John Looser, of Belgrave, Ontario, worked as a successful home builder for two decades until he injured himself on the job nine years ago. After being told he was not able to work anymore, he started building birdhouses as a hobby, which soon became a way to earn a living. Looser now owns and operates Extreme Birdhouse, known throughout the world to offer an assortment of custom and prebuilt eclectic birdhouses that are, well, extreme.
"I have a chronic pain disorder. This helps me forget about the pain and gives me a reason to get up every day. I've always loved woodworking and I've done it all my life, so as much as the doctors tell me not to do this and not to do that, I couldn't help myself but to do something. This took off bigger than I ever thought. I've done shows [on channels] like Animal Planet for the most outrageous pet digs," says Looser.
Looser has built 71 of the giant structures in the last five years. About half of his orders are from the United States and the rest are primarily from his local area in Canada. Many clients want him to copy their home or cottage and most want the birdhouse to be a gift.
Originally, Looser began constructing Victorian-era building designs of the late 1800s for his own enjoyment. They sold quickly and he still builds his own designs for inventory when he's not making custom items. Usually, his only free time is in the winter when business slows down.
Looser usually works from pictures and starts with a floor-plan layout on plywood as if he was building a regular house. All the wood he uses is reclaimed from old barns.
"That's why I've been able to build so many. About four years ago, I collected a lot of the wood from a few barns so I still have enough to build a couple hundred houses."
Throughout the building process, Looser takes pictures and puts them onto a disc to give with the final product. Clients enjoy having the disc to see how their birdhouses were made, he says.
"I get people asking me to build all kinds of different structures, like the Taj Mahal and the Parliament building in Ottawa or the White House.
An average-sized birdhouse is 3' square, takes about a week to build and costs between $500 and $600. Smaller ones are about 18" sq. and sell for about $200. Larger, high-end birdhouses are about 9' wide, 9' tall with about 100 compartments, each measuring 6" to 8" square, to fit one bird. They sell for about $3,000.
Looser says he has received incredible media attention in various news articles, one recently from England. He has also been featured in Canadian Woodworking, the Garden Art Forum and on www.wild-bird-watching.com.
Fortunately, birds enjoy his creations just as much as humans.
"I've seen for myself because I had one up for five years and moved and when I took it down, every compartment was full with a nest.
"As fast as I put them up, the birds are on them, even as I'm building them. I turn my head to cut a piece of wood and I turn back and the bird shoots right out in front of me. At least I know they love them."
Extreme Birdhouse, 33 Queens St., Belgrave, ON, NOG1EO. Tel: 519-357-9595. www.extremebirdhouse.com
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.