Making a nest box is a great and fun way to help our feathery friends, not to mention a good way to attract different species of bird into your garden! Depending on your DIY skill level, it can take anywhere from an hour to half a day – but what better way to pass some lockdown time than spending a sunny afternoon crafting in the garden? There’s no better way to connect with nature than to witness wild birds happily make their nest in something you’ve built for them with your own two hands. Watching birds flit in and out carrying nesting materials, food for their chicks and later the baby birds emerging for the first time is a rewarding experience – so let’s get started!
- What kind of bird am I making it for?
- What kind of wood do I need?
- Step-by-step guide
- Where is the best spot to put it?
1. What kind of bird am I making it for?
How you build your box will depend on what kind of bird you are making it for: the size of hole you need to drill varies between species, and some birds prefer an open front box instead. Pick a species from the 12 listed below:
* UK garden birds most likely to use a nest box (though other species often use them too!)
Great, you’ve picked your bird! Now match it with the correct nest box below:
- Open Fronted Nest Box – Robin, Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Song Thrush
- Small Nest Box with hole – Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, House Sparrow, Nuthatch, Willow Tit
- Large Nest Box with hole – Starling
2. What kind of wood do I need?
Anecdotal evidence on bird forums suggests birds generally don’t like using treated timber boxes, and it’s unsure but probable that residual fumes from pressure treatment can be harmful to birds (treated wood has been infused with toxic chemicals like pesticide and fungicide which could be harmful to baby birds), so the National Trust, RSPB, BTO etc suggest using untreated wood instead.
- Your wood should be 15mm thick (this is important to prevent warping and provide adequate insulation. Avoid anything thicker, which can cause overheating)
- You could use scrap wood, a floorboard, a fence plank, pallet wood, exterior-quality plywood, hardwoods like oak or beech for a sturdier box, or softwood like pine – though softwoods will deteriorate faster. Manufactured boards like interior plywood and chipboard are not suitable.
Make sure your wood is untreated
If it looks like any of these pictures, it is probably untreated. But, treated woods don’t always look glossy, they can also look matt and rustic. Have a google to learn more. If you’re not sure, it’s probably best to try and buy untreated FSC stamped wood online, or wait until after lockdown to visit your local hardware/ building materials store.
3. Step-by-step guide
Follow the 6 step instructions below to build your bird box. The instructions are the same for all 3 box types, but some wood measurements change. The example diagram is for a Small Nest Box with hole: if you are making a Large Nest Box with hole or an Open-Fronted Nest Box, change these measurements to those specified below. If you’re building an Open-Fronted box, do not drill a hole: your Front section will be shorter and this will create a gap at the top which your birds will use instead.
Open-Fronted Nest Box
Sides: 200mm (long) 175mm (short)
Front: 100 – 150mm (no larger!)
Small Nest Box with hole
Hole Size (diameter):
25mm = Blue Tit / Coal Tit / Marsh Tit / Willow Tit
28mm = Great Tit
32mm = House Sparrow / Nuthatch
Large Nest Box with hole
Hole Size (diameter):
45mm = Starling
Sides: 300mm (long) 250mm (short)
Place the wooden plank flat and use a pencil and ruler to mark it into sections, which will become the sides, front, roof, base and back of your nest box in that order. Each mark will be a straight line across the plank, except for the sides which will be separated by a diagonal line. It’s helpful to label each section so you don’t forget which bit is which after you cut them apart. Look at the diagram for guidance.
Check what size of hole you need for your bird in the measurements above.
Use a pencil to mark this on the Front section. Do this by marking the diameter twice to make a cross shape, then sketch a circle round it. You can perfect this later. The hole should be about 125mm from the bottom of the front section. You can drill it now or after you saw the sections.
Use a saw to cut your sections. This is easiest if you can use something to suspend it on and clamp or weight down either end so your saw can move freely through the air. E.G. place it between two stools and have some people help you hold down the ends. Don’t try to saw it loosely on the ground. Sand down the wood to protect the birds from splinters.
The inside of the Front section below the hole should be rough – too smooth and birds will get trapped inside! Rough up or score the wood inside so babies can scramble out. A rough surface will also help the adults cling to the side when feeding the babies and bringing in nesting material.
Set the roof to one side. Place the base flat, and arrange the other pieces around it (sides, front and back). Using a hammer and preferably galvanised nails, nail all the pieces together. Do it gently to avoid splitting the wood. Make sure you’ve got the sides the right way (highest at the back shortest at the front), so the roof will slope down away from the back and water can run off the top.
You will need to clean out the box after nesting season to remove old debris and check for dead chicks, so don’t nail down the roof. Attach the roof using screws which you can then unscrew later. You can make a hinge between the top edge of the roof and the back section using waterproof material like a piece of bicycle tyre inner tube or roofing felt. Make sure it is secure so magpies and squirrels can’t raid the nest. Drill a couple of small drainage holes in the base to let liquid waste drain away, and a few up high in the sides for ventilation.
Have fun and decorate! Use non-toxic waterproof paint and let your creativity give it a personal touch! Choose light colours that will reflect the heat, and remember birds are more likely to use your box if it won’t stand out too much to predators or bigger birds. Why not try your hand at painting some ivy or camouflage? Or leave it as natural wood, it’s your decision. Here’s some more guidance.
4. Where is the best spot to put it?
Direction – The ideal position for your nest box is north-east facing, or north-facing if it’s sheltered. Never put your nest box facing a direction where it will get day long sunlight, because it will get too hot inside and the baby birds will likely die, so avoid placing it south-facing. Iphones have a built in compass app which is super easy to use – just open and point! For Android phones, there are plenty of free compass apps you can download online if your phone doesn’t come readily equipped with one.
Height – You can fix your nest box to a tree, wall, or even a high fence post about 2 – 4 metres above the ground. I have a bird box on the wall above my kitchen window, and another on a tree at the back of the garden. For some reason the great tits prefer the one by the kitchen; it’s advised not to position a box near a well used door, path or window if you can help it, so I don’t know why they like this one so much (maybe another species has claimed the territory at the back) – but it’s nice to always see them perching on the washing line going in and out! Try to also put your box somewhere relatively sheltered from wind, rain and direct sunlight, where birds have a clear flight path into the entrance hole.
And you’re done!
You can put your bird box up at any time of year: the ‘nesting season’ is February – August, but many species will start searching for a nesting site as early as January, for example Blue Tits and Great Tits will spend a month or so investigating potential sites before settling down in one. Many birds will also use your box outside these times as a place to sleep! Why not keep a log of all the birds you see flitting about inspecting your handiwork?