Natural Pest Control for Your Garden!

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About: I'm a writer and illustrator of books for children and Marvin is a craftsman, carpenter, and retired building contractor. We build various things for our Funny Farm and I write about them.

Most cavity-nesting birds eat the insects and other critters that wreak havoc in our gardens. We love it when we see a house wren with a wriggling cabbage looper in its beak: lunch for its babies and no more holes in our cabbage! These pest-eating birds, such as swallows, wrens, chickadees, titmice, and bluebirds, should be a welcome addition to your garden. And, since cavity-nesting birds like to nest in the holes of trees and other natural cavities, a nest box that mimics the type of cavity they prefer will probably attract them. Hang a few houses close to/inside your garden and soon you’ll have lots of natural pest control.

Step 1: Overview

We’ve built and installed a lot of nest boxes over the years. We followed one basic design, used cedar when we had it and only varied the design/size a bit. The box is easy to construct and installs with a screw on the inside back and one into the bottom of the back. We latch the front with a bent nail or other metal device so we can clean out the box in winter.

We have these boxes all around the garden and on posts throughout the pasture in western Oregon. We even have a line of barbed wire strung between two poles with boxes hanging from the wire. All of our 40+ nest boxes have been occupied at one time or another, by tree swallows, violet-green swallows, chickadees, house wrens, and bluebirds.

Step 2: Best Wood for the Job

Rough-sawn cedar or redwood is recommended for a nesting box because it will last a long time. If not available, use another type of untreated wood (preferably not plywood) that is 3/4" thick. Paint, wood preservatives and stains can harm wildlife so it is best not to use these products. While the house may not last forever, it is easily replaced using this simple design.

Step 3: Cut List

Use these dimensions or something close for bluebirds, swallows, chickadees, wrens, small woodpeckers and other cavity-dwelling birds of a similar size.

You need a total of about 6 linear feet (1.8 meters) of wood

One piece of 1 X 8” (2.5 X 21cm) cedar, 14" long (36cm) for the back, width unchanged (you can slant cut the top if you like, to match the angle of the walls)

One piece of 1 X 8” (2.5 X 21cm) cedar, 9" long (23cm) for the front, cut to 6" width

One piece of 1 X 8” (2.5 X 21cm) cedar cut to 6" (15cm) width, 6-1/2" (16.5cm) for the bottom (cut last for correct fit)

Two pieces of slant-cut 1 X 8" (2.5 X 25cm) cedar, 11-1/2" (29cm) at the longest and 9-1/2" (24cm) at the shortest. Cut two slots side by side at the top of each side, about 3/16" (2 cuts) wide and about 1/2" deep

One piece of 1 X 10” (2.5 X 21cm) cedar, 9-1/2" (24cm) for the roof (you can use 1x8 if you don’t care about overhanging the sides. It really won’t matter as long as the roof is flush to the sides - we've built them both ways)

2" (5cm) wood screws and nails if you're using them (we've also used staples)

One small 2" (5cm) nail (or copper wire, which will last longer) for a latch

Saw, screwdriver, drill, pliers, hammer

Step 4: Drill and Assemble the Box: Sides, Back, Front

1. Drill or cut a 1-1/2" (4cm) hole about 2-1/2" (6cm) from the top of the front for an entry hole.
2. Pre-drill a small hole in the center line about 2/3 height up the back.

3. Screw/nail the sides to the back, using three to four fasteners for each side. Pre-drill if necessary.

4. Line up the front so that it is even with the bottoms of the side pieces. This leaves 1/2" at the top of the front for ventilation.

5. Screw the front to the sides, one screw on each side, exactly 2" (5cm) from the top. These screws will act as hinges for opening the box so they need to be aligned across from each other and not super-tight.

Step 5: Roof and Bottom

6. Screw/nail the roof to the sides, front, and back, allowing a 1/2" (1.5cm) overhang on the back (if you used 1x10) with the rest hanging over the front.

7. Stuff the floor piece in about 1/4" (.63cm) from the bottom edges of the back, front, and sides, then fasten it into place from the sides.

Step 6: Latch It

8. Bend the nail or copper wire into an L shape with the pliers.
9. Drill a hole through one side, and into the front, then insert the latch.

Step 7: Ventilation Yes, Peg No.

This design has good ventilation, which is very important (and we've noticed a lot of designs don’t include it). A non-ventilated house on a hot day can potentially result in baby bird mortality.

The design also does not have a peg beneath the entry hole. This is not necessary for cavity-dwelling birds - they use their claws to cling to the outside of the hole when necessary. A peg only allows predators such as crows to reach inside the box.

As for which direction to face your nest box, generally southeast is recommended where we are, though I've read people find due east to be best, with north, south and west in order of preference after east. Your best bet may be to communicate with local birders to find out what works in your region.

