Delaware craftsman’s work is for the birds

For 25 years Tom Burke built houses with his father, today in the parking garage of his Wilmington condo building, Tom still builds houses, but now they’re for our feathered friends.

Burke started out building a birdhouse for a girlfriend, her mother liked it so much he made one for her friend, and 15 years later he is still building them.

These houses are not your typical birdhouse, a little thing you may hang on a tree in your backyard. Make no mistake these are mansions, mansions for the birds.

Burke has produced 144 houses so far. Some of the houses are reflections of homes seen in Wyeth paintings. Some are just models of peoples’ homes. Others are some much more high profile. Burke made a bird house version of Skywalker ranch as a birthday present for George Lucas.

Burke’s artist inspiration didn’t stop with Wyeth. “I’m doing some that look like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. I have a couple that are Frank Lloyd Wright design inspired birdhouses.” When asked if his houses are art or craft, Burke responded, “I want this to be artwork, its American folk art.”

There is certainly a bit of both art and craft involved in making these houses. Each one has multiple ports for the birds to get in and once inside each bird gets his own room. Not a bad deal for the birds.

The houses themselves aren’t built to architectural designs or scale. Burke calls them “whimsical scale.”

And in a real life case of life imitating art, Burke tells the story of one house he made for a client. “I put a copper roof on their birdhouse and about two years later I drove by, there was a copper roof on the real house because the lady liked the copper roof so much.”

Because he works on his creations at eye level, sometimes there are a few surprises when he gets the house up on a pole eight feet in the air. “A lot of times I’ll get there and realize I hadn’t painted the bottom of all the little perches or I haven’t painted the bottom of the house.” Every now and then he discovers he is missing a gutter or a downspout or some other detail.

But why would anyone wish to spend hours of his or her day working on birdhouses from inside the parking garage of the building where he lives? “Its fun to do and people stop and take pictures, I just enjoy doing it.”

When people ask him what he does, he tells them simply, “I build birdhouses.” But these birdhouses are far from simple. For Tom Burke, “It’s fun.”

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You can learn more about Tom Burke’s work when you visit him online at tfburkebirdhomes.com

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