Day Trips

Jim Hansen, aka the Birdman of Bellville, can tell you a thing or two about birds and birdhouses

Jim Hansen
Jim Hansen (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Birdman of Bellville knows a thing or two about birds, cats, and life.

"For 70 years I thought I knew what women liked," Jim Hansen says. "Then I found out it's birdhouses."

Hansen builds birdhouses using barn wood for the walls and pressed tin for the roofs. The 2- and 2-and-a-half-foot-tall structures that have a vague resemblance to the area's German-built churches are accented with cast-iron fence fixtures and assorted parts. The houses are as much a work of art as they are avian cathedrals.

The gregarious septuagenarian began his post-retirement career by building furniture, cabinets, and yard ornaments. As he flips through a worn photo album, Hansen is quick to tell the stories behind the bed frames, pie safes, and bird feeders that he has built.

He does not have a picture of the birdhouse he built for the eye doctor in Sealy to match the local church. "That one's a beaut," Hansen says. "It's worth the drive down to see it." He declined a commission to build a birdhouse modeled after the two-story Victorian house across the street from his shop in Bellville. All the wrap-around porches would have been too much work, he says.

Hansen began selling the birdhouses under a shade tree beside the road in 1991. Soon after beginning the business he signed up as one of the original vendors at Market Days in Katy. Two years later he rented the vacant flooring company building on the south side of town for his shop and a small storefront.

Business really took off when he discovered eBay. "I've shipped birdhouses to every state in the Union except Kentucky," Hansen says. "I guess they don't have any birds in Kentucky."

Every week, Hansen churns out 20 or so of the birdhouses that come in three different sizes and eight different designs. "I've sold everybody in Bellville two of them," he says laughing about his production in the last 10 years. In that time he has never had a check bounce. "People who buy birdhouses don't write bad checks," he says.

Hansen regularly drives around the state looking for the raw materials for the birdhouses. Currently, the houses are built from 85-year-old yellow pine from a barn outside of Wallis, Texas. He says the wood is still very fragrant in the center. He never uses lumber from urban fences, even though the wood looks well-aged; it is too thin to last much longer.

The roofs of the birdhouses are made from the squares of pressed tin that was used in stores around the Midwest. Some of it came from a dealer in St. Joseph, Mo. No two roofs are the same, giving each birdhouse a unique look. "The women know if it's really old or not," Hansen says. "You can't fool them."

The design of the birdhouses provides protection for the birds while allowing easy cleaning at the end of the season. Still, of the thousands of birdhouses that Hansen has made over the years, he says that the majority of them never make it to the yard. "I had one lady tell me that she bought her 114th birdhouse from me," Hansen says. "There is no telling how many she has now."

Along with the houses that are perfect for wrens and sparrows, Hansen also makes multiplex purple martin houses. He calls the 12-room birdhouses "Bellville condos." Known for a voracious appetite for mosquitoes and bugs, the purple martin needs manmade homes to survive east of the Mississippi. The condos need to be placed in open spaces and cleaned out annually.

Hansen experiments with his birdhouse designs in his back yard even though it drives his cats nuts. "I just happen to love cats, too," he says with a chuckle. In Katy and on eBay he is known as the "Katykatman."

The Birdman of Bellville can be found Tuesday through Sunday from 7am to 2pm on the south side of Bellville at 233 Front St. (TX 36). Give him a call at 979/733-3669 or visit his Web site at www.texasbirdman.com.


736th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Birdman of Bellville, Jim Hansen, Market Days, purple martin, birdhouses, Wallis

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