For the Birds

Scott McDowell repurposes barn wood and creates beautiful and functional birdhouses.

By Tyler Bierman
Photography by Colin Miller/Strauss Peyton


For Scott McDowell, building birdhouses was always a hobby. It wasn't until his friends and neighbors started taking notice that he ever thought he could make a living out of it. “People would see them and tell me how much they liked them, and then they'd say, 'Boy, you should try selling these.'” And, ultimately, it was these little interactions that planted the seeds that would one day grow into his own small business. That flower bloomed in 1991 when McDowell founded Nature Creations.

Today Nature Creations is one of McDowell's two full-time jobs. By day he works helping people as a physical therapy assistant, but as soon as he punches the clock there, he's punching in at Nature Creations. It's a small shop helmed by himself, his wife, his two boys and eight employees. There they work hard crafting McDowell's unique take on the traditional birdhouse; a take that he describes primarily as “functional and decorative.”

So, these birdhouses are both a great place for a bird to live and also a bright focal point for your landscaping, which really is the whole package. However, what is most interesting and what puts McDowell's birdhouses above the rest is his use of materials from historic southeastern Illinois barns and homes. He uses all sorts of salvaged materials including corrugated metals, old wood and even the occasional antique tin shingles.

But why even bother with all of this old, often partially broken material? As McDowell explains, it's all about his interest in the history of southeastern Illinois. “I love history and this area. We tear down the old barns and buildings, but we only do that because they've outlived their usefulness. People are going to tear them down anyway, so we just go in and do it for them. Through that process, we get lots of materials from old barns, and I always like to know the time period they were built; the history of it all.”

He finds these treasure troves of materials often by referral from friends and admirers and sometimes just by driving around the countryside admiring the view. Once he's found the materials, that's when inspiration strikes, “There are times when I can have one little piece of something that inspires me to create.” He adds with a chuckle, “That's how it happens sometimes, but other times it doesn't at all and I'm left pulling my hair out trying to think of something to do.”

Since 1991, McDowell has accomplished a lot with his hobby. He now distributes to places all over the United States and even Canada. He's even garnered interest from some big-name chain stores asking for large birdhouse orders. “We have gotten some major interest over the years. We have done a few special orders for large outlet stores, but nothing like 15,000. If we did that we couldn't take care of all of our other customers.” It's inquiries like that that McDowell is very proud of, but would prefer to keep his business small for now.

When McDowell's not on the clock, you probably won't catch him on any odd hobbies because he's already turned his hobby into a career. It's much more likely that you can find McDowell spending time with his children.

You can purchase one of McDowell's beautiful birdhouses locally at The Gifted Gardener in Brentwood.   

Nature Creations, 618-393-4900