If you’re like me, I honestly thought most birdhouses were decorative. In fact, when an actual nest, bird and egg appeared in my cheap Hobby Lobby nesting box, I was surprised they actually functioned! But that’s different now because I met Dale Kockx, an 86-year-old carpenter and bird-lover. Think of him as a bird-friendly contractor and real estate agent in one- with no downpayment nor mortgage required on the valuable properties he sells.
I pulled up to Dale’s home on a cold March morning to see significant activity before opening the door. Outside his home are dozens of birdhouses on poles, in trees and under branches. He is clearly an excellent landlord and I wanted to be the same. Dale provides decades worth of experience in providing the perfect home, encouraging young growing families to move in and return year after year.
Find A Good Contractor
Machinist and carpenter from Milbank, SD, Kockx spent the last 60 years woodworking. While still in seventh grade, he worked with his first jigsaw and advanced his vocation from there. Twenty years ago he started collecting birdhouse plans, modifying them and selling the finished homes at his annual garage sale. He claims he makes about $1/hr creating them but he never meant his hobby to be a big money-maker. He keeps cost down by up-cycling wood materials, license plates and garage sale finds. Friendly with local fencing company who allows him access to old fence materials, he returns the favor by gifting birdhouses to their team every year.
Stepping into his basement, I recalled my childhood thoughts of Santa’s workshop. Dozens of creations are neatly displayed for his annual “open house” mid-April.
Dale walks me through the process of finding a plan he likes, developing a template, collecting used scraps and creating beauty from it.
Invite Excellent Neighbors
Although Dale’s birdhouses attract many species of birds, I was fascinated by his love of the Purple Martin.
For the most part, insects make up the majority of the Martin’s diet including flying ants, beetles, butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies, mayflies, moths, stinkbugs, wasps, a few houseflies.
“Dale was a patient of mine. Great guy. 12 years or so ago he invited me to his house and I have been buying ever since. I have purchased six bird houses from him: Two tiered birdhouses, one church-style and 3 Martin houses. I have given 3 as gifts. The Martin houses are at Lake Poinset. Martins eat a lot of mosquitoes. His birdhouses are all handmade and of high quality”.
Martins also chase off crows and vultures that intrude on their nesting sites. In theory, Martins therefore serve as scarecrows, keeping foragers from pilfering fresh food in the garden.
They are also friendly towards man, allowing the inspection of their nests without any apparent negative effects to the birds. When the nests are put back up in place after inspection, the parent birds soon return to their daily activities as if nothing ever happened. Sitting back and watching their antics throughout the day is a pleasant and relaxing past time.
Location, Location, Location
Each bird has slightly different needs. East of the Rocky Mountains, Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in human-supplied housing. They are dependent on us for their survival. Basics for Martin’s hospitable housing include a multi-compartment house, entrance hole, perch rods, and pole. Dale also is familiar with appropriate size and shapes of these components to create homes the birds love.
One of the most important steps in attracting Purple Martins is choosing the right location for your Martin housing. They prefer open areas with clear flyways. Choose the center of the largest open spot available, about 30-120 feet from human housing and at least 40-60 feet from trees.
Opening housing at the right time is also critical for success. Purple Martins only use housing during the breeding season. The first Martins to arrive look for suitable nesting areas that will best attract females.
Until the birds begin to arrive back from migration, keep houses closed. This will deter other cavity-nesting birds, such as Tree Swallows, Bluebirds, House Sparrows, and European Starlings from claiming the housing.
Martins have been known to lay eggs twice during the reproductive time. Be sure to check on homes occasionally and empty/clean nesting areas as needed. Also do not close the entrance holes or take the housing down until late August, or mid-September for northern regions.
Saddly, this might be the last year of Dale’s birdhouse sales. He is the primary care-giver to his wife, whose health is failing. He does all the cooking, cleaning and driving- which makes for a very active octogenarian. He expects to sell his entire collection within 1-2 days during the Spring Sale. Among other things, Dale has also collected a fan club who flock to his sale as soon as he announces it.
For now, please consider supporting this gifted artist. Watch Glean For Good’s FB page for Dale’s final open house date- likely to be mid-April- in time for new birds to move into your neighborhood and love their new home!