This simple building plan shows how to make a nesting shelf for robins (Turdus migratorius) where they can build a nest and raise their young. The open design is also attractive to phoebes and house finches.
There are also Free Nesting Box Plans here for chickadees, wrens, and bluebirds.
Nesting Shelf For Robins
If you are new to nesting boxes or shelves, the most important thing to know is that each bird species needs a different style. There is no one-style-suits-all. Every species has unique nesting habits in the wild and the best nesting boxes and shelves mimic these conditions. We know the design is successful when the bird is attracted to the box, uses it to safely rear its young, and predators are minimized.
Birdhouses Versus Nesting Boxes: What’s Best For Birds explains the key differences.
While the ideal is to provide diverse habitat with lots of suitable trees, shrubs, and food sources and never require any human-made nesting boxes, the reality is that robins have been urbanized with us and that can make nesting complicated.
The robin may establish its first nest of the season in late spring on a porch shelf while it’s still quiet outside. But, by the time the eggs are hatching, the humans start their spring gardening and suddenly that quiet location is interrupted many times a day.
Robins, like many nesting birds, are highly territorial and having humans constantly around the nest site is upsetting.
Each baby in the nest needs feeding up to 40 times a day. For a clutch of four that means the parents are back and forth perhaps 120 times a day bringing food like grubs and worms.
Add in the constant threat of predators like blue jays, crows, ravens, snakes, and squirrels, and it’s not easy being a robin.
After several seasons of robins choosing troublesome nesting spots around our house, I decided to install a nesting shelf up on the house wall under an overhang.
Now they have a safer place to nest, close to their food sources, and I don’t have to feel guilty every time I head out to the garden.
- Getting Started
- Robin Nesting Shelf Building Instructions
This project is designed for American robins (Turdus migratorius), or what we commonly call “robins” in Canada and the United States. This is a different species than European robins (Erithacus rubecula)—also known as “robins”, which are smaller birds in the flycatcher family. You can see the difference here.
Unlike many other birds that use typical nesting boxes with round entry holes, robins prefer an open shelf, much like a tree branch supports a nest. Tucked up under house eaves or a porch roof, they have a secure location protected from rain, but accessible to their food sources.
If you can, place your robin nesting shelf between 6 and 15 feet above the ground. The building plan (below) includes a roof but you could leave it off if your location has sufficient overhang.
This design is adapted from other robin shelf plans that have been used for decades.
Robin Nesting Shelf Building Instructions
- Electric miter saw
- (14) #8 2-inch deck screws (to assemble shelf)
- (2) #8 3-inch deck screws (to attach shelf to wall)
- Drill bits: 7/64″and ¼” (one-quarter inch)
- Wood glue
1-inch-thick pine, cypress, cedar, or non-toxic exterior grade pressure-treated plywood.
If you use thinner wood, use smaller screws or a nail gun to assemble your shelf.
You can read more about recommended wood for nesting boxes here.
- Back: 9.25 x 13”
- Floor: 6.75 x 9.25″
- Lip: 2 x 9.25”
- Roof: 8.5 x 9.25″ | One long end will be cut at 18.5° angle*.
- (2) Side supports: 3x 8.5”| Top edges will be cut at 18.5°angle*.
*You can choose any angle around this amount (e.g. 20°). Just be sure to choose the same angle for roof and side supports.
- Cut wood pieces as listed above.
- Add 18.5-degree (or similar) angled cuts to both the roof and sides as shown in the pictures below. The sloped roof will prevent rain from collecting on it.
- Drill eight one-quarter-inch holes in floor piece for water drainage.
- Gently sand all wood edges until smooth.
- Predrill all screw holes using a 7/64″drill bit. Use two screws for each attachment.
- To assemble, start with floor piece. Align back end of floor (9.25″ wide by 6.75″ deep) with bottom of back piece (9.25″ wide by 13″ tall). Apply wood glue to joins before screwing in place.
- Attach the two side supports inset one-inch from side edges of floor. Secure them in place through back or floor.
- Glue and attach roof, securing it to back and sides.
- Glue and attach lip to front of floor. Allow an inch of lip above the floor. This helps prevent the nest from falling off the shelf.
That’s it. Hang your shelf between 6 and 15-feet above ground on an exterior wall, preferably below an overhang. Watch and see who moves in at nesting time. It might be robins, phoebes, or house finches.
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Member of thrush bird family
- Size: 9 to 11″ long
- Nest: mud and grass, twigs, paper, moss, feathers, roots formed into a neat cup
- Nesting location: tree branches or ledges
- Eggs: 3 to 5, sky-blue or blue-green in color. Lay one per day.
- Broods per season: 2 to 3
- Incubation: 12 to 14 days. Female incubates, male and female provide food.
- Days to Fledge: 13 to 15 days
- Diet: Autumn and winter: fruits including tomatoes and berries. Spring and summer: soft invertebrates including earthworms, caterpillars, beetles.
- Range: Widespread throughout United States and Canada
European Robin & American Robin
While both of these birds are called “robins” in their native territories, they are different species and not closely related. The one common trait is their red breasts.
European robins (Erithacus rubecula) belong to the old-world flycatcher family. At 5-inches long, they are considerably smaller than American robins.
American robins (Turdus migratorius) belong to the thrush family. At 11-inches long, they are two times the size of European robins.
- American Robin | Canadian Wildlife Federation
More Free Plans
Bird Health & Safety
Grow The Right Plants | The best thing we can do to support wildlife including birds is to grow suitable plants for food and habitat in a pesticide-free environment.
This means growing trees, shrubs, vines, and herbaceous annuals and perennials that attract the things birds eat like grubs, caterpillars, moths, and countless other critters and provide nesting materials and sites.
Allow Seed Production | As much as possible, any non-invasive plants should be left to produce seeds after flowering and left in place until used up. Seeds may be one of few food sources available in the winter months.
Provide Fresh Water | If there is not a fresh water source nearby, provide one.
Let The Mess Be | Fallen leaves along with dead and decaying matter are all part of the circle of life and how nature nurtures future generations.
Put Up Feeders If Safe To Do So | While bird feeders are enjoyable for us, they are not necessary for bird survival. If you do have them, keep them clean and disinfected. Remove them if there are reports or signs of any communicable diseases. And don’t put out any food if bears or other wild animals are an issue.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