Floridian’s Bermuda-inspired bluebird boxes a Facebook hit
For the past year Michael Pitts has been occupied with the bluebird boxes he makes in his spare time.
The “miniature houses” are colourful and topped with white stepped roofs - a nod to Bermuda, the place where his father was born and where much of his family lives.
It is a labour of love for Mr Pitts, a disabled US veteran who lives in Florida.
“When I retired from the government, I got bored really quickly,” he said. “But my wife and I had moved into a new house and I had a nice workspace.
“I was going through my phone and I saw a picture of a similar birdhouse that I guess I’d found online somewhere and figured I would give it a shot.”
He was “pretty happy” with how it turned out and decided to share it with a Bermuda Facebook group. Members immediately started asking how they could get one of their own.
“People kind of lost their minds over it, which really surprised me because I wasn't doing it as a business or anything, it was just a hobby. I really wasn't expecting people to react like that.
“I had to stop putting pictures online because every time I did, I got more people wanting me to build them for them.”
He figured he would take a chance with his last creation, a blue box that he painted a moongate and longtail on.
“I should have known better,” he laughed. “Five or six more people that want one. So I'm up to about 20 people waiting. I'm going to be building these things well into the summer.”
He loves creating the houses because they remind him of Bermuda and his late father, whose name was also Michael Pitts.
“I like to think every time that I create one my dad is looking down, and with a smile saying, ‘Looks good bie.’”
Although he was raised in the US, he has been to the island “many, many times”.
“I would go mostly every summer and then I started taking my son,” said Mr Pitts, whose last visit was in 2019. “Right before the world kind of crashed”.
“I had a trip planned for last year but my mother-in-law, she passed away and things got put on hold.”
Each birdhouse made him feel “closer to the island”.
“I just liked sharing something that looked like Bermuda,” he said.
Most importantly, the bluebirds enjoy them. Mr Pitts is thrilled to see them in the box in his own yard. Research helped him figure out what would and would not work.
“The roof takes up probably a good seven or eight inches, but it's just a solid board; that's not the interior space. And then what I do is I make the floors double thick so if somebody mounts it to a four by four post, the screws won't go through to the bottom and hurt the birds.”
He estimates the interior of the box is “probably 10in or 11in” with the walls measuring about 7.5in.
“According to most of the bluebird house websites that I've researched, you don't want to go any bigger than that,” Mr Pitts said. “I looked at the different bluebird websites to make sure that I was making the hole the right size, not making the house too big; you don't want to put the hole too high because then the babies can't get out.”
He has “refined” his technique since his early builds.
Initially the roof was made using seven layers of PVC composite board.
“But then I started painting the roof. And then I started sanding the corners off and adding caulking and doing different things. And I think now, the roof doesn't look like composite any more. I think they look pretty much like a real Bermuda roof.”
Ironically, Mr Pitts claims not to be an artist. Tips from an artist friend in New York who used to visit Bermuda frequently, have helped.
“She saw what I was trying to do and she made a bunch of videos for me to show me how to blend the paint,” he said. “I'm not crafty. I would mess up drawing a stick figure but that lady, she showed me how to do the blending. It's not that it’s that hard, it just takes time and patience.
“So I’m painting the doors and making moongates and longtails and stuff but the roof, I think, is what makes these things pop. And it's fun. I really enjoy doing it.”
Each one takes a while to create because Mr Pitts’ disabilities slow him down.
“I've got bad knees, bad back, bad neck. So it would probably take me, if I just did it every day, maybe a week, but I can't do it every day because of my back and my knees,” he explained.
“And then the roof has to sit almost two days for the paint to dry and other stuff to get it to look like it looks. And that's the hardest thing.”
People have been very understanding about the wait. He has shipped some of the boxes to Bermuda, others have gone to various US states. So far, only one person in Florida has made a request despite the prevalence of bluebirds there.
“A lot of times people send me a picture of their house and I'll match the colour of their house as close as I can,” Mr Pitts added.
“There's one lady who was born in Bermuda but lives here in the States. She wanted me to build one to resemble her family home in Bermuda that went back several generations. I replicated the colour as close as I could, made the windows and the doors and the entryway look the same, and I sent it to her.”
The box was a surprise gift to Juanita Blackwell, her elderly mother who “broke down crying and laughing” when she opened it.
“And that's why I do it,” Mr Pitts said. “I'm not making a whole lot of money from these. It's not about that. One lady wanted one so bad but she's retired on a fixed income. She sent me a picture of her house and I just made it and sent it to her.
“I like people to see Bermuda. It just makes me happy that people have a piece of Bermuda with them because I love the island. I absolutely do.”