'Birdman' flies in Fairfax

James Harkin
James Harkin

The Fairfax, a Sunrise Senior Living military community, was named the first senior community certified as a wildlife sanctuary last October, thanks to resident and retired Navy Captain James Harkin.

When Harkin first arrived at the Virginia community in March 2011, he recognized the ponds, trees and animals that surrounded the community. He gathered a few other residents, and together they began building birdhouses, planting seeds and creating a better habitat for local animals. 

In 2012, Harkin contacted the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, asking them to come out and do an on-site survey. That spring, they were able to tell him what work needed to be done in order to get the certification signed.

“Some compromises were made, but on one side we added bush and plant islands, pollinator areas and mowed the lawn closer to the water,” Harkin told McKnight's. “On the other side, we expanded the vegetation barrier to 11 feet, agreeing they could go in there anytime they felt there was trees or bushes becoming invasive.”

Harkin's current project is building a monarch butterfly garden. He also spends a lot of time sharing his knowledge with other residents. 

“I think there has been an increase of interest because people come up and ask me things all the time, and I feel good about that,” he said. “They call me ‘Birdman,' which is nice.”