Spring brings means yard work but one of the most popular small projects this time of year involve birds – either feeding or housing. Building a birdhouse can be a fun project for the entire family – tools required are minimal and you can let your imagination run wild. Housing your feathered friends is also good therapy for dealing with the hectic pace of life these days.
Start your project by deciding what species of birds you’d like to house. This is very important because each species has different needs and habits, which, in turn, determine the construction. If you want birds to live in the house you have built, it needs to be constructed to specific criteria: floor size, depth, position of the entrance above the floor, diameter of the entrance and height above the ground. You can build from a plan, adapt a plan or create one on your own – just pay attention to the details (see chart below).
One of the most commonly seen backyard birds, particularly during the cold months when many other birds have flown south is the chickadee. There are seven species of chickadee:
- Black-cap Chickadee
- Carolina Chickadee
- Mountain Chickadee
- Mexican Chickadee
- Boreal Chickadee
- Gray-headed Chickadee
- Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bird House Building Code
Simply match the species of the bird you wish to build a house for with the dimensions required for house components. Just like building codes for human housing, this stuff does matter.
What Wood Is Best?
Actual construction begins with the selection of the wood species. The primary rule is that the wood selected needs to last. Cypress, redwood, and cedar are naturally suited for the task because they are insect and weather resistant. Pine, fir, and oak hold up surprisingly well under touch conditions as well. Stay away from plywood and OSB – they aren’t made for prolonged exposure to the elements and the resins use may not be that appealing to the birds. NEVER use anything that may be toxic to birds like pressure-treated wood or aromatic cedar.
You’ll need some additional materials when building a birdhouse, but not a great many. A few rust resistant (galvanized) round or oval head wood screws, a few brads (to save using clamps as the glue sets), and water resistant or waterproof glue. For those who want to dress up their house a bit, I recommend some old sheet metal, corrugated metal, sheet copper or old license plate for roofing material. Don’t use the metal as the only roof however, on hot sunny days the birds will roast! Even tho a wooden roof provides minimal insulation, combined with the metal, it will provide a good quality roofing system.
The tools required vary. It depends on how much effort you want to put into the construction, or how many birdhouses you want to make, or how many tools you have, or wish to have, on hand. Unless you are mass producing bird housing (12+), hand tools are more than enough, because except for certain species of birds, most birdhouses are small and don’t demand difficulty joinery. That’s why birdhouses are perfect woodworking projects for kids and novice woodworkers. So, some suggestions:
- Hand miter saw: Cutting exact 90° and 45° angles with no extra effort.
- Combination square: Used to mark cuts
- Waterproof glue (like Elmer’s WoodGlue Max or Titebond III
- #8 X 1 1/4″ screws
- #2 Phillips screw driver
- Drill bits: Forstener bit, spade bit or hole saw the diameter required for your bird
- Drill bits: one 3/32″ or 1/8″ for pilot holes for #8 screws
- Drill bits: 3/8″ for ventilation and drainage holes
- 100 grit sandpaper
- Measuring tape or carpenter’s rule.
Lay out your plan (careful measurements and marking neatly). Think about the layout and determine what cuts need to be made. Cut all pieces – measure twice, cut once and when a plan calls for two similar pieces to be cut – do both at the same time. Cut to the lines, and use sandpaper to gently get rid of any splinters or rough spots.
Check the fit of parts before you actually start gluing and assembly.
Drill the hole in the front.
Start assembly with the back, and one side, using glue on the joint and two or three brads to hold the pieces until the glue sets. Add the second side, and then the front, after. Make sure the hole’s edges are smooth, as this is one spot the bird can’t avoid.
Add the roof. Depending on the plan, the roof, part of the roof, or the floor, should be removable to allow for cleaning out during winter’s slack season. To make a part removable, do not coat edges with glue, drill 3/16″ pilot holes and use #8 x 1-1/4″ screws (brass or galvanized) to hold the removable part in place.
Just like the house you live in, the birdhouse needs adequate ventilation and drainage. Drainage is easy: drill a 3/8″ hole in each corner of the floor, or before assembly, clip the floor corners off 1/2″ in, and at 45°.
For ventilation drill 3/8″ holes along the back, or under the eaves, or in another convenient spot, so that there is a way for air to flow through the nesting box.
When it comes to birdhouses – the best finish is no finish! Oh, you’ll see books and magazine articles in showing nicely enameled bird homes, or high gloss clear finishes but these gorgeous projects are really best suited to interior home décor – not for birds.
Houses of fresh wood are often ignored the first year or two until they weather and turn gray or take on a mottled gray and tan look. Birds feel more comfortable settling into a spot that looks natural to them. Chickadees are among the funniest birds in this respect, turning down perfectly good, shiny a new house for knotholes in old—really old—fence posts. If you want your house lived in the first season, get a head start and make it from weathered wood or use flat latex paint as a finish that mimics the natural habitat of the species – tans, grays and rust colors work best.
A Helping Hand
Now that the house is built, put it in place. Remember, where you put the birdhouse is just as important as the actual construction details (see figure 1).
You can give you new tenants a hand, by providing appropriate materials nearby with which they can build a nest. Often this bit of hospitality seems to be how some birds make up their mind about living in your newly constructed house. Some of these items will be in abundance naturally, if not you can draped on a nearby bush, place in a hanging basket, or even left on a fence, or on the ground.
- Small twigs
- Dog hair (something good comes from shedding)
- Human hair (pulled from your brush)
- Thin strips of cloth, no more than an inch wide and six inches long
- Dried grasses, softer parts of decorative grasses
- Yarn, thread or string cut into short three to six inch lengths
- Small pieces of cotton or wool
- Dryer lint
- Pine needles
Keep in mind you don’t need all of these items, just a combination which will help the birds get a good start on their nest.