How many times have you driven along Route 27 and wondered what the huge letters that spell out "BIRD HAVEN" signify?
The answer to that riddle lies at the end of a country lane where Henry Singer plays host to a marvelous and unusual collection of waterfowl and other winged creatures.
Equally at home on Singer's 30-acre farm are colorful mandarin ducks, Indian barhead geese, elegant Australian black swans and peacocks whose mating displays resemble rich tapestry.
Here, a visitor could spend hours watching a colorful little cinnamon teal trace a wakeacross a pond or observing a multicolored wood duck preen its feathers.
Equally enchanting are the shovelers with their oversized bills, the precisely patterned canvasbacks, the cuddly looking redheads.
More commonly recognized species include pintails, mallards, blackducks, bald pates and lesser scaup.
Of course, the real showoffs of this collection are the peacocks, which at this season display their magnificent plumes in front of the disdainful peahens.
Singer points out a hopeful male parading across a shed roof.
"He's tryingto get her attention," a visiting neighbor remarks drily. "That may take some time."
Even Singer can't tell you the number of species that live on his three spring-fed ponds.
"Probably between 35 and 40 different kinds," he says, as he points out some of the more unusual varieties -- a Chiloe wigeon from Chile or a European shelduck.
The septuagenarian's interest in waterfowl began when he was a boy growing up on a farm on Kent Island.
Forty-five years ago, he movedto the Carroll County farm from which he derives his living.
To visit Henry Singer's farm is to take a step back in time. An oak tree,estimated to be 300 years old, spreads its branches in front of the house.
A sturdy flock of laying hens scratches about in the dooryard, cows graze in a nearby pasture, and the old brick farmhouse sits tucked into its hillside much as it was a century or more ago.
Singer finds such modern conveniences as telephones and central heating unnecessary.
"I like to live the way the old-timers did," he says.
The only recent additions to the farm are the three ponds on which his waterfowl make their homes.
To protect the birds, Singer hasenclosed the entire pond area with a chain-link fence.
"Dogs werea problem early on. The fence keeps them out," he says. "Now the worst predators are foxes, owls and raccoons.
Just recently, a fox got in through one of the drain pipes and killed some of the ducks, he said.
Horned owls present a special problem -- even a chain-link fence is no deterrent to this winged predator. A fake owl placed in a tree has proven ineffective in keeping real owls away.
To protect the smaller ducks, Singer has completely enclosed one of his ponds with wire netting.
An assortment of nesting boxes surrounds each of the ponds. Eggs are collected regularly and set to hatch under bantamhens. Singer trades chicks with other waterfowl breeders.
"We allknow one another," he says. "We're a lot like the antique-collectingbunch."
The birds are fed grain as a regular diet, and in winter they receive extra grain to provide additional body heat. Because theponds are spring-fed, there is no problem with the water freezing.
In the farmhouse kitchen, a shelf of decoys in various stages of completion give evidence of Singer's other hobby, bird-carving.
The pleasing forms and exacting detail he achieves in wood give evidence that Singer's lifelong interest in waterfowl goes deep.
"This is my medicine," he says. "This is what keeps me moving."
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