Build a Bird Nesting Box for Your Backyard

By 4 m read

 

Nesting Box - Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) - (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) – (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

If You Build It, They Will Come

Most of us are not able to build a house for ourselves. We have to ask a contractor to do this, or find a house that has already been built.  

 

For birds that nest in cavities, this dilemma is a little bit more complicated. Unless you’re a woodpecker, of course.

 

There are dozens of bird species in our area that depend on cavities to raise their families. For example, most of us are familiar with chickadees and wrens, which will nest in your backyard. Other bird species that benefit from nest boxes include Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor), Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), and Purple Martins (Progne subis). Some bird species have even expanded their range thanks to people building nesting boxes for them.

 

But there are many more bird species that are looking for homes in our forests and suburbs. We can easily give them a helping hand, and now is the right time to get it done, before they start looking for nesting opportunities in spring.

 

Did you know that some ducks nest in tree cavities? So does the Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) and the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius). Some members of the flycatcher family nest in cavities, as well as a few warbler species.

Nesting Box - Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) nesting box (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) nesting box (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

All of these birds depend on nesting holes. They’ll either use former woodpecker homes that were created in dead or deteriorating trees, or they’ll use cavities that resulted from natural decay. But here’s the problem: These old trees are often considered undesirable by forest management because they may harbor insect pests and/or constitute a fire hazard – and they’re  definitely not worth anything to the timber industry – so they’re often removed.

 

Taking down these trees not only removes potential homes for cavity nesters, but creates another problem too. Most of the small cavity-nesting bird species are insectivores. By removing old trees and therefore removing nesting opportunities to raise their young, the populations of these species will drop. Then, when there’s an outbreak of an insect pest in later years, there will be a smaller number of these birds to help control the outbreak.

 

But what if we build a house for some of our friends and watch them grow a family? It’s easy – the building materials cost less than $10 and it can be built in about 30 minutes. Or a whole scary Sunday afternoon if you want to build one with your children or grandchildren (plus a potential trip to the emergency room).

 

Can you imagine a family of screech owls roaming your backyard thanks to your nesting box? How cool is that!

 

Location, Location, Location

But first things first: Like everything in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Here’s an excellent site to find the right house for the right bird in your area: https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/

Nesting Box - Hanging a nesting box (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
Hanging a nesting box (Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Once you’ve decided which box you’re going to build, a few general words about hanging it:

  • The easiest and most common way is to use 3-½” stainless steel or galvanized nails or screws that won’t rust.  
  • Never hang the box by wrapping wire around the tree trunk – this can kill the tree while its growing.
  • Please use untreated wood (pine is just fine).
  • You can add a shingle to the roof to extend its life.
  • If you orient the opening toward the east, this will help protect the inside of the box from prevailing westerly winds and rains.
Nesting Box - Nesting box tools & supplies (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Nesting box tools & supplies (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

 

Nesting Box - Nesting box tools & supplies (Photo by Erich Boenzli)
Nesting box tools & supplies (Photo by Erich Boenzli)

Tools & Supplies for my Nesting Box

(yours may differ, depending on the bird species you’d like to attract)

  • 1 untreated pine board (1 x 6 x 4)
  • Table saw
  • Drill
  • Hammer
  • Measuring tape
  • One 1-1/4” hole saw drill bit
  • 1/8” drill bit
  • One 3-1/2” nail or screw
  • Three 1-1/2” nails
  • Twelve 16 x 1-1/2” nails
  • Pencil

 

Here are the plans I used for my nesting box

https://nestwatch.org/wp-content/themes/nestwatch/birdhouses/prothonotary-warbler.pdf

 

Please show off the nesting boxes you’ve made for your feathered friends, and which birds you’d like to attract to your backyard!

 

Here are a few more of our yard & garden articles you may enjoy:

 

Did you make this Nesting Box? Let us know in the comments below!

Do your friends enjoy learning about nature too? Share this article with them and let us know what you all think by commenting below!

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1 Comment
  • Paul
    April 18, 2020

    Erich, great article, I’ve been thinking about doing this for some time. Time to get on and do it!