Making birdhouses is something of a lark for Robert Alexander. He's usually busy making caskets.
"That's my job," said Alexander, a woodworker from Farr West who says he makes what's in demand. "Right now, I'm doing fancy chicken coops."
When he has time, he makes birdhouses. Two of his latest were recently named winners in the 2012 Birdhouse Competition at the Ogden Nature Center. All entries and winners are on exhibit through Aug. 31, along the center's Birdhouse Trail.
Alexander took Best of Show in the birdhouse competition with a round cedar birdhouse that looks like an Indian Head nickel. Instead of using a chisel to carve out the features of the coin, he used a laser engraver and computer numerical control router.
"Imagine what Michelangelo could have done if he had a CNC router," Alexander said.
Alexander's wooden nickel was inspired by a coin bank, and he adapted the idea to make the birdhouse.
"I had to draw stuff up in the computer, so I could cut out the shape," he said. "There are about five sections in it."
The nickel birdhouse turned out so well that Alexander's making one that looks like the Utah quarter. The process is the same, beginning with putting a pattern or image into his computer.
"I take it into my software, and start deciding which areas I want higher, and which I want lower, and put in the lettering," he said.
The computer controls the router, which cuts away the unwanted wood.
"Then I go through and do hand sanding, and maybe add a little more detail," he said. "It usually takes two or three times until I've got it perfect."
Alexander's other entry, "Sunflower," took first place in the Imaginative/Artistic category.
"I did one for my wife, because she wanted a birdhouse with a sunflower on it," he said. "I've got three others now, besides the one I took to the nature center. ... The birds are happy."
The woodworker remembers making birdhouses as a young Scout, but now he makes them to keep birds around his yard.
"They get rid of a lot of bugs for you, that otherwise you would have to spray or pick off your flowers and vegetables," he said. "It's cheap bug insurance -- give birds a house, and they'll take care of your pests."
Entries by Harvey Dalton and Andrew Callis rounded out the top three awards. Dalton, of Huntsville, took the Judge's Choice award with an elegant-looking oak birdhouse sporting a copper top. Callis, of Salt Lake City, was recognized with an honorable mention for "Wren Cottage," made of salvaged wood with an aluminum-can roof.
Winners were also named in several categories. In the adult division, in addition to Robert Alexander's "Sunflower," first-place winners were Best Use of Recycled/Natural Materials, "Flying Is for the Birds" by David Mudrow of Ogden; Unique Use of Materials, "Beerdhouse" by R S Huffman of Salt Lake City; Form/Function, "The Convertible" by Keith Banner of K.C. Wood Arts, Ogden.
In the division for children, or children collaborating with an adult, the first-place winners were Imaginative, "The Modern Perch" by Wolf Den Pack No. 529 of Kaysville; Artistic, "Hawaiian Ducky" by Savanna Johnston of Morgan; Unique Use of Materials, "Steel and Paper" by Rebecca Ory and Gerard Hernandez of Ogden.
Prizes were awarded, with $200 for Best of Show, $100 for Judge's Choice, and $25 for Honorable Mention. First place in each of the adult categories earned $25, with $15 for second place, and $10 for special recognition. Awards in the children's categories ranged from $15 to $5.
Alexander hopes people will take the time to see the birdhouses.
"There's one that's really cool, that they did with pine cones," he said, speaking of a birdhouse that looks like a table centerpiece. "They had one a guy did that looks like an airplane with recycled metal parts. ... One looks like a little, tiny trailer -- I thought that one should have won first place."
The entries are placed along a short trail.
"You could walk through, and see them all in 15 to 20 minutes," he said.
- WHAT: Birdhouse Competition & Exhibit
- WHEN: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, through Aug. 31
- WHERE: Ogden Nature Center, 966 W. 12th St., Ogden
- ADMISSION: $4, $3/seniors, $2/age 2-11, free/2 and younger; 801-621-7595