Birdhouses are fun additions to your property – and they make great gifts, too! You can easily create decorative birdhouses with simple materials such as popsicle sticks or plastic bottles, or you can get fancy with ornaments such as stone or mosaic – these materials are durable enough to adorn functional birdhouses. You can even transform an old teapot into a cozy nesting place for some of your garden’s colorful visitors by carefully plugging the spout and creating a hole in the correct size as well as at the optimal height. We’ll cover the basics for building a DIY birdhouse here, and we’ll provide you with some fantastic ideas for painting and decorating birdhouses any winged family would love to call home.
Birdhouse Types and Ideas
The best birdhouse for your lawn or garden is going to be one that’s designed to attract cavity nesters such a bluebirds, chickadees, or swallows. If you want to attract larger birds such as wood ducks or screech owls, you can certainly build a larger birdhouse designed to invite them to raise a family! Here are a few of the most common birdhouse types to consider:
- Simple, sheltered platforms. Best for cardinals, jays, robins, phoebes, mourning doves, and barn swallows.
- Basic four-sided birdhouse with one nesting compartment. Best for small species such as bluebirds, chickadees, sparrows, tree swallows, and house wrens.
- Apartment-style birdhouses with multiple entryways. Best for communal birds such as purple martins.
- Cute, decorative birdhouses – campers, Victorian houses, and more. Keep recommended species size, hole position, and other factors in mind if you want to attract birds and keep your chosen species safe from predators. If you want to build a birdhouse that’s purely decorative, omit the entry hole – simply paint it into place. Decorative birdhouses can also be opened up on one side for use as a bird feeder.
Birdhouse Sizes, Optimal Hole Size, and More
Know where to place your birdhouse if you are attempting to attract a certain species. Here’s a quick guide to birdhouse size, pole height, and placement for some of the most common backyard visitors.
Robins, Phoebes, Barn Swallows, and other Platform Nesters
These birds like simple shelves in sheltered areas. The platform should measure about 7” x 10” minimum.
- Roofs should extend to cover the entire platform, but sides should be shallow enough to allow these birds to look out for predators. They will not use a nest platform with deep sides.
- These platforms are perfect for hanging under eaves or in sheltered, shrubby tree areas. Place them 10 feet off the ground and use a predator baffle if mounting on a post or pole.
Goldfinches do not like birdhouses or platforms as a general rule. The best way to attract these “backyard canaries” to your home is to provide them with a special Nyjer seed feeder near a medium-sized tree, along with a bird bath or another shallow water source with a good view of the surrounding area.
Tree swallows aren’t picky – but their numbers are in decline, partly due to poor birdhouse placement. If you want to attract tree swallows and help them thrive, be sure to place their boxes on poles in wide open spaces, at least 100 feet from one another and at least 100 yards away from buildings. Boxes should be far away from areas where predators hide: place them at least 50 yards from stream and creek edges, bushes, ditches, and fences. Try to keep them well away from busy human activity such as trails and roads, too.
- Tree swallow nest dimensions: These nest boxes need interiors of at least 5”x 5”, and preferably larger. The entrance holes should be 7” above the floor, and the entrance holes should be between 1-3/8” and 1-1/2”.
- It’s best to mount these boxes to steel pipe, conduit, or rebar since predators can climb other posts easily. Mount tree swallow houses at a height of at least 5 feet, and consider adding a perch to the pole’s top.
- House wrens, house sparrows, and squirrels will decimate tree swallow nests, destroy eggs, and kill newly hatched birds. Be sure to give these birds plenty of space! Don’t give in to the temptation to crowd them.
Bluebirds like their nest boxes at heights between 5 and 8 feet off the ground, facing east, with a view of large open areas such as lawns or fields. They are quite territorial – if you are building multiple birdhouses for these cobalt-colored guests, place them at least 100 yards from other species’ nests. If you have multiple bluebird houses, place them no closer than 15 to 20 feet from one another.
- Many commercial bluebird houses measure about 4” x 4” but an interior of at least 5” x 5” is preferable. Bluebird house height should be about nine inches.
- Entrance holes should 2-1/4” high by 1-3/8” high. In areas where house sparrows try to take over nests, make two entrance holes in each box so that bluebirds can more easily defend themselves.
- Mount bluebird houses on poles or posts between 4 and 6 feet off the ground. If you don’t have a metal pole, install a metal predator baffle beneath the birdhouse.
House wrens love houses that hang from trees, with a view of an open area. These birds will destroy nests and eggs belonging to competitors, so be sure to space their homes at least 100 feet from other birdhouses. If you have Carolina wrens in your area, space them at least 330 feet apart.
- Wren houses should have interiors measuring at least 4” x 5-1/2”, with a height of about 8”. The entrance should be 4 to 6 inches off the floor. Leave a 1-1/8” gap between the house roof and the front wall, instead of cutting a round hole. This lets them bring sticks inside for nest building, and it’s small enough to keep house sparrows out.
- Hang wren houses between 6 and 10 feet off the ground. If you have an area without much wind, you can suspend these houses from a chain in a tree.
- Where predators are present, consider installing wren houses on metal poles in shady areas, or on posts with metal predator baffles.
