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Tammy Swift, Published June 13 2009

Friends of a feather

When Ashlyn and Tanner Paulson’s great-grandfather, Warren Priebe, moved from his house to a one-bedroom apartment in Moorhead, he had to give up many things. Like his independence, his friends back home and the backyard he loved.

Eager to make their great-grandpa feel better, Ashlyn and Tanner suggested their family install a bird feeder right outside Priebe’s apartment window.

Almost immediately, the Paulsons noticed a change. Every time they came to visit, Grandpa Priebe had a new story about a type of bird he hadn’t seen for years, or a particularly resourceful squirrel that tried to pilfer seeds from the feeder.

“He was more talkative and seemed happier,” says Mat Paulson, Ashlyn and Tanner’s dad and the owner of 3 Little Birds Landscaping in Moorhead.

If one bird feeder could make such a difference to one man, the Paulsons wondered what multiple bird feeders could do for the elderly or disabled across a whole community. “We started thinking about how much the majority of that generation enjoys the outdoors and feeding the birds,” Mat says.

So Ashlyn, 9, and Tanner, 8, wrote a proposal for a bird-feeding project, naming it “Birds for Brains.” It would involve groups of students and other volunteers maintaining bird feeders at retirement communities around Fargo-Moorhead. In the process, the kids would learn about the importance of volunteering, friendships would form between the kids and the elderly people they visited, and the birds could eat like, well, birds.

The siblings submitted their proposal in the Nims Island Reel Thinking Environmental contest, a national competition.

Ashlyn and Tanner placed fourth out of 125 entries, winning $100 to start up their own project.

Last June, Ashlyn, Tanner and their peers at Our Redeemer Christian Childcare Center began filling bird feeders at Eventide. Afterward, they gathered in the home’s activity room and played bingo or did craft projects with the residents.

They are continuing the tradition this year. Eventide’s residents not only benefit from being around lively, young people, they also enjoy the birds that their project has helped attract.

“They love it. Every time a feeder is empty, we hear about it,” says Kendra Nordick, therapeutic recreational coordinator at Eventide.

Filling the feeders

Earlier this week a gaggle of 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds troop through the sun-dappled courtyard behind Eventide Living in Moorhead and gather around a hanging bird feeder.

Jockeying and bargaining for prime pouring position, they funnel a bag of safflower seeds into the long cylinder. Birds that visit this garden spot also can sample suet cake and thistleseed socks attached to a cedar post.

Zac Weinzierl, 9, has been feeding the birds with the group since last summer.

“It’s just fun to feed them and give them food so they can live, and so seniors can watch the birds for their entertainment,” Weinzierl says. “Every Thursday we come and do activities with the older people because some of them don’t have friends to play with.”

Mat Paulson hopes to expand the project. Later in the month, the group will fill feeders at Rosewood on Broadway in Fargo. And they also maintain a site at the Carriage House in Moorhead, where Grandpa Priebe lives.

Paulson has plenty of other plans for the project. Right now, all the bird feeders and feed is being donated by Critters Feed & Seed in Moorhead. But he would also like to eventually build feeders from recycled cedar panels.

He has met with various service groups, such as 4-H clubs, about sponsoring different feeding sites. And he is working with the Audubon Society so they can add bird-watching gear – including binoculars and bird-identification books – at each site.

“There’ve been lots of helpful folks out there,” Mat says. “We just need more hands to keep them (the feeders) filled.”

For more information

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525