This simple birdhouse, designed by Grants Pass wildlife biologist Lee Webb, is a great family project. The fun continues after the last nail is hammered with everyone waiting for the first feathered tenants to move in and start a family.
Lee designed the birdhouse so the Siskiyou Audubon Society (Josephine County) could mass-produce them for sale. The proceeds fund Audubon Adventures, a wildlife education program for fourth graders. You can buy their houses and pre-cut wood at local nature stores, but if you have a drill, saw, hammer and nails, you can make your own.
Tools needed: hammer, saw (hand or circular), drill with bit for cutting opening, 13, 1-¾-inch 5d box nails, and one, 1-¾-inch 6d double-headed (duplex) nail for the "lock" on the front door.
Step one: Cut the wood: The back is 17 inches long; the front, top and two sides are all 8-1/2 inches. The bottom is 4 inches.
Step two: On the front face, pre-drill a 1-1/2-inch entrance hole 1 7/8 inches down from the top edge. Remove the corners from the bottom piece (1/4 inches or so) for drainage. Or you can drill small holes.
Step three: position the sides five inches down from the top of the back and nail to the back. (Do not nail back to sides). Use two nails on each side.
Step four: Use three nails to attach the bottom, one through the back and each of the sides. A small piece of scrap wood can support the front edge of the bottom while driving the nail through the back.
Step five: Attach the front with two hinge nails, positioned about 1 inch from the top. Make sure to leave a 1/8-inch gap at the top for ventilation and to allow the front door to swing open, like an old-fashioned garage door.
Step six: Using four nails, hammer the roof on.
Step seven: For hanging, drill three, 1/8-inch holes in the back at the top and bottom, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the ends. (Three holes provide options on uneven surfaces.) Also drill one angled, 1/8-inch hole for the lock on the front "door." From either side, start the drill about 2 inches up from the bottom of the side/front, and angle the drill about 30 degrees downward. Insert your double-headed nail there.
Step eight: Decorate your box, using stamps, paint or permanent markers. Some people think birds prefer a plain, wood finish, so don't go overboard.
A 1-by-6-foot board of 6-foot length is all you need. According to Lee, the best woods are pine, cedar and hemlock, in that order. "Doug fir is brittle and tends to split, so pre-drill the holes if you use it," he says. Buy a lower grade wood — its imperfections are charming assets in your finished product.
One of the most difficult parts is drilling the circular opening. You need a special bit. Wrens and chickadees use 1 1/4-inch openings. Bluebirds, tree swallows and violet green swallows need 1 1/2-inch openings. Larger openings invite starlings, English invaders who've taken over many natural nest cavities. It's OK to evict them, and the often-aggressive house sparrow, from your yard.
Choose the position and location for each birdhouse carefully. Lee says nest boxes placed on the bare portion of a tree trunk have a better chance of being occupied than those surrounded by vegetation. Hang it between 5 and 15 feet from the ground where it will be protected from afternoon sun. Install only one house per tree for the same species of bird and keep away from bird feeders. No tree? No problem. Birds are safer from predators with the house on a metal pole. Perches may be standard on ornamental birdhouses, but don't add one to this birdhouse. It can be used by predators to snatch the babies from the nest.
Our migrating birds will start returning soon, so put the finished house up as soon as possible. If you don't attract tenants, don't worry. Some houses aren't used until the second year, says Lee. This house will last five to 10 years without maintenance and even annual cleaning is not absolutely necessary, he says. Not bad for an afternoon spent with a hammer and nails.