Chuck Betterman does not consider himself an expert when it comes to woodworking, though his latest project would suggest he’s pretty good at it.
“I just kind of build things,” he said. “Things like deer stands and right now I’m working on some wood duck houses. Nothing I do all the time. Last winter, I built this bird house.”
It’s that bird house that has garnered so much attention from his friends and family. Betterman, 74, has been retired from farming since age 62, and the projects he can work on in his garage at his farm not far outside of Garfield help keep him busy.
One look at those projects and the 140 acres he owns indicates where his heart is at as it pertains to wildlife.
Betterman sold 40 acres of his farm when he was done working. The rest of it today provides some great habitat for all sorts of animals through wetland projects and a contract through the Conservation Reserve Program.
“It’s all in CRP now, and then the U.S. Fish and Wildlife (Service) came out and made wetlands out of everything,” he said. “They dug all the tiling out and put it back to normal, the natural way. When we decided to quit farming, we just decided to put it in CRP and it went from there.”
Betterman gets some recreation out of it in the falls by hunting, but he gets equal entertainment value out of watching the animals throughout the year. The wildlife that calls the area home includes everything from ducks, deer and pheasants to countless smaller species.
The Betterman’s yard has feeders throughout the winter that draw many bird species in, and houses for them throughout the warmer months. Drive by their yard, and it’s pretty difficult not to do a double take at his latest bird house.
Betterman spent nearly all of last winter working on a martin house that just kept growing. The end result was a structure with 16 compartments on five different floors for 80 individual units. Each one of those has a door that opens up for cleaning.
“It wasn’t going to be this big, but that’s how it ended up,” Betterman said with a smile. “I just kind of laid it out and tried to figure things out. I built one floor and another floor and another floor. The way I was laying it out, I wanted it kind of an octagon shape. I just kept figuring, and this is the way it came out even.”
The Purple Martin, a migratory swallow, is widely distributed throughout Minnesota. The DNR species page on the bird states that Purple Martins were historically known to inhabit woodpecker holes in dead timber and other natural cavities.
“The decline in availability of these natural nest sites and the ease with which Purple Martins are attracted to artificial nests has resulted in their almost exclusive use of nest boxes in Minnesota today,” the page says.
Betterman spent his time researching down to the finest details of what attracts the martins to a house. The structure is shingled to protect it from the weather. Inside, it is hollow through the center with holes in the back of each compartment, and a vent up through the roof to create the proper airflow that the birds want.
“That’s one thing I read up on is that it’s very important to have the right circulation for them,” Betterman said. “We used to have a martin house here, and we had martins. That was just a 14-unit house. A storm took it down, and I bought a little red one that is out there, but if you read up on martins, they don’t want a colored house. They want a white house or a light-colored house. You can’t paint the inside. I guess they’re fussy.”
The project was fun for the Bettermans to show to friends and family through the entire process as the house kept growing inside their garage.
“My little grandson asked me what I was doing,” Betterman said. “I said, ‘I’m building a house for the martins.’ He said, ‘I don’t think I know the Martins.’”
The house finished at four feet wide, and the legs it is mounted on used to be part of a swing set. Betterman got it all set up in his front yard this past fall with the help of a skid loader.
“I think it looks nice,” he said with a humble smile. “I think it turned out good.”
Now he will wait to see if it proves effective. Martins are aerial insectivores that prey on a large variety of insects, and Betterman is excited for spring to come to see how many he has around with a new housing option at their disposal now.
“Just down the road, the neighbor has some martins there, so they should find it now,” he said. “We’ll see how many there are.”