My daughter and I love to watch birds. Our house is located near a state forest preserve, so we often go for walks together and take in everything nature has to offer us. The truth is, there’s not a lot around in the way of nature outside of little forest preserves like this one, because we live right on the edge of a big, rumbling city. So we take our little book with pictures of different types of birds, and we take our slightly bigger book with pictures of different types of flowers, and we head out into our little piece of forest. My daughter practically squeals with delight whenever she spots a bird, flower, or butterfly. We’ll quickly take a picture of it with my phone in case it flies away, we’ll admire it for as long as it will let us, and then we’ll pull that picture back out and try to find a good match in one of our books. After a good, long tromp through the forest preserve, we head back and my daughter tells my wife the names of every bird, flower, and butterfly we saw on our walk.
It’s one of my favorite parts of any week.
Eight months ago, my daughter Zoey and I came back from one of these little walks early in the afternoon. She had a birthday party to get to—her “bff” was turning nine years old. We live in the same neighborhood, so I just sent my daughter off on her bike, telling her to ride on the sidewalk and be careful. About twenty minutes later I got a phone call from her “bff’s” mom: their son had been skateboarding with a little ramp set up in the street, and had challenged Zoey to jump the ramp on her bike. Zoey was now being rushed to the hospital with what was looking like a broken leg. Five minutes and some serious speeding later, I was at the hospital, and it was confirmed. It would be as long as two months before Zoey could get that cast off.
Zoey was brave and she was smiling easily the next day, but she told me over and over that she was “so upset” that we wouldn’t be able to go birdwatching for months. After about a week, she seemed completely bummed as she sat on the couch with her casted leg up. She would read about a page in the book I had given her, then sigh and look out the window. This happened over and over until suddenly she said, “I wish we lived a little bit closer to the birds.” A lightbulb went off in my head. Duh! I have a little girl who is obsessed with birds, and I don’t have a birdhouse in the yard? Suddenly excited, I practically ran over and knelt next to Zoey, who cocked her head at me quizzically. “What if the birds lived closer to us?” I asked.
And so began the most fun DIY project of the decade.
When I first told Zoey about the idea of building a birdhouse, she just stared at me in shock. “You mean… a house… for birds? That doesn’t make sense. Birds need nests, daddy, not houses.” But as soon as I explained it, she was so excited that I almost wanted to tell her to skip school the next day so that we could get started on it. But I was a responsible father, and I waited for the weekend. We did look up every type of birdhouse we could find on the computer before the weekend came, though. Zoey immediately dismissed some models and pensively considered others. Gosh, my daughter is a cutie.
When Saturday came, she had decided what birdhouse she wanted us to build. It wasn’t any of the real birdhouses that we had seen pictures of online; no, it wasn’t even technically a birdhouse. It was a drawing—concept art for some sort of place for fairies to live. It was essentially a spiraling ring of rounded birdhouses—a bird conclave or bird apartment complex, as it were. She seemed so fired up about it that I didn’t even hesitate to say yes, though I had yet to realize just how complex this project would be.
I left Zoey in her cast, sitting on the couch, and went to the hardware store on a very important mission: ask somebody how on earth I would go about making this thing. I showed the printed-out drawing to some workers there, and they showed me the types and cuts of wood I should use and told me the names of the tools I would need to build it. A lot of it went over my head, but I bought the wood and trusted in the inheritance of my father’s toolbox to have whatever tools I needed.
I got home and set up a lawn chair for Zoey outside, carried her to it, and we got to work (I did the work with the tools, and she was the newly titled Chief Executive Birdhouse Overseer).
I had done some projects with my dad when I was young, but I looked through my tools for something to try to round out the wood and was forced to face up to my own not-handyman-ness. “Look, Zoey,” I said. “I think it will be too hard to make these round like the drawing. What if we make them boxes instead?” My awesome daughter looked back at the house and said, “Yeah, then their houses would be like miniature versions of our house!”
With her permission received, I started making small boxes. It was very easy once I made the first one. Next, I took a two by four and sawed the end into a point. I drove it into the recently rained on, soft lawn using a sledgehammer and a ladder to get above it. Smaller rods for the spokes, and I hung the birdhouses from each spoke. Over the next week, Zoey stained and painted the base of it and I did the same to the top. Finally, we bought birdseed.
“How soon will the birds come?” Zoey asked me as we put the birdseed out in the evening. “This is going to be the coolest place to make a nest in all the land, ZZ,” I responded. “So hopefully not too long.”
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of crutches banging on my door. I jumped up and got to the door in time for her to swing it open, face beaming. “They’re EVERYWHERE, dad!! The birds are EVERYWHERE! It’s-it’s like a wicked cool zoo!!” Never did getting woken up at six thirty a.m. feel so good.