Making Birdhouses: Easy and Advanced Projects

Making Birdhouses: Easy and Advanced Projects

by Gladstone Califf, Leon H. Baxter


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486441832
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 05/13/2005
Series: Dover Woodworking
Pages: 80
Sales rank: 157,816
Product dimensions: 8.75(w) x 6.38(h) x (d)

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Making Birdhouses

Easy and Advanced Projects

By Gladstone Califf

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15420-6




Before building a birdhouse, the maker should have in mind the kind of house he is going to make; whether it is for martins, bluebirds, or wrens. An architect, when planning a house, must know whom he is working for, the size of the family and the particular taste of the occupants. The same applies to birdhouses.


1. House built for certain kind of bird.

2. Correct amount of floor space.

3. Proper depth of house.

4. Right sized entrance, proper distance from floor.

5. Arrangements for cleaning.

6. Means provided for ventilation.

7. Good exterior finish.

8. Smooth interior, free from nails.

9. Good construction, tight joints.

10. Quarter-inch hole bored in floor of house for escape of moisture.

If it is desired to make a house practical, it must be built for a certain type of bird. A house that would suit a family of martins would not suit a family of wrens. Each bird builds a different kind of nest which varies in size and shape.


The house should be built of good material to make it durable. Cypress, poplar and white pine are excellent materials. They are cheap in price, easy to work, and weather well. The joints should be tight to prevent drafts. Nails and screws should be set in and puttied over. Birdhouses should be built with the idea of giving the birds forty years of service.


The birdhouses described in this book may be finished as follows: A martin house may be painted white as that has proved to be a satisfactory color. The paint protects the wood and the birds take to this color. A number of martin houses finished with white paint by the author were all occupied. An old established firm that specializes in the manufacture of birdhouses finishes martin houses with white paint. Martins will also build in rustic houses.

Bluebirds will build in a house that is finished in brown, gray, or green. They prefer these colors to any other. They also like rustic houses.

The wren will build in a house of most any color. The colors, brown, gray and green are recommended because they blend with the landscape and do not make the house so conspicuous. The wren will build in anything from a coat pocket to an empty shoe.

Rustic houses, made by nailing bark on the outside, generally prove unsatisfactory. A house made in this fashion draws and holds dampness, and the bark becomes worm-eaten and drops off, lasting but a season or two. Do not confuse this type of house with natural wood boxes. Natural wood boxes are made from a hollow branch or some part of a tree and are covered with natural bark. This type of house generally weathers well and makes an excellent home for birds preferring rustic houses. Any type of bird box can be made rustic by staining the outside dark and applying two or three coats of spar varnish.


1. Don't place a martin house in or near a tree or other obstruction. It may be placed from fifteen to fifty feet in the air, situated so as to allow the martins to circle.

2. Don't make the porches on a martin house too narrow.

3. Don't make the opening in a wren house less than 7/8" in diameter. It should be the size of a quarter of a dollar. English sparrows cannot force themselves through such an opening.

4. Don't build a house unless some way is provided for cleaning and ventilating it.

5. Don't paint the inside of a birdhouse.

6. Don't fail to cover the entrance to a martin house with cardboard or screen after the martins leave in the late summer. Open again at the date of arrival in the spring. This keeps the sparrows from using the building for winter sleeping quarters and eventually building their nests before the martins have time to establish themselves.

7. Don't make the perches square. A round perch is superior.

8. Don't place a house made of tin or with a tin roof directly in the sun. Better build with wood.

9. Don't have ventilating holes lower than the entrance.

10. Don't make the entrance on a level with the floor, as the young birds are in danger of falling from the nest.

11. Don't place the houses too close together.

12. Don't have more than one entrance to each room.

13. Don't place a railing around the porch of a martin house.

14. Don't leave the inside of the house rough. It should be smooth and free from nail points.

15. Don't fail to bore a quarter inch hole in the floor of each house to allow the escape of moisture.

16. Don't make the perch on a wren house too long. It should be short to prevent larger birds from standing on the perch and attacking the young in the nest.


