Feed the birds!

Sa'at Sarjan with the birdhouse
that he would not sell
If you have forgotten the sweet sounds of birdsongs, that’s probably because it’s drowned out by the revs of noisy motorcycles and the shrill scream of sirens in our urban jungle.  At daybreak when city sounds are at its lowest, try to tune in to the mynah’s sharp tweets, the sparrow and blackbirds’ chirps and the throaty warble of clumsy cuckoos.  If you let artificial noises fade into the background, it’s all there if you listen hard enough.

For years I’ve had a bird feeder in the garden.  Each morning, scraps of bread and fruit or leftover rice is left soaking in water on the feeder and in a little while, birds will flock around, pecking and picking up morsels.  With the feeder strategically placed where I can watch them from my breakfast table, the sight and sounds of happily feeding wild birds is a breathtaking boost to kick-start my day. 

This feeder served me well for many years, being repaired and shored up several times but my search for a suitable replacement was in vain.  In June while I was in the UK, I saw many choices and I wanted to bring one home but realized that the wood may not last in our tropical weather. 

In a recent trip to Kluang, my search finally ended when a friend took me to meet Sa’at Sarjan and to see his range of beautiful birdhouses.

Ostentatious 3-storey birdhouse!
Walking through the garden centre, I was bowled over by the range of birdhouses displayed in a landscaped garden.  There were simple hanging open trays and birdhouses in a variety of heights including elaborate ones with signboards and an ostentatious one that stood 3-storeys tall.  Looking closely at the quaint little wooden houses with perches and carved windows and doors, I was in a veritable real estate paradise for the birds.

The unassuming Sa’at watched me admire his birdhouses and while I was thrilled by the available choices, he made my day when he suggested that I could even have mine, custom-made.  Without hesitation, I described what I wanted and he started to sketch it out on a sheet of paper.  He understood that in addition to the single trunk with a birdhouse on top, I needed a “cabang” or an additional ‘branch’ for my feeder tray.

Ten days passed as I waited in eager anticipation for a call from Sa’at to tell me that my birdhouse is ready.  And when that long-awaited call came, threatening dark clouds and a subsequent rainstorm did not deter me from going to collect my brand new birdhouse.  It took just one look at my birdhouse and I was smitten. 

Wild birds feeding at my birdhouse!
With its roof made of “merbau” or Malacca teak, a type of valuable hardwood, the birdhouse has windows and doors carved out of its walls and a ridged roof built with a little chimney.  Varnished to protect against the elements, it has perches all round for the birds to rest and the extra ‘branch’ to support a ceramic plate provided for the all-important feeder.  Then Sa’at gave me instructions on how to anchor the birdhouse to the ground but I was very pleasantly surprised because he also told me that when I got tired of it after a few years, I could simply trade it in for a newer model.

Curious about his penchant for birdhouses, I asked him and Sa’at told me that his father, a carpenter and the first village headman of Kampong Palembang Lama in Kluang, was his inspiration.  He built their own home in the kampong and as Sa’at observed his father helping others build their houses, he became interested in woodwork and got involved with this trade. 

Birdhouse with welcome sign
Over the years Sa’at tried his hand in different businesses ranging from timber trading to furniture-making and 8 years ago, he started doing woodwork for landscaping, mostly building pergolas, gazebos and flower-pot stands.

His recent projects include building roofs extensions as well as pergolas and furniture for factories, schools and private homes.  Sa’at loves working with wood, which he believes is a “living product” even though it was already cut into logs or planks.  Nothing goes to waste as he tries to put every spare or odd piece to good use and this resulted in the creation of birdhouses.

Of his three workers in the workshop, Mazlan Mohd Noor shares his passion in creating birdhouses and its clear how they are built with a keen eye for detail.  The samples on display shows how every scrap piece of wood is put to good use to build beautiful birdhouses that will certainly be a complement to any garden.  But I’m probably biased as I admire the brand new birdhouse in my garden and enjoy the sheer pleasure of watching wild birds flock around, squabble with each other, perch for a while and peck a few juicy mouthfuls before flying away.

Trading as Trussan Jaya Enterprise, Sa’at’s garden centre with display of birdhouses and landscaping items is located at No. 495-1, Jalan Bunga Raya, Kampung Melayu in Kluang.  For enquiries, Tel: 013 – 744 2776.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in September 2009

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