May 25, 2023
Nesting places: Lafayette birdhouses proliferate
LAFAYETTE — Just how many birdhouses Greg Moeller has built over the past decade
LAFAYETTE — Just how many birdhouses Greg Moeller has built over the past decade remains a mystery, much like why some birds migrate miles and miles each year and return to where they started.
"There's at least a few thousand," Moeller said about his houses, each built by hand.
His boxes are scattered around Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda. There are even some in Walnut Creek. Each has an opening for a bird to squeeze inside, offering shelter for the feathered homeless.
He also gives them away to people, who can install them in their yards.
On Monday, the City Council accepted the birdhouses as public art after city officials received a complaint about them.
Moeller appreciated the honor. But he was not all that concerned.
"What was the decision, by the way?" he said Tuesday, as he took a break from building a birdhouse at his home on Oleander Drive, a place where he has lived for decades.
Many of his birdhouses, which can take hours to create, hang under street signs around town.
Others are affixed at the back of stop signs, a reminder for motorists that wildlife also considers the leafy streets home, as they pull up at an intersection. Some are attached to regular street signs.
Along with birdhouses, Moeller has installed wooden decorations of quail, deer, owls and squirrels around his Contra Costa County neighborhood.
The council's decision to accept the displays as public art came after no discussion. All council members apparently liked the houses, some of which can look like a cuckoo clock perched at a traffic intersection.
"I think they are a defining characteristic of our community," Councilman Cameron Burks said during an interview Tuesday. "There's a ton of support for them."
The council's action followed the city's Public Art Committee calling for the birdhouses to be officially recognized as public art in the wake of the complaint about them.
Residents Craig and Virginia Swayne described the birdhouses as "useless" and said they "are not located in safe places for birds to build their nests, feed their young and for their young to conduct their first flights," in a Dec. 27 letter to the city.
The birdhouses "are tacky at best, there are also too many of them, they appear to be breeding more prolifically than our resident birds," their letter said.
The letter also said the houses have been placed on public property without official approval.
Many of the birdhouses have landed in Lafayette's Happy Valley neighborhood.
"Most evenings I am building them," the 60-year-old Moeller said. "No, no," he added. "They are not built from a kit."
Mark Dunaway, president of the Happy Valley Improvement Association, said Moeller's work was "a gift to the city," according to a report for council members.
"There is no burden placed upon the city," Dunaway said in a Feb. 15 letter, noting the association and nearby residents maintain the houses, making sure birds find them a haven as they flutter from branch to branch.
"We know that the appreciation of wildlife is strongly valued by our community, and we should respect wildlife habitat with affordances that are viable and also discreet in their color and placement," Dunaway said. "Our work aims to accomplish all these goals."
A retired CPA and Lafayette's 2013 Citizen of the Year — he was honored after he planted thousands of daffodils around the city — Moeller initially took it upon himself to spruce up the backsides of stop signs with a fresh coat of paint after noticing some had graffiti or rust.
Then he got the idea of attaching birdhouses to the signs.
Among the ways he picks a location for a house is how close it will be to trees, the amount of traffic, and whether he thinks a bird will take up residence.
He declined to talk about the amount of money he has personally spent on building and installing the birdhouses. Or the amount of time.
"I think most people like them," Moeller said. "But part of the joy for me is that it seems like a lot of birds are using them right now. That's the main thing."
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