Nesting boxes, or birdhouses as they are often called, provide shelter for mated birds to raise their offspring. But, it’s not one size fits all: each bird species has different housing needs. Check out the plans provided here and build to suit your favorite backyard birds.
If you want decorative garden art, see bird-inspired garden ideas here.
Nesting Box Safety Tips
If you want to be certain you are helping and not harming wild birds, consider using proper nesting boxes instead of decorative or artsy (but not safe) birdhouses.
Birds in need of a place to lay their eggs are on a deadline. Your super cute, brightly-painted birdhouse might look like a good option for urgently-needed housing, but, later on when the eggs have hatched and the chicks are growing, it might cause a whole bunch of problems. I’ll explain more in the tips (below).
Proper nesting boxes are functional homes for nesting birds to raise their young. The best designs come from experts who have studied the habitat and behaviours of each specific species and designed to suit their abilities and needs. Each species nests differently in the wild and that is why each has its own style of nesting box as well. Plenty may choose a goofy home in a pinch, like a brightly-painted, decorative birdhouse with large entry holes, but it may not end well.
One main problem is, the size of the opening on the nesting box or birdhouse. The adult bird may be able to get in, but, if that hole is slightly large, it allows entry for other predators as well. If the opening is too small, once the babies are plump and ready to fledge, they may be too big to actually get out. Plus, bright colours attract all sorts of intruders.
This is the book I use for building nesting boxes: Easy Birdhouses & Feeders | Simple Projects to Attract & Retain the Birds You Want | Bird Watcher’s Digest
There are also free plans here at Empress of Dirt (see below).
Proper Nesting Box
Garden Decor Only
Entry hole should be blocked to prevent birds from getting inside
Here are a few tips:
- The nesting box should be designed for the specific species you want to attract. Unless you have magical powers, you should choose a species known to live in your region.
- The dimensions and style of the box should be tailored for the species (and be sure to follow the instructions exactly).
- Perches are rarely recommended on nesting boxes because birds do not need them and they enable predators. No perches!
- Birds lay their eggs in nesting boxes. Once they hatch, the young birds live in there until they are old enough to leave (fledge). If your nesting box plans say to put rough wood on the inside of the box, do this. Eventually, those little birds must climb out on their own, and they need that rough wood surface for their feet to grab as they climb up and out.
- Avoid paint and decorations. Nesting boxes should be made from plain, untreated wood for bird health and camouflage. You want it to blend into the environment.
- Every nesting box needs a side panel or door that opens so it can be cleaned and disinfected at the end of each mating season.
- If birds do nest in your decorative birdhouses (or other odd places), wait it out until the babies fledge, and then block off the holes so it doesn’t happen again. And then make a proper nesting box and put it in that location. The birds will thank you (with handwritten notes signed with birdy foot prints).
Free Nesting Box Plans
Chickadee Nesting Box
Bluebird Nesting Box
Wren Nesting Box
How to Block Predators from Nesting Boxes
See the block of wood around the nesting box opening (below)? This keeps out a bunch of predators including bigger birds and raccoons. After adding it, a few nights later I happened to see a raccoon trying to reach in the box to snatch eggs. That little block of wood made it impossible for him to bend his arm down inside and grab dinner. Phew!
More Nesting Box Plans
These are the two books I use for making nesting boxes. Both have plans for a variety of bird species in the United States and Canada. They each contain helpful information about each species and recommendations for where to place the nesting boxes so they are both safe and attractive for the birds.
Easy Birdhouses & Feeders | Simple Projects to Attract & Retain the Birds You Want | Bird Watcher’s Digest
Audubon Birdhouse Book | Building, Placing, and Maintaining Great Homes for Great Birds
Bird Feeder Plans
I do not share many bird feeder projects because I find that most homemade feeders do not do a good job. They tend to be open-air designs where the seed is too easy for squirrels to get, plus, the exposure to the elements causes the seed to get damp and moldy. While they are not particularly pretty, I have favorite commercial feeders. They are safe, long-lasting, do not waste seed, keep squirrels out, and do a good job.
- Best squirrel-proof feeder: any of the Brome squirrel-buster feeders.
- Best hummingbird feeder: this is the style of hummingbird feeder I prefer because it allows the birds to rest while they drink.
Bird and Butterfly Water Feeder
Don’t forget fresh water! This bird water feeder is a simple project, and, unexpectedly, became very popular in my garden. I intended it for the butterflies—and they do use it, but so do a variety of birds, squirrels, and chipmunks. Considering there are two ponds right nearby, it is interesting to see who likes to take their water a few feet off the ground. If you think the twine won’t hold up (it’s intended to last a single season), just use thicker rope or wire instead.
Make a Bird Feeder from a Water Bottle
I love having nyjer (thistle) seed feeders in the yard because they attract zillions of goldfinches. I came up with this design so I could make a lot of feeders at little or no cost. And good thing because the price of thistle seed has gone way up in the past year. There must be a shortage of it. However. You can adapt this project for any bird seed: just make the openings a bit bigger for sunflower seeds.
Do You Know Hummingbirds? Take the Quiz!
Ya sure, you say you’re a hummingbird fan, but how well do you really know these beautiful little birds?
More Bird Smarts
Over the years, I have had had numerous birds land on my head or hand while I’m standing in the garden. Once they get used to you, and know you’re not there to eat them, some consider you a part of the scenery. Like a convenient shrub to land upon while waiting for a turn at the bird feeder.
If you want to kick it up a notch, learn how to hand feed birds. It’s really sweet.
Next, if you want to complete your Empress of Dirt bird-tastic education, have a look at these:
- Is your bird bath safe for the birds? | Careful: not too deep!
- How to clean bird feeders for bird safety | If you’re going to feed birds, you need to keep it clean.
- How to have a garden birds love | Why do birds love some gardens and not others?
- Offer nesting materials for the birds | This is for dog owners.
- How to know when to save seeds (hint: the birds tell us it is time) | A bird-led phenology clue.
Welcome Your Favourite Birds
I hope you’ll try making a nesting box. It is a lot of fun to watch as birds select one as their home, fill it with nesting material, and raise their young. I have boxes for wrens and chickadees, and they are busy from spring to fall.