The Barnwood Winter Roosting Box
When winter's cold hits, birds look for shelter and will often roost together to share warmth and conserve energy. A roosting box is similar to a birdhouse, but rather than providing a safe place for nesting and raising chicks, a roosting box offers protection to cavity-nesting birds from the rain, snow and cold. Bluebirds, wrens, chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and downy woodpeckers are a few of the birds that will use the box to take shelter from the storm.
Though similar in construction to a birdhouse, the design of a roosting box has a few significant differences:
- The entrance hole is positioned near the floor of the box to limit the amount of warm air that rises and escapes.
- One or more perches are mounted inside the roosting box to allow the birds to perch above the floor and rest comfortably.
- Air vents and drainage holes are reduced or eliminated to prevent heat loss.
Building a roosting box is a simple woodworking project and useful addition to the backyard habitat. The exact size is not important—though the larger the box, the more birds can shelter inside.
Step 1: The Cutting List
The roosting box is made from used and recycled materials that were laying around my workshop. I like the rustic look of the old barn wood and other recycled materials. The roof and sides are leftovers from another barn wood birdhouse project. Years of exposure to the elements gives the wood an attractive aged patina. The back and floor pieces were salvaged from an old planter box that was tossed away by a neighbor. The front came from an old pine box that I bought for 25¢ at a yard sale. The metal entrance guard was cut from a piece of rusty tin roofing.
The size of the roosting box is not critical. I scaled my project based on the piece of barn wood that I used for the roof.
Even with the character of the old barn wood, the box looks plain. To add interest to the piece, I painted the front and back sections. For some contrast and to protect the opening from gnawing by squirrels, I added an entrance guard that was cut from a piece of rusty metal.
No barn wood laying around? No problem: pine, cedar, redwood and exterior grade plywood is readily available and works well for building birdhouses or a roosting box.
Cut pieces of lumber into the following dimensions. The top of the slanted side pieces are cut at a 6° angle.
- Front = 18" L x 7" W
- Back = 18" L x 8" W
- Sides (2) = 8" H x 7-1/2" W
- Roof = 21" L x 8" W
- Floor = 18" L x 6-3/4" W
- Dowel Perch = 18" L
- Perch Supports = 4-1/4" L x 1-1/2" W
- Entrance Guard = 3-1/4" x 3-1/4"
Step 2: Slope the Sides
The roof is pitched at approximately 6° to shed the rain and snow. While this may seem like an odd choice for a roof pitch, the shallow angle allows for the maximum amount of interior room inside the box. To lay out the angle, measure down 1″ from the top edge of a side piece and make a mark. Using a straight edge, align the opposite top corner with the mark. Draw a line between the top corner and the mark, then cut along the line.
Use the angled side as a template to mark the angle on the other side section, making sure to draw the angle so that the preferred side faces outward.
Step 3: Bevel the Back
The top edges of the front and back pieces are beveled at the same 6° angle. The beveled edges allow the roof section to fit snugly to the top of the box. I held a side piece in place against the back section, then traced the angled side onto the back section.
A table saw makes it easy to cut the bevels. The photo shows the slightly tilted saw blade. Cut a test piece to check the angle, and make any adjustments before cutting the bevels on the front and back pieces.
Step 4: Make the Entrance
One of the differences between a birdhouse and a roosting box is the placement of the entrance hole: locating the entrance near the bottom helps to reduce heat loss as the warmer air rises within the box.
The size of the entrance hole determines the types of birds that can enter the shelter. Bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches and wrens will fit easily through a 1-1/2" opening, but larger and more aggressive starlings are too big and cannot get in. I positioned the opening in the lower right corner and used a 1-1/2" diameter Forstner bit to drill the hole.
Using old wood has its challenges. The front of the roost box is supposed to swing open for easy access to the interior for cleaning and for checking on the birds. However, the old barn wood is warped and cupped. This caused the sides to curve inward slightly, so the front opening is not perfectly square. A little selective sanding was needed to shape the front piece for a nice fit. A little more sanding and the front was ready for paint.
Step 5: Add a Guard
The entrance guard was cut from an old piece of rusty metal. I like the aged and varied patina of the metal, and it adds character to the look of the box. Using shears, I cut out a 3-1/4" square. A little filing cleaned up the sharp edges.
I don't have a 1-1/2" hole saw that's suitable for drilling through metal, so I used a slightly larger 2" bit. To find the center of the square quickly, position a straight edge on the diagonal across two opposite corners and draw a line near the center. Then, place the straight edge across the opposite corners and draw another, intersecting the first line. The resulting "X" marks the center of the square.
Be careful when drilling through the metal. For safety, I used a couple of screws to mount the guard securely to a larger piece of scrap wood, then clamped the work piece to the drill press table.
After filing off the sharp edges, I attached the entrance guard to the front piece with self-tapping screws that I spray-painted black.
Step 6: Build the Box
The roost is a basic six-sided box. The joinery uses simple butt joints held together with weather-resistant glue, nails and screws. I started by attaching the back to the floor section, running a bead of glue along the edge of the floor and securing the pieces with pneumatic nails. Then, I attached a side to each end of the subassembly.
Step 7: Raise the Roof
The roof overhangs the front and sides of the box, and it is attached with four screws that can be removed to allow access to the interior. The roof is aligned flush with the back of the box for mounting against a tree or pole.
Center the roof so the overhang is equal over both sides, yet flush with the back. The front edge of the roof overhangs the front of the box to help protect the entrance from rain and snow.
Step 8: Make A Swinging Door
The front piece is attached to the roost box with two screws that form a pivot point for a simple hinge: two screws are positioned directly opposite each other on each side and driven into the edge of the front section. This creates a pivot point for a hinge that opens easily for cleaning out the interior. Another screw holds the door closed.
Align the top edge of the front piece in place with the top edges of the subassembly. Then on the sides, measure down 1-1/2" from the point where the top edge meets the side edge. Drill and countersink a pilot hole through the side and into the edge of the front. Insert a screw but do not over-tighten to allow the door to pivot open.
Step 9: Add a Perch
Another difference between a birdhouse and a roosting box is the addition of perches inside the box to offer the birds a comfortable place to rest. The larger the box, the more perches can be added to enable more birds to roost.
This box comfortably accommodates one perch running lengthwise through the center of the interior. The perch is a 1/2" diameter hardwood dowel that I purchased from a home center. Rather than drilling holes through the sides to hold the dowel, I made a couple of simple supports that fit inside the interior. The supports are adjustable and can be moved easily to adjust the position of the roost.
After a couple of test fits, I positioned the dowel about 2-3/4" up from the floor and 2-3/4" in from the back. This spacing gives the birds plenty of headroom (and tail room) with space to move around comfortably.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Anthony Altorenna
Tell Us About Your Backyard Roosting Boxes
Jessica on August 15, 2020:
Did they use it? I built ones, and have seen others and none have seen it used
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on February 08, 2020:
Love this idea, everyone should have a bird roosting box in their garden:)
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 07, 2019:
Excellent bird house tutorial. I am not seeing as many birds this year in my backyard and sure do miss them. It has been much warmer this season and we still don't have snow on the ground so it could be that they are finding food sources easier this year (or so I hope). Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season.