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Friends of a feather together

Silver Spring community a haven for bluebirdsand other species

Created date

March 26th, 2013

Riderwoodhas had lovers of feathered friends since it opened more than 12 years ago. The 120-acre campus in Silver Spring, Md., is home to three ponds and several acres of woodlands. The only retirement community to have a certified conservation and protected habitat area on campus, the Erickson Living community also has more than 50 nesting boxes on site to help encourage bluebirds to lay eggs and hatch young. Last year, two boxes were successful, up from one in 2011, and six new bluebirds were born. Riderwood s birding group hopes the numbers will continue to rise.

A cozy space

The incubation period for bluebird eggs is 10 to 12 days for the eggs and 10 to 14 days for the young, says Don Messersmith, who lives at Riderwood and is the coordinator of the nesting boxes and leader of the birding group. The eggs usually hatch during the late spring and early summer, and in the early spring the bluebirds are busy flying in and out of the nesting boxes, making them cozy for their young. The bluebirds, however, aren t the only feathered species to utilize the boxes. Common birds to the area, like Carolina chickadees, house wrens, tree swallows, and both species of house and barn swallows take advantage of the tight, enclosed spaces. Most of the boxes are located around the edges of places on campus, like the wooded areas, parking lots, roadways, and sidewalks. The boxes in the woods don t attract bluebirds because the species tends to flock to open areas, Don says. Bluebirds also don t mind the presence of people when they re nesting, and Don thinks the boxes have only had moderate success because the areas may not be open enough for the birds. Don, along with 12 fellow volunteers, monitors the boxes and compiles the findings at the end of each season for Riderwood s records. The group s efforts show not only their appreciation of all things feathered, but their passion for conservation as well.

A haven for the feathered

The boxes aren t the only places birds hang out on the Riderwood campus. To date, more than 120 different species of birds have been spotted either flying over, nesting in trees, nibbling edible fruits, lounging in ponds, or preening in branches. All the feathered activity fluttering around campus makes it a birder s paradise. During their migration efforts, egrets and herons take temporary refuge in the waters, and every spring the pond adjacent to Arbor Ridge, Riderwood s continuing care neighborhood, houses mallard ducks. Each spring a brood of baby ducklings follow in close proximity to their mother. Birds have a strong parental instinct, and the only time they ll abandon a nest is if it s disturbed during the building process. It s a myth that birds will abandon their eggs or young if touched by people, Don says. A group meets every Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. to stroll around campus and bird watch. Once a month during the warmer months, the group heads to nearby parks or botanical gardens to see what floats and flies there. If residents can t identify a certain species, Don is there to help them out. Over his lifetime, he has spotted 4,021 different birds, so his detailed eye can catch the subtleties that differentiate one species from the next, like the Baltimore and orchard orioles, both of which have nested in the trees on campus. There are both temporary and permanent feathered residents of Riderwood. According to Don, unusual birds like hawks, yellow-billed cuckoos, yellow-rumped warblers and common yellow-throat warblers, herons, and egrets make temporary pit stops during migration, while the more common species, like the woodpecker, titmouse, white-breasted nut hatch, sparrow, and starling make Riderwood their haven. Both the birding group and the habitat council are trying to encourage Riderwood to plant more shrubbery that produces small fruit to attract more birds in a natural way, Don says, like the cedar waxwings. And the group appreciates the fact that when a tree dies on campus, the trunk is left reaching up to 30 feet in the sky as a respite for woodpeckers. Most of all, the sight and sound of birds is both engaging and relaxing. So the next time you take a stroll around Riderwood s grounds, make sure to look up. After all, you never know just what you ll see dancing in the air overhead.