|His "woodpecker lathe" turns out log
"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'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."
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.