Charter Bird Sanctuary: Omena - The Leelanau Conservancy

Charter Bird Sanctuary: Omena

Fall, 2004

For the Love of Birds! Conservation Easement Protects Charter Sanctuary, Site Is Adjacent to Saving Birds Thru Habitat in Omena

One need only read the first chapter of Kay Charter’s book, For The Love of Birds, to understand the passion that she and husband, Jimmy, have for preserving habitat for our avian friends. In her book, Kay describes their odyssey from avid birders to crusaders for preserving birding habitat. Their extraordinary story includes sinking their entire life savings into a 47-acre tract of land near Omena and holding onto it despite a number of calamities that would have led others to give up their dream long ago.

Not even a fire caused by lightning, where all their worldly belongings went up in smoke, or a broken back—in this case Jimmy’s—could hold them back. And so over the years, the couple has worked hard to realize their dream, and in the process founded a wonderful organization called “Saving Birds Thru Habitat.” (

“My life is wrapped up in birds,” says Kay. “I firmly believe that if we save the birds, we save everything else in the process,” because good birding habitat takes in habitat for just about every other species there is.

An important part of their dream, says Kay, was making sure that the 47 acres they purchased in 1994 will forever be protected for the birds. They knew early on, says Kay, that a preservation tool called a “conservation easement” could help them protect their land while still owning it. (Land protected by conservation easement remains in private hands—and stays on the tax rolls.)

Working closely with the Leelanau Conservancy, the Charters opted to protect the land in stages. In 1995, a year after they took ownership, they protected the first 13 acres. In 2001, after the formation of Saving Birds Thru Habitat, they deeded three acres to the organization. “Before we signed the papers relinquishing control of those three acres, we again approached the Conservancy for a protective easement,” says Kay.

Late this fall, the couple placed the remaining acreage under conservation easement. The entire sanctuary is now forever protected for the birds. The land takes in a quarter mile of creek that runs through a wetland before, writes Kay in her book, spreading into a broad cattail pond surrounded by native willows and red osier dogwood. Staghorn sumac thrives on the hillside below and is bordered by pin cherries, service berries and other native pioneer species. A narrow belt of hardwood forest lines the southern edge of the property. Stands of white pine and a rolling, upland meadow complete this special place.

“It was always our intention to protect the remaining land so that, regardless of events in our own lives, the property would always be available to the birds and frogs, and turtles, and other wonderful native creatures that call this place home,” says Kay. “It was with great joy that we finally added that last easement, which will forever protect the meadows that serve breeding bobolinks and grasshopper sparrows as well as foraging Sandhill crane families.”

“Kay and Jim are those rare people that live their beliefs and have changed their lives to come into conformity with the things that most matter to them,” says Brian Price, Conservancy Executive Director. “We’re just pleased that in protecting this land, our organization’s mission and the passion they have for the Charter Sanctuary have intersected so well.”

Ed note: Jim Charter passed away in 2018. He is greatly missed but his legacy lives on through the work at Saving Birds Thru Habitat.