Intro: How to Make a Nest Box for Birds
These instructions will guide you through how to make a nest box appropriate for small migratory birds, such as chickadees, tree swallows, bluebirds, and nuthatches. They are adopted from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s recommendations at nestwatch.org.
To follow these instructions, you will need access to a few tools that you might not have at home. Check out your local makerspace, which will probably have everything you need.
If you want to make a similar birdhouse using simpler tools, there are versions of this plan (using only one board) available for download at nestwatch.org.
YuKonstruct is the first makerspace in Canada's north. Our mission is to provide access to shared space, quality tools, available expertise, and a collaborative environment to help makers build anything!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
- Chopsaw and/or tablesaw
- Router (optional)
- Drill Driver drill bit that is compatible with your screws (so if you bought Phillips head screws, you need a Phillips drill bit)
- ⅛” twist drill bit (for drilling holes)
- ½” twist drill bit
- 1 ½” hole saw drill bit
- Different birds prefer different sized entry holes, this is the recommended size for Yukon’s small migratory birds.
- Ten 1 ¼” wood screws - galvanized is best.
- One 1”x6”x4’
- To be safe for the birds, please make sure that the wood is untreated, unpainted wood. Preferably pine, spruce, or cedar.
- When you are choosing a board look for one with few defects and that is as straight as possible. Make sure to turn it on it’s side and look down its end to check for twists in the wood.
- Note: this 1” board will actually be ¾” thick. The width is stated to be 6”, but it will really be 5 ½” wide.
- A bit smaller or larger will do just fine as well. The large size of the roof compared to the nest box helps to keep out rain and predators.
- Note: this board will be ¾” thick and 9 ½” wide.
Step 2: Measure and Cut the Pieces
Cut out the six pieces that you will need for your nest box according to the diagram. You will cut the front, sides, bottom and back from the 1”x 6” board, and the roof from a piece of 1” x 10”
- As the blade has some width to it (called kerf), it might be best to measure the first cut and cut one at a time. If you measure everything out first, make sure to make an allowance for your blade kerf.
- In order to make the cut between the side pieces, you will need to set your chop saw to a 15 degree angle.
Step 3: Angle Cuts
If you look at the picture of the birdhouse, you’ll notice that the roof is on an angle to help keep water out of the nest box. This means that we need to cut some of the edges on angles as well, so that the roof fits nice and snugly against the box.
There are a couple of methods to do this - you can use a chopsaw or a tablesaw set to a 15 degree angle, as pictured. Follow the instructions for your machine to set the correct angle.
- Both of the cut sides of the roof (across the 9 ½” width) should be cut to a 15 degree angle - parallel to each other, as pictured below. This means that it will be able to sit flush against the back of the nest box.
- If there is any bow to your roof, it would be best to arrange your piece so that the bow is down and helps to keep water out of the nest box (rather than pooling). In the picture, the top of the roof is facing up.
- One of the short edges of the front piece (5 ½” across) should be cut at a 15 degree angle. This will become the top of the nest box and allow the roof to sit flush on top of it.
- See the picture for the correct orientation of the angle relative to the side pieces.
- The left side of your nest box will be able to swing open (see the pictures of the finished nest box at the end of this document) so that you can clean out the nest box.
- In order for the side to swing open freely, it is easier if you take the outside edge of the top of the side off. You can use the same method (chopsaw or tablesaw at a 15 degree angle) or use a rasp to file off the edge. If you use a chopsaw, this cut is slightly more complicated, as you need to set two angles at the same time on your chopsaw, as pictured below.
- Only the left side needs this angle cut, the right side stays flat as pictured below.
Step 4: Drill Holes
Front - entry hole
- Make a mark 2 ¾” from the top and 2 ¾” from the side.
- Using the 1 ½” hole saw drill bit, drill a hole around your centre mark.
- The size of the entrance hole is important and should be specific to the type of bird you are trying to attract, while keeping out predators.
Sides - ventilation holes
- Using a ½” twist drill bit, drill 4 ventilation holes in the sides of the nest box (2 in each side).
- These should be near the top of your box. Measure down 1 ½” down from the short corner and draw a line across the board. Measure in 1 ½” from each side and make a mark. This is where you will drill the ventilation holes.
Bottom - drain holes
- There needs to be at least four drainage holes in the bottom of the nest box to allow any water that enters the box to drain away.
- Measure 1” in from each side and draw a line. The cross hairs are where you will drill the drainage holes using your ½” twist drill bit.
Step 5: Roof Gutters (optional)
- To help keep out rain even more, you can add roof gutters under the front and two sides of the roof.
- Using a ¼” bit set, you can use a router to create these ¼” deep cuts. Shown below is a router table, but you could do the same thing with a hand-held version.
- Make sure that you are making the cuts on the bottom of the roof and on the correct sides. It might help to hold the angled edge of your roof against the back piece so that you can visualize which side is the top, bottom, front and back.
Step 6: Clamping
A recessed floor will keep the nest from getting wet and it helps the nest box last longer. In order to recess the floor about ¼” up from the bottom of the box, find a spare piece of ¼” material (like plywood or cardboard) and cut it the same size as your bottom piece (4” by 5 ½”).
Place the ¼” spacer on top of a couple of pieces of scrap wood (3 scrap 1”x6” works well) that are approximately 2 ¼” high - a little more or less is just fine. This is just a base to help you assemble the box with an overhang on the bottom. It won’t form part of the nest box.
Put the end of your back piece (15” long) on your workbench and place the scrap wood against it. Then put your bottom piece on top of the ¼” spacer on top of the scrap wood. This will recess it for you. Line up the left side, right side, and front pieces around the bottom piece and clamp it all together.
Make sure that you have the left side arranged correctly. The low side of the angle should be on the outside of the box. This will allow the side piece to hinge open.
Step 7: Screwing the Pieces Together
You will need to drill guide holes with the ⅛” twist drill bit before putting in any screws. This is an important step as it helps to prevent the wood from splitting.
Drill guide holes and screw together the pieces as shown in RED on the next page on the front, right side, and back of the nest box. Then place the roof on top of the nest box with the gutters on the underside. Drill guide holes and screw the roof into place.
Remember that there are no screws in the left side of your nest box. This allows it to hinge open so that you can clean out and monitor your next box. According to nestwatch.org, this is important for a successful nesting season.
You will need a way to keep the box closed until you are ready to open it, so a removable nail will do the trick. Drill a guide hole for the nail as shown in YELLOW in the diagram. Drive a nail into the hole with a hammer, leaving enough exposed that you will be able to remove it easily.
Step 8: Completion
Congratulations! You’ve finished your nest box for Yukon’s small migratory birds.
The interior wall inside the entrance hole should be rough to help nestlings climb out of the box. The plain wood is usually rough enough, but you can use some coarse sandpaper (60 grit) on the inside of the board, if needed.
Predators such as squirrels and house cats will attack and kill adult and baby birds, alike. To discourage predators:
- Don’t put a perch on your nest box.
- Please keep house cats indoors—it’s safer for birds and cats! Cats kill 100 – 350 million birds each year in Canada!
- Don’t mount your bird box on a large tree or large fence that predators can climb. Preferably, mount the box on a pole or piece of rebar.
- You can put a wobbling baffle (PVC, a bucket, foil plate, etc.) under the box (mounted on the pole).
- You can put wire mesh around the entrance to deter chewing by squirrels.
Check out nestwatch.org in the "learn" tab for more tips.