Montgomery County sculptor transforming tree into birds

In one Montgomery County neighborhood, neighbors are doing a different kind of bird watching, flocking to see how one homeowner is still trying to save a massive oak tree – with birds.

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The chainsaw buzzed in the heat on Sunday on Leslie Court in Silver Spring, as artist Jason Swain carved into what was left of the massive tree, using a scaffolding to reach it.

"I mean, you can see this thing from the street, it’s actually taller than part of the house here," said Swain. Now carved into that giant stump, and also now peering into the street, over cars and fences, are two giant birds: a Hawk and Woodpecker.

Just as mighty as the tree that once stood, the carved Woodpecker stands about nine feet long. A Hawk on the other side is about eight feet and there are still plans to carve a recessed owl into the side.

"The most interesting comment I got was, someone asked if we took the tree down just to make a statue," said Swain, who laughed saying that would be a pretty expensive project just to take a tree down for a sculpture, you’d also have to pay for!

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A Kensington, Maryland employee by day, and owner behind "Billabong Art Studio" by night, Jason Swain told FOX 5 he was approached by the owner of the Oak Tree to create an artwork out of what was left of the tree: a large stump.

"It’s definitely been a challenge. The nature of the wood. The tree sort of dictates what you do," said Swain. The area artist told FOX 5 he’s been carving out the sculpture for about three weeks now.

The homeowner, who asked for the focus to stay on Swain’s work, told FOX 5 he never thought the tree would come down, until he recently discovered a split. The homeowner said he called a "tree guy," and when the expert came the next day, he apparently told the homeowner to evacuate immediately! Afterward, the homeowner says about five tons of branches were cut down.

That same homeowner decided this tree wasn’t done just yet. He approached Swain about the art project.

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"The hardest part is the beginning because it’s just … I mean, you kind of see a shape, because that’s what I do, I see a shape. But it doesn’t look like anything until you start chopping the chunks out and it’s kind of out of control. You really don’t know if it’s going to work or not until you’re sort of quarter of a way through it," said Swain.

Both he and the homeowner say neighbors have been bird-watching … sort of. FOX 5 was told lots of people have been driving by or walking by to look at the new sculpture in progress. The artist described his favorite reaction as coming from a child.

"You don’t see a lot of this around and it’s good to see kids looking at something different other than a computer screen," he said, hoping this might inspire one of the children watching to become an artist.

There’s no name for the birds yet. Swain says he will likely turn back to the Nextdoor app when it’s time to give the birds a name.