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April 2012
The Bird Whisperer
By Zenda Douglas

     David Krol lives and works in an unusual arena—communing with birds as equals—attesting to their intelligence and wide range of feelings, and anticipating their every need. Birds are sometimes happy, sometimes sad, have growls and giggles, get scared and even dream when they are asleep, according to Krol who has spent most of his life caring for, and learning about, the creatures of flight.

     “Being in the company of birds is really a transformation of understanding,” says Krol. “You begin to see the complexity of their thoughts and emotions. They can’t build computers or place a phone call but they can demonstrate affection, play politics and learn through cognitive reasoning.”

     Krol says that this love, respect and commitment to birds built the foundation on which his company, Birds-I-View, stands and grows. Started in 1989, the company manufactures and sells custom furniture-style glass-enclosed bird aviaries. However, the lion’s share of their business involves service agreements whereby the company places the aviary, complete with Australian Lady Gouldians (a colorful and endangered species of finches), with the client and returns regularly to care for the birds and maintain the structure.

     Among Birds-I-View’s 400-plus clients are hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, libraries, insurance offices, funeral homes, preschools, churches, dental offices and bed and breakfast inns. Service agreements are thus far available in North and South Carolina.

     “Remember, we do weekly service so we have to be at a reasonable distance from our clients. If we have an injured bird or if one is hatching out, we have to be able to get there and take care of it, if need be” explains Krol.

     Birds-I-View also rescues injured birds or birds who can no longer be cared for by their owners. Thus far Krol has resisted having formal office space and a showroom for his birds and the aviaries, preferring to meet on-site with each customer.

     “I’ve never wanted to develop a pet store mentality,” he says. “Time we would spend on retail would take away from time spent with the birds.” Krol maintains that by going on-site, it takes business back to old-fashioned ways of connecting with people.

     Smiling, he adds, “I run this business like my grandmother would have wanted me to run it.”

     Indeed, Krol’s business goes along without formal contracts. “Your word and a handshake will do it,” says Krol. Also unusual is Birds-I-View pricing. “We have clients that have been with us since the beginning in 1989. A client pays the rate they start out at for as long as they are clients.”

     The current price of a service agreement is $229 per month. The aviary and birds are provided free of charge under the service agreement.

     “I worry so little about the money,” says Krol. “If we do our job well, money won’t be an issue. Our priorities are always: birds first, customer second and cash register last.”

     Goals for the upcoming year include placing an additional 15 to 20 aviaries per month. Krol says that Birds-I-View was not significantly impacted by the recession, probably because it offers customers a luxury that is also a great value.

 

A Bird, Bird World

     The Australian Lady Gouldian is indigenous to Australia. They are illegal to import and have been on the endangered species list since 1992. There are only about 2,500 of them in the wild. Krol’s stock of birds comes from breeding birds they have placed across the two states.

     “Our birds are reproducing in the client environment which is an added bonus for our customers,” says Krol. “They enjoy the babies being born, hearing them chirp for the first time, see them poke their little heads out of the nests and they feel good that we are all helping to proliferate a species.”

     “The well-being of the bird is the main consideration in designing the aviaries; aesthetics were designed around those things,” says Krol. The structures are made from quality hardwoods and double-paned glass and have mechanisms for smooth access for care and maintenance. Furnishings include a food and water station, bath, comfortable grass finch nests and perches made from hickory branches. Silk ivies adorn the top corners. The floor is covered with kiln-fired wood chip litter. Daytime lighting emanates from a 6500K spectrum bulb. A green 100-watt floodlight gives off a soft hue 24 hours a day. The aviaries are very aesthetically pleasing pieces of furniture that compliment any décor.

     Birds-I-View birds eat not only what they like, but what they need. Their high-variety diet includes fruits and vegetables, seeds, grains and freeze-dried proteins.

     “Birds need living food. We take the bird seed and lay it out on a damp sponge. If it grows, we know we have good food,” says Krol. Minerals and millet sprays are placed in the aviaries for additional nourishment. The water is treated with a man-made chlorine solution which is safe for the birds and keeps the water bacteria-free.

     “I am on call every minute of the day and night—no matter what,” says Krol who responds quickly in the unlikely event an emergency should arise.

     Krol and his staff hand-feed the babies. “The little ones imprint upon you and understand that you are where the food—and the love—comes from. They make an emotional attachment and really don’t know they are birds.”

