Building Nest Boxes for Backyard Birds

Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-206


By Christyna M. Laubach

By René Laubach

Formats and Prices




$4.99 CAD


ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 8, 1999. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

This concise guide offers easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for building eight different nestboxes. Each nestbox is designed to attract and house different kinds of backyard birds, including bluebirds, swallows, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, American Kestrals, Screech Owls, Northern Saw-Whet Owls, and Great Crested or Ash-Throated Flycatchers.



Getting to Know Your Birds

Designing (Is) for the Birds

Bluebird or Swallow Nestbox

Peterson Nestbox for Bluebirds

Wren or Chickadee Nestbox

Titmouse or Nuthatch Nestbox

Red-Bellied Woodpecker or Northern Flicker Nestbox

Wood Duck or Hooded Merganser Nestbox

American Kestrel, Screech Owl, or Northern Saw-Whet Owl Nestbox

Great Crested or Ash-Throated Flycatcher Nestbox

Getting to Know Your Birds

The more you know about the birds you are trying to attract, the better. To get started with your nestbox project, you must first appraise the habitat in your area and find out what birds are present. Learn as much as you can about those that make their home in your area, including nest size, nest construction, incubation period, age at fledging, food choices, competitors, predators, and type of habitat required.

The location you select for your nestbox must match the needs of the bird. All locations should have an abundance of food, protective cover, and water; however, different birds find these requirements in different and varied habitats. Some birds live in fields, others in open woodlands, still others along waterways and forest edges. If your nestbox is to be functional, it and its location must meet the basic needs of the bird you are trying to attract. If you put your nestbox in a field, for example, you might be providing an opportunity for Tree Swallows and bluebirds to nest. If you put it in a wooded area, on the other hand, nuthatches might take up residence. And some species, such as the Tree Swallow, require a clear flight path to and from the nestbox. The location and box design that best match the bird’s natural nesting choices will be most likely to attract tenants.

Remember also that if the proper food is not available, birds will travel to places where it can be found; consequently, they won’t nest in your box.

Designing (Is) for the Birds

At one time or another, we’ve all seen decorative birdhouses that rival dollhouses in their level of detail. Though they may be nice to look at, these designer birdhouses do little for birds. In fact, the human urge to make birdhouses more aesthetically pleasing is generally misguided and counterproductive. Novelty birdhouses are often undersized; have entrance holes that are too large or too small; are sealed shut, allowing no access to the interior for monitoring or cleaning; lack vent and drain holes; are constructed of wood that is much too thin; or lack other features crucial for success.

A well-designed and -constructed nestbox, on the other hand, is beautiful in a utilitarian sense. Underlying the box’s simple exterior are a host of special design features that have taken many years of trial-and-error experimentation to discover. All cater to the needs of the particular species and include a correctly sized entrance hole, a sufficient interior floor size to accommodate eggs and nestlings, and sufficient depth below the entrance hole to help thwart potential predators. Drainage holes, a drip edge, a roof overhang to shed water, and ventilation holes are among the other, more subtle features that will contribute to a successful nesting season in your box.

Good nestboxes should be of sturdy construction and made from at least ¾-inch-thick (1.9 cm) untreated lumber. The natural cavities that birds use for nest sites have a rough interior surface that provides plenty of footholds for young birds. The nestbox should mirror these cavities. If the box is deep and smooth, a series of horizontal grooves cut into the wood below the entrance can make it easier for the young birds to fledge.

Access to the box should be easy, to facilitate nest inspection and maintenance. The best-designed boxes have a roof that detaches for inspection and a side panel that pivots out for cleaning. Box sides should have ventilation holes or spaces, and floors should have drainage holes. Young birds will suffocate if the box is too hot, and drown or die of hypothermia if they are wet. Native cavity-nesting birds do not need perches to enter nestboxes.

The nestboxes described in this bulletin are relatively easy to build. Most will attract a variety of birds, although some are specific to one species. Whether you are an experienced woodworker or a novice, read the directions for assembling the box you have chosen to build and study the accompanying illustrations. If you follow the step-by-step instructions, you will build a nestbox. Of course there is always room for experimentation, but once you find a design that works for your target species, stick with it—and enjoy. Few things are more satisfying than watching a pair of our native songbirds going about the business of rearing the next generation in a nestbox that you built!

The Best (and Worst) Lumber


On Sale
Jan 8, 1999
Page Count
32 pages

Christyna M. Laubach

About the Author

Christyna M. Laubach is a high school science teacher in western Massachusetts. She is the co-author of Raptor!

Rene Laubach has served as Director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuaries since 1985. He is the co-author of Raptor! and lives in western Massachusetts.

A former horticulturalist for White Flower Farm, Charles W.G. Smith has also been an instructor of vocational agriculture. He has written about gardening and environmental issues for more than a decade. He is the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Edible Herbs, The Weather-Resilient Garden, and Raptor!

Learn more about this author