Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
The Beauty of Barred Owls
Barred owls are big, beautiful birds. Opportunistic predators, barred owls feed on mice, voles and other small animals. They are heard more often than seen, and their call sounds a lot like "who cooks for you, who cooks for you" or "who who ha-who, who who ha-who".
Common in the Northeast and Central United States and into southern Canada, barred owls prefer areas of mature forests and open woodlands. Territorial, they will defend their turf fiercely against other feathery intruders. Barred owls do not migrate, staying within a small home range of just a few square miles.
Barred owls mate for life, nesting in the trunk of a hollow tree or an abandoned hawk nest. They will also move into a birdhouse that meets their approval for size and location. The owls nest in late winter to early spring, producing a single clutch of two or three eggs.
We often hear the familiar call of barred owls in the woodlands surrounding our home, and we've seen the big birds on several occasions. Finding a suitable hollow tree might be challenging, so I decided to build a nest box to see if I could attract a pair needing for a new place to raise their brood.
Here's how I made my version of the barred owl birdhouse.
Materials Needed: The Cutting List
Building the nest box is a simple, though large woodworking project. The finished birdhouse is 24" tall, 12-1/2" wide by 12-1/2" deep. Such a large birdhouse requires quite a bit of wood. Searching through my pile of scraps and salvaged lumber, I found some pine tongue & groove boards along with a few cutoffs of cedar fence. I'll glue the 5-1/2" wide pine boards into larger panels to make the front, back, sides and floor sections. The cedar fence pieces will work well for the roof.
I rough cut the pieces longer than needed. After the individual boards are glued into panels, I'll cut the panel to the finished dimensions.
- Front = 23" high x 12-1/2" wide
- Back = 24" high x 12-1/2" wide
- Sides = 24" high x 12-1/2" wide (qty = 2)
- Floor = 12" x 12" square (trimmed to fit)
- Roof = 16" wide x 16" long
Cedar, redwood and exterior grade plywood are also good options for building an owl house. Do not use pressure treated wood for the safety of the birds.
Step 1: Make an Entrance
To attract barred owls, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends using a nest box with a 7" x 7" entrance hole that's positioned 12" above the floor. Since I'm building the birdhouse from multiple pieces of pine, I decided to cut out the opening for the entrance before gluing the pieces together to make the front panel. A simple template (with rounded corners) made it easy to position the opening.
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After selecting the boards to make the front panel, I used the template to locate and trace the opening. Then, I used a bandsaw to make the cuts (a jig saw would work just as well). A little sanding smoothed out the rough edges.
Step 2: Glue Up the Panels
The tongue & groove boards are about 5-1/2" wide, and I needed three pieces to make up each of the panels for the front, back and sides. The floor is made from short scraps of cedar that are also glued together into another panel.
Starting with the front panel, I carefully lined up the pieces around the entrance hole. A bead of water-resistant wood glue and a few clamps hold the boards together. The back and side panels were also glued and clamped together, then set aside to cure over night before cutting the panels to their final dimensions.
Step 3: Angle the Roofline
The top edge of the side panels are cut at a shallow angle. When the next box is assembled, the sloped roof will allow the rain to run off and help to keep the inside dry. The exact pitch of the roof isn't critical, as long as the slant is steep enough to shed water.
The angle of the slope on my owl box is approximately 5%. Before cutting the angles, I ripped the side panels to the finished width of 12-1/2" wide.
To mark out the angled roof line, I measured down one inch from the top edge along one side, then used a straight edge to draw a line from the 1" mark to the opposite corner. Using a miter gauge on my table saw, I cut the angles on both side sections.
After cutting the angles, I measured down 24" inches on the long edges and marked the locations to cut the panel to its final length: the panel's longer edge is 24", the shorter edge is 23" and it's 12-1/2" wide.
Step 4: Cut Corners
Good drainage is important for every birdhouse. To help any rainwater to drain away from the inside, I clipped off the corners of the floor section. A power miter box makes it easy to cut the corners at a 45-degree angle.
Step 5: Some Assembly Required
Birdhouses are basic boxes with simple joinery: The front and back sections are attached to the sides with weather-resistant nails and glue. I started by aligning the bottom edges of the front to a side section, then tacking the pieces together with a brad nailer.
Step 6: Add Reinforcements
The tongue & glue boards are only 1/2" thick. To strengthen the butt joints, I added 3/4" x 3/4" nailer strips to the inside corners of the panels. More nailers were glued and tacked along the top edges of the assembled box, and again along the bottom edges for attaching the floor.
Note: The nailer strips that support the floor are located 1" up along the bottom edges of the box. This allows the floor to fit up inside the owl house.
Step 7: Attach the Floor
The floor section is trimmed to fit snugly inside the birdhouse. Trim the floor as needed to fit, then attach it to nailer strips with screws. Removing the screws provides easy access to the interior for cleaning.
Step 8: Raise the Roof
The roof is made from five cedar fence slats. To clean up the rough edges, I ran both edges of each slat through the table saw. The milled edges fit better together and provided a clean surface for gluing the slats together.
The roof is centered from side-to-side, overhangs the back by 1/2" and the front by about 3". Nails and glue hold the roof in place.
Cleat Hanging System
Hanging a heavy birdhouse can be awkward, especially when standing on a ladder to reach up into a tree. This simple cleat makes it easier—and safer—to hang heavy objects such as this owl nesting box or other birdhouses and feeders, window boxes and similar projects.
The cleat is made by ripping a piece of stock at a 45-degree angle:
- Start with a piece of wood at least four inches wide, and slightly shorter than the width of the nest box. Tilt the table saw blade to 45 degrees, then set the fence to 2½" from the blade to rip the stock into two mirror-image pieces, each with a 45-degree bevel cut along one edge.
- Attached one of the pieces to the back of the box with the 45-degree angle of the cleat pointing downward to form an inverted "V" between the back of the box and the outside surface of the cleat.
- Attach the second piece where you want to hang the owl house, this time with the "V" of the cleat facing upward. Make sure the cleat is level so the birdhouse will hang straight. When fitted together, the two 45-degree Vs from each piece lock together to securely hold the nest box in place.
- If needed, add a filler strip along the bottom edge of the owl house, below the cleat on the backside, to hold the box upright and plumb. Cut the filler strip to the same thickness as the cleats.
The Finished Nest Box
The finished nest box is ready for owls. I add about 3" of pine shavings to the bottom of the nesting box before hanging it from a large tree. Unlike many cavity nesting birds, barred owls do not bring materials into the box for building their nests. The layer of pine shavings will help to protect the eggs.
The owl house is mounted about 15' above the ground and located in at the edge of a small clearing that's surrounded by mature woodlands. It's too late to attract a breeding pair for this season, though I hopeful that the locals will find it and become accustomed to seeing it in their territory. If it's up to their standards, maybe they'll move in next year to raise their family.
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.
© 2022 Anthony Altorenna