This fledgling Finch was almost eaten by one of my mighty barn cats. I was able to intervene just in time. THIS BIRD NEEDS A HOME !
So maybe you used to have a large garden, and have downsized to a small one. Or vice versa. Maybe you have York county’s most beautiful fire escape garden. Perhaps you live in the countryside and have access to beautiful rolling hills and valleys to garden in. No matter what, one constant in any changing outdoor garden environment, whether vegetable, fruit or decorative, is that all wildlife activity significantly increases. This can be a bad thing, if you are referencing deer, or groundhogs. This can be a great thing, if we are talking about birds. So let’s talk about birds!
Birds are the most noticeable natural life form that gain access to yards in literally every type of area throughout Pennsylvania. Taking care of our feathered friends is an important part of gaining and maintaining your garden’s health, and birdhouses are an element that can be used successfully in all urban, suburban or rural areas.
Birdhouses can be made of any type of material, but its purpose is simple. To provide a home in a sturdy container, of not too large a size, allowing birds the opportunity to sleep and build nests and lay eggs and raise a family, all in a protected environment. They are protected from the changing elements, which can be brutal. They are protected from different critters, which can be fatal to them. And they will be protected from humans, who can become too curious about them and their offspring.
Why do you want to attract birds to your garden space, or any space? Because birds are cool. Birds are beautiful. They can naturally fly, and you can’t. Birds can chirp and sing and dart and swoop and are wonderful additions to any area. Birds will set up a home in and around your gardens and patrol for bugs and are fiercely territorial and love to serenade you while they perform their services for free. It is important to keep their houses clean and well maintained, and remove any debris from them, whether bird related, waste or feathers, or leaves and branches fallen from nearby trees.
Birdhouses can be made of many different types of materials. They can be funky or tame, fabulous or traditional, old fashioned or modern. I have taught York County children how to build their own funktastic birdhouses from scrap wood at the Glatfelter Library in Spring Grove, and that says a LOT about how far a library will go towards helping their patrons learn about things! When a library allows people to go wild with loud power tools inside a generally hushed learning environment, you know all sorts of good discovery is going to happen with those kids! They may have questioned my sanity when I proposed teaching this class, but we did great and everyone walked out of there having successfully hand-constructed their own very bird-tastic birdhouses.
The best birdhouses are made from recycled old wood. They don’t reek of fresh paint or sealer or any type of chemicals at all. This is why I have always used old wood that I got for free, because it was going to be scrapped. I can’t stand waste in the garden, whether its pulled weeds remaining uncomposted or wood without a future as a bench, fence pole, or birdhouse. Recycled, reused, and repurposed is my constant theme throughout EVERY garden.
I’m going to write about some of the birdhouses I’ve constructed. These are for sale in Redeux Market Place in York City and are being used in the Royal Square Gardens in the newest Royal Square Neighborhood also in York City. They came from local wood I gleaned from old barns here in York county. These rustic birdhouses are crafted from a mixture of old and new. Wood is recycled in these birdhouses from my immediate neighborhood of Spring Grove and Labott. Four major colors on the wood are used, some painted, grey, red, natural brown, and white. As you read this story and look at the photos, try and see what matches up! And let’s be honest. Barns are just very cool places to be. Every effort should be made to repair and restore them at every opportunity.
All this older wood is aged at least 100 years or more, and was for the most part, locally grown hardwood. Any new wood is scrap from renovations done on my barn. Some of these barns are, basically speaking, within the general area of each other and can be seen in one sweeping view of our beautiful green valley. Every single time there is a repair job going on to any local barn that results in discarded wood, I’m there with my truck for a pick up of future birdhouse materials!
The grey painted wood is from renovations made to the “Centennial Barn”built by Jonas Stover and his wife Mary in 1876, at Painted Spring Farm Alpacas in Spring Grove. This large former cow barn is built on the site where a smaller one had been. Alpacas and chickens and horses and Guenia Hens and intrepid barn cats are raised by the latest line of sturdy and dependable farmers, Beth and Neil Lutz. They keep this beautiful land pristine for agricultural purposes. They keep very busy with their alpaca herds, their wool business, and their steadfast commitment to the local 4H. You should go to one of their open houses one day and buy some wool. Also buy fresh eggs from them. They are delicious. If you ever fancy getting in superior shape to qualify to be an Olympic athlete, offer to help them out on their farm. Good old farm chores will get you in shape in no time!
