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Volunteers restore housing for County’s Birdhouse City residents

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
A newly restored housing site for Prince Edward County’s feathered residents, while exclusively for the birds, is also a neat spot for people, too.

Located on County Road 8 within the Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area, Birdhouse City is a miniature community of native nesting bird boxes which first opened in 1980 in close partnership with Quinte Conservation. It started with Doug Harns, a conservation authority superintendent, who was a gifted woodworker. Later, County resident John Poneta was key to spearheading earlier restoration efforts.

The site has again been undergoing restoration over the past year as a core group of local people have restoring and regenerating the attraction to its former glory.

Among those in attendance at a celebration re-launch Friday, were Birdhouse City volunteers, Quite Conservation CAO Brad McNevin, Quinte Conservation staff and Prince Edward County Mayor Steve Ferguson. The Department of Illumination team, an integral part of the project at the beginning, brought one of its newest creations to the event for its initial flight. Taking centre stage, a giant red cardinal puppet was controlled by Krista Dalby (Department of Illumination founder), Nell Casson and Milé Murtanovski, along with the department’s youngest contributor, seven-year-old Charlotte who came as a little blue jay.

Thirty-eight birdhouses have been installed this year, with about 55 up in total. At its peak, Birdhouse City featured more than 100 birdhouses.

Gillian Carson

“When we started this, we thought we might get 10 or 15 up this year, and we thought that was really good, so to get 38 is spectacular,” said Birdhouse City member Gillian Carson. “We have more ready to go out to be re-built.”

They anticipate erecting about the same number again next spring, “so the city is going to look better and better.”

Many of the birdhouses, all labelled, are recognizable and familiar County landmarks.

Describing Birdhouse City as a “wonderful, beautiful one-of-a-kind place”, volunteer Lana Gorlitz said the day was an “unofficial welcome back” or an “unofficial moving day”. She said one of Birdhouse City’s main goals is to represent and honour Prince Edward County’s heritage and culture.

“It is a whimsical place that is very much a representation of the best of this area; this is about past and present so you will notice as you walk around there are representations of the County’s past,” said Gorlitz. “We are also working to preserve its present and work toward a sustainable future.”

Gorlitz extended special thanks to councillor Kate MacNaughton, “one of our most avid supporters. She has always been a fierce supporter and a vocal friend for Birdhouse City and we really appreciate that.”

Brad McNevin

Brad McNevin, CAO for Quinte Conservation described Macaulay Mountain, a property owned and managed by Quinte Conservation, as one of Quinte Conservation’s gems in terms of ecological significance.

“We are here to celebrate the great work that the Birdhouse City volunteer group did through some of the restoration work on the birdhouses,” said McNevin. “We are really happy that this group has taken such a strong role in bringing these bird houses back to something that is useable and very visual for the public to see.”

Those who remember Birdhouse City in years past, will recall a mowed lawn area, but that is no more. Tall grasses and wildflowers join the trees and the birdhouses on the property to provide a natural setting, with only mowed trails throughout.

“We have some trails maintained through the area cut so that people can get close to the birdhouses,” McNevin said. “We really want to emphasise that this is an ecologically-sensitive area and the importance is the green space is left for everybody to enjoy, including the wildlife, including the birds.”

Mayor Ferguson acknowledged and praised the hard work of the volunteers.

“The work that has gone into this is absolutely fantastic and I do thank all the volunteers and Gillian for the hard work involved in the restoration and the re-opening of this gem,” he said. “We have to continue to promote Birdhouse City so people can come and experience these structures and models and the work that go into them and the volunteers and the volunteerism that is involved in keeping this alive.”

Carson also acknowledged the core group of members including more than 50 builders, painters, ladder climbers, and the social media masterminds.

“Every single one of us plays a different role and every single one is critical.” Carson said. “The response from the community has been incredible.”

She also praised support from local businesses who contributed to the effort, such as Picton Home Hardware which donated 33 brand new posts for the birdhouses to sit upon.

“Schoonhoven Landscape donated digging which is no small feat, and getting posts up, and there were others members of the business community too.”

Brian Lackey, Birdhouse building co-ordinator

Building coordinator Brian Laskey said the group looked at a way to bring Birdhouse City back-to-life as a community resource.

“Many people from the community use Birdhouse City as a place to bring their kids, and schools used to bring classes here to learn about birds,” said Laskey, who says he likes to do woodworking as a hobby.

He says that in the fall they identified the worst 16 birdhouses which were taken down and fixed over the winter. It was when they were looking for a place to store the birdhouses, a shed on the property, that they found another 20 birdhouses which had fallen down over the years, retrieved and stored.

“Every birdhouse builder that we had didn’t just put time and effort into this, but also some of their own money, so there’s a certain dedication to it,” said Laskey, who added, “It’s been quite a challenge, but it has been fun.”

“As we have been out here putting up birdhouses or cleaning-up or doing various other things, we see people that are either from the County, or are passing through, who come out and have a lot of questions, amazed this is all done by volunteers,” says Laskey. “It gives you a good feeling and they actually say ‘thank you’ for doing this.”

Laskey says it’s still going to be a challenge as the group has 60 more birdhouses to put up. As well, they will put a management plan in place to ensure the birdhouses are cleaned and inspected regularly, as well as periodical maintenance such as repainting.

“We try to make sure we have a variety of birdhouses for a variety of birds,” added Laskey.

Carson recalls the first meeting which was held in the parking lot at Birdhouse City less than a year ago.

“There were six of us and I cannot believe how much we have done in less than a year,” Carson said. “The core group meet every Thursday and we have been doing that since last August.”

“As with many community gems, the success of Birdhouse City is due to the tireless work of a team of volunteers. That goes for builders, supporters, people who engage and ask questions and many of the very generous donations we received from members of the community,” reminded Gorlitz. “It will be continuing to thrive and it is very exciting.”

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  1. Birdhouse city volunteer says:

    It has always been our desire to have a public event with builders, sponsors and other volunteers. Unfortunately with COVID we are restricted to 100 people outside. With over 50 builders, 40 sponsors, officials, media and staff we would have been well over the limit.

    We are planning to have an event with all the volunteers just as soon as COVID restrictions allow.”

  2. Administrator says:

    There is to be an event upcoming to honour the many volunteers and contributors. The committee is figuring out how and when re: Covid. This meeting was strictly meant to be a media event only

  3. Doug Anderson says:

    It was disappointing that none of the generous people, who rebuilt birdhouses, were not invited to this media event. Wouldn’t have been nice ti see 60 or 70 people standing in the background as proud contributors.

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