Mike Palka has always had a knack for turning scrap wood into something useful.
When he left the Canadian Armed Forces after a 35-year career, Palka got a job at the Bent Nail in Abbotsford tearing down old houses. Part of the job was learning how to identify and strip salvageable material from the old buildings. It was a skill he later put to use when he moved to Eagle Creek 15 years ago.
“I saw so many people tearing down their sheds and then burning and throwing the old barn wood away,” Palka said. “I said, ‘gee, maybe I could make something out of that’ and I started building barn-wood birdhouses.”
Before long, his initial goal to reuse old wood grew in scope. He found branches and old tree trunks in the bush and incorporated them into his houses, whose designs became increasingly elaborate. Palka said the artistic challenge of creating new houses appealed to him and before long he found himself also making furniture, mason beehives and feeders.
“I do all different kinds of birdhouses and feeders. At my place, I have dozens of them all over but unfortunately, with the avian flu, I’ve taken all of mine down for the summer.”
When Palka sits down at his workshop to make a birdhouse, he carefully considers what type of bird will use it. Different types of birds prefer different sizes of holes and houses to nest in. He has a chart by his workbench that he references as he nails his houses together.
Bluebirds, for example, prefer a 1 1/8 inch hole so no predators can get into their nests and eat their young. Palka will add “predator rings” around the entrance to dissuade squirrels and other animals from entering.
“It’s funny the way they are, birds are very specific about what kind of house they want.”
Palka has been selling his creations at the South Cariboo Farmer’s Market for the past decade. It was there that one of his fellow vendors dubbed him “the Birdhouse Man from Eagle Creek” a moniker he liked so much he ended up adopting it as his own.
He returned to the market this season after a three-year absence and has added to his booth. Besides his birdhouses, there’s a model wooden train he built using pictures he found on the internet and his wife Eldy Birnie’s oil paintings.
Palka joked that now that he’s 71, his body is starting to “go downhill” and he had to take time off after several surgeries.
“I go out into the workshop now, do three hours and then I’ve got to rest. So it’s something I’m going to do for another three years or so and then after that retire and be happy.”