Brushy Valley man's life is for the birds

Sonia Nance-Roberts
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From "The Knoxville News-Sentinel" by Fred Brown (date stamped on article Feb. 15, 1988)
Brushy Valley man's life is for the birds
Clinton- Woody Nance doesn't mind at all. Go ahead. Call him the Birdman of Brushy Valley. It suits him just fine.
This time of year, when the ground is as hard as a black heart, Nance is a bird's best friend. He feeds them hundreds of pounds of food during the winter. Nance's feed bill, says his wife, Elizabeth, is something she doesn't want to know about. He says it tops out at about 800 pounds a year. "I feed them enough corn to fatten a hog" is the way he says it. And the birds, all kinds of little wild winged things, repay him with kindness.
Let Nance walk out in his back yard with his customery straw hat on his head and his hands filled with sunflower seeds, and finches of all hue, titmice, tiny sparrows, clouds of pine siskins, chickadees and a variety of other birds flock to his shoulders, his head and hands. He becomes Pied Piper of Brushy Valley bird world.
They skitter underneath his feet. From this view, Nance, a wisp of a man, must seem like an elephant. He gingerly steps around his flittering friends. They peck away at the cracked corn, without fear of being squashed.
He carries them around on his hat and in his hands as if they are made of china and should be exhibited on shelves. They feed in his hands without worry or concern. He pets them and observes them up close. They ride his shoulders and hop to his hat.
Nance lives in Brushy Valley a peaceful dip of land in Anderson County where it is so quiet you can hear your thoughts as they pound and circulate. The air is fresh and still along Mountain Road where Nance and his wife live with their friends.
As the smaller birds swirl like dark crystals and flash to nearby branches, the larger birds move in for a time at Nance's open table. Bluejays, grosbeaks, doves, cardinals, they all come to dine.
"You take the redbird,"Nance says to no one in particular. "Now, during this time of year, the pretty red male will run the female off. He won't even let her eat."
Nance smiles and looks out of his window as hundreds of birds gather to gorge themselves again on yet another bright morning.
"But, in springtime, that old redbird will take his lady friend food," Nance chuckles. "That's just like a man, isn't it?"
Nance's birding doesn't stop here. He walks to a row of martin poles. He puts out 46 martin gourds in the spring. Nance, an organic farmer of some note, grows his own gourds.
"i have had martins show up as early as late February. They are usually gone by the rnd of July.
"No, I'm never bothered by mosquitoes. My martins take care of that. You can sit out here at night and never feel a bite."
But, Nance doesn't stop here.
He has his buddies the bats, too.
Nance ordered a mail-order home for them and installed it high on a green pole in his back yard. He isn't quite sure when the bats arrive or when they leave, but he is absolutely glad to see them each year.
"They come when it gets hot is all I know. Now, a bat will eat about as many if not more mosquitoes than a martin," Nance says. His eyes sparkle like sunlight dancing off Brushy Creek.
Nance doesn't stop here.
He built a home for his friend, the owl.
"Comes back every year," he says with laughter that is wise in tone and mood.
Nance doesn't stop here.
He built a pond, mainly for his fish. But, a big blue heron, who enjoys dominance over Brushy Creek, stops by the Nance gourmet pond for a few choice delicacies in the evenings.
"I call him Big Bird," Nance says, pushing back from his kitchen table. He demonstrates the strange walk of a spindly legged blue heron in action.
"When he's in deep water, he looks like this, " Nance says, his arms straight and poking like toothpicks underneath his chest.
"Now, when that old boy gets in shallow water, he's like this." His arms are bent and low on the table, as if he's about to leap at something.
"He never misses what he's after, " Nance says.
He takes care of his pals in the fish pond in a rather unique way also. He feeds them all the Japanese beetles they can hold. He's rigged a kind of beetlesmorgasbord for his fish in an all-they-can-eat fantasy.
Nance rigged a shovel-mouthed soft bottle atop a long pole. He puts beetle bait in the bottle and waits for the beetles to arrrive. In the summerwhen the beetles are at their worst, they hone in on the soft drink bottletrap, slip down the long tube to the waiting froth of Nance's finny friends.
The catfish and bream feed like sharks.
"When the beetles hit the water, they are long gone."
Last year, Nance fed his birds more than 800 pounds of feed. And that's just for four months. He doesn't put out the welcome sigh in the spring."I don't want the birds to become dependent on me," he says.
"I've seen 200 maybe 300 birds out here at one time," says Nance, whowon't tell his age, except to say that he was in the lobby of the Ford Theatergetting popcorn the day Lincoln was shot.
"I enjoy watching and feeding the birds. I like having them around."
It is obvious the birds enjoy the company they keep. They flock to the Birdman of Brushy Valley.
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Cathy Perkins Thanks for this Sonia. He truly was an amazing man. Do you think this may be where our love for animals comes from?
Cathy - Birdman's grand daughter
Feb 14, 2007 · Reply
Sonia Nance-Roberts Must be because he really loved those birds and they loved him!
Sep 21, 2007 · Reply

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