Step 8: Enjoy the Natural Pest Control!

We’ve enjoyed watching birds nesting on our farm and gobbling down our garden pests since 1993. We hope this idea inspires you to invite bug-eating birds to your garden!

All the photos were taken by us on our property. Wildcat Man is responsible for the illustration. Thanks for asking permission before sharing any images.

Step 9: P.S.

Some birds will appreciate a larger house. Medium sized birds such as kestrels, screech owls and flickers will use a house that is about 15" (38cm) deep and about 6" (15cm) square. The entry hole should be about 2" (5cm). Larger birds such as wood ducks and mergansers appreciate a box that is about 18" (46cm) deep and 10" (26cm) square with about a 3" (7.5cm) entry hole. Add a layer of cedar wood shavings about 6" (15cm) deep. These birds do not bring in nesting materials other than their own feathers.

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    22 Discussions

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    jessyratfink

    4 weeks ago

    Thank you for sharing your successes! I have 11 acres in the high desert of Colorado and plan on adding some birdhouses to my land since we're a bit lacking in trees and other natural nesting places. :)

    1 reply

    You're welcome! I researched the potential birds in your area and it looks like you might see any of the various kinds of flycatchers there make use of a nest box, and possibly the Gila woodpecker! Good luck.

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    Norm1958

    4 weeks ago

    Absolutely lovely. Simplest is best.
    Thank you.

    1 reply
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    GBlakeV

    5 weeks ago

    The pictures are marvelous, particularly Step 10.

    1 reply
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    Wildcat Man and RobinGBlakeV

    Reply 5 weeks ago

    Thank you! Those two were taken just a few weeks ago. We've never captured duck babies inside the box before when we've done a quick "point and shoot." We also never had our wildlife camera capture a baby taking the leap until this photo. We knew it happened, but this was our first film capture.

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    LeslieGeee

    Question 5 weeks ago on Step 9

    Hello Wildcat & Robin, Thank you so much for sharing your birdhouse plans. I have a few questions, are the 1/2" slots at the top of the side pieces the air circulation holes? I also would be grateful if you gave the degree of angle for the tops of the front and back pieces. I may be confused on that but I think you gave the angel cut dimensions for the sides only. Thank you for taking the time to answer :)

    4 answers
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    You're welcome! The slots help with venting and so does the space above the front piece. Only the two sides have an angle. Cut the board 11-1/2" long and mark 9-1/2" on one edge; draw a line from top corner to the mark and there's your angle for the cut. The top and back have no angle cut though you can taper cut the top edge of the back if you like. Check out the photos of a completed box for clarification.

    Thank you so much for the explanation.I went over the photos several times before I wrote to you and saw that the back and front tops of the boards were angled. Step:3 Cut List picture has an angle on the front board with the access hole and what looks to be the back board pile in the stack in the middle between the access hole boards in the box and the 3 piles to the right of it ( the two sides & tops ).What I thought I saw were angled cuts on the top of the front and back boards to accommodate the angle of the roof and the two side pieces. In the assembly pictures with you air stapling the back board there appears to be an angle cut in that board. The pictures are what confused me.I will make one to your specs & diagram before I modify anything.“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”:)Thank you again for your quick response and help.

    Yup we tend to be more OCD about building than is usually necessary and those photos are from our latest batch of houses we built last summer. A version of this plan was in my book "The Complete Backyard Nature Activity Book for Kids" and I wanted it as simple as possible anyone to build.

    Gotcha, :) It is not OCD with me it is ADD. I need to have things clarified to match what I am seeing in pictures in some cases so that I can understand what I am doing. That might seem OCD to some but it is how I see things sometimes. My favorite word is WHY lol. That is why I needed the angles clarified, the pictures did not match the directions or spec sheet and It was confusing to me. ADD can be an asset and a bane. Again thank you for your time and explanation.

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    ElaneT

    5 weeks ago

    Great info, thanks so much, my Son is going to make me some :)

    2 replies
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    buddy barks

    5 weeks ago on Step 9

    This is great! I can't wait make some. Especially liked the info about which way to face the box. Also "A peg only allows predators such as crows to reach inside the box." Very simple, but valuable info that isn't usually known.Thanks for providing this instructable!

    1 reply
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    guitarzan214

    Question 5 weeks ago on Step 1

    I only see one hole, that's what gives the good ventilation? Is there a certain height they should be off the ground, and I have some tall pine trees, would hiding the bird house in the branches be ok?

    thank you

    1 answer

    The four slots and the space above the front piece are for ventilation. As for height, find out what kinds of cavity-nesting birds are in your region and read about their nesting habits via Cornell or Audubon. But around here, 5 to 8 feet works. If in a tree, you want a clear path for entry into the house, so remove branches in front of the house. You might get chipmunks or flying squirrels instead of birds, which we don't mind. :-)