By Ward Degler
When Ted Stowe was 5 years old, he wanted nothing more than to set up bird feeders in his backyard and watch the birds.
“I realized that was a weird interest for a little kid, but even then, I was passionate about birds,” Stowe said.
Even though his early interest was sparked by an allergy to the sun that kept him inside much of the time, his love of birds created a path for a full-time occupation. His company, Custom Backyard Birding Solutions, focuses on just about everything to do with birds.
Stowe, 42, provides equipment, feeders, birdhouses and assorted seed mixtures designed to attract and nurture the broadest possible variety of birds. He also services birdhouses and feeders for a growing number of clients in central Indiana and works with new clients to help them get started with their own backyard birding programs.
His early interest in birds was supported by an older brother who worked part time at a nature store and brought home catalogs and magazine articles about birds.
“We had a lot of birds at our home,” Stowe said. “And at one time, we even had a snowy owl in our backyard. Bird lovers used to come just to see it.”
Stowe’s interests were not limited to birds, and his pursuits have taken him on a circuitous route to where he is today.
“I developed a love for history in school,” Stowe said. “I was fascinated by the story of our country, and I even memorized the names of all of our presidents.”
In college, he decided to become a teacher and pursued a history major with a minor in political science. While working toward his master’s degree in elementary education, he took additional courses in special education. After graduating, he spent two years working 1-on-1 with special needs children.
“I liked the idea of helping others,” Stowe said. “And working with autistic youngsters and with those with Asperger syndrome was deeply rewarding.”
While working as a special needs teacher, Stowe recognized a strong mental health link with birds and nature. He said a number of studies show bird watching lowers stress, anxiety and depression. A program sponsored by the University of Michigan determined that spending just one hour outside improved memory performance and attention span as much as 20 percent. An elementary school teacher in Vermont established a weekly “forest day” for her students and noticed a dramatic increase in developmental skills. Her success has led a number of other schools to initiate “forest days” for their students.
“I try to share as much of this information as possible with my clients,” Stowe said. “Being involved with birds really does improve mental health. Bird feeding offers people an opportunity to reset. I often see people walking around, looking down at their cellphones, and we know this can create anxiety.
“I’m here to provide a service that helps alleviate that stress and increase happiness.”
To keep on top of the latest trends in birding, he enrolls in online ornithology courses through Cornell University.
Stowe said his business has skyrocketed during the pandemic.
“People confined to their homes for weeks on end have found pleasure in feeding and watching birds,” Stowe said.
He offers a variety of different seed combinations to attract various species to the feeders.
“A lot of birds are seasonal, and the right kind of feed can bring them to our backyards while they are in the area,” Stowe said.
One example is Baltimore orioles, which winter in Central America and spend a few weeks in the Midwest during the spring on their way to mating and nesting areas in the north. Stowe’s oriole feeders are bright orange with pegs to hold orange slices and small trays for grape jelly, which the birds find irresistible.
Other birds Stowe’s feeders attract include cedar waxwings, grosbeaks, warblers, finches, flickers, catbirds and woodpeckers. He also has special bluebird houses that he places in strategic spots in clients’ yards.
“Bluebirds are finicky,” Stowe said. “The house has to face in the right direction and needs to be in an open area before the female will nest.”
Stowe lives in Zionsville with his wife, Katie, and their 11-year-old son, Dylan. He says that while he enjoyed teaching and working with special needs children, getting people involved with birds is about as good as life can get.
Learn more at custombackyardbirdingsolutions.com.