A wren house should have the following dimensions: Floor 4" × 4"; depth 6" to 8"; entrance should be from 1" to 6" above the floor, and the diameter 7/8". This is large enough for a wren and too small for a sparrow, which makes the wren house sparrow-proof. Most wren houses are provided with a perch, although the bird can manage without one. The perch helps the bird, especially when building, as it furnishes a landing place when putting in the nesting material. The house should be placed 6 to 10 feet above the ground. (Plates I to X.)


A bluebird house should have the following dimensions: Floor 5" × 5"; depth 8"; entrance should be from 2" to 6" above the floor, and the diameter 1 ½". A bluebird house is more practical if it has a perch, but it is not absolutely necessary. If the wood is painted it makes a smooth surface but is harder for the bird to obtain a footing. A bluebird will build in a swinging house which the English sparrow does not like, thus protecting the bluebird from these pests. The house should be placed 5 to 10 feet above the ground. (Plates XI to XVII.)


The rooms in a martin house should have the following dimensions: Floor 6" × 6"; depth of room 6"; entrance 2½" in diameter. The martin is a medium-sized bird and requires a large entrance. Experience has proven that 2" is the proper distance for the entrance to be placed above the floor. An entrance placed on a level with the floor endangers the young birds which might fall out of the nest. Likewise the higher entrance prevents rain from blowing in upon the nest.

A porch from 4" to 6" wide on a martin house is a necessity. The martin enjoys a wide porch on which it can rest in the sun. Never place a railing around this porch. The house should be 15 to 20 feet from the ground. (Plates XVIII to XXVb.)


A birdhouse should be ventilated as it makes the house more healthful. In a small house with one room, ventilation can be furnished by boring a few holes in the sides of the house under the eaves. Never have a ventilating hole lower than the entrance.

In a large house of two or more rooms, the partition can be constructed with an air chamber between the inside walls. An air outlet should be made in the gable. If the house has a chimney, air can pass through a hole bored in its side. A large martin house with several rooms may be ventilated in the following manner. The inside walls should be constructed of ¾" material with at least five holes 3/8" in diameter bored through each inside wall, through the partition. The upper story should have holes bored in the same place making the holes continuous in the inside walls. This would provide an air chamber between each room. Holes should be bored in the side of the wall five inches from the floor, and should meet the ones bored perpendicularly in the walls. The air will be carried to the top of the room and taken up through the wall to the top of the house to the outlet. Every floor can thus be ventilated. Boring holes is much easier than making a partition between each wall. A house properly ventilated is cooler than one with no ventilation.

In summer the inside of many houses gets so warm that the young birds die from the heat. A birdhouse placed in the shade would be more healthful and cooler than one placed in the sun.

Some types of houses cannot well be placed in the shade. The martin house, for instance, should be situated in the open, away from trees, as this location is more suitable to the sailing habits of the birds. A large martin house, sheltering eight pairs of birds, needs ventilation. Sixteen parent birds, not considering the young, would foul the air in the rooms, consequently we recommend ventilation to keep the house healthful and make it cooler during the hot summer days.


An observation house is constructed to enable the naturalist to watch the development of eggs and young birds. Very valuable data can be gathered in this way. The house has a door on hinges. When this is opened the nest and its contents are visible through the plate of glass which now acts as a side to the house. Plates X and XVII show designs for observation houses.


Fig. 1 gives a good idea of possibilities in the use of hollow limbs, and snags in general, in building effective birdhouses.

After every windstorm, numbers of hollow limbs are found about the lawns and streets. These may be sawed into proper lengths. Well towards the top, a hole should be chiseled and then filed smooth. Next, the stump should be set on paper, and reaching through the top cavity with a pencil, an outline of the lower interior of the cavity should be sketched. With a scroll a perfect plug to fit this lower end can be cut out of half inch lumber. The exterior outline can then be drawn, and after nailing the plug to this thicker wooden base, the two will fit the bottom of the log perfectly and should be nailed there. A similar operation will complete the top. The houses can be topped with roofing material over the wooden plug.

As illustrated in No. 2, snags can easily be fit over a four or six-sided box. Nos. 4 and 5 are snags which are ready for such placement. The large snag should be placed in a box similar but larger than the second box in the illustration. Screech owls would probably take possession.

