Homes For Small Birds Come From A Child's Hands

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The pines, junipers and oaks of the Rim Country are home to a variety of birds, from mighty eagles to the tiny finches.

The finches (and other small birds) may also make their homes in the wooden birdhouses Leon Keddington has helped Payson youth build over the past six years.

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Bear Den and Cub Scouts make totes to carry their tools and then sent a handmade thank you.

"I quit counting at over 400 and really have not done much in 2007, so I look forward to getting into it again," Keddington said.

He originally offered the program as an alternative to TV and computer games for seven to 11-year-old youth.

"Younger kids, and seniors, enjoy making birdhouses too," he said.

He kicked around the birdhouse idea with then-daughter-in-law Hope, who taught school in Flagstaff.

Hope's first grade students became "the original design team" when Keddington asked them to draw what a birdhouse looked like.

From the pictures the students drew, Keddington designed a kit -- seven pieces of wood, nails, wire to hang the house with and a stoop stick for the bird to rest on before fluttering in the house.

He has since clarified the kit instructions (Payson Packaging gives him a discount for copying), uses "cull" or raw wood obtained at a discount from Foxworth-Galbraith. Macky's Grill provides the bags to hold the kits.

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Leon Keddington pre-drills the front door of a birdhouse.

One year, early on, during a "see where daddy works" day, Keddington said Foxworth employees brought their children in and made birdhouses from his kits.

Boy and Girl Scouts, students in various classrooms in the Rim Country and those who attended a craft program through Payson Parks and Recreation have also made birdhouses.

On July 1, 2003, Lani Hall and her first-grade students at Frontier Elementary School nominated him for the Roundup's Good Guy award.

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A first-grade student gets help building her birdhouse in Lani Hall's first-grade room at Frontier Elementary School.

"I have no problem finding volunteers to help. I usually like a ratio of one adult per two children for the younger ages and a one-to-four ratio from ages seven through 11," he said.

He has found that groups of not more than 25 children are the right size.

"It is just a ton of fun," Keddington said.

The birdhouses are free. Keddington arrives with kits, glue and 15 hammers suited for small hands.

He does not provide the decorating materials.

Because different groups of children are at different levels of motor skill development and creativity, the exteriors of the birdhouses always turn out differently.

"Here's the darn thing -- It is just the way it is in nature -- If we build birdhouses, say in the springtime, those houses will be unoccupied until the next year," Keddington said.

It is a matter of how long it takes to weatherize and for the human scent to disappear.

"I made one with old wood and a bird occupied it immediately," he said.

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A class of crafty students at a Payson Parks and Recreation Department event several years ago.

Over time, people have requested a project other than a birdhouse, so Keddington comes in with kits, "tool totes for boys and garden totes for girls."

The Birdhouse Man's goal for 2008 is to work with service groups to do five or six programs. He already has one set up through Kiwanis.

"There is only one rule, the birdhouses are always free to the participants," he said.

Groups interested in Keddington's birdhouses may contact him at (928) 468-9667.

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