The red painted wood is from the Fishel Barn, dated to 1856, in Labott, and was built by Daniel Fishel. This family farm site predates the American Revolution, and boasts a wonderful old log cabin. A memorable event in 1863 at the Fishel farm was during the Civil War. Confederate troops went past this barn on their way to York, and then passed by again, when leaving York on their way to fight at Gettysburg. The southern troops stole horses from this barn. The same family owns the land and its buildings today, and they raise cows and field crops. It’s been over 152 years since their horses were stolen in July at the height of the haying season, and they are still pissed about it. Go ask them about it if you don’t believe me.
The brown wood comes from my family barn in Labott that was originally owned by the Bentzel family. We think it was built in the late 1860’s. This property has been in my family for half a century, which doesn’t mean much around here, where property ownerships can last for well over 200 years. The barn is an English style, which means it is a remarkably square building, compared to all the long barns which are the local norm. The barn was used to house draft horses, pigs and store wagons, hay and straw. The family who lived here used to run the local Redmans club, Anooka Tribe number 525 next door to it back in 1910. This was a club where our local community leaders used to dress up like Native Americans, drink heavily, and then fear going home because they knew they were going to get chewed out by their wives. Go figure. Now the barn is home to fearless barn cats who patrol the local garden we grow marvelous plants in.
The white painted wood, dutch lapboard siding, is from off the old log cabin, adjacent to the Hoke House in Spring Grove, right on the roundabout. The Hoke house, a magnificent stone house of historic origin, right on the roundabout in Spring Grove, has been around since the 1747. That’s 265 YEARS! Be proud of yourself, York County, that’s amazing history! The old cabin had served as a bakery, and provided thousands of loaves of delicious York County bread that fed all sorts of historic residents and travelers that passed through Spring Grove, when it was called Spring Forge. This photo shows descendents of the original Hoke family, still active in preservation efforts of this fine historic site. The log cabin, along with some other neglected buildings, were torn down last year, as they generally were in a decayed, neglected condition. The grand and impressive Hoke House itself still yet stands, and the Save the Hoke House Committee has been working with Rutters, who are the owners of the location, to find a tenent who might like to try their hand at restoring the place before they occupy it. I can save the old local boards by myself to reuse as birdhouses, but it’s a tall order to try to save a huge old house like this, and York County can use all the history heroes it can get. Look up and call Paul Nevin, Hoke House Committee chairman, or Blake Stough of the Spring Grove Historical Society and ask how you can help preserve it.
To sum up this birdhouse blog, I use wood scraps from barn renovations because I am compelled to make something useful from piles of unwanted stuff. I have buckets of old bent nails that I found in my familys barn, because during the depression in the 1930’s no one ever threw anything out. I pick up weird bits from everywhere, knowing that one day I will decorate birdhouses with them. These birdhouses are funky and fabulous. I enjoy making them, and fantasize birds descended from wildlife that lived in our beautiful York County area 100+ years ago, can still find a home inside the same old wood that our ancestors used.
I love the stories that these barns and their wood bring into my life. It provides a link from the past to the present that we can contact with our own eyes and hands. When our past disappears, we fill in with our own presence, much like how the new mixes with the old in these birdhouses. Our community’s ancestors cared for our landscape, nearly 400 years ago, and the local Lenape Indians, for far longer then that. By our daily efforts, the newest generation can step in to carry on our agricultural traditions, and take their place in preserving, and becoming, part of our area’s very unique American history.
I love these old buildings, and think it’s great how resourceful York County residents and craftspeople can turn trash into treasure. Look closely around your neighborhoods, both urban, suburban and rural and I’m quite certain you yourself will be able to build a few birdhouses and create artistic homes for our fine feathered friends!