Tiny Worlds

I thought bird watching was for civilized people who were patient, observant and willing to sit in the same spot for hours with binoculars. I admire the perception I had of birders, but I couldn’t imagine it was the sport for me. 

Instead, I was a peak bagger who rushed to find grand, sweeping views. Each summer was a marathon of hiking, backpacking and mountaineering that crisped my skin and tore the skin off my feet. There was little headspace to notice sparrows flitting in the foliage or raptors that dotted the sky. 

My breakneck lifestyle came to a screeching halt after a gorgeous day in the Cascade Mountains ended with a meat canyon cleaved into my leg.

I left the operating table with 32 stitches in a wheelchair.  Lonely, bed-bound months followed. I passed the time watching birds from the window. Craving any kind of company, I threw a few nuts and seeds outside to lure the birds closer. Crows, dark-eyed juncos and chickadees started dining in. I expanded the feeders and transformed my apartment balcony into an urban aviary. Jays, more sparrows, finches, woodpeckers and hawks appeared.

During the fall and winter seasons, the feeder became a rowdy sports bar. I watched a fierce aerial jousting tournament between three hummingbirds over nectar. Among the audience was a dark-eyed junco. He huddled onto the balcony railing until his body flattened like a pancake. His eyes flitted, terrified of becoming collateral damage between the warring trio.

Around springtime, the feeder would become a hot date spot. Finches would put on live performances of song and dance to impress the ladies. (Their success rate  was comparable to homo sapien males on dating apps.)

By summer, the lucky among them would turn the feeder into a family establishment. I laughed while watching a house finch try to eat and avoid his two children. He would hop from one end of the balcony to another to dodge the screaming chicks. In contrast, the house sparrows always honored their fatherly commitments without complaint. 

Once my life had reached a standstill, I realized the lives of birds were full of movement and drama. I unwittingly became a birder.

Early Brainstorming

While looking up bird cameras online, I came across Nova Scotia-based artist, Elling Lien. He created a project called Junco’s Pub that drew in all sorts of birds to his miniature bar. Sadly, the bar was closed due to an outbreak of Avian Flu, a situation that had become common in the human world with COVID-19.

I wanted to continue the magic he started, and had the idea to build my own little bird business.

After a few months, I got carried away, and built an entire strip mall of bird feeders.

Coming from a design background, I would always start each bird feeder project by coming up with a “brand” for what kind of business I wanted to create for the birds. A boba milk tea shop, a coffee shop, a Korean bar, a farm stand, etc. I would ideate on a logo for each:

Building Tiny Worlds

Working on building the Korean bar.

My Tools

Adhesives
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Gorilla Glue
  • Wood Glue
  • Craft airblow dryer

Coloring/Coats

  • Wood stain
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Polyurethane
Misc.
  • Epoxy Resin
  • Gloves
  • Googles
  • Tweezers

I would send these logos to be cut into small acrylic pieces with the logos engraved into them. I would use these pieces as storefront windows.

For the boxes, I would create rough drafts on the dimensions of the box and what features I intend for it. I would have wood cut accordingly. 

I figured out the measurements for what I wanted and would draft up a plan.
Each box has unique designs.

For all of my projects that involves designing an interior, I use acrylic paint and coat it with polyurethane. I live in an area with cold and wet weather, and it is paramount to protect these delicate structures from the elements. A lot of the furniture was colored with wood stain before I built them. 

For accessories and furniture, sometimes I purchase them online or create them myself. One of my favorite sub-projected was creating tiny paintings for the cafe’s wall.

One issue I still am figuring out is what’s the best adhesive. I attempted to use gorilla glue and it left an ugly residue and rarely held up for long.  Hot glue gun has had an easier application, but doesn’t last very long, either. So stay tuned for that.

Opening for customers

I try to glue all the little accessories down. While these birds haven’t been thieving, I’ve had some experiences in the past with certain birds (cough Grey Jays) thinking I operate IKEA. 

I spent months making sure the birds were comfortable and set up an extensive feeder that drew in feathered crowds (along with rodents and rabbits). These feeders were placed on little palettes on the ground. Some birds would wander into them where they wouldn’t be disturbed, and other species have a preference of foraging on the ground (like Juncos, Northern Flickers and Towhees).

Thanks for reading! It’s been a fun project that’s made a lot of smiles. Check out my YouTube channel for more footage of their antics, or Instagram page where I post my builds.