Telegraph, The (GA)
Family's business is one for the birds
Skippy Davis, Telegraph Staff Writer
late Laurance Darwin Sawyer just wanted to build a better
birdhouse. And he did. Sawyer built birdhouses by the dozens. He
built them with curb appeal and rustic style, and bluebirds,
goldfinches, sparrow, wrens and more flocked to occupy them.
Sawyer died in 1994, but family members -
his widow, 94-year-old Adelaide Sawyer, and their children and
grandchildren - have continued his work.
brother Marvin took it over after Daddy died, but then Marvin
died in 2000," said Laurance Sawyer's daughter, Elaine Sawyer
Whittemore. She and her husband, Edward, stepped in to help her
mother continue the business. "Our objective has been to keep it
going," she said.
Housing, custom-made log bird houses, feeders and suet feeders,
is headquartered in a shed outside the home Edward and Elaine
Sawyer Whittemore share with her mother.
company name is Bluebird, the family manufactures houses for
many types of songbirds, owls, ducks, woodpeckers and others.
every little bird except the hummingbird," Elaine Whittemore
primary raw material is logs. A fallen tree in the forest can be
a prize, and friends and family members keep their eyes open for
them. Elaine even selects choice small branches to serve as
popular with their customers, but cypress, sycamore, white birch
and ponderosa pine are other types of wood they use. Some wood,
such as walnut, is sanded and varnished, but most often they
leave the bark on, sometimes still with the lichens, mosses and
ferns the tree hosted.
time my father had 30 orders for houses with resurrection fern,"
Whittemore said. "It took us years to fill them, but eventually
we found enough resurrection fern, and most of the people who
had ordered a long time before still wanted them."
the nest safe from predators, a bird house entry hole is
precisely the size to accommodate the adult bird. The house
wren, for example, wants a hole 1 1/4-inches in diameter; the
slightly larger bluebird wants 1 1/2 inches; the tree swallow 1
sections lie in rows on shelves, each one hand-labeled on the
bottom with its own number, the date and its size - a
custom-made work of art.
bins hold metal roofs and trays.
galvanized metal tops are made for us in Chattanooga; the feeder
trays and lids are recycled container lids that we paint, and
then we drill drain holes in them," Whittemore said.
of the houses can be removed for viewing or photographing the
babies in the nest.
bird house fits onto a pole, which attaches to a recessed, flat,
wooden plug that has ventilation grooves and drain holes.
feeders, the plug has a cone-shaped top, which forces the seed
to lie near the outside perimeter to make it more easily
accessible to the small birds.
of the production process is the woodpecker lathe, the third one
the company has built. Laurance Sawyer invented the original one
and later built a second version, and named it for the bird that
also hollows logs for habitat.
late son, Marvin, designed the woodpecker lathe that's in use
today, installing improvements to ease and speed production.
Sawyer also built a pipe-cutting machine and mechanical punches
to punch and flare the tops of the metal posts that attach to
the houses and feeders.
sell for $40 and feeders from $45-$60. Poles and predator guards
are $10 and masks are $5. The mask is a metal guard for the
birdhouse entry hole to prevent squirrels from chewing their way
Sawyer keeps up a file of 8,000 names of commercial and
individual customers who have purchased from the business over
the years since it began in 1974.
Crafting a Legacy
story of this family's love for songbirds really began much
earlier, with Laurance Sawyer's father, Edmund Joseph Sawyer.
Sawyer was park naturalist at Yellowstone National Park and
later field ornithologist for New York state and widely known
for his precise paintings of large and small birds in their
Sawyer was born in 1880. Orphaned at an early age, he dropped
out of school after a teacher ridiculed a paper he turned in.
list all the birds he knew and to tell about them, he turned in
only one bird: the robin. What the teacher failed to notice was
an accompanying extensive list of his personal observations of
the robin, its nest, eggs, habitat and lifestyle.
was only one of a possible 60 that he could have thus described,
but time ran out," Laurance Sawyer wrote in an essay about his
father. Sawyer wrote that his father told him, "I left school
that day and never went back."
Whittemore proudly displays a photograph of her grandfather
wearing the uniform of a park ranger and pointing out some of
Yellowstone's ospreys to President Calvin Coolidge.
has many of her grandfather's bird paintings framed and hanging
in her home. About a dozen of his works were used on the covers
of the Audubon Society's educational materials.
Sawyer died in 1971 at his home on Vashon Island in Puget Sound,
Wash., which he had chosen as a bird haven. He had published
booklets of plans for bird houses constructed from boards, with
precise, hand-drawn illustrations.
illustrated one book with what he thought was the best man-made
bird house of all: a hollow log.
up, Laurance Sawyer was a willing student of his father's vast
knowledge and developed his own lifelong interest in birds.
wasn't until he was 63 that he retired from a regular job and
turned to building bird houses.
Sawyer had in mind a machine that would hollow out the logs. His
first effort was a 5-inch saw blade rigged to a washing machine
half an hour to saw out the middle and I nearly burned the motor
up," he told a Chattanooga news reporter.
served as a prototype for the first woodpecker lathe. And that
was the beginning of Bluebird Housing.
grew up in the woods and was always interested in birds, so I
grew up outdoors, always tapping on a hole to see what came
out," said Elaine Whittemore. "My son and daughter-in-law live
next door and help out with the houses, and nieces and nephews,
too - just anybody who's got a free hand. It's just in our