Birds of a feather flock together at Charlestown

Bird-watching group discovers more than 100 feathered friends on Catonsville campus

Created date

January 23rd, 2020
Charlestown's bird-watching group, the Birdbrains, have observed Baltimore orioles' nests near Charlestown's lake.

Charlestown's bird-watching group, the Birdbrains, have observed Baltimore orioles' nests near Charlestown's lake.

According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR), the most comprehensive survey of wildlife recreation in the United States, there are 47 million bird-watchers (birders) nationwide. Rick Jones is one of them. 

“My wife Cindy and I have been birding for a number of years,” says Rick. “We used to go birding with a friend of ours a few times a year to the Eastern Shore. We have done several other states and also other countries. We have been to Zimbabwe, Botswana, Australia, Panama, Costa Rica.” Their first international trip was with the Baltimore Zoo to Belize and Guatemala. “That trip really got us hooked.” 

One of his regular birding spots is just a short walk from his apartment home at Charlestown, an Erickson Living-managed community located in Catonsville, Md. Charlestown’s park-like 110-acre campus features beautifully landscaped courtyards, a fountain, vegetable and flower gardens, a three-acre lake, and a half-mile-long nature trail that is home to 70 species of wildflowers, 30 species of trees and 124 species of birds. Birds include the blue grosbeak, downy woodpecker, Carolina wren, and bald eagle, among many others. 

“I go around a couple of times a week. I walk around and spot birds and try to add new species to the list,” says Rick. 

But Rick doesn’t always go it alone. Two years ago, he formed a birding club at Charlestown called the Birdbrains. 

“There are around ten of us,” says Rick. “We’ve had bird walks around the lake. It’s kind of interesting and neat to see what types of waterfowl come in at different times of the year with migration. All of a sudden, you go around looking and say, ‘Son of a gun, I haven’t seen that one in a few years.’”

Bird song

Paul Canner, a member of the Birdbrains, has held a lifelong interest in birds. As a young child, his parents would point out different backyard birds. In the second grade, he became a member of the National Audubon Society. But it was roughly 30 years ago when he developed a unique skill from a gift his wife bought for him.

“She bought me an [album] of backyard bird songs. I started listening to it and then listening to the birds when I went outside. I discovered there were birds out there that I never knew existed. From there, I went on guided bird walks and started getting bird books to try and identify different species. Now, for the most part, I can identify a bird by ear just by listening to their song,” says Paul.  

A statistician by trade, Paul has personally counted 100 bird species found on Charlestown’s campus just in the two years he has lived in the community. Last summer, Paul identified a Baltimore oriole nest near Charlestown’s Lake Charles. 

“I was able to watch both the male and female birds come to the nest and bring food to the babies. I was even there when the first baby flew away.” 

In addition to birding, Paul is a member of Charlestown’s Invasive Plants Crew, a group of volunteers who meet regularly to clear out invasive plants along the nature trail.

“We go out every Saturday and pull ivy off of the trees and grapevines,” says Paul. “My wife also has a garden where she grows mostly zinnias and basil.” 

Since forming the club, Rick and the Birdbrains have participated in events like the Great American Bird Count and, so far, have taken one off-site birding field trip to Halethorpe Ponds.

Charlestown is a great place to birdwatch,” says Rick. “We get various kinds of birds. We have the lake so we get waterfowl, but there are also many different birds that nest in the wooded areas. It’s a fun hobby.” 

How to make your backyard more attractive to birds

Want to create a bird haven in your backyard? According to the National Audubon Society, by providing four essential elements, you’ll attract a number of feathered friends.


Many backyard birds are insect eaters but will supplement their diet with nuts, seeds, fruit, or nectar, depending on the species. Increase the array of foods you offer, and you will increase the diversity of birds you will attract and support. 


All birds need water for drinking and bathing. By providing a clean, fresh source, you will attract more species than will visit bird feeders. 


Birds will remain in your habitat during the breeding season if they have places to nest and raise young. Different species have different requirements. Some nest in cavities, many others in open nests found on ledges or in a tree crotch, and others nest on the ground. Get to know which species are likely to nest in your area and provide the appropriate habitat or structure. 


Birds need places where they can hide from predators and inclement weather. Trees, shrubs, meadows, and even rock walls provide such shelter.