Before You Build a Birdhouse

Tips for Birdhouse Design and Building

Large Bird House

Ted/Flickr/CC by-SA 2.0

Building a birdhouse may seem like an easy project, but there is much more to an attractive, bird-friendly house than a wooden box with an entrance hole. Before you build a birdhouse, you need to understand what nesting birds need and how best to meet those needs with the house you construct.

What Attracts Birds to a House

Just as home buyers look for specific features when house shopping such as a large kitchen, enough bedrooms, or sufficient garage space, birds also need certain features in their houses. Factors that affect which birds will use a birdhouse or nesting box include:

To build the best birdhouse, you first need to learn what cavity-nesting birds are frequent visitors in your region. These are the birds most likely to investigate your house, and when you keep their needs in mind, you can build a birdhouse to invite them to become more permanent residents.

Start With a Plan

A birdhouse doesn't need to be complicated, but if you haven't built one before, it is best to start with a tried-and-true plan. There are many free birdhouse plans available online with styles and designs suitable for beginning woodworkers to experienced architects, or you can buy a book of birdhouse plans for a hard copy reference. If you are an confident woodworker with some building experience, you may even feel comfortable designing your own birdhouse with the information you've learned about what nesting birds want.

If you are a novice, however, building a birdhouse from scratch may seem too intimidating or ambitious, even with detailed, step-by-step plans. In that case, you may want to consider using a birdhouse kit with pre-cut pieces to assemble. Another option is to start with a simple birdhouse and make modifications to the design to make it more bird-friendly to suit the species you hope will take up residence. You might even consider an alternative design, such as turning a mailbox into a birdhouse.

Use the Proper Equipment

You can't build a good, safe birdhouse if you don't use the right tools for the construction. Be sure you have the proper drill bits, screwdrivers, hammers, saws, and other tools for building birdhouses on hand, and that those tools are in good working order. Reread instructional manuals if needed, and always practice proper safety when using different tools. If you are unfamiliar with the necessary tools, you might consider a beginning woodworking or wood shop class instead, and building a birdhouse is often a class project you can select. This will allow you to build your first birdhouse with expert guidance to be sure you are building it correctly and using tools properly.

Along with the tools you use, you also want to have the appropriate materials for the house. Most birdhouse plans will suggest the best material, or you can opt for slightly different materials you may already have on hand. Recycled or upcycled materials are great for building birdhouses, such as using parts of old fences, barns, or other older, well-seasoned wood that birds will appreciate.

Building a Better Birdhouse

Even the best birdhouse plans or easiest projects can often be adjusted to be even more bird-friendly. A good house will be a prime nesting spot for years, and new bird families will raise many generations of baby birds in a safe, sturdy, attractive house. To make a birdhouse more bird-friendly, consider the following steps and adjustments.

  • Include ventilation holes to reduce heat and keep nestlings comfortable.
  • Add drainage holes to remove waste and water and help with ventilation.
  • Use a deep roof overhang or countersunk hole to keep rain out of the house.
  • Choose only natural building materials (untreated hardwood is best).
  • Do not paint or varnish the house interior, which could be toxic.
  • Choose natural exterior colors that blend with the surroundings for camouflage.
  • Avoid houses with perches that make it easier for predators to reach nestlings.
  • Include a hinged roof or side door that can be opened for seasonal cleaning.
  • Choose a convertible design that can be used as a roosting box in winter.

By understanding the key elements of a bird-friendly nesting spot before you build a birdhouse, you can be sure the house you create is safe, comfortable and attractive to birds. With a good house, you can enjoy generations of bird families nesting nearby and reap the rewards of being a responsible bird landlord.