May 07, 2023
How to Make a Birdhouse: 8 Easy Steps
Put your DIY skills to work for backyard birds. Olivia Young is a writer, fact
Put your DIY skills to work for backyard birds.
Olivia Young is a writer, fact checker, and green living expert passionate about tiny living, climate advocacy, and all things nature. She holds a degree in Journalism from Ohio University.
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Birdhouses can be found at almost any home improvement store or easily assembled from kits bought at your local craft supplier, but making your own is far more rewarding and sustainable. Maybe you want to fashion a birdhouse out of scrap or reclaimed wood, for example, or eschew mysterious chemical wood glues for screws, the old-school way. One of the most obvious benefits is, of course, being able to customize the design.
Building a cozy abode for your beloved backyard friends is fun and extremely beneficial for its potential inhabitants. Birdhouses provide them with a safe place to nest away from the elements and predators. And with an ever-growing number of bird species in crisis, these joyous and unfathomably important animals need all the help they can get.
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There's no golden rule for how big a birdhouse should be or what it should look like. Ultimately, a sloped roof is recommended for draining purposes, perches should be avoided lest they attract predators, walls should be thick enough to provide insulation, and wood should be untreated so it isn't toxic.
Size-wise, different birds require different dimensions. A big bird like the pileated woodpecker might require a height of up to two feet to fully fit in the nest box whereas your average house wren might require only six inches. If you're trying to attract a particular type of bird to your box, refer to Cornell University's handy species-specific nest structure plans.
The below DIY birdhouse is just the right size for small, common birds like chickadees, wrens, titmice, and house finches, which are known to frequent a range of environments—even cities. Feel free to adapt the dimensions to the species you hope to attract.
Pine, cedar, and cypress are great options for birdhouses because they're weather resistant, well-insulated, and durable. While it's great to use reclaimed wood, it should be untreated and unpainted. Otherwise, this kind of wood can be bought in planks at your local lumberyard. If possible, purchase FSC-certified wood.
Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a great place to source affordable secondhand tools and unused building materials like lumber and screws.
Measure the dimensions for each of your panels, marking each piece with a carpenter pencil. Each piece is rectangular, except the sides, which have two oblique angles (to accommodate the sloping roof).
Use a miter or circular saw to safely cut the wood.
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Assemble your birdhouse from the bottom. Screw the side panels to the base, leaving ¾ inch on either side to compensate for the thickness of the front and back panels. Screw the front panel onto the base and side panels, then repeat with the back panel, lining it up with the top edge and leaving several inches of exposed wood on the underside. This makes it easier to mount the birdhouse.
Nails also work, but screws are stronger and stay put for longer.
Using a ¼-inch bit, drill four holes near each corner of the floor panel for drainage. Then, using a ¼-inch or ⅛-inch bit, drill two holes near the top (roof) edge of each side panel. These are for ventilation, to prevent chicks from overheating.
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The size of your entrance hole is very important. If you aim to attract small birds like chickadees and wrens, the key is to prevent the bigger house sparrow, which can fit through a 1 ¼-inch opening, from getting in. House sparrows are invasive and "detrimental" to chickadees and bluebirds, Mass Audubon says. They are extremely common and widespread throughout the U.S. except in densely wooded areas.
Mark a 1 ⅛-inch hole—which will fit nuthatches, titmice, warblers, and anything smaller—about five inches from the bottom. A circular drill bit, aka "hole saw," works best for cutting such a small and precise circle, but those with steady hands might also find success with a thin-bladed jigsaw.
You want a hinged roof so that you can lift the "lid" and clean out your birdhouse. A strip of flexible rubber or roofing felt works better than actual hinges for this because it's waterproof and provides an extra bit of insulation. Screw the rubber right into the underside of the roof and on the inside of the back panel.
Adding a thin layer of wood chips to the bottom of your birdhouse creates the feel of a freshly dug cavity. It will help draw birds to your nesting box and make them more comfortable. A handful or two is probably plenty, but use your discretion.
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According to Mass Audubon, a multispecies birdhouse such as this can be mounted anywhere from four to 20 feet high. You can hang the birdhouse on a tree (living or dead), a fence, or a house, but attaching it to its own post or pole allows you to keep other critters out with a guard such as a stovepipe or collar. Screw the back panel right into said pole using your longer screws.
Refer to Cornell's nest structure plans for species-specific tips on birdhouse placement.
Hundreds of bird species benefit from birdhouses, from owls and kestrels to robins, warblers, and swallows. Even ducks use nesting boxes. Different species have different needs when it comes to birdhouses, though, so check Cornell University's species-specific building plans for more information.
Untreated, unpainted, and FSC-certified pine, cedar, and cypress are ideal because they're weather resistant, well insulated, and durable.
Birdhouses should face a direction that has a clear flight path and in which strong sun and wind can't get in.