In weather fair and foul, Noel Roach’s feathered friends find sanctuary in the growing number of birdhouses–sixty-six in June–that decorate the lawn, fences, and flowerbeds of his modest home on Central Ave. Each morning, they brave the row of wooden cutout black and white cats with yellow marble eyes made by Roach’s grandson to dine on an early breakfast of bread crumbs or dry oatmeal Roach leaves for them on the front porch.

Roach, who celebrated his 100th birthday at an enormous party at his home last September, says he started making birdhouses over fifty years ago, using the Shopsmith Mark V saw he bought in 1953 for $189. “I started building doghouses, but nobody buys them anymore. They keep dogs in the house in the winter. Summer too,” he says, his drawl revealing his Missouri roots.

Passersby often stop to admire his handiwork and inquire about a purchase, and Roach is willing to oblige. Prices vary by size–a twelve-room birdhouse McMansion costs $100. “When I sell one, I replace it,” he says. “I got three or four that I’m working on now.”

Building birdhouses from scrap lumber is light work for Roach. “In 1936, I used to make railroad ties back in Arkansas when it was 112 degrees in the shade. I got fifty cents apiece for them and earned every penny. Birdhouses are a lot easier than those damn ties. I start working in the morning and miss lunch and keep working until nightfall.

“I started making martin boxes. Didn’t sell but two or three of them to people who lived at lakes. Then I started building bigger houses with smaller holes for the sparrows, wrens, and finches.” Most of the current houses are white with green roofs. His daughter, Neoma Robinson, points out one he crafted from a teapot.

Neoma–whose name blends the names of her father and late mother, Wilma–says that the family left their Arkansas farm in 1947, eventually settling in Ann Arbor in a house on Franklin. Her dad worked at the Willow Run Kaiser-Frazer auto plant, sold insurance, and eventually owned a landscaping company. A retired nurse, Neoma points out a picture of her dad with his truck and its signage: “Noel Roach Landscaping Service, Phone No. 2-2140, Ann Arbor, Mich.” The cabinets in the garage were built for the Franklin house, moving with her parents to their next home on Ellsworth Rd., and then in 2000 to the one on Central. Her mother died in 2004.

When not building birdhouses, Roach and his friend Ike, a retired barber from Ypsilanti, play horseshoes in the pit he made near the garage. He has a steady stream of visitors–his children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and a multitude of friends. His old neighbor Lyle regularly travels from Jackson to bring him homemade peanut brittle and fresh cornbread.

“The birds like ’em, and I like the birds and building ’em,” Roach says of his birdhouse hobby. “They come every morning to see if I’m gonna feed ’em, and I do.”