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Building a backyard career


Area woman's birdhouse kits being used to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers


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Tracy and Mary Dunsmore have carved out a new career from Mary’s love of animals, particularly birds. Mary’s birdhouse kit business is beginning to thrive, and the kits are now being requested from rehabilitation centers to help wounded soldiers perform tasks. photo by Paula Parisot.

April 09, 2008
What began as a simple hobby for a Tri-City area woman has quickly transformed into a part-time business and charitable opportunity.

Mary Dunsmore has always had an affinity for animals—cats, dogs and all kinds of birds, from ducks in her pond to chickens and pigeons in coops behind her pole barn. Her yard is adorned with dozens of birdhouses, including condos and several gourds she grew to fashion into trendy homes for the smaller birds that make their home in Riley Township.

Her love of birding stems from her father; who developed the passion for bird watching after illness left him disabled. Seven years ago she adopted 20 pigeons and "fell in love with them," she says. And over the years she has racked up countless hours of research on her feathered friends.

"I have CDs of bird songs so I can identify a lot of birds by their singing," she says.

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When she began pondering the idea of a small business that could bring in a few extra dollars, her husband chimed in.

"Make sure whatever it is, you enjoy doing it," Tracy Dunsmore told his wife.

In the past, she had built a few birdhouses as gifts and for her own enjoyment. The gifts were always well received. So, she decided to take her passion of birding and building to a whole new level.

There is a profound satisfaction in watching a bird nest in her creations, she says. This is the experience she wanted to share—helping others build and create their very own birdhouse.

"But not everyone has the tools necessary to cut the wood and drill the holes needed for a birdhouse," she notes.

Luckily, her husband does.

"I taught her how to use the table saw and the drill press, she already knew how to use the miter saw," he says. "She does a lot of it herself—I did help her make the patterns."

Mary says they're happy to share a hobby together and he has been of great assistance.

"I do most of the work but he is always there when I need help," Mary says. "He has taught me how to make great angle cuts and ways to measure so I do not mess up and waste wood."

And the philosophy of "waste not, want not" begins at a mill located near Cedarville in the Upper Peninsula. The small father and son sawmill they purchase cedar from uses wood from contractors who are clearing. "They don't just cut trees to make money," Mary points out.

She began selling cedar birdhouse kits last November and was slowly getting orders, one here and there. And now with a little help from eBay, her business is growing quickly. In just a week, Dunsmore had sold 30 birdhouses.

"I feel excited when orders start piling in," Mary says. "I am so happy that people like my birdhouses and kits and that they are buying them. I am getting so much positive feedback in eBay about them."

And now she has a chance to share her Michigan-made birdhouse kits with injured soldiers at VA hospitals around the country and with other charitable organizations.

A military nurse manager who works in the brain injury unit at a VA hospital in Idaho contacted Mary a couple weeks ago through the eBay email. He was interested in purchasing kits for soldiers who are in the hospital recovering from head injuries. He asked if he could get a discount as he was paying for them out of his own pocket.

Naturally, Mary gave him the best price she could.

Others had viewed his e-mail to Mary and began ordering kits to donate to the soldiers and as the word spreads Mary is getting more and more orders every day from generous citizens who want to help out.

Assembling the kits helps with rehabilitation for the injured soldiers. The kits are easy enough for a nine-year-old to put together, which unfortunately is about the average mentality of the brain-injured soldiers, the nurse told Mary.

All that is needed is a screwdriver to assemble the kits. They are pre-cut, the edges sanded, all the holes are pre-drilled and it includes all the hardware and directions in a shrink-wrapped package.

Painting the houses is not recommended, as it can be toxic to the birds, Mary says. She suggests leaving the cedar rough, allowing it to weather as it ages will attract birds for years to come and bring out the natural beauty of the wood.

Mary has contacted other VA hospitals to see if they also have a need for their soldiers and will also be working this summer with a charitable company to donate to the Jackson Great Lakes Burn Camp in Jackson, Michigan.

She makes 11 different birdhouse kits for a variety of birds; buffet feeders, mealworm feeders, chalets, saltbox style, basic square styles, larger styles for owls and bigger birds and hanging cubes. Four of them are designated for donations.

"I love doing it," Mary says. "I'm 48 and finally figured out that this is what I want to do all the time."

Visit her website at: www.BirdHousesforHeroes.com

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