Chickadees need a lot of privacy. Place their houses in brushy areas or stands of small trees, at least 60 feet from large, open areas. Chickadee nest boxes need to be placed at least 650 feet from other birdhouses.
- Chickadee houses should have interiors measuring at least 5-1/2” x 5-1/2”. The height should be about 8 inches, and the entrance hole should be 1-1/8” round.
- Chickadee birdhouse height should be between 5 and 15 feet. You can attach their houses to buildings, posts, poles, and trees, so long as the entry faces the opposite direction from prevailing winds. Be sure to use metal predator baffles to keep cats and other hunters out.
Purple martins are communal. If you’re not able to build an apartment house for them, you can purchase one or place several nesting gourds together. You can also cluster several smaller birdhouses together.
- Martins need lots of open space with a minimum distance of 30 to 40 feet from large obstacles such as big trees or buildings. If the trees in your area are taller than the martin house’s pole, then the birds will need even more open space to thrive.
- Martins prefer to live in colonies of at least four nesting pairs, but larger groups are preferable.
- It’s easiest to purchase a martin house pole with a predator baffle built in, plus a pulley system for raising and lowering the house as needed.
- Each martin apartment should measure a minimum of 6” x 6” but larger nest cavities measuring 7” wide by 12” deep afford more room for fledglings to stretch, and they provide better protection from weather conditions and predators.
- Martin entry holes should be 1” to 1-1/2” from the floor, and should be between 1-3/4” and 2 1/8” in diameter. Where starlings are a problem, half-round entrances measuring 3” across and 1-3/16” high, about 1/4” off the compartment floor are standard.
How to Make a Birdhouse
This basic birdhouse design can be modified to suit any of the species mentioned above. A simple, slanted roof provides protection from moisture, even if you choose to omit the sheet metal or shingle roofing material. Be sure to refer to the species-specific birdhouse dimensions and birdhouse stand/pole recommendations as you plan for this project.
Untreated ¾” plywood cut into the following dimensions.
- Back: 5-1/2” wide by 10” high
- Front: 5-1/2” wide by 9” high
- Bottom piece: 5-1/2” square
- Roof piece: 9” wide by 10” long
- Side pieces (2): 7” wide by 10” high
- One piece of metal or shingle roofing material, cut to a size slightly larger than that of your roof piece (optional)
- Decorative materials, paint, or wax for exterior. Be sure to choose materials that will stand up to the elements in the area where you live. Wax is a good choice since it is water repellent and will not peel; if you use a brand such as Johnson’s Paste Wax, re-apply it once or twice per year to keep your birdhouse in good condition.
Tools and Fasteners
- Saw, whichever type you prefer for small cuts
- Straight edge
- Drill and drill bit or hole saw in the required birdhouse hole diameter, unless building a wren house with a slot entry, plus drill bit for pre-drilling screw holes
- Staple gun and staples, Brad nailer and brads, or hammer and nails
- 2 screws
1. Make marks at 9” on one edge of each side wall. Use your straight edge to draw a line from the upper corner of each side wall to your 9” mark. Carefully cut along these lines.
3. Use the drill bit or hole saw to create the entry hole in the front piece. Remember to refer to the species-specific list to determine proper size and position for the birdhouse entry.
4. Fasten the front and back of the birdhouse to opposite edges of the floor.
5. Fasten one side of the birdhouse to the front, back, and floor edge with nails or staples.
6. Pre-drill screw holes in the other side so that you can attach it to the upper portion of the front and back with screws. These can be removed for cleaning, and they cannot be unlatched by raccoons. Add an extra screw or two to the lower portion if you need a tighter fit.
7. Fasten the roof to the back and front of the birdhouse. Try to achieve a 1” overhang on each side and at least a 2” overhang in front. Be careful not to fasten the roof to the removable side of your birdhouse.
8. If you are using roofing material, attach it to the roof with the appropriate fastener type for the roofing material.
9. Finish or decorate the birdhouse exterior as you like! Painting birdhouses lends a unique look, even when the design is simple!
How much time does it take to build a birdhouse?
This birdhouse takes about an hour to build if you’re proficient with tools. Even if you’re a complete beginner, it will take well under a day to complete.
How much does it cost to build a birdhouse?
The cost of building a birdhouse depends on which materials you choose. If you have access to scrap wood and other materials, you might even be able to build birdhouses for free. Even the fanciest designs tend to cost less than commercially available birdhouses!
A Few Final Tips for Birdhouse Building and Attracting Birds
When using plywood to build a birdhouse, ensure that you finish the entire outside, but leave the interior unfinished. Other materials such as pallet boards, white pine, or spruce can be finished on the outside only, or allowed to age naturally. Never use treated wood to build a birdhouse, as the chemicals can be toxic to young birds!
You might be tempted to place a perch of some kind underneath the birdhouse entry hole. While birds will perch here, this gives predators a foothold and is not necessary.
By providing the right kind of birdhouse(s) and offering bird feeders filled with the food your chosen species prefers, you can easily attract more birds to your yard or garden, and enjoy watching them as they raise their young. Remember to provide fresh water, and be sure to offer as much predator protection as you can. When conditions are ideal, you’ll discover that many birds return to your home year after year!