Working From Home Hatched Bird Nerds and Business

A makeshift bird feeder and a plan to stave off Zoom fatigue spawned a small business for this local couple.
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Nathan Hendricks was stuck at his desk. Like so many others exiled from the office during the pandemic, the graphic designer found himself glued to a dizzying loop of video calls and work-from-home distractions. At least he’d had the foresight to set up his workspace in front of a window so he could look out over his patio and the surrounding woods of College Hill.

Photograph by Devyn Glista

But you can only look at the same trees for so long. So as a self-described “sanity move” to combat Zoom fatigue, Hendricks bolted a pole to a bird feeder, stuck it to a Christmas tree stand, and set the contraption up on his patio. “It was janky,” he admits, “but effective.”

It wasn’t long before he was sketching the birds that showed up on his makeshift feeder, using wood, fabrics, and objects from around the house to add his own twist. His first creation was a cardinal, which he dressed up in a red knit sweater, using plaid fabric for its wings and tail.

Over time, the bird sketches got more complicated—even common sparrows have intricate color and texture combinations, Hendricks says—but he was hooked. Watch the birds for long enough, and you’ll see their personalities emerge. “Cardinals are cranky introverts,” he says. “Chickadees are industrious and in a hurry. Song sparrows are chill and friendly. They’re all different, but they hang out together on a feeder and mostly get along and mind their manners— like they’re adhering to a bird etiquette.”

Chickadee tote bag from Bird Etiquette

Photograph by Devyn Glista

That theory stuck. Today, Hendricks and his wife, Jean, are the team behind Bird Etiquette, a digital storefront selling made-to-order clothing and home goods. Within the couple’s online store, you’ll find everything from stationery and coasters to baseball caps, shower curtains, and throw pillows. The stemless wine tumblers and tote bags are fan favorites, and the business recently partnered with a Lithuanian startup to put hand-painted Bird Etiquette designs on candles.

Along the way, Hendricks says, Jean caught the bird bug. Armed with a camera and an old zoom lens, she captures photos of local birds and posts them to Instagram, where Bird Etiquette has discovered an enthusiastic audience of “bird nerds.” She’s cataloged an impressive 119 different species so far. “The whole bird thing started out as my thing,” Hendricks says. “Now it’s something we can do together.”

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