HODGES — Every day, Frank Crawford rushes inside the doors of the Quiet Acres Retirement Home with a different brightly colored bird held firmly in his hands.
The other residents in the home affectionately call him “Bird Man” in honor of his daily activity. He’s likely caught hundreds of them during his year at the cozy home, which sits near the border of Abbeville and Greenwood counties.
The one thing Crawford refuses to divulge is his own well-guarded secret: how he catches them.
Every morning, he goes outside to toss bird feed in the grass, and when the weather is nice out, he sits outside observing them.
When no one is watching, he appears, as if by magic, with one sitting on his outstretched arm.
Sometimes, he has to encourage them to fly away.
When it’s cold out, he sits at the home’s back door with binoculars, a notepad and an encyclopedia about birds — documenting what he sees and cross-referencing it with his book.
“He’s studying them,” said Fiasha Paul, an administrative assistant at Quiet Acres.
When Crawford has a bird cupped safely in his weathered hands, he hurries inside to show everyone. Once everyone has sufficiently studied the bird, he slowly walks outside, gently kisses it on the head, and lets it go.
But the birds always come back to him.
“We have so many birds on the grounds at all times of the year because he takes very good care of them,” Paul said.
Stephanie Mullens, owner of Quiet Acres, said she often calls on Crawford to help release trapped birds in the storage house, and he’s happy to do it.
“He went and he caught him and went to the door, kissed the bird on the forehead and sent him on his way,” Mullens said.
Crawford uses a walker to help him move around.
Up until last year, Crawford had been living with his daughter in Columbia for a year and a half, but he always talked about missing Abbeville, and when she noticed his dementia worsening, she made the decision to send him to Quiet Acres.
“He wanted to go back home to Abbeville. (I) couldn’t find a facility, and it just so happened that they had that bed,” April Goodwin said. “I was leery. Would he fit in? Would he like it? Would he be withdrawn? But he is wonderful there.”
Goodwin said her father has always had a connection with animals, and he’s always been the type to spend most days outdoors, but his fascination with birds really started when he got to Quiet Acres.
“He’s just a little outdoors person. Me, personally, I’m not an outdoors person at all, but he is just an outdoors person. He’s always been an outdoors person,” Goodwin said. “My dad is 81 going on 82. He just recently, as of last year, stopped riding a bike. He would ride the bike from Due West to Abbeville.”
Although Crawford has grown suspicious and dementia has muddied his thoughts with mistaken memories, he’s sharp when he talks about his fascinations. He quickly rattles off details about the state bird, the Carolina wren, or how the sparrow is smaller and harder to catch than the large robin.
“He’s knowledgeable with birds,” Goodwin said. “My dad is very intelligent — very. It’s just sad that he has had the early stages of dementia set in.”
When Goodwin visits him, she always brings him bags of bird seed.
“And he’ll get a little jug and go to the faucet, and there’s a bird bath, he’ll pour water in that bird bath,” Mullens said.
Crawford is reserved when it comes to his techniques with the birds, and even his book about birds, which he keeps hidden in his room. Instead of attempting to spot him in the act or pressing him to reveal how he captures the evasive creatures, Paul and Mullens let him have his secrets. They respect his privacy.
“He comes in screaming, literally screaming, ‘Get the camera! Get the camera!” Mullens said.
Paul said Crawford has it down to a science, and even in the winter, there are birds swarming the facility.
“It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” Paul said.
His laugh is contagious, and Paul said even the most reserved residents join in when they hear him coming in the house with a new bird.
“It just gives a different kind of energy here. The residents are more keen to it now, but it was very exciting for them. It’s like their highlight, ‘Oh, Mr. Frank got another bird,’” Paul said. “Because he is so excited when he gets a bird.”
Contact staff writer Ariel Gilreath at 864-943-5644 or follow on Twitter @IJARIELGILREATH.