CHICAGO — During our cold, delayed spring, the leaves have yet to sprout on tree branches around the Chicago area. But on West Melrose Street in Roscoe Village, there’s a tree bursting with color, filled with more than 50 hand-painted birdhouses.  

Randall Bates is a retired teacher who changed his daily walk routine so he could pass by the colorful tree.

“This is a joy, a gift to the street,” he said. “I was just noticing there seems to be more.” 

Jordan and Jenny Dolin are behind the painting project.  It started as a way to pass time during the pandemic.  

“When Covid hit you couldn’t do anything inside, so everything was sort of outside,” Jordan Dolin said. “My kids were all home from college because of Covid, and they painted some, and I’m like, ‘wWell that seems like fun.’ And I painted one. And then it just grew from there.” 

The couple and their kids hung a few from a tree in front of their home and noticed people would stop and admire them.

“Just nothing wrong with something to make you a little bit happy,” he said.  

Soon, neighborhood kids started asking if they could paint their own and the Dolins bought a bunch of birdhouses at craft stores and gave them to anyone who asked if they could paint one.  

 “I think it’s really creative and cute,” said one neighbor while walking her dog. “It shows how this neighborhood is very family oriented – a bunch of kids like painted these.” 

The houses come in a variety of shapes and sizes from tea kettles to trailers, and of course, the traditional birdhouse shape. The painters find their own inspiration – some pay tribute to bands like Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead, others are tributes to artists like Van Gogh or Mondrian. Some simply have smiley faces.  

“There’s really nothing more to it than that, no underlying political motive or fundraiser,” Dolin said. “Just sometimes it’s a fun thing. That’s all it is. If it makes you smile, or anybody smile, great.”