BOOKS: Beastly Abodes: Homes for Birds, Bats, Butterflies and Other Backyard Wildlife

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1996:

Beastly Abodes: Homes for
Birds, Bats, Butterflies and
Other Backyard Wi l d l i f e, by
Bobbe Needham. Sterling Publishing
Co. (387 Park Ave. South, New York,
NY 10016), 1995. 144 pages, hardcover.

At a glance this looks like just
another book of birdhouses: ornaments for
the garden, never to be occupied by the creatures
they were built for. But though it has
plenty of photos of fancy artistic bird
dwellings, Beastly Abodes also contains an
unexpected wealth of information about
wildlife. Each house comes not only with
plans for building it, but also instructions on
siting it to attract the right creatures. Each is
made with natural or recycled materials that
blend with the surroundings.

Besides birdhouses, projects
include bat dwellings, butterfly and bee
shelters, even housing for toads and flying
squirrels. Some are simple, rugged, and
practical, using materials as diverse as
woven vines and gourds. Instructions for
working with gourds are a bit short on the
how-to of drying them properly. Finishing
already dried gourds, however, is thoroughly
covered. A few gourd designs are unbelievably
intricate, as is the twig mosaic siding
used on some of the birdhouses. And the
nuthatch house with a winged roof should
appeal to experienced woodworkers.
Each shelter design is accompanied
by detailed background on the species it
attracts. Tips include protecting preferred
species from predators, the right kind of
paint to use, and when to prepare the abode
for next season’s occupants. Though all the
tips are practical, I especially liked one
piece of advice about maintaining purple
martins: “Don’t die,” writes Needham,
“until you’ve taught someone else how to
manage your martin colony.”
Like many of the featured designs,
this book is a pleasant mix of practicality and
artistry. The photos alone would inspire
most backyard wildlife enthusiasts to new
heights of creativity. But the specifications,
based on solid research into wildlife habits,
are simple enough for the most inexperienced
craftsperson to adapt into dwellings
that creatures will find attractive.
––Cathy Czapla

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