DesignPhiladelphia’s ‘home’ includes birds of Fairmount Park

A "meadow mansion" by Claes Gabriel. (Photo by Albert Yee.)

“I live in a city. I know sparrows from starlings. After that, everything’s a duck as far as I’m concerned.”  ~ Sir Terry Pratchett, British novelist

Unlike Sir Terry, many Philadelphia-area residents are informed and enthusiastic birders, and soon they will have several new spots on which to train binoculars. Artist-designed birdhouses will be unveiled on October 13 in conjunction with the DesignPhiladelphia Festival, the theme of which is “home.” The houses are to be installed in watershed parks with meadows throughout the Fairmount Park system. Why meadows?

Birding beyond the woods

“Meadows are created to support a wide variety of insects, birds and small mammals, to help recharge groundwater and manage stormwater,” making them vital to a healthy environment, explains Ellen Ryan, senior director of strategic planning for Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC), which commissioned the houses in cooperation with DesignPhiladelphia. FPC, which leads efforts to preserve Philadelphia’s parks, works to incorporate arts and culture in the system.

“We are deploying the power of artists and creative expression to attract new audiences to the importance of meadows and their resident bird population,” Ryan says. The intention is that the dozen or so "meadow mansions" not only inspire and educate people, but attract nesting families of birds.

Meadow mansions under one roof

Permanent outdoor sites for the birdhouses will be selected by FPC and Audubon PA, after which self-guided walks will be mapped out. From October 14 to 30, the mansions will be on display at Fairmount Park’s Mount Pleasant, which can accommodate them because its contents are currently out for conservation.

An exhibition walk-through and artist panel discussion are coming up there on October 18, moderated by the Artblogs Roberta Fallon. Participants can hear from Philly’s Claes Gabriel, an internationally exhibiting artist who’s a native of Haiti; head of Tyler’s Fibers & Material Studies program Jesse Harrod; site-specific artist and curator and Mural Arts Program collaborator Aislinn Pentecost-Farren; and creative partners Charlyn Griffith and Sam Spetner, whose work ranges from Mural Arts to Spiral Q to architecture. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance here.

Philadelphia’s bird lovers

City-dwellers who know little about birds might be surprised to hear Ryan exclaim how supportive Philadelphia is of winged residents. “In fact,” she says, “Fairmount Park was named an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society in 2005, which recognizes its stature as essential habitat for migrating, nesting, and wintering birds.”  The park is home to kestrels, barred owls, wood ducks, Carolina chickadees, and tree swallows, among other species.

“There are a number of different birding groups in and around Philadelphia,” says Ryan. In addition to several Audubon chapters, Bird Philly is well-known, and the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, founded in 1890, is the oldest continually operating bird club in the nation.

All of which explains why Audubon PA, which cares for natural ecosystems with a focus on bird and wildlife habitats, will move its headquarters in 2018 to East Fairmount Park. People, says Ryan, have “birded in Philadelphia's parks for as long as they have been in existence. Fairmount Park is also a popular destination for birders from outside the Philadelphia area.” And soon, they will have a dozen or so more reasons to visit.

The opening reception for Meadow Mansions: Designing Homes for Fairmount Park’s Winged Residents is coming up on October 13 from 6-8pm. The houses will be on view October 14 to 30 at Mount Pleasant Mansion, 3800 Mt. Pleasant Drive, Philadelphia.

Above: birdhouses by Kaitlin Pomerantz. (Photo by Albert Yee)