Nesting Sites and Boxes
Bluebirds hunt for their food on the ground, so they prefer pastures, meadows and other areas with low-cut grass interspersed with a few scattered trees. In populated areas, they’ll nest in golf courses, cemeteries, highway and utility rights-of-way, parks and pastures. Busy urban areas, densely wooded areas and intensively farmed areas (where there’s a lack of natural habitat) are some of their least favored nesting spots. Plus, check out how to build this bird feeder gazebo!
Here, you’ll see how to build one tried-and-true nesting box design, the Peterson bluebird box. It has an opening precisely sized for bluebirds, which helps exclude unwanted European starlings, plus it’s easy to clean out. As you’ll see in the project directions, pulling out the locking nail on one side allows the front of the house to tilt open for inspection and cleaning. This house can be made for three species of bluebirds, eastern, western and mountain, although the dimensions we give are for the eastern and western species. Mountain bluebirds need a larger (1-1/2-in. x 2-1/4-in.) entry hole.
You can use a variety of woods and plywood, as long as they’re weatherproof and not pressure treated. Pine or cedar boards, exterior plywood, even hardboard house siding can all be used. You can stain or paint the outside of your bluebird boxes a light color (gray or brownish gray), but always leave the inside and the edges of the entrance hole unfinished. The materials for your house will cost from $5 to $10. Experienced woodworkers can build one of these in an hour or two, and even novices should be able to build one in an afternoon.
1. Cut and Drill Holes into Side Pieces
Cut out the two side pieces (Labeled “E” in the Shopping List in Project PDF’s below) from plywood or boards. Drill the ventilation holes, the pivot and locking nail holes in one piece. Drill a pivot hole alone in the other piece.
2. Cut Out the Rest of the Outside Piece
Cut parts A, B and C to rough length, out of a 2×4. If you’re going to mount the house on a metal T-post, part A can be 19 inches long. Otherwise, make it 30 inches. Then cut the angle on one end of parts A, B and C with your circular saw or jigsaw set at 27 degrees. Finally, cut the 45-degree end on part B. Since this part is short, clamp it down for safety.
3. Measure and Cut Bluebird House Door
Cut part D from a 1×4 so the end is 45 degrees, and then reset your saw to cut the piece to final length. Cut the entry hole by drilling two overlapping holes with a 1-3/8- in. spade bit (1-1/2 in. for mountain bluebirds), then use a rasp to even out the edges. You can also use a jigsaw to cut the opening; just make sure you make it the exact size shown. Cut narrow saw kerfs on the inside of the front panel just below the entrance hole to give young bluebirds an extra toehold as they exit the box.
4. Cut and Place Roof
Cut the roof (F) to size. You can leave the ends square, or cut them at 63 degrees (with your circular saw set at 27 degrees) as we did.
5. Nail the House Together
Assemble the house. Nail parts C and B to part A. Make sure C is 10-1/2 in. from the end of A. Nail the sides (E) to A, B and C so they’re flush with the back edge of A and the top edge of B. Lay the house on its back, and position the front (D) so there is a 5/8-in. gap between it and the roof (F). Hammer in nails for the pivots. Test the front to be sure it opens well, and then tap in the locking nail. Leave the nailhead sticking out so you can remove it easily when it’s time to clean out the house.
Installation and Maintenance
Bluebird houses should be installed in late fall or early spring. Place them in pairs, 20 to 30 ft. apart, with 300 ft. between pairs. Placing them in pairs provides one nesting place for bluebirds, and another for tree swallows and other birds who might otherwise compete for a single spot (with the bluebird often losing!). Spacing the pairs 300 ft. apart also gives territorial bluebirds the proper amount of space they need between each breeding pair. Keep the houses 200 ft. from bushes and trees, and if house wrens take over the boxes, move them even farther away from trees and shrubs.
Wooden fence posts and metal T-posts are acceptable for holding houses, but a baffle should be attached if cats, raccoons and other predators are present. The best way to mount the houses is on a 7-ft. piece of PVC pipe.
In the fall, clean out the boxes and leave the fronts open to prevent mice and house sparrows from nesting in them over the winter. In early spring, it’s time to close them up so they’re ready for the nesting season.
Because of the ease with which bluebirds can be attracted to nest boxes, and because setting out and maintaining a bluebird trail is an activity that has few restrictions, bluebird conservation has become one of the largest grassroots conservation activities in North America. It’s a worthwhile thing do for this beautiful gentle bird that, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “…carries the sky on his back.”
And once you are done building this bluebird house, check out how to build this cozy bird cabin. It blends in with it’s surroundings but not so much so that the birds won’t flock to it!
Click the link below to download the shopping list for this project.