"Bluebird man of Georgia"
From the Chattanooga News-Free Press
Story by Merry Lynn Starling

His "woodpecker lathe" turns out log birdhouses.

"My father quit school as a teenager to study birds, and since he had no money to make it in New York, or no family influence to make it in Boston, he went west," laughed Laurance Sawyer.

Sawyer's father is the late Edmund Joseph Sawyer, the renowned naturalist and artist.

From his father's vivid interest in birds, Sawyer learned all about the kinds of birds, their habits, their shapes, their colors, and of course, their habitats.

And today, in "bird circles" Laurance Sawyer is well known as the "birdhouse builder."

"When I was about six or seven, Sawyer explained at his home in Ringgold, "my father gave us a birdhouse, and we were always interested in birds, studying them, looking at them, watching them at the birdhouse. My father wrote many books on birdhouses and design -- thought he never made any money from them -- and in one of these books, his pictures showed what he thought was the best man-made birdhouse -- a hollowed out log.

"I got interested in birdhouse design - I've always been interested in mechanics - and I made a few houses from wood limbs. I was always trying to do it faster, better, and more attractive. So when I retired in 1974 - I was 63 - I decided to do something that I'd always wanted to do. I had in mind a machine to hollow out the birdhouses, and I began working to perfect it."

"As I continued to work on logs, the thought came to me that a smaller saw might work, so I rigged up a five-inch saw blade with a washing machine motor. It took half an hour to saw out the middle and I nearly burned the motor up."

Perfecting his say to just the right dimensions, Mr. Sawyer called it a "woodpecker Lathe" since it does the work a woodpecker does.

Immensely popular with birds of all kinds, Sawyer's houses have entrances drilled to exacting specifications to allow only certain species to fit into the nest. With these modifications, wren houses have 1 1/8 inch entrances while tree swallows have a doorway just a tiny bit larger.

With tapered bottoms and removable roofs, the birdhouses fit smoothly on metal poles and offer residents maximum protection from predators.

Knowledgeable in bird lore, Sawyer remembers the legacy his father passed on to his family - that of an immense love for birds.

"After my father went west to study birds." Sawyer explained, "he was appointed the "Yellowstone Naturalist". After he came back east, he served as the New York State field ornithologist. It was during that time that he painted a stunning mural depicting passenger pigeons.

"That mural was beautiful," Sawyer remembered. "The passenger pigeons became extinct in 1914, and my father was writing a book on this when he died. The mural hung in an Ohio post office and was transported to a federal art museum, and since then we've lost track of it," Sawyer said.

"Birds were the main point of my father's life, and the whole family learned to love birds as well. We would sit and watch the bluebirds and the robins at our birdhouses. you've probably seen one of the paintings my father did for the national Audubon Society of a robin singing in the apple blossoms..."

From all his work with bird paintings - having painted several of the famous Audubon colorplates - the late Mr. Sawyer had been called "dean of American bird artists."

"My philosophy has always been that when we are engaged in any worthwhile occupation, we have more than human help," said Sawyer of his work with birdhouses. "We've sold birdhouses all over the United States."

Making birdhouses from cedar, black cherry, mimosa and oak, Sawyer gets wood from all over the country from friends and customers and said he prefers green wood with a firm bark.

Besides making birdhouses, Sawyer and his family also make feeders that can accommodate 20 to 30 birds at once. "last winter we used 50 pounds of sunflower seeds a week in our feeders," he laughed, remember the sight of so many birds. (250)

While the birdhouses are a successful venture for Sawyer and his family, are they successful for the birds? "Well" laughed Mr. Sawyer "If you don't have any birds in your yard now, and you put up one of these houses, I'll say it won't be long before you have a bluebird or two, and then a whole lot more.


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