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Baiting Hollow hummingbird sanctuary to close as part of settlement

A hummingbird feeds at Paul Adams' sanctuary in

A hummingbird feeds at Paul Adams' sanctuary in Baiting Hollow on Aug. 26, 2017. The sanctuary is closing to the public in September. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

A haven for hummingbirds that has existed for almost 20 years will soon be closed to the public as part of the terms of a legal settlement.

The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary is on Paul Adams’ 3.5-acre property. He established it in 1999, several years after spotting a hummingbird on his property one sunny day. Though not particularly drawn to birds, Adams said he found hummingbirds “very fascinating as objects of beauty and study,” and began to consider creating a place for others to view them.

“It was very low-key, sort of a word-of-mouth thing,” said Adams, 70, a professor at the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook University’s College of Arts and Sciences & School of Medicine. “It was small at first, I wouldn’t get that many people . . . it was very casual.”

That changed in 2013 after a story about the private hummingbird sanctuary attracted more people to the property, to the point where Adams had to make it visits by appointment only.

“Now, instead of one or two visitors, I had one or two dozen,” he said.

The extra foot and vehicle traffic led neighbors to file a $3 million lawsuit against Adams in 2013, claiming the sanctuary disrupted and increased traffic in the neighborhood.

According to court documents, the suit also alleged that the bird sanctuary was not permitted in Riverhead’s RA-80 zoning district under town code.

After what he called a “very stressful, long process,” Adams recently settled the lawsuit in an agreement that allows him to avoid paying any costs or damages but requires him to close the sanctuary to the public. He will do so after Sept. 15, but Adams said he will continue to offer a home to the hummingbirds for as long as he can.

Adams said he is working with the Seatuck Environmental Association, an Islip-based wildlife education and preservation group, about possibly donating his property for future use as a hummingbird sanctuary.

For now, he reflects on what he describes as the “tremendous positive experience” of meeting people of all backgrounds who came to his home over the years to watch and admire the birds.

“In many cases they’ve become friends, we meet socially, and I’m always happy to see them,” Adams said. “People who love hummingbirds come from all backgrounds . . . the one thing they have in common is their interest in hummingbirds. They’re gentle, quiet and like to come and sit and enjoy nature, and that’s exactly the kind of people I like to meet.”

For the birds

  • The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary occupies two separate parcels, a 2.3-acre western lot and a 1.1-acre eastern lot.
  • The site is surrounded on three sides by hundreds of acres of privately owned woods and fields, where hummingbirds that visit nest and breed.
  • Paul Adams said he saw hummingbirds for the first time while visiting a park in San Francisco with his wife, Claire Adams, decades ago.
  • The sanctuary contains feeders for hummingbirds and flowers identified as good nectar sources, such as cardinal flowers, trumpet vine, columbine and hibiscus.

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