdosta and started working for Panhandle Pet Supply, Ladson's interest in birds grew as she branched out Panhandle's bird section, eventually even offering door-to-door grooming services.
All of this experience came together in 2011 when she opened the first Birdville in Tifton.
“It did okay, but it was a little hidden. I literally had to walk out to the street with my phone and wave people down.”
Now, she's moved Birdville to Valdosta, into the Perimeter Oaks Shopping Center, diagonally across from the Wal-Mart on Inner Perimeter Road.
“Summertime is usually the slow time, but business has been good. We've got a lot of support from the community. Valdosta is great.”
Ladson partly credits the store's early success to her loyal customers. Even when she was located in Tifton, Ladson still did door-to-door grooming for some of her customers in Valdosta. When she moved Birdville to Valdosta, her regular Valdosta customers were that much closer.
Her new location also pulls traffic in from people who have stopped at Pizza Quick for a pizza, at Sally’s Beauty Supplies or for a haircut at Smartstyle Salon.
Birdville also benefits from being a specialty store. By narrowly focusing just on birds and bird accessories, Birdville is able to offer many different species of birds: macaws, amazons, love birds, canaries, even an African Grey.
And since each species (and in some cases, each bird) has a different personality, there's something for everyone, whether they want a playful bird or one who's more relaxed, a talker or one who is more quiet.
“You can talk to your dog or your cat, but they're never going to talk to you. Some of these birds can almost carry on a conversation with you.”
In addition to words, some birds can pick up on accents and speech patterns, expertly mimicking what they hear.
Walking through the store, almost all of the birds in Birdville are comfortable with humans, no doubt due in part to Ladson's hand raising all of the ones she can, like the cockatiels and parakeets she breeds with the aid of an aviary at her home. Raising them by hand makes them more comfortable with humans. The open layout of the store also helps. Birds are either kept in cages with open views, on perches, or in open boxes with see-through walls. This way, they're all constantly interacting with humans, becoming familiar with them being around.
Taking care of a bird isn't quite like taking care of a cat or dog; as such, Ladson is careful about selling a high-maintenance bird to someone who has never taken care of one before.
Along with birds and bird accessories, Birdville also offers grooming, boarding and DNA testing to determine the gender of a bird.
Throughout all of her years working with birds, Ladson never tires of them. Even now, running a bird store, she still makes times to do bird rescue in the area.
“I can't leave a bird in a bad situation. If there's a bird that needs rescuing, we will try to find a way.”