Box No. 1, at the left, harbored black-capped chickadees and bluebirds for three years while it was four feet from the ground. Upon placing it twelve feet up, it became the home of tufted titmice. No. 2, when placed on top of a clothesline post, captured house wrens and bluebirds. No. 3 harbored bluebirds and wrens while located on a pole, but later, when placed ten feet up on the side of a chestnut tree, it attracted red-headed woodpeckers. No. 6 was the home of great-crested flycatchers for four years.


The martin house, shown in Fig. 2, has given forty years of service, and is good for several years more. When building a birdhouse one should have permanency in mind, so that the box will last for at least forty years. It can be done by following these instructions, and the finished product will be well worth the time and trouble.

Think of the great benefit the generations of martins have derived from this old house. The builder himself had no idea of the good he was rendering. The birds have returned year after year to raise their broods and in the period of forty years hundreds of martins have been reared in this house. They have returned each year and any vacant room was quickly filled by young birds who had followed their parents. A great many changes took place during that long time. The bird home builder is gone, others have come to enjoy the presence of the martins which live in the old house which has stood the storms of forty winters and summers.

During these many years the people of the community have been greatly benefited by the erection of this house. The birds, during this time, have destroyed countless millions of insects, and have been a source of pleasure because of their circling flight and warbling song.

The builder of this house deserves recognition as he has been of service to humanity, not only from an economic standpoint, but from the aesthetic as well. Others, realizing the value of the martins and the pleasure from having the birds, have followed the worthy example of the builder and have constructed similar houses. The house has twenty-eight rooms, and is large enough to accommodate fifty-six birds. It is attached to an old worm-eaten pole which shows it has stood the test of time. It is a living monument to the man who made it, and stands as a far better monument than a marble slab.

A school yard, whether a town or country school, would be an appropriate place for the location of a martin house, as the presence of the birds would be of interest to the children, teaching them to love and respect wildlife. A college campus with several martin houses properly placed about the premises would look more beautiful.

People in large cities rarely see many birds. As martins readily adapt themselves to city conditions, the people would become acquainted with them if martin houses were placed in city parks. What could be more fitting in a cemetery than several martin houses, where the birds would fill the quietness of the place with their sweet music? Birds and flowers make a good combination. A martin house located near a hospital is always of great interest to the patients. It would help them pass the many weary hours and keep their minds from their own troubles.

Each farm should have one or more martin houses to help protect the crops from insects. In the South, the natives place tall poles with cross bars, from which hang gourds. Martins nest in these, and the natives say they keep marauding hawks from the plantations.

The martins are gregarious and a large number will live under one roof. If you erect an apartment house you should soon have a colony of them. After becoming acquainted with the birds and having them on the premises, you will rejoice at their return in the spring and regret their departure in the fall.

Yearly, most states set aside a day in the spring, called Arbor and Bird Day. Trees are set out on that day, as it is dedicated to that cause and also the study of birds. Each state should not only recommend the planting of trees on that day, but should encourage the erection of birdhouses as well.

The food of the swallow is one hundred percent insect life, consisting of mosquitoes, small beetles, gnats, flies, etc., the greater part of which is taken while the bird is flying. However, some have been known to alight on the outer branches of trees and shrubs, and eat larva which infest these plants.

"A colony of sixteen pairs of martins was observed by Otto Widmann of Old Orchard, Missouri. The observation was made from 4 A.M. to 8 P.M. During this time, the parents visited their offsprings 3,277 times, averaging 205 times per pair."

At that rate, the ten pairs of birds, which, for forty years, have lived in this house, have fed a brood of four or five young birds for a ten days' period, yearly.

Each brood of four or five birds then would destroy during ten days, at least 2,050 insects. But, as the parent birds often bring several insects at one feeding, it is almost beyond the power of computation to figure the true number of the billions of insects destroyed during the forty years by the hundreds of birds born and raised in this old martin box.


The proper time to clean out a birdhouse is in the spring before the birds return from the South. Each house should be so constructed that it can easily be cleaned. (See Fig. 3 and Plate XXVI.) All litter should be entirely removed, for some birds will not build in a house until it is cleaned of the last year's rubbish. If possible, the house should be so arranged that the sun can shine on the inside while cleaning. The sun is nature's disinfectant and will make the house more healthful. Another advantage of an easy cleaning arrangement is that if the English sparrows start to build, the material they deposit can easily be removed.


