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Wells man invents unique birdhouses

By Staff | Apr 11, 2011

Norbert Sonnek

In the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” there are plenty of bodies of water where ducks can be found.

But with predators always lurking, some species — namely, the wood duck — are becoming less and less seen on the lakes of Minnesota.

That’s why one Wells man has decided to provide safer homes for the colorful birds he loves to observe.

For 11 years now, Norbert Sonnek, the man behind S and S Birdhouses, has been making and selling several types of PVC-insulated plastic birdhouses that he invented and patented.

He came up with the idea not only because he wanted to rebuild the habitat of different birds, but because he wanted an easier method of taking care of the birdhouses he owned so the birds would continue coming back.

Sonnek had a purple martin house on a 14-foot pole in his front yard, but that was obviously far beyond his reach, so his wife would have to run him up to it in a bucket in order for him to take care of the house. But that method turned out to be fairly unsuccessful, because he was almost dropped to the ground, twice.

“I have a couple of fishing trips I want to go on before both my legs are broken,” Sonnek jokes.

To solve that problem, when Sonnek invented his birdhouses, he created them to be put on a telescoping pole.

“You can lower it right down to eye level,”?Sonnek explains, adding that it’s also light enough to lift right back up.

Plus, the pole is made of PVC pipe, so predators aren’t able to climb up it. And to make the houses even safer, Sonnek puts many of them over water.

“We’ve eliminated the raccoon, and any predator, from getting at it,” he says.

Every negative factor that can be erased to lengthen the life of the birdhouse will result in more benefits for the birds, as well.

Since S and S Birdhouses are made of plastic, they aren’t going to rust, and since they have an ultraviolet inhibitor embedded directly into the plastic that defers the sun, the houses won’t deteriorate as quickly.

Wooden houses have the common issue of rotting with age, or they aren’t sturdy enough to withstand high winds and rough weather. They’re also often mounted on trees, giving predators easy access. So, if a wood duck lays eggs in the house, there’s less of a chance the eggs will be around long enough to hatch.

“It’s a shame,” Sonnek says. “It’s like flying all the way from Minnesota to Florida to have a beer, and they’re all out of beer.”

The sturdier plastic of S and S Birdhouses results in them lasting about 15 years, as compared with two to five years for wooden houses.

Sonnek recommends customers mount their houses on a PVC pole like he does, because predators such as raccoons and squirrels aren’t able to climb up it. He has gotten interest in the past, however, from a customer who said they planned to mount the house onto a tree instead.

“I told them, ‘Put some napkins out, and put a fork and spoon out, because the raccoons are gonna have lunch,'” he says.

Based on the success rate of Sonnek’s birdhouses, he knows what he’s talking about.

While wood ducks only have a 30 percent chance of surviving in the wild, where they make their homes in hollow trees, the ducks have a 90 percent chance of surviving in one of Sonnek’s houses.

His success with the birdhouses has even drawn attention from Ron Schara, the host of the outdoor series Minnesota Bound on KARE?11 TV out of the Twin Cities, who personally ordered houses from Sonnek.

S and S Birdhouses can be found in towns much further away than the Twin Cities, however.

“We’ve got wood duck houses from River Island, N.Y., all the way down to Delta, Calif.,” Sonnek says.

He has received other orders from Georgia, Florida and Illinois. But because of the fact that he ships houses so far away, Sonnek recommends people buy just the house from him, and purchase a PVC pole where they live — to save them some money. When they receive their birdhouse, it will come with an attachment clip to make it convenient to put on the pole.

With customer interest in the birdhouses growing over the past 11 years, S and S Birdhouses started a website, www.sandsbirdhouses.com, to make ordering easy for people out of the area.

But with the startup of a website, Sonnek knew he’d need some help in terms of the technical side of the business. And that’s when he found Julie Sahr.

“She’s the brains behind the operation,” Sonnek says, explaining how Sahr is in charge of all internet orders for him.

“What I know about a computer, you could hide underneath a thumbnail,” he jokes.

Sahr has been helping with the birdhouse sales for the past three years. And despite the credit Sonnek gives her, Sahr remains modest about how helpful she is.

“I just do what he tells me,” she says.

S and S Birdhouses offers four different houses at this time — the wood duck, bluebird, screech owl and martin houses.

Sonnek says his favorite bird would have to be the wood duck, and he knows he’s not alone in the feeling.

“Because it’s an outstanding duck with the colorful features that it has, people just go nuts for it.”