It’s nesting time! Birds may settle in decorative birdhouses in your garden but did you know it’s actually safest to provide proper nesting boxes designed for the species you want to attract?
The best nesting boxes are custom made to suit each bird’s natural behavior in their preferred habitat. The bonus is, nesting boxes provide reliable housing and extra protection from predators.
This project is for wrens (super sweet, tiny birds!) and it’s quite simple: the entire thing is built from one piece of wood and there are no fancy cuts required. I’ll walk you through how I made it and share a favourite how-to guide.
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Accidentally Creating Wren Central
I get a good variety of birds in my garden but one that had eluded me until last summer were the wrens. I see several types while I’m hiking in the area but none in my own yard. That is, until I accidentally created an enticing habitat for them.
While doing some garden clean up last year, I decided to create a brush pile. I kept a bunch of tree branches, leaves, and other debris, thinking I could make use of everything in the new year (for garden art projects and mulch).
Funny enough, within days of creating the pile, masses of wrens showed up. I first noticed their voices. They are such funny, tiny, social birds and very playful. Dozens of them started flitting around that part of the garden, declaring it their new hangout area.
Here we are now, and it’s spring and mating season. I’m ready to start using the branches for projects, but I don’t want my dear wrens to move along. I decided to make them a nesting box and place it by the brush pile so I may have some chance of convincing them to stay while I sneak a few pieces of wood from the pile.
This nesting box was adapted from plans in the book Bird Watcher’s Digest Easy Birdhouses & Feeders: Simple Projects to Attract and Retain the Birds You Want.
This book provides plans for a wide variety of nesting boxes for birds including woodpeckers and owls, as well as some DIY birdbath and feeder projects.
If you are interested in making any of these projects, I highly recommend it. I received a review copy and it has become my go-to book for building nesting boxes.
How to Make it Safe and Keep the Bad Guys Out
The required size and shape for a nesting box is going to vary depending on the type of bird it’s for. That’s another reason why I really like this how-to book: it describes exactly what the birds need and why.
Wrens like to be in low shrubs and bushes, and near the ground. Because of this, the nesting box should be placed approximately 4 feet off the ground, near some shrubs.
Wrens are tiny birds and their nesting box is quite small too: the base is just 4×5″, providing just enough room for the brood but snug enough to keep everyone warm. Wrens lay a whopping 5-9 eggs and incubate them for approximately two weeks before hatching.
One common problem with generic nesting boxes is the size of the doorway. The opening on the wren nesting box is 1 1⁄4″. Any smaller and the birds may be able to get in but not out (especially youngsters who grow quite large before fledging). Any larger and unwanted predators (including other birds) may get in and do harm.
One other consideration is the wood. You want it untreated and free of harmful chemicals. Also, most lumber has a smooth side and a rough side. Place the rough side inside the box. This provides some grip for the wee birds to climb out.
Nesting boxes need to be cleaned out after each nesting season. Whether you are buying or making one, be sure it has a side or lid that opens and locks.
Materials and Wood Cuts
- (1) 48″ piece of plain, untreated wood. I used a scrap piece of 1x6x48″ spruce lumber. Mine was quite warped so I knew the sides wouldn’t totally line up.
- (1) 2×2″ scrap of wood to create the baffle block (an extra piece of wood that helps keep predators out).
- 1 3/8″ galvanized wood screws or nails.
- Hinge (so you can open one side and clean out the box after each nesting season).
- Cable clip (to hold side door shut).
- Electric drill (to make door hole and floor holes).
- Drill bits: 1 1⁄4″ for doorway, 1⁄4″ for drainage holes in floor.
- Screw driver or hammer.
- Wood glue.
- Clamps (to hold the pieces in place during assembly).
Prep and Assembly
- The wood cuts are listed on the image above, which also indicates which each piece is for.
- Drill a 1 1⁄4″ round hole for the doorway. Mark the wood 6″ from the base and place the tip of drill bit there.
- Drill four 1⁄4″ holes in the base to provide drainage.
- I assembled mine in this order: front (8″), side (8″), base (4×5″), back (11″), short hinged-side (7 ¾”), roof (8 1⁄4″).
- Attach with wood screws and wood glue or nails. I used self-tapping screws so no pilot holes were needed.
- The 7 ¾” side is the one that gets attached using a hinge at the base so you can open up the box and clean it out as needed. I also added a screw as a handle and used a cable clip to keep it shut.
Baffle blocks are an extra precaution to help keep predators out. They are especially good for thwarting racoons and snakes. To make one, use a scrap piece of wood and drill a hole in it the same size as the doorway. Attach from inside using screws or nails.
Nesting Box ID
I thought it would be a good idea to put a picture of a wren on front of the box so the birds know who it’s for.
Actually, because I’m making several different boxes, I thought this would be a fun way to identify them. This, however, is as much decorating as I would ever do on a nesting box. You want it to blend in with nature and not have any stinky or brightly-coloured paints or stains.
I’m also writing the hanging instructions on the underside for future reference.
Printing and Attaching Images to Wood
To create the wren picture, I used a photograph, applied the watercolour effect in Photoshop Elements, and printed it on my inkjet printer.
To keep the ink from running, I let the printout dry thoroughly, and then applied Scotch Guard spray to both sides.
When the Scotch Guard was completely dry, I used outdoor Mod Podge to attach the image to the nesting box.
In this next photo you can see the baffle block and wren image.
The next image shows how the hinge was placed under the short side. Also note the screw (used a pull handle) and the white cable clip (on the top right side).
I’m hoping I’m not too late to catch the first batch of nesters. If I do attract a new family, I’ll let you know.
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UPDATE: Within a day or two of hanging the box, a wren couple starting nesting in there.
Here it is after they raised their young and moved on:
Remember to provide custom nesting boxes for the specific bird species in your garden, and clean them out at the end of each mating season.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
Here’s some Birdcam footage (you can see the Birdcam I use here on Amazon):
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