Tag Archives: Michael McCurdy

DIY Birdhouses

September 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Mark and Leslie Kwasnieski want birdhouses to be properly crafted and well-kept so that every bird can find its own comfortable home. 

“When you drive around in the country, a lot of the birdhouses you see on fence posts belong to bluebirds,” Mark says. “Cowbirds then come in and lay their eggs with the bluebirds, so the bluebirds take care of the cowbirds’ eggs and raise them—because the cowbird is much bigger, when it gets older it pushes the bluebirds out of the nest causing them to die.”

Leslie continues: “That’s why you tailor the hole to the bird.”

They educate people on birds and birdhouses through the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program. The nonprofit program is dedicated to training environmentally conscious volunteers in the classroom and the field.

Leslie holds a master’s degree in biology. She initially joined the program to work with recovering birds of prey at Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Recovery. Encouraged by the experience, she became a board member of the Nebraska Master Naturalist in 2011. 

Nowadays, the Kwasnieskis often visit local nature centers and preserves with their grandchildren. Mark has even held demonstrations on how to build a small and simple birdhouse roofed with a license plate at Heron Haven Nature Center in West Omaha. 

The couple donates their birdhouses to Nebraska Master Naturalist programs, such as those at Hitchcock Nature Center, Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Glacier Creek Preserve, and Heron Haven. 

Mark says anyone with $4 for materials, a basic understanding of craftsmanship, and the necessary tools can build a birdhouse topped with a license plate.


  • One 1-by-6-inch (actual width is 5 ½ inches by 72 inches), 6-foot-long cedar fence picket (dog-eared). “Make sure the wood is cedar because cedar has natural oils in it that keep insects from eating it,” Mark says.
  • One old license plate (this can be picked up at a thrift store or garage sale)
  • Four roofing nails
  • 14 (1 ½-inch) deck screws


  • Table saw or handsaw
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Hammer
  • Electric drill with a 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch drill bit and a 1 ¼-inch hole saw
  • Screwdriver or bits for the drill.


Step 1: Measure and cut the board. Starting at the bottom of the picket, cut two 6-inch-long pieces for the sides; cut another 6-inch piece for the bottom; and cut two 9-inch-long pieces for the front and back. 

Step 2: On the 9-inch pieces, measure 6 inches from the bottom and make a mark. Do this on both edges. From those marks, make lines to the top center of the boards with a ruler. The lines will be at 45-degree angles from the 6-inch marks (for a 90-degree roofline). Cut the wood along the lines. 

Step 3: Select one of the 9-inch pieces as the front of the house. Measure 3 inches from the point and mark. Cut an entry hole using the 1 ¼-inch hole saw on your drill. 

Step 4: Pre-drill six holes, three on each of the edges of the front of the house with the 3/8-inch drill bit. Attach the two 6-inch pieces to the edges of the front of the house with six screws, making all of the bottoms even. Repeat to attach the back of the house.

Step 5: Place this framed birdhouse on the remaining 6-inch board. From the top looking into the birdhouse frame, outline the inside with the pencil so that you know how much material to trim away. The board should fit into the base of the birdhouse. Drill four 1/4-inch holes in the bottom piece for ventilation and drainage. Use two screws to attach this to the rest of the frame, one per side. 

If the bottom has a loose fit, you may need an additional screw on a third side. Remove the screws in the spring to dislocate the base for cleaning.

Step 6: Bend a license plate in half from short end to short end until it reaches a 90-degree angle, making sure it is still readable, and place it atop the birdhouse. You’ll need four roofing nails (two for each side) to hold the license plate tight on the birdhouse. You can use exterior caulk to seal the license plate to the birdhouse frame and fill in under the roofing nailheads.

Step 7 (OPTIONAL): If you want to add a perch, you can use a nail, screw, or a twig. Drill a hole based on the size of what you are using. Pound the nail partially in or add the screw. If you use a twig, make the hole then glue the twig into the hole with waterproof glue. 

Visit snr.unl.edu/naturalist for more information about the Nebraska Master Naturalist Program.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Between the Lines

June 20, 2018 by

Elizabeth Kottich – Editorial Intern

Elizabeth Kottich of Neola, Iowa, is pursuing a master’s degree in English with a focus on creative nonfiction writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. When she is not busy with schoolwork, she enjoys reading about history, writing nonfiction, and cheering on the Hawkeyes. She looks forward to writing her thesis and finishing her degree (next year) before securing a position teaching high school English in the Omaha area. In the future, she hopes to continue teaching high school English while also teaching a few college classes. She also hopes to become a published creative nonfiction author and to write professionally.

Sara Locke – Contributing Writer

Sara Locke was born in Omaha, raised on poorly constructed Polish food, and graduated from a love of pizza rolls to the prestigious title of editor and food columnist at The Reader in 2014. She is young enough that she will tell you her real age if you ask directly but old enough not to volunteer the information. A freelance wordsmith, she one day realized that someone could make a living turning words into dollars (and it might as well be her). “Mamba” to three—one of whom can’t pronounce the word “mama”—when she isn’t writing for local papers, magazines, and media firms, she is writing her blog See Mom Date, teaching yoga, or torturing herself over which photos of her children to delete from her phone.

Michael McCurdy – Editorial Intern

Michael McCurdy resonates with the term “in-betweener,” as he spends most of his days shuffling through a large and pretentious vinyl collection, yet he appreciates the art of sport (and can be found profusely sweating and cursing during every Hawkeye football game). A student of journalism and cinema at the University of Iowa, Michael hopes to write and direct a modern version of Richard Linklater’s Slacker before becoming one of its characters. He has worked as a sports reporter and web editor for the University of Iowa’s student newspaper, the Daily Iowan, while also running an online film column for the university’s radio station, KRUI. In his free time, you can find him reading lists of all-time-best movies and albums, sometimes ranking his own (though the first-place spot is difficult to nail down: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds).

William Hess – Contributing Photographer

Editorial and commercial photographer William Hess is back in Omaha. During his previous six years in Kansas City, he cut his teeth in the industry and worked for several studios. William and his wife also brought a beautiful daughter into the world (two years ago). But with baby No. 2 on the way, the thought of raising two children away from friends and family got them rethinking priorities. They decided it was time to return to “The Good Life.” They sold their house, packed up, and headed Home-aha. Besides working, William loves spending time outdoors and exploring local culture. Showing his daughter the wonders of the world—from the smallest bugs to the biggest buildings—it’s exciting for him just to walk outside and see the world through her eyes.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.