The Ogden Nature Center is for the birds. Sure, there are other critters living at the 152-acre nature preserve, but it's the birds that get new houses every year.
About 140 birdhouses line a walking path from the nature center's parking lot to the visitor center.
"As soon as we do a new installation each year, the birds immediately start checking them out, sizing them up, and deciding whether they want to live in them," said Brandi Bosworth, special projects coordinator for the Ogden Nature Center. "Then you see birds jetting all over the trail with nesting materials in their beaks."
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the nature center's annual Birdhouse Competition and Exhibit, and volunteer Linda Babcock is always amazed by the variety of entries every year.
Some birdhouses are artistic, she said, and some are practical. Sometimes, the builders find a way to combine art and function.
Here's a look at a few of the memorable entries.
A royal castle
John Bruce, of Draper, took the Best of Show award in 2011 with "A Bird's Home Is His Castle."
"It was just so phenomenal that it floored us all," said the Ogden Nature Center's Linda Babcock.
Draper made the castle out of Chinese elm, turned on a lathe. The birdhouse was inspired by his adventures in Europe. "When I lived in Italy, we enjoyed exploring old castles," he said.
Though the home looks like it's fit for a king, only two rooms are actually big enough for birds. The smaller holes were covered with clear tape when the castle was displayed at the Ogden Nature Center.
"If you have little holes ... wasps will immediately go for them," said Babcock.
On a roll
One of the most memorable entries in the Ogden Nature Center's competition looked like a roll of toilet paper.
"It was just a hilarious piece to have on the trail," said the nature center's Brandi Bosworth. "You'd go outside, and if kids were pointing and talking about a birdhouse, of course they were all talking about that one."
The roll, made of debris from a construction site, was about a foot in diameter with what appeared to be a piece of tissue floating in the breeze. Created by Chad Hancey, of Layton, it took second place in the Originality category.
"It was definitely more on the artistic side," Bosworth said.
Most birds wouldn't want to live in it, because the nesting area wasn't closed in and the hole was too big, but Hancey has it in his yard now and says a few have built nests there over the years.
"Camping Is for the Birds," by David Jones, of Plain City, was 2012's second-place winner in the Imaginative/Artistic category.
"The judges thought it was just so clever, they were going to find a prize for it no matter what," said the Ogden Nature Center's Linda Babcock.
Built to look like a vintage camping trailer, the house is a good size for a bird family. There are two features that would make birds think twice before moving in: The hole is just a little big, and it has a perch.
"Most birds prefer not to have a roost," said Babcock. "They don't want a neighbor poking in."
The father-and-son team of Karl and Craig Haaser, owners of Outback Pottery, have created several award-winning birdhouses over the past 20 years.
"The Ogden Nature Center rocks, so dad and I always contribute and want to give back," said Craig Haaser, of Huntsville.
"It's also about creative expression -- to branch out and do something new," he added.
Among the birdhouses the Haasers have created over the years is one that looks like a man's face -- birds enter through the mouth.
The Haasers' ceramic material is durable and weather-tight, so their birdhouses still look good after years outdoors. "The majority of birdhouses dad and I made are both artistic and functional," Haaser said. "They always have a clean-out chute."
That's important because birds won't move into a house that has someone else's nest, according to the Ogden Nature Center's Linda Babcock, even if it's been abandoned.
Mark Fortugno's 2007 entry, "Modern Highrise," was a work of art.
"He's a welding master, and it's all recycled," said Ogden Nature Center volunteer Linda Babcock.
Even though the judges were impressed with the Layton man's metal work, birds weren't. "It's too hot," Babcock said.
It also had too many holes for most birds' taste. "They don't like apartment buildings, except for the purple martin," she said, adding that those birds don't live in the area.
This entry may not have gotten the bird vote, but the judges gave it first place in the Originality category.
The judge's choice for 2012 was "Copper Top," by Harvey Dalton, of Huntsville.
"It was just beautiful," said the Ogden Nature Center's Linda Babcock, recalling the copper roof and carved post.
The birdhouse was designed to make a bird happy, with a slanted roof to shed rain, and just the right size hole and inside space.
"It was very functional," Babcock said.
A little barn, so old that the Ogden Nature Center's Linda Babcock can't remember who created it, is her favorite along the nature center's Birdhouse Trail.
"It's about 10 to 12 years old, and it's lost it's silo top," she said. "But it's fun how moss grows on it -- it looks like a real barn."
Another oldie-but-goodie is the model of a granary, built for the 1994 competition by Kanosh artist Brian Kershisnik.
Like many old granaries, Kershisnik's birdhouse is weathering, but it and the barn are still works of art.
"The Convertible" by Keith Banner, of K.C. Wood Arts in Ogden, took first place in the Form/Function category in 2012.
It looks like a standard, highly usable birdhouse, but a piece of wood attached to the front was what made it special. The wood can rotate, closing off the larger hole at the top of the birdhouse, and opening a smaller one at the bottom.
That way, the house can convert to the preferences of different kind of birds.
THIS YEAR'S WORKS
Entries in the the 20th annual Ogden Nature Center Birdhouse Competition and Exhibit will be on display 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, April 11 through Aug. 31, on the grounds of the Ogden Nature Center, at 966 W. 12th St.
Access to the Birdhouse Trail is free; admission to the rest of the center's trails and activities is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors age 65 and older, $2 for children age 2 to 11, and free for toddlers and babies.
Winners in the contest will be announced during a reception at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10.
For more information, call 801-621-7595, or go to http://ogdennaturecenter.org/.