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Unexpected results

MEG MCCONAHEY, PHOTOS BY CHAD SURMICK

Artist Joe Szuecs also recycles materials into his stylish bird boxes with a creative re-use of everyday materials that is playful and thoroughly unexpected.

"I love transforming things," he said, standing beside a line-up of singular birdhouses at his Renga Arts Gallery in Occidental. And making birdhouses is, he maintains, "intrinsically fun." Maybe because, aside from the entrance hole size and a few other specifications recommended by wildlife experts, anything goes.

Rusted liner from an old portable pool becomes a textural siding. Cow tags from a junk store serve as whimsical "addresses." Ball-topped "moon flowers" are planted along the side of one house, lollipop flowers along another. Szuecs said he likes the look of the shadows these unusual attachments cast on the side of the house.

Every house he makes has a metal washer ring at the entrance as protection against woodpeckers that tend to chip at bare wood, rendering them uninhabitable to the small chickadees and house wrens that otherwise would use them.

"You're really looking for that sweet spot where they can get in but you keep out predators," he said about finding the perfect size and spot to locate the entry hole.

Basket weaver Geri Degenhardt makes her birdhouses out of material salvaged from nature. She gathers fresh willows from the Russian River to fashion a bottom, and builds up the rest with cottonwood or redwood bark, then decorates with lichen, pine cones, autumn leaves and pussy willow branches.

Degenhardt isn't sure if her houses are ever inhabited, but for many birdhouse lovers, habitability is really beside the point. It's the artistry and inventiveness of the design that attracts collectors, some of whom never even put their acquisitions outside.

As for all those little tree swallows, wrens and oak titmice searching for a safe nesting spot, appearance is irrelevant.

The Santa Rosa Bird Rescue Center features a collection of alternative nesting sites that are testament to the resourcefulness of their little makers. Birds have appropriated everything from a black leather loafer to to the side of a fan palm frond.

"You can put out these fancy birdhouses," said education coordinator Diane Hichwa, "but boy, the birds will seek their own style."