More than thirty kinds of birds use birdhouses—and at least some of them visit your yard. Birdhouses are fun. They allow you to watch the activity of bird parents as they build their nests and feed their young. And, they’re beneficial, too, because natural nesting places, especially in cities, are in short supply. A birdhouse placed in a well-chosen spot is sure to be used and building one is easy. If you’re a parent, it’s a fun project to do with your kids.
Why birds use birdhouses
Birdhouses appeal to birds that nest in tree cavities instead of open nests. From their point of view, the entrance hole represents a hollow tree limb or trunk and promises protection from the elements and some safety from predators.
Keep it simple
There are thousands of beautiful, intricately designed birdhouses on the market, but they’re expensive and unnecessary: Birds just want shelter and safety.
The following plan is for a basic one-size-fits-(almost)-all birdhouse. Most species in your yard can use it. If you want to attract House Wrens, though, resize the entrance hole to 1-1/4 inches in diameter, which will keep larger birds from taking it away. For specific dimensions for other species, check this page.
- 1 – 1 in. x 6 in. x 6 ft. rough cedar, redwood, or 5/8-inch-thick plywood; untreated, unpainted
- Tape measure
- Keyhole saw or appropriate-sized bit attached to a drill
- Sandpaper or wood file
- Carpenter’s square
- Electric or cordless drill
- Screwdriver and/or hammer
- 18 – 1-1/4 in. exterior wood screws (recommended), brass or stainless steel, or #7 galvanized nails
- Optional: exterior paint, non-VOC latex
If you don’t mind a real rustic look, glue or screw strips of bark to the outside—birds seem to like it. (Make sure screws don’t protrude inside.)
Don’t substitute metal for the roof, unless the house will be well-shaded because it can build up a lot of heat and kill birds. (If you’re thinking about putting up a Purple Martin house sometime, consider using wood or gourds, which are as successful as the traditional metal ones. Paint them white.)
- The top of the hole must be precisely 1-1/2 inches down on the front panel.
- Most songbirds use a hole 1-1/2 inches in diameter. If you know you want it to be used by a larger or smaller bird, scale it accordingly.
- The top is longer than the bottom and sides to provide an overhang above the entry hole.
- Roughen the interior surfaces with sandpaper or a wood file before assembling.
- Cut 1/8-inch grooves across the inside of the front panel for fledglings to cling to when leaving their nest.
- Don’t add a perch; it’s unnecessary and gives predators a convenient rod to grab.
- If you lack a keyhole saw or appropriate-sized drill bit, you can start an entry hole with the largest bit you have and then enlarge it with a wood file. Finish by sanding the edges smooth.
- To keep the wood from splitting pre-drill screw holes using a bit that’s slightly smaller than the screw you will use.
- Drill several 1/4-inch holes near the top of both side panels for cross ventilation.
- Drill several 1/4-inch drainage holes in the bottom to keep the house dry.
- Use screws instead of nails on the roof so the interior can be accessed easily for cleaning. Alternatively, on one side panel use hinges on one edge and a picture frame turn button or L-shaped nail on the other edge to keep it tightly closed.
Don’t use paint or stain on the inside. Outside, it can be left natural, especially if it’s made of cedar or redwood. If you paint the outside, use an exterior non-VOC latex. Birds seem to prefer earth tones—brown, tan, gray, green.
Put a couple of inches of wood shavings in the bottom of a woodpecker house to keep them from pecking at the inside to produce nesting material. Hamster bedding works well for this, but don’t buy shavings made from cedar or pine—they contain natural insect-repellent chemicals that can be harmful to breathe. Avoid using sawdust; it soaks up water and gets matted.
When and where to put up the birdhouse
This page lists bird species, their natural habitat, and optimal placement of their houses. If you store the birdhouse over the winter, the best time of year to put it back into action is in late winter, so it’s ready for occupancy in early spring. Place it where it’ll be partially shaded, at least most of the day, with the opening facing away from prevailing winds.
Place it where it’ll be partially shaded, at least most of the day, with the opening facing away from prevailing winds. If House Sparrows or Starlings take over, you’ll only get rid of them by removing every nest they try to build until they finally give up.
Clean and disinfect your birdhouse every fall, which will ready it for winter roosting or for storing away. If you leave it out over the winter for use as a roost, clean and disinfect again in early spring. Don’t try to clean it when it’s in
- You can attach to the birdhouse entrance a 1-inch-thick wood block with a hole in it that’s the same dimension as the hole in the birdhouse. That will create a short tunnel that makes it harder for predators—squirrels, raccoons, cats, other birds—from too easily reaching inside.
- A house on a pole ideally should have a metal guard below it (with the bottom at least 2 feet above the ground).
- The birdhouse can be suspended on a wire beyond the jumping range of predators.
- Some birds will use a house placed on the side of a building.
- A birdhouse mounted on a tree often comes with unavoidable risks. A metal baffle can be fitted around small diameter trees.
Enjoy—the birds sure will!
Good luck with your project! A well-built and well-placed birdhouse will deliver years of pleasure to you while providing a sorely needed nesting place for birds. Thousands upon thousands of acres of bird habitat is destroyed each year by human development.
*Top image: Tom Brandt / Flickr; CC BY 2.0