A Secret Escape
Hidden garden overflows with unique and colorful birdhouses.
By Diane C. Lyell, Abilene, Texas
One of the most charming and bird-filled places in Ruidoso, New Mexico is behind the Gazebo Shopping Center on Ruidoso Drive.
This might not seem like a bird haven to most, but Jean Onstead saw the space in a different light. She first purchased the property in 1974 when it was the El Rancho Motel. Ten years later, she transformed the motel into one of Ruidoso's first shopping centers. But it's what Jean did with the area behind the shopping center that attracts attention from fans of feathered friends.
There was an old wooden tool shed that was quite an eyesore until Jean got hold of it. To brighten it up, she painted it a cheery turquoise blue and then hung her first birdhouse on the side. She didn't stop at just one, though. Fifteen years later, that single birdhouse turned into dozens, and the shed became a must-see sight.
Jean's favorite houses are the church designs—and the fancier, the better. She loves the soaring rooflines, intricate steeples and crosses.
An Eye for the Unusual
Over the years, her birdhouse collection has grown to include many unique houses, like a parrot, a watermelon, and a ladies' straw hat that's made of metal.
"When I travel, I always look for unusual birdhouses," Jean says. "We've got some that look like cats, an old general store and a chicken."
As Jean's collection grew, she knew she wanted to do something to make the rest of the backyard special, too. To provide some relief from the hustle and bustle of the shopping center, Jean added wrought iron tables and chairs, and concrete benches near the birdhouse wall.
Next, she hung a white wrought iron chandelier from the huge ponderosa pine that shades the yard and set up decorative bird feeders as artwork. A small fountain nestled among the surrounding pine trees completed the scene. At last, Jean had the sanctuary she had always dreamed of.
Not Just for Birds
Locals have embraced the backyard space, and it has been the site of many parties, weddings and musical events.
"People really love the birdhouses. They'll look at them and ask if they're for sale," Jean says. "Of course, I have to tell them no."
While many people now know this space for the birdhouses, there are a number of winged visitors that make regular stops, too. Jean has a favorite memory about something that happened a few years ago during nesting season.
"One day while I was adding to my collection, a little bird flew up, looked at me and then inspected each birdhouse, from one to the next," Jean says. "It looked like it was shopping. Finally, it picked one and started making its nest."
Jean's collection of birdhouses keeps getting larger and larger, but she doesn't mind. It only means more birds and admirers will come and take time to enjoy her quiet, almost secret hideaway.