The drawer plan is one of the simplest plans for cleaning of a birdhouse. The box is built like a drawer with a bottom and front. This drawer does not need a back or sides as the nesting material will stick to the bottom of the drawer. Should a sparrow build in a martin house of this plan, its rubbish can easily be removed as a drawer can be pulled out a short distance making it possible to see the sparrow's nest. Clean out the nest and push the drawer back in place.

It is a difficult task to clean out the average house situated on a high pole, and the nesting material must be pulled through an entrance which is 2½" in diameter. By the drawer plan, each drawer can be removed and emptied with ease. Each can be scrubbed on the inside, if necessary, and left in the sun to dry.


This is a simple and easy way to clean out a birdhouse. One end of the house is hinged to the floor, and the other end is held in place by a hook. A screen door hook is preferable. When the house needs cleaning, the hook is loosened and the house leaned back, allowing space enough to remove old nesting material. This debris can be brushed into a bucket which saves littering the ground. The house can be tilted back until the sun dries the interior. The hinge plan may be applied to any kind of house, large or small. A two-story martin house can also be cleaned in this fashion. The floors should be separated by a platform and each floor cleaned separately. On large houses, strong hinges are necessary.


Excerpted from Making Birdhouses by Gladstone Califf. Copyright © 2005 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Birdhouse Construction
Essentials of a Birdhouse
Finishing Birdhouses
Don'ts for Birdhouse Builders
Plate I--Justamere Wren House
Plate II--The Lantern Wren House
Plate III--Corner Wren House
Plate IV--Cathedral Wren House
Plate V--The Hexagon Wren House
Plate VI--The Duplex Two-Room Wren House
Plate VII--The "Clock" Two-Room Wren House
Plate VIII--Bungalow Wren House
Plate IX--Summer Home for Jenny Wren
Plate X--Observation Wren House
Wren, Bluebird and Martin Houses
Plate XI--The Round Bluebird House
Plate XII--Japanese Lantern Bluebird House
Plate XIII--Octagon--Two-Room Bluebird House
Plate XIV--The Cottage--Four-Room Bluebird House
Plate XV--English Cottage--Two-Room Bluebird House
Plate XVI--Japanese Bluebird House
Plate XVII--Observation Bluebird House
Plate XVIII--The Cabin--Four-Room Martin House
Plate XIX--The "Cote"--Twelve-Room Martin House
Plate XX--The Plaza--Eighteen-Room Martin House
Plate XXI--The Colonial--Eleven-Room Martin House
Plate XXII--The Residence--Eighteen-Room Martin House
Plate XXIII--The Mansion--Twenty-Room Martin House
Plate XXIV--The Tower--Twenty-Eight-Room Martin House
Plate XXVa--The Hawkeye--Forty-Two-Room Martin House
Observation Houses for Nature Students
Plate XXVb--Section Showing Arrangement for Cleaning
Natural Wood Boxes
Martin House Which Has Given Forty Years of Service
Plate XXVI--Cleaning Plans
Cleaning of Birdhouses
Drawer Plan and Hinge Plan for Cleaning
Other Cleaning Plans
Plate XXVII--Birdhouse Accessories
Breakable Pole for Birdhouses
Aeroplane Feeding Shelter
Plate XXVIII--Aeroplane Feeding Shelter
Plate XXIX--"Trolley" Feeder
Plate XXX--Odds and Ends
Trolley Feeder
Plate XXXI--Perch Designs
Plate XXXII--Birdhouse Suggestions
Plate XXXIII--Suggestions for Hanging and Placing Birdhouses
Plate XXXIV--Bluebird House
Easy Projects for Beginners
Bluebird Houses
Boxes for Robins
Box for Wrens
Double Wren House
Downy Woodpecker House
Box for Hairy Woodpeckers
Flicker House
Woodpecker House
Nuthatch House
Box for Tree Swallow
Titmouse House
Chickadee House
Houses from Common Objects
Suggested Designs for Boxes
Feeding Devices

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