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Carbonado woman is good to her feathered friends

By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald

In some ways, Carbonado resident Dorothy Dugan is a bit like the character of the elderly lady who feeds the birds in Disney's "Mary Poppins."

As the bird lady in the movie sits on the steps of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London early every day, feeding her flock of birds, and entreating others to do so for "tuppence a bag," Dugan too can be found early every day in the back yard of her mobile home, feeding the birds that live in the woods and trees on and around her 10 acres of land.

Like the bird lady in "Mary Poppins," who is surrounded by hundreds of birds, Dugan, 83, said she can have as many as 35-40 birds fighting for food in her back yard at one time.

"I don't call them birds anymore," Dugan said in her frank manner. "I call them pigs - flying pigs.

"But it's kind of interesting to watch them like that."

Dugan has been feeding the birds who flock to her back yard for a number of years. A Carbonado resident of 19 years, she began feeding them soon after her husband Dave, who died five years ago, built the back porch of their home.

She said once the porch was built she started throwing seed on the porch, but her husband thought the birdseed might cause an accident. As he was very good at building things, including much of the furniture in her house, he built her two feeders - a small bird feeder sitting on the railing of the back porch, and a bigger, covered bird feeder made of wood, sitting on the other side of her porch, where the birds can crawl in when it's raining, although, Dugan said most of the time they don't.

"Dumbbells," she laughed.

Dugan also has a suet feeder, a water feeder and another with nectar. The birds also eat out of a styrofoam, carry-out box, she set on the ground. And like the bird lady from "Mary Poppins," she scatters the feed for the birds, and feeds them out of bags. Dugan's, however, are 40 pound bags, one of birdseed, and the other of black sunflower seeds.

Since Dugan no longer has a car to drive, she has a friend drive her to Del's Farm Supply to buy the bird seed. She currently has two 40 pound sacks open, which will last her two or three months. After that she'll open the other two bags she has sitting in a spare bedroom of her home.

Unlike the birds in "Mary Poppins," Dugan's birds are not pigeons, nor do they perch on her finger and let her pet them. Dugan gets blue jays, robins, sparrows and chickadees to name a few. She has also seen a bird the size of a sparrow, with a white strip a quarter-inch wide running from the top of its head to the bottom of its tail against dark brown feathers.

While Dugan does not talk or sing to her birds, she instead insists they speak to her. Although she feeds the birds throughout the day, when they have eaten all their food, Dugan said the birds will "sit out there and holler."

"They are spoiled," she said ruefully, shaking her head.

And although she does not know how, Dugan swears the birds also talk to each other.

Dugan said the birds show up to eat as soon as she puts the lights on and the feed out, usually at about 3 or 4 a.m., or in winter, at about daybreak. Usually the blue jays are the first to the feed, and then come the robins, the chickadees and the sparrows.

"I swear they talk to each other to spread the word," Dugan said, adding at first a few birds will come to eat, but gradually, more and more come until they are fighting over the food in the feeders and scattering the food all over her porch and yard.

" Boy they sure can make a mess out there," she said of the birds during feeding time, stating 10 a.m. is typically a busy time in her back yard.

"And goodness knows how many birds are out there," she said. "I guess they do pass the word around."

While Dugan may not be softspoken like the bird lady in "Mary Poppins," instead frequently calling her birds spoiled, dummies and dumbbells, Dugan is a soft touch when it comes to animals.

Dugan feeds them because she cares about their welfare and if they have cold feet picking through snow and wet leaves searching for food in the winter time.

"They've got to eat, or they'll freeze or starve to death," she said.

Although Dugan feeds them all year round, she doesn't worry about them so much during the spring and summer. Her back yard is a green, fruit-filled haven for hungry birds, and Dugan said they feast on the cherries from the cherry trees and grapes from the grape vine and pick at the apples from the 14 apple trees, until she chases them away to get her share of the fruit.

Today, in addition to the birds, Dugan lives with two cats, an indoor cat named Sissy, whom she babies, and another cat named Cat. She no longer has a dog, but when she walks to her mail box every day, she passes five different dogs, who stick their noses through their fences while she passes, eagerly awaiting for her to give them their daily biscuit.

"We just have always liked animals," Dugan said of herself and her late husband.

When Dugan's husband was alive, she said they would sit on an iron bench on the back porch and watch the birds eat at their feeders or flit through the back yard. But since he has died, however, she doesn't really take time out of her day to bird watch. Instead, she glances out the kitchen window, through multicolored bricabrac, above her kitchen sink and watches them while she's doing dishes or making toast.

Her birds, she admits, are spoiled, but she doesn't mind, even when they squawk at her to put out more food.

"It's kind of nice and comforting to look out there and see them eat and hear them sing and share it all," she said.

Jessica Keller can be reached at jkeller@courierherald.com

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