 

Bird People

     Birds-I-View employs seven people. Three are in full-time service positions; the remainder in sales, caretaking or manufacturing. “We’re very careful about who we hire,” says Krol, who adds that he prefers to hire individuals with no former experience and train them from the ground up.

     “It’s essential to have people who truly respect these little birds for the individuals they are,” he points out. It can’t be a job; employees have to be passionate.”

      Terry Genevive came on board five years ago and has become a full partner in the company. According to Krol, her role is key to daily operations and the research and development of future projects.

     Krol got his first bird when he was seven years old. A native Charlottean, he purchased the parakeet from the Park Road pet shop.

     “As far back as I can remember, I was exposed to birds,” says Krol, who remembers drawing birds as a very young child. In his mid-20s he started thinking about the concept of Birds-I-View. Krol, then a musician, worked in a pet store and saved money to build prototypes for his aviaries. With no formal training, he started out with only the pure love of birds—and he learned.

     “As the years have gone by, I have worked hand-in-hand with local veterinarians and the folks at N.C. State University Veterinary School.” Krol’s first customer was a friend who wanted to buy an aviary as a gift. His wife worked for a nursing home which signed up for a service contract. “We never looked back,” he smiles.

     Krol is most often found looking up—both figuratively and literally: “I discovered that I have a natural affinity for anything that flies. I got a pilot’s license and love astronomy. Naturally I would gravitate towards birds.”

     Living on a large chunk of land in the countryside near Waxhaw, Krol is surrounded by numerous birds—parrots, parakeets, cockatiels and others. When weather permits, he brings them all outside to sit on the tree stumps, picnic, bask in the sun and even take baths under the mist of the garden hose. The pet menagerie at home also includes dogs, cats and fish; some of them foster pets. Only the finches and the fish must remain indoors.

     “Everybody gets along great!” says Krol.

 

For the Birds

     Birds-I-View continues to pursue planned, steady growth. “We have to be careful not to grow too fast,” says Krol. “We’re not the type of business that can be easily replicated. Our product is unique and our people are very special.”

     Meanwhile, Krol and Genevive have been diligently working on a different kind of expansion—one they hope will provide opportunity for many thousands of people to enjoy viewing and experiencing birds of the world. The partners have spent the past two-plus years researching and designing a 150-acre bird park they refer to as the Aviary Project.

     “This is huge!” says Krol, excitedly. “It will be like Sea World, but with birds—right here in Charlotte!”

     Local architect Steven Overcash, of Charlotte’s Overcash-Demmitt Architects, has designed plans for multiple buildings and land use. Visitors will enter through a grand atrium for birds featuring marble floors, light permeable ceilings, air conditioning and an upscale atmosphere, according to Krol.

     “Visitors can walk right out of that building and into one of three others, each the size of football fields and about five stories high. These will be our continent-specific buildings—one for Australia, one for Africa and one for South America, the three continents where most of the world’s birds come from,” describes Krol.

     The new bird park will present nearly 1,000 species including many different kinds of macaws, parrots, parakeets, cockatiels and finches. People are drawn to color, according to Krol who says the park will offer a big color palate. Habitats for penguins, hummingbirds, nocturnals and raptors are also planned.

     “When somebody comes to the bird park at 10 a.m. and leaves in the evening, they will feel like they have seen every bird in the world,” says Krol.

     A $200 million price tag is attached to building the park, a figure that Krol calls “real.” Krol and Genevive are ready to secure funding and a land deal. Seeking municipal level support, they have garnered the interest of some city officials and groups such as the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance.

     “We could expect to see 2.5 million visitors annually and create 300 jobs,” says Krol. With this type of draw, Krol hopes to generate sufficient investment such that the park will open debt-free. An advisory board is being created to reach out to investors.

     The project has its eye on city-owned acreage near the U. S. National Whitewater Center. “It’s perfect,” says Krol, citing proximity to Highway 74 and Interstate 85. “We think that the bird park, situated on riverfront property, could be a boon for Whitewater and an anchor for growth in the west side of Charlotte, an area that has historically been underdeveloped or neglected.”

     Krol says he has been told that development of the bird park could be accomplished in under two years. “There are many hurdles to clear; many decisions to make and many permits to obtain but we are forging ahead.

     “For the past 23 years, we’ve been placing a few birds in lots of different places. Now, we also want to provide a large number of birds in one place for people to come and experience and fall in love with the wonderful splendor of birds.”

Zenda Douglas is a Greater Charlotte Biz freelance writer.
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