Making Friends and Building Habitats

“Let’s put a bird feeder HERE!” a child said to her mother as she glued a postage-sized picture on a map. “And a picnic bench HERE!”

Around her, twenty-eight other members of the Magnolia Meadows community prepared their maps, some drawing serpentine paths; others, creating patches of flowers and shrubs, and all taking part in designing a space that will become a friendly habitat for birds—and the community—to enjoy.

Over the past year, Pickering Creek staff has met monthly with residents of Magnolia Meadows and Cambridge Club, two properties owned by Fairville Management Company, LLC, to develop bird-friendly communities.

There were walks in the woods to observe and identify birds and other creatures. On one occasion, residents created bird feeders. On another, Pickering staff brought bird mounts to illustrate how the structures of feet and beaks enable different species to take advantage of the features of different habitats. Participants used tweezers to pick up seeds like a goldfinch and a plastic pipettes to sip water like hummingbirds sip nectar.  At a potluck dinner, residents enjoyed a game of Jeop-Birdy where they dug up their knowledge of birds in pop culture and movies to natural history facts learned in school to compete.

Not all activities took place on home sites. Cambridge Club residents enjoyed an afternoon at Blackwater National Wildlife refuge’s annual Eagle Festival.  During the following Pickering Creek program at Cambridge Club one young resident was eager to share a picture of a hawk he took at the festival.

Magnolia Meadows families had the opportunity to observe bird banding at Pickering Creek, conducted by the Smithsonian’s Urban Nest Watch. Parents and grandparents watched and laughed at the antics of their children playing a migration game with Pickering staff. All residents were spellbound when Smithsonian Nestwatch staff showed them a Carolina wren caught in a mist net. They focused intently throughout the banding process. They took home a lasting experience that helped them see birds in a new light, their natural resiliency and their fragility in human ecosystems.

Residents of all shapes, ages and sizes came out in early August to make bluebird boxes, a few of which will be used on site at Magnolia Meadows and Cambridge Club, with the rest to be used as replacement boxes for Pickering’s bluebird trail. For some residents, decorating the boxes for cavity nesting birds was the highpoint of the evening, though for some of the young residents, using a drill for the first time to make the entrance hole may be most memorable as neighbors come together to create habitat for birds.

The final step in the partnership will be the creation of bird and other wildlife–friendly habitats at each site, incorporating ideas of the residents’ thoughtfully prepared maps. The newly planted areas will include spots to rest and play for both the human as well as the wild residents of each community.

Funded by Toyota TogetherGreen, a partnership between Toyota and National Audubon Society, this project invited families of each community to take part in monthly activities focused on helping residents realize the natural world of their neighborhoods. Pickering Creek chose to partner with Fairville Management Company because it manages 30 properties in Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania and is recognized as a leader in the affordable housing community. Working with a company with significant landholdings such as Fairville offers Pickering an opportunity to work within the local community to convey the importance of managing property with wildlife in mind, while also encouraging the management company to consider managing their other properties to become bird –friendly communities.