Housing for the Birds - Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Craft Project: One of the pleasures of watching as the landscaping in our yard progresses over the years and the plants mature is the increasing frequency of visits by various species of songbirds. Watching them can be an amusing and entertaining way of passing the grey winter months here on the west coast. Aside from their entertainment value they really pull their weight when it comes to the yard work. They eat insects as well as seeds from the various weeds that seem to plague every garden.


Housing for the Birds

Illustrations by Mike Del Rizzo


Correction: Roof Cleat should be 1½ x 1½ x 4

Each bird species has very specific criteria it judges a potential house against - fail to meet those needs and your avian housing project will remain vacant, or worse, become home to an invasive species such as the starling. Variables such as the dimensions of the floor area, the size of the entry hole and how far above the floor it is, as well as how high to mount the house are all important considerations when building a house designed to attract a specific species.

Making the entry hole too large will allow predator birds access to the occupants of the house. Do not place a perch under the entry hole - this is little more than pulling up a chair for the predator to rest on while it waits. To keep the interior of the house healthy, there must be adequate ventilation as well as drainage to allow any water to escape. The house must remain dry to stay warm. Provision must also be made to allow access to the interior for an annual cleaning to prevent the build-up of pests and disease.

Cedar is a great material for birdhouses. It is naturally resistant to rot, it is light (making the house easier to mount) and blends into any natural setting. Cedar can either be finished with a stain on the exterior, or left to age naturally and gracefully. Birds have very sensitive lungs, and the preference would be to not use any finish on the wood. Under no circumstances should you finish the inside of the house. Leaving the cedar a little rough also helps the birds and their young to enter and exit the house.

I've made up two different styles of houses. You could build one or both depending on your preference. Use the plans as a guide, but use bird species-specific information to make adjustments to the dimensions. Except for the shed roof, all of the parts can be cut from a 6" wide fence board. (See sidebar: Common Bird House Measurements). There is a parts list for each style, and I'll cover each separately. Both are held together exclusively with dowels and on one side, two dowels form a pivot mechanism allowing the side to be swung open for access to the interior
Traditional Roof
• Cut all of the parts to convenient lengths from a longer board so that they are still safe to handle on the jointer and thickness planer if you are dressing rough lumber. If you choose to leave the lumber rough, skip this step.

• With the material dressed, cut the parts for the sides (A), front and back (B), bottom (C) and roof (D) to length and rip them to width.

• Set your mitre saw to 45º and bevel the top end of the sides. Alternately bevel them on the table saw using a cross cut sled.

• Mark out the angles for the roof on the front and back, they should form a 90º angle at the peak. Cut these with a mitre saw or on a band saw.

• Use a sander to soften the four corners of the base. This will provide a little triangular drainage hole in each corner to allow water a way out.

• Use dowels to glue the two roof sections together at 90º. When the glue has set, trim the longer of the two sides back to the same width as the other side.

• Drill holes for the dowels according to the plan.

• Test fit the pieces together. There should be a ¼" gap between the top of the sides and the underside of the roof for ventilation.

• Glue up the front, back, bottom and sides. Be sure not to put any glue in the two dowels that form the pivot mechanism. Remember to use epoxy or waterproof glue.

• Clamp everything together and let the glue set.

• Prepare a 1 ½" square blank (E) for the roof cleat. Apply five-minute epoxy to the end grain as well as the front and back walls of the house at the peak. Push the piece into place and secure it with a clamp. When this has set, use more epoxy to fasten the roof to the cleat.

• Drill a pilot hole for a 1 ½" #6 brass flat head wood screw in the lower corner of the front to hold the door shut.


Shed Roof House
Following the same method as in the previous house, prepare enough stock for the required pieces. Cut the pieces for the sides (F), front (G), back (H) and bottom (I) to length from a 6" cedar fence board.

• Using a cross cut sled on a table saw or a sliding compound mitre saw, bevel the top edge of the front and back at approximately 20º.

• Cut the top of the two sides at an angle of 20º to mirror the slope of the roof.

• Use a sander to remove the corners on the bottom to provide drainage.

• Drill the holes for the dowels according to the plan.

• Test fit everything. There should be a ¼" gap between the top edge of the sides and the underside of the roof.

• Glue everything up and set it aside. Be sure not to apply glue to the dowels that form the pivot mechanism.

• If you have wide stock, make the roof (J) from one piece. If not, glue it up using waterproof wood glue (such as Titebond III). Bevel the back edge of the roof at approximately 22.5º to protect the end grain from the weather. Leave the front edge square. With the roof installed it will be sloped in and away from the weather.

• Rip two ledger strips (K) from the edge of a strip of cedar at a 20º bevel. Cut this edge about 1" wide from the board. Trim it to 4" and use a band saw to remove the section that will interfere with the door swing. Epoxy these strips in place and then epoxy the roof to the cleat and the top of the front and back respectively.

• Drill a ⅛" hole in through the front into the lower edge of the movable side to accept an L-shaped brass pin as seen in the plan.

These houses can be mounted one of two ways: on top of a pipe using a flange on the bottom of the house, or by an appropriate method via the back. If you mount it using the back and your mounting surface extends past your roofline, you will need to make up a block of cedar to function as a stand-off. Screw the stand off to the wall and then screw the house to the stand-off from the inside. 


Michael Kampen