Local News

Building houses for birds

LAKE PLACID - When Howard Frum and his wife, Evelyn, moved to their Lake Placid home 34 years ago, they began putting up bird houses, nesting boxes and feeders to attract local avian species. Many of those custom wooden shelters were designed and built by Howard, a retired industrial marine engineer. Growing up on a farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Howard had developed a strong work ethic, an inquisitive mind and a deep appreciation of wildlife. “I think I was building bird houses when I was 6 years old,” said Frum, who has constructed more than 1,000 nest boxes and bird houses since he started keeping track in 1985.
Even though he doesn’t make money on his venture he enjoys keeping busy. “I can’t just sit around. I have to be doing something,” he remarked. This 94-year-old hobbyist builds a wide variety of bird houses, wood duck nesting boxes, bat boxes, feeders, cutting boards, plant holders, garden trellises, decorative boxes, and even elaborate, multi-level 10-room Martin houses that take him up to a week to complete. Many of Frum’s avian structures are made from bug-resistant cedar with roofing material on the top, helping them to endure the weather and pests. “I’ve had one of his bird houses up for 15 years,” said former Highlands County Audubon president Hank Kowalski, who noted that Frum has been an Audubon member for about 20 years. He praised Frum’s background as an engineer, his avian expertise, and his meticulous attention to detail. In fact, Frum studied eight different boxes designed specifically for the eastern bluebird before creating his own version, with a precise sized hole and proper ventilation. The colorful bird with a blue body and red chest was in peril of extinction in the 1960s. But, because of conservation efforts by people like Frum, its population has grown. In February, when Audubon activist Bud and Jean Warren’s efforts resulted in the town of Lake Placid being proclaimed an Eastern Bluebird sanctuary, Frum’s boxes gained in popularity. “We just adore Mr. Frum. He has been supplying bluebird boxes to the Highlands County Audubon chapter for years,” said Jean Warren. “It is an outlet for him and a great resource for us. People want Audubon to be able to supply boxes.” Audubon president Dale Gillis added that different sizes of Frum’s bird houses and nesting boxes are sold as a fundraiser at the organization’s monthly meetings, during the season, as well as at their booths at the Lake Placid Arts and Crafts Fair in February and the Civilian Conservation Corps festival at Highlands Hammock State Park in November. “He even types the instructions on how to use them and mount them,” said Lake Placid Feed and Western Wear co-owner Nancy Davis, who has an entire section of her store devoted to Frum’s unique wood products. “I think they are awesome; they’re very well constructed. He does a lot of reading and research.” The type of lumber used, the entrance holes, as well as the placement of the bird house in an environment are all factors that need to be considered to attract a desired species, explained Frum. Standing in his backyard workshop, amongst a variety of saws, planers and sanders, Frum said one of his greatest joys is being able to make handcrafted furniture for his wife of 69 years. He built her a custom bamboo bedroom set and several wood cabinets. “I make her anything she wants. I would have never amounted to beans if it hadn’t been for Evelyn,” he said with admiration. Spry for his age, this WWII Army veteran still maintains the couple’s immaculate 1-and-1/2 acre property on a canal just off Catfish Creek near Lake June. He takes pleasure in watching the baby ducklings, nesting herons and crested flycatchers that frequently visit his yard. “It keeps me busy all the time,” Frum said with a smile.