just like homes built for humans, birdhouses are designed with trends in mind. In the case of a spring 2022 birdhouse by Nature Creations, the whitewashed walls, black trim, and use of wood and stone reference the farmhouse aesthetic that’s so popular right now in new home construction. “Every spring, we come up with a new style. We update our offerings, update the colors and trims, and bring in new models,” says Scott McDowell, 65, founder and owner of Olney, Illinois–based Nature Creations. Such stylish abobes inspire clients to hang their birdhouses indoors as works of art. “We watch trends and styles of houses and really pay attention to the [Pantone] Color of the Year,” says McDowell. “Oftentimes, people are decorating with that color, and we want to offer birdhouses to match a client’s décor.”
How did you start Nature Creations? I’ve always had an interest in woodworking, and I also liked the birding industry. I started building my own birdhouses just for fun, and as time progressed, people saw them and started asking me to make them one. The business was technically started in 1991, but I’d been making birdhouses in my woodshed for about 10 years before that.
You use repurposed wood and metal from barns and houses in southeastern Illinois. How do you find these properties? Well, I’m always on the hunt for materials. People in our area know that’s what we do and send us a lot of referrals—old barns being torn down or remodeled. In the beginning, I built my birdhouses out of new materials, but I prefer the look of the old materials—they have a lot of character. You can make unique buildings out of recycled wood and metal and found objects simply because those parts and pieces can’t be found anywhere else.
Can you talk us through your design process? We start with a pencil and paper. We design a house, build a prototype, and tweak it—we might have to make that birdhouse three or four times to get it right. We make one-of-a-kind birdhouses, but we’ll also produce many [duplicates] of the same birdhouse [design] for larger companies. We’ve specifically designed and manufactured birdhouses for Crate & Barrel and HomeGoods.
How has the pandemic affected your business? These last two years have been very, very busy. The pandemic has affected the way people live. People are staying at home and literally watching the birds. The two fastest-growing businesses are birding and gardening—all because people are staying at home. I feel blessed to be in an industry that has thrived. Not everyone is in the same boat.
What do you take into account when designing? We vary sizes and dimensions to attract different species. For example, we make a couple different sizes of entry holes. We have a 1 ¹∕₈-inch size opening that attracts little song birds like house wrens and chickadees. Our other opening, 1.5 inches, attracts bigger birds—bluebirds, Carolina wrens. The average size of our birdhouses is 12 to 14 inches. There is also a cleanout on the back of the house—that’s a 3-inch, round plastic plug that makes taking out the nest convenient and easy. If you’re going to try to attract birds, you have to clean it out seasonally. We recommend cleaning out the house in the fall so that it’s ready for spring nesting. Birdhouses also need proper ventilation. Our ventilation is around the roof: We leave a small gap under the roof to promote airflow but [still] keep out the elements.
Where can people buy your birdhouses? Customers can visit our website to get a sense for what we make. There’s a wholesale catalog online where retail partners can place orders. The website also has a list of garden and gift centers that carry our product.