Artist Thomas Dambo at work on a birdhouse mural on a library in Hvalsø, outside of Copenhagen. Courtesy of Thomas Dambo

A Danish artist builds scrapwood houses for his avian neighbors.

Despite the abundance of pigeons, bobbing pompously and well-fed through the streets, cities can be tough places for birds. They’re loud and polluted and often short on the quiet, secluded spaces in which avian urbanites like swallows and sparrows can roost.

So Thomas Dambo started making homes for them. Since 2007, the Copehnagen-based artist has built over 3,500 birdhouses in cities around the world, from Beirut to Berlin. The clever, colorful dwellings made from salvaged wood and donated paint shield their winged occupants from their harsh urban environments.

Birdhouses lining the doorway to the Nordic Counsel in Copenhagen. (Thomas Dambo)

Dambo, who grew up watching birds flock to the feeder on his grandmother’s porch, got his start as a street artist, stenciling and painting graffiti all over Copenhagen. But he wanted to create something that would make a difference in his environment. As he was scavenging for scrap wood for another project, he came up with the idea of building birdhouses from recycled materials.

Over the course of his project, called “Happy City Birds,” he’s experimented with where he places his houses: sometimes he installs them on lampposts at busy intersections, sometimes on trees in a park. “People always ask me if birds move into the houses,” Dambo says, “and the answer is yes and no.” The birds, he says, tend to avoid the houses he installs along the main roads; they prefer those he scatters throughout city parks.

A whole scrapwood colony for birds. (Thomas Dambo)

If installing a birdhouse on a tree seems counterproductive, it’s not: Audubon notes that as natural settings have dwindled, urban birds have grown to depend on human-built dwellings. Some species—Bluebirds and Chimney Swifts in particular—prefer to settle in manmade houses over more natural roosts. When well-made and placed among inviting surroundings, Audubon writes that “a nest box or birdhouse may be occupied, defended, and filled with eggs almost immediately.” Houses like Dambo’s “play an important role in the conservation of these species.”

Some of Dambo’s “camouflage birdhouses,” blending into their surroundings. (Thomas Dambo)

Dambo says his little structures combine artistic and conservationist efforts. Last year, he installed 52 “camouflage birdhouses” in Ishøj, outside of Copenhagen. Each was painted to blend in almost undetectably with the walls behind them. “The birds moved in almost as soon as we put them up,” Dambo says.

Though birds may be skittish about moving into the houses Dambo installs in more trafficked urban locales, he leaves them up anyway. “The birdhouses on the street remind us that we live in a world with other species,” he says. “We have to make room for them.”

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