City Beat

City Beat: Sacramento, look up and see the birdhouses

The package arrived on my desk from an unknown sender. The return address was listed simply as 3rd and O streets.

The box wasn’t ticking, so I opened it up. And there it was, right before my eyes: a big, glorious birdhouse.

“enjoyed the article,” a typed note inside the box read. “no harm no fowl.”

For weeks, people had slowly begun noticing colorful birdhouses that an anonymous artist hung on utility poles around Sacramento. I wrote about this act of guerrilla artwork last month and the birdhouse inside the package was an apparent thank-you note from our rogue artist.

The artist didn’t sign the letter, but left one important clue – the name of an account on Instagram, the social media site where users share photos with one another. The Instagram handle – @oomamowmow – led me to a Facebook page launched by an artist identified only as TheWord. That’s a clear reference to The Trashmen’s 1963 hit song, “Surfin’ Bird.”

I sent TheWord a note on Facebook, asking how this all began. They said there were two artists involved and that their movement was inspired by a photo they’d seen of a birdhouse in a tree, situated in front of a brick building.

“We wanted to adapt it to our city,” they wrote. “The idea was simply to bring a smile to people’s faces. Nothing more, nothing less.”

In the end, few of us actually knew how far TheWord had gone to achieve that. At first, I was aware of only nine birdhouses on poles, most of them in midtown. Business owners and neighborhood folks I spoke with had noticed only two or three, if any at all. The director of the Crocker Art Museum didn’t know about a birdhouse on a pole near the museum.

Turns out, TheWord hung 18 birdhouses around the area. Some are in places you probably go by all the time, like on a pole directly in front of the Fox & Goose Public House and another on the bustling 1400 block of R Street. There was even one hung on a busy street corner in Elk Grove. The birdhouses had actually been up for months.

“It is surprising it took so long to get noticed,” TheWord wrote. “People just don’t seem to look up very often.”

Next time you’re on Q Street, look into the grove of trees near The Bee’s front entrance. That’s where my birdhouse is now hanging. I’ll look up at it every morning when I come to work, grateful to have been part of a public art movement.

If it weren’t for that gift from TheWord, I probably would have moved on to another topic this week. I certainly would not have noticed all the other birdhouses hanging above so many street corners in Sacramento.

And maybe that’s what we should take away from this. Stop. Take a breath. Look around at your city once in a while.

You might finally notice something that’s been there all along.