❈ DIY: How to Build a Birdhouse

Cartoon birdsThere's nothing like a family of birds moving in to liven up your yard. Watching them build and tend their nest, and then watching the youngsters grow is fascinating something every kid should see, too. But just banging together any old condo in hopes of attracting some bird-buddies rarely works. You've got to know what they need.

Here's a residential construction project you can complete in a few hours and enjoy for years. It's a great opportunity to work with your kids, and you'll probably find all the lumber you need in your pile of scraps. No power tools? No problem: basic hand tools will do just fine. Best of all, we give you the critical dimensions you need to build a house where birds will feel at home.

Design and Construction

Birds' size and habits determine the kind of house they want. Unlike humans, birds aren't impressed with vast interior space, and a "one-size-fits-all" design will likely remain empty. A bird wants a home just large enough to hold its nest, with an entrance hole just big enough for its body. Any larger, and a bigger bird or animal might take over the nest or, worse, eat the inhabitants. Birds know this instinctively and will pass your birdhouse by if it doesn't fit them. No worries, though: our handy chart gives all the dimensions you need to build a house properly tailored for each of the common species.

Ventilation, Drainage and Sanitation

The design shown allows about ¼" between the sides and the roof for ventilation, and its loose-fitting floor provides drainage. When the birds move out at the end of the nesting season, you just take out a single screw, and the bottom swings down for easy cleaning. Getting rid of the old nest is a healthful practice that helps attract new tenants in the spring. With the swinging bottom, the nest comes out intact perfect for your kids to take to school for show and tell.


Basic birdhousePine, fir, cedar, redwood and exterior plywood all work well for birdhouses. Since the parts are small, leftover lumber is often all you need. (Don't use pressure-treated wood, though: it contains chemicals that can be harmful to birds.)

You can finish the outside or leave it to weather naturally. Stain is better than paint, since it won't peel with age.

But whatever finish you choose, be sure it's completely dry before you hang the house to spare the birds the toxic fumes.
If you have access to power tools, especially a table saw, cut out enough parts for several birdhouses, instead of just one. It's fun, the houses make great presents, and your kids can experiment with decoration. Measure and cut in the sequence described below.

Step by Step

Walls, floor and roof1. Determine the dimensions. The dimensions shown are typical for small birds, but see the chart for dimensions that specific birds in your area prefer. These include floor area, interior height and the height and diameter of the entrance hole. Use the dimensions shown here or on the chart, and you'll greatly increase your chances of attracting a tenant.

In this design, the edges of the front and back pieces overlap the sides. When these pieces are fastened together, the four walls make a box. The floor fits inside the box. Start by choosing a floor size from the chart. Don't cut it out yet. For now, all you need are its length and width.
2. Lay out the front and back pieces. The front and back pieces need to be as wide as the floor plus the thickness of both walls. They should be as tall as the interior height you've chosen. Soon you'll cut their corners off, but for now, just draw them as rectangles. Find the center at the top of each of these pieces, and then draw in a 90-degree gable for each one, with the center top as the apex. Extend the lines of the gable angle out to the sides.

3. Lay out the side pieces. Measure the edge of the front piece from the bottom of one side to the point where the gable line intersects it. Subtract ¼ inch. The result is the height of the sides. That ¼-inch gap is for ventilation. Now you can cut out these four pieces. But don't lay out or cut the floor or roof pieces just yet.

4. Cut out the front and back. First cut out the rectangles you drew in step 3; then, cut the corners off each side to make the gable. (That 90° peak will let you simply butt the roof pieces together when the time comes.) Next, work on the front piece. Measure and draw in the entrance hole. It should be centered, and about 2 to 3 inches down from the peak of the birdhouse. Use a spade bit or hole saw to drill the entrance hole. (Again, see the chart for dimensions.) Then use a twist bit to drill a hole for the perch. Put it ½ to ¾ inch below the entrance hole. If you're building a number of houses with different-sized holes, a circle cutter, expansive bit or hole-saw set will make it easy.
Assembly5. Cut and assemble the sides. The two sides are identical. Cut them out and attach them to the front and back with 4d galvanized finishing nails and waterproof glue. If you're building with solid wood, predrill the nail holes with a 1/16" bit, so the wood won't split when you hammer in the nails. When you've finished, you'll have a box, with all bottom edges flush.

6. Cut out the roof pieces. Now measure and cut the roof pieces to fit the box. Make one piece ¾" wider than the other, as shown in the drawing. This provides for the overlap at the peak.

7. Cut and attach the bottom and then the roof. When it's time to cut out the bottom, remember that it shouldn't fit tightly, since it needs to swing open to be cleaned. You may want to trace the inside of the assembled birdhouse walls onto the stock you're using for the floor. Or just cut out a floor piece and then test-fit, trim or plane it down till it's the right size to swing freely. Cut a small finger notch in the bottom front edge, so you can easily pry the bottom down to clean house. Glue and nail the roof pieces to the angled top edges of the gable ends and to each other, along the peak. Attach the bottom with screws, as shown. (The two screws at the back will function as a simple hinge.) Cut a length of dowel to serve as a perch and secure it in its hole with a drop of waterproof glue.
8. Hang the house. To attach the house to a tree trunk, you'll need two small steel mending plates and a few outdoor screws. Use ¾" screws to fasten each mending plate to the back of the house (one at the bottom, one at the top). To hang the house, drive screws through the plates and into a tree, fence post or similar support. Don't forget to check the chart to find out how high to hang your birdhouse. Then sit back with a pair of binoculars and see who moves in.

:. Birdhouse Dimensions for Individual Species

Floor Interior height
to roof peak
Entry hole
Box height
above ground
Chickadee 4" x 4" 8" 1 ⅛" 5 ft
Tufted Titmouse 4" x 4" 8" 1 ¼" 5 ft
Nuthatch 4" x 4" 8" 1 ¼" 12 ft
Downy Woodpecker 4" x 4" 10" 1 ¼" 12 ft
Hairy Woodpecker 5 ½" x 5 ½" 14" 1 ¾" 20 ft
Tree Swallow 5" x 5" 6" 1 ½" 5 ft
Barn Swallow 6" x 6" 6" 3" sides open* 8 ft
Purple Martin 6" x 6" 6" 2 ½" 17 ft
Eastern Phoebe 6" x 6" 6" 3" sides open* 8 ft
Eastern Bluebird 5" x 5" 9" 1 ½" 4 ft
House Finch 6" x 6" 6" 2" 8 ft
Wren 4" x 4" 7" 1" (House)
1 ⅛" (Bewick's)
1 ⅜" (Carolina)
6 ft

* "3 sides open" indicates that though this bird will nest in an enclosed birdhouse, it will probably be happier with just a roofed platform, so it can fly in and out as it likes. This is particularly true of barn swallows.

» Handsaw, circular saw or table saw
» Dial saw, circle cutter, expansive bit,
   hole saw set or spade bit set
» Hammer
» Twist bit set
» Tape measure
» Combination square
» Screwdriver
» Safety glasses
» Waterproof glue
» Mending plates, two per house
» Galvanized 4d finishing nails
» ¾" outdoor screws
» 1 ⅝" outdoor screws

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