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Feature Articles

Avian Visitors to Motherhouse Sustained through Donation
By Josh Zeller, Communications intern

Chris Sweigard, manager of the Wild Birds Unlimited store on Glenway Avenue, works with S. Marty Dermody to donate birdseed to the Motherhouse’s Clifford Bird Observatory.

The Clifford Bird Observatory (CBO) in the Motherhouse courtyard exists through an amiable collaboration between Mount St. Joseph University and the Sisters of Charity. But it would certainly be poorer without the generosity of the local community, such as the birdseed that is continually donated by Wild Birds Unlimited.

When S. Marty Dermody lived in Dayton, Ohio, she took a 10-week course on birds taught by Professor Tom Hissong at the Museum of Natural History. She enjoyed it so much that she took the course again, and thus at that moment launched her passion for birding. “After that I kept studying, and learning more about the bird species that are around this area,” S. Marty remembers. She learned to recognize certain species by their call alone, and even to imitate several bird calls herself. This is the expertise that she brought to the founding of the CBO—along with co-founder and Mount St. Joseph University professor Dr. Jill Russell—in the fall of 2007.  

A little while after the observatory opened, S. Marty was introduced by Associate Rita Wesseling to the man who currently feeds all avian visitors to the Motherhouse: Chris Sweigard, manager of the Wild Birds Unlimited store on Glenway Avenue. They struck up a conversation, and S. Marty told him about the sanctuary the Motherhouse had recently opened; Sweigard said that he was willing to donate birdseed to the CBO as long as he was able. “… I can’t thank Chris enough … his store has been very, very helpful in providing seed for us,” S. Marty says. Beyond that, over time Sweigard has replaced some of the bird feeders that had been originally donated by the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Fairfield, and provided a camera for documenting birds in the sanctuary.

The time and energy that Dr. Russell and S. Marty give year-round is another essential donation that the CBO receives. Their care for and banding of the 25 to 30 species of birds spotted on the property—from the Cardinal to the White-breasted nuthatch—has led to returning customers, such as a particular chickadee that has been coming around since 2009. Others who have donated their resources to or interacted with the CBO include an Eagle Scout named Sam Bono, and several Mount St. Joseph University students. Bono dug the pond that now beautifies the courtyard for his final project at S. Marty’s request. Bono continues to care for the space with his grandfather, Jim Bono, who S. Marty met in a class she was taking. The university students have conducted research on the chickadees that land in the observatory, taking blood samples for tests. It is clear that the community is an essential third party to the successful operation of the observatory, and the Motherhouse is grateful for whatever they bring, whether it is their time and resources, or just stopping in for a visit. Here, they can be at peace when sitting within the sanctuary, and enjoy the unnumbered glories of creation.

Sisters Michael Clare Mauntel (left) and Georgia Kitt regularly feed the birds in the Clifford Bird Observatory with the donated seed from Wild Birds Unlimited.