Birdhouses for Beginners (And Others)

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Birdhouses for Beginners

Some of the most popular small projects for spring involve birds. Housing and feeding our feathered pals are interesting processes. You can bring many extra breeds of birds to the suburban, and even urban, back yard, with only a small amount of thought and effort on the part of the homeowner (or other housing provider).  

Start your project by deciding what species of birds you'd like to house. Then find a plan, or adapt a plan you already have, and start the process. There are literally dozens of good birdhouse plans to be found on the Net, many of which are in the public domain, and useful for groups building houses, and building houses for sale. Birdhouse building usually begins with the selection of the wood species, after deciding on the bird type. 

What Wood Is Best

Over many years of birdhouse construction, I've used just about everything that is semi-sensible and some that really wasn't (I didn't discover the dangers of treated wood in skin contact for more than 20 years after I quit using it for bird housing, where for some reason it made me uneasy). Now, I try to use more benign woods, including cypress (a favorite), pine, fir, redwood (another favorite), and white cedar. I use red--aromatic--cedar for roofing, but keep it out of contact areas because of the possibility a bird may find it as rough on the nasal passages as many humans do. Out of the above group, cypress and redwood last almost forever (assuming you use rust-proof fasteners and water resistant glues), but you'll be surprised at how well most pines, and particularly southern yellow pine, and firs will last, with absolutely no finish on the birdhouse.


There are books and magazine articles in abundance showing nicely enameled bird homes, or high gloss clear finishes on bird houses. These gorgeous projects are really best suited to interior home décor, for birds are not truly fond of shiny, pretty housing. In my experience, and in my reading, I've consistently noted that flat finishes, or no finishes, work best. Houses of fresh wood are often ignored the first year, maybe two, and then, seemingly suddenly, the project manager sees Mom and Pop carting twigs through the opening. What's happened? The birdhouse has weathered in, turned a healthy gray color, or gotten mottled gray and tan, and the 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 new housing for knotholes in old--really old--fence posts. Basically, not finishing the birdhouse at all is the perfect finishing step.

Other Materials

You need other materials when building a birdhouse, but not a great many. A few rust resistant round or oval head wood screws, a few brads (to save using clamps as the glue sets), and some water resistant or waterproof glues. For those who want a fancy birdhouse, I'd recommend getting some sheet copper and covering the wood roof with that. Don't use sheet metal as the only roof, as the little bit of insulation provided by the wood is necessary on hot, sunny days.

Birdhouses for Beginners


This one depends on how lazy you are, or how many birdhouses you want to make or how many tools you have, or wish to have, on hand. For a small number of birdhouses, say six or a dozen, hand tools are more than enough, because except for wood duck and similar houses, most birdhouses are small, with no fancy curlicues or difficulty joinery (which is one feature that makes them perfect projects for children's' groups, and for novice woodworkers…another feature is the lack of need for roaring power tools). Personally, I'm lazy, so I use power tools a lot. But a decent hand miter saw is excellent for getting exact 90° and 45° angles with no extra effort, though even that can be avoided: all cuts can be made with a regular handsaw, after being marked with a try square. Brads can be driven with a 10 ounce hammer. Glue can be spread with scrap sticks. Screws drive easily with a #2 Phillips driver. Holes are easily drilled with any drill around, though a good cordless 9.6 volt or up drill is going to make getting those bigger entry holes much easier. And that brings to mind the need for drill bits. Forstner bits give the cleanest holes for bird entry, but if you're willing to clean up the hole, you an use much cheaper spade bits, and hole saws also work nicely, especially for the really big holes. A bit of 100 grit sandpaper or a small rasp for clean-up of rough edges. And that's about it. A minimum of a 10 point crosscut saw, a cordless drill, a couple of bits (one 3/32" or 1/8" for pilot holes for #8 wood screws), a 10 ounce hammer, a #2 Phillips screwdriver. A square and a measuring tape. You're ready to start. 

Birdhouses for Beginners

Doing It

Lay out the plans, and determine what pieces you want to cut first. Go on to cut all pieces, making careful measurements and marking neatly. When the plan says cut two, do both at the same time. 

Birdhouses don't use a lot of material, but if you mark carefully, after thinking about the layout for a bit, you'll use even less material. Cut to the lines, and use sandpaper or a rasp to gently get rid of any splinters or rough spots. Check the fit of parts as much as possible. Take the back, and one side, and assemble those, 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 drilling the hole in the front. Make sure the hole edges are smooth, as this is one spot the bird can't avoid. 

Birdhouses for Beginners

Add the roof. Depending on the plan, the roof, part of the roof, or the floor, will 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" brass wood screws to hold the removable part in place.

Just in case: if the plans don't show it, you need to allow for both ventilation and drainage. Drainage is easy: drill a 3/8" hole in each corner of the floor, or clip the floor corners off 1/2" in, and at 45°.

Ventilation is also easy. 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.

And that's it. Place the birdhouse, and sit back.

Making It Easy for Your Tenants

With the birdhouses built and placed, it's time to think of what else you might do to help the new housekeepers: materials with which to build a nest often seem to be the final determinant in getting a bird species to use a newly built house. If your locale isn't abundant in the following things, you might wish to supply them yourself (most of them can just be draped on a nearby bush, hung in a basket, or even left on a fence, or on the ground). 

Birdhouses for Beginners

• Small twigs

• Dog hair (a good excuse for grooming your dog)

• Human hair (hair you pull out of your brush) 

• Thin strips of cloth, no more than an inch wide and six inches long 

• Feathers 

• 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



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