City Beat

City Beat: Artist’s birdhouses have SMUD scrambling up utility poles

There’s a guerrilla artist in our midst. And this person seems to have a thing for birds.

Someone went around town recently attaching colorful birdhouses to utility and telephone poles. No one has claimed responsibility for the act, and the only evidence we have that this is the work of an artist and not some rogue ornithologist is a note left on a couple of the poles proclaiming the following:


Whoever is behind the artwork seems to be working his or her magic at night. You’d think an artist climbing a ladder to fasten a bright yellow birdhouse 20 feet up a utility pole would grab someone’s attention.

The birdhouses are also in some very visible locations, like the intersection of 18th and Capitol Avenue in front of the old Java City and at 20th and J, a few feet from Pete’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Three more are on a wooden pole next to the H Street Bridge on the east side of the American River, a few feet from traffic.

All together, we counted nine boxes last week. That was before SMUD crews went out and removed two of them from their poles.

SMUD thinks the art is a hazard. The utility is worried that if a transformer blows on one of its poles, a birdhouse could get in the way of workers trying to douse an explosion. The artist is placing himself in danger, too. Some of the boxes are just a few feet from what’s called a secondary line, which carries a lot of electricity.

The artist isn’t facing a punishment. But SMUD wants the activity to stop. You have to wonder how the artist will respond now that some of the work has been discarded.

The guys at Pete’s don’t know who’s behind the work. A crew working on the new Rick’s Dessert Diner at 24th and J hadn’t even noticed the light blue birdhouse above the shop’s entrance until it was pointed out to them.

Midtown and downtown business leaders are stumped. So is City Hall. A plea on Twitter for the artist to come forward was no help at all.

We may never know the artist’s identity. He or she is not making an identifiable political statement, like a Sacramento version of the anonymous British renegade artist called Banksy. And some people think that’s fine, that maybe we should just admire these birdhouses for what they are – interesting, random works of public art in a city where public art is emerging in the form of bike racks, murals and statues.

“I don’t worry about who made it,” said William Burg, a midtown booster and historian. “I would rather just enjoy its presence.”

Shelly Willis, who leads the Metro Arts Commission, hopes she can save the birdhouses. She doesn’t condone attaching the art to a public utility pole without permission but thinks there may be a place to preserve this artist’s work.

“I want to help,” she said. “If the artist comes forward.”