"I've been an avid bird watcher ever since I was a kid," Bailey said. "When other kids were shooting them with a BB gun, I was watching them with binoculars."
"So I've always loved birds. ... It's great," he said, referring to creating a bird-friendly habitat rich in food and water sources. "It's better than getting high on beer. It makes your heart feel good that other people only dream of it and you're doing it. That's what it's about for us, for our yard."
Once a heavily wooded landscape, the Baileys have transformed their property into a wildlife sanctuary, certified by the Atlanta Audubon Society.
"About two years ago we decided we wanted to have a vegetable garden," Bailey said. "Well the only way we could do that [is] we had to take down 50 60-foot-tall pine trees that were beside our house, so that we [could have more] sun. So we did that and then all of a sudden we had this big area, probably like three basketball courts big, [that was] a flat [piece of land]. So we decided just to spend a little money, a little sweat.
"I built what I call 'islands.' They're actually just raised flower beds, but I can't just have regular square ones. I had to make mine octagon and triangular. And that was two years ago. That year we started planting, and we're getting older so we decided we really need to go with perennials so we don't have to, one, spend the money on the annuals and, two, so the [plants come] back. So we did that and now it's about 90 percent perennials."
Currently enjoying the fruits of their labor, the Baileys are surrounded by many flowering plants, some of which are bee balms, hydrangeas, Shasta daisies, Knockout roses, daylilies, chrysanthemums, petunias, Blue Angel hostas, impatiens and zinnias.
"We've got all kinds of bird feeders," Sandra Bailey said. "We've got birdbaths. We've got things to feed squirrels with. We've got a bat house to attract bats. Just everywhere you look, there's something for them to eat or live in [such as] hummingbird feeders [or other items for] different types of birds. It has to be that way if you're going for wildlife. You can't just pick hummingbirds. Then the plants that [we] planted are for them, too. We've [even] got a butterfly house."
Along with vibrant blossoms, the couple's property on Brook Hollow Lane is highlighted by antique flood lights and sculptures constructed from scrap metal. With two fabricated in the shapes of birds, one of which Bailey designed, the artwork creates an interesting juxtaposition with the yard's wide range of natural fledglings.
"[The] pteranodon -- the spine is a camshaft," he said. "[Also incorporated in the sculpture] are several gears, emergency brake handle ... and the claws came from wrenches. It hangs in a tree. It's got about a four-and-a-half-foot wing span and it's 3 feet long. It weighs close to 70 pounds.
"I try to place them in inconspicuous areas, so they're not just standing out. So where we've placed them, we've taken our time and thought it out. The main thing [is] we want to be able to see it. [I] really care less about anybody else seeing it. But if they can and we can, then it's like we're sharing it with them. Even my LaMingo [sculpture], it's actually on top of one of the stumps that we didn't have ground up. Then I mounded up rocks around that stump so he kind of looks like he's on his own little hill."
The Baileys' unique property was designated a wildlife sanctuary in December. To receive the honor, the couple completed an application, in which they listed items like their yard's food sources -- trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, hummingbird plants, ground covers, type of bird feeders and feeder food -- water sources, nesting sites, nesting species, observed bird species, shelter, observed wildlife and chemical applications. Along with being a member of the organization, the Baileys also had their property visited and reviewed by an Atlanta Audubon Society volunteer.
"We're looking for sources of shelter, food and water and a place for the animals, birds, to raise young," said Jacqueline McRae, the Atlanta Audubon Society's volunteer backyard wildlife sanctuary certification program coordinator. "So those are the four things that we're looking for. And when we look for sources of food, we're really not even looking for bird feeders, we're looking for plants that provide food.
"So plants that hummingbirds can drink from or plants that make nuts or that make berries, [those] kinds of sources of food. The plants are called native plants, plants that would be growing if you went out in the wild woods."
Through its Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary program, the Atlanta Audubon Society is trying to inspire homeowners to create small ecosystems. Since McRae started coordinating the program in 2004, about 50 gardens have been certified annually, with the Baileys' yard being the only wildlife sanctuary they have designated in Bartow County. Since it is based in Atlanta, the organization primarily certifies properties close to home, seldom venturing beyond the metro area.
"[These sanctuaries] contribute to the environment mostly because Atlanta is so big and so much of it is just disappearing. Everything's stripped from the land. Even the topsoil's gone," McRae said. "So there's nothing there at all. The birds and the wildlife that have lived here way longer than we have, haven't got time to adjust. So when they come upon the city, they have to get across it and they can't. The only little green pieces left are where the little blue streams are. That's where they can't build. That's like [the] only greenways through this city.
"So if I make my garden a sanctuary and then four streets over maybe somebody else does, it kind of gives more of a continuous habitat, where you can kind of hip hop across the city. So it's sort of like you're part of a bigger picture. We're doing this and then there's another group called the National Wildlife Federation that does something similar, so you pretty quickly realize that not far from your house there's someone else that's doing it too, and that it's like-minded people. You're no longer the crazy person on the end of the street."