Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
How I Built This Nesting Shelf
The American robin is one of the most common and recognizable birds. Found in backyards across North America, it's one of the first birds to begin nesting every spring. They are quite tolerant of human activity, nesting in our gardens and close to (and sometimes on) our homes. One traffic-tolerant robin raised her brood on the shelf above our hose reel that was attached to the back of the house. The overhanging roofline shaded the nest from the sun and protected it from the rain.
Building this nest shelf is an easy project that can be completed in just an hour or two. Though robins often build nests in dense shrubs or in the forks of tree branches, they also nest on protected ledges and they will take advantage of a fabricated nesting shelf. Cardinals, phoebes, and swifts might also take up residence on a vacant shelf to build a nest to raise their young.
Step 1: The Cutting List
The wood for my nesting shelf came from an old pine box that I bought at a yard sale for 50 cents. I often use salvaged wood along with other repurposed bits and leftover pieces from the scrap box to build birdhouses. The old wood has character and makes for interesting and unique pieces, though sometimes I'll use paint and stain for a fresh look or to disguise its age and flaws. Pine boards are another inexpensive option and are readily available at the local home center. Cedar and redwood are naturally resistant to insects and are a good choice of building material for nest boxes (though a bit more expensive). I've also repurposed pieces of mahogany and teak to build birdhouses and feeders. Left unfinished, most woods will last for several seasons and weather to a nice silvery-gray color.
Cut pieces of wood to the following dimensions:
- Back: 12-1/2" L x 10" W
- Sides (2): 8" H x 7" W (deep)
- Floor: 7-1/4" L x 6-1/4" W (deep)
- Roof: 10" W x 8-1/4" W (deep)
- Roof Support: 7-1/4" L x 1-1/2" W
Step 2: Make a Template
The side pieces feature a wide arc. The curve of the arc is not critical, but I wanted both sides to match. I sketched several curves on to one of the side pieces until I was happy with the shape. The top of the arc starts about 3" in from the edge of the side. The bottom of the arc ends about 2-3/4" up from the bottom. Since I plan to make several nesting shelves, I made a template using a scrap of hardboard.
I cut the arc using a bandsaw, and then sanded the curve smooth.
Step 3: Cut Angles for the Roofline
The top edges of the side pieces are cut at a 10-degree angle to create a sloped roof to shed the rain and offer some shade from the sun. I used a power miter box to make the angled cuts.
The exact angle of the roof is not critical. I mocked up the roofline using a steeper 22-1/2 degree angle, but I thought that the sharp pitch reduced the front opening too much. The 10-degree roof slope looked good and is steep enough to shed the rain.
Step 4: Raise the Roof
The back edge of the roof is also cut at a 10-degree angle to fit tightly against the back section. I also cut a kerf on the underside of the roof, about 1/2" in from the front edge of the board and 1/8" deep. The kerf will act as a drip edge to help keep rainwater from flowing over the front edge of the roof and dripping down inside the nesting area.
The top edge of the roof support is cut at the same 10-degree angle as the back edge of the roof section. I used a table saw with the blade tilted to 10-degrees to make the angled cuts.
Step 5: Assemble the Nesting Shelf
Step 5A: Attach the Sides
The basic frame of the nesting shelf is assembled using simple joints, exterior glue, and weather-resistant nails and screws. Dry fit the pieces together before committing to the final assembly with nails and glue, and make any adjustments for a good fit.
Start by lining up one side piece with the floor section, using a bead of water-resistant glue and nails or screws to attach the pieces together. Then attach the other side, making sure that the arcs faced in the same direction.
I like to clip off the corners of the floor section to create a small opening for drainage. In this case I forgot so later, I drilled several 3/8" holes through the bottom.
Step 5B: Add the Front and Roof Support
Attach the front section to the sides and to the bottom section, then attach the roof support piece, making sure that the angled edge is aligned correctly with the top edges of the angled sides. The photo (above) shows the nest box assembly with the roof support in place. This piece reinforces the box and provides a brace from attaching the roof.
The photo also shows where I filled the nail holes with plastic wood filler. The base section is ready for sanding and paint.
Step 6: Attach the Roof and Back Sections
The roof is attached to the base of the nest box with screws. Since the front edge of the roof cantilevers over the nesting area without support, the rear edge is attached securely to the base with screws.
To ensure that the screws are positioned correctly, I started by placing the roof upside down on the workbench. After centering the base on the inverted roof, I traced around the edges of the base (the pencil lines are darkened with a black Sharpie for the photo). Then, I drilled the holes through the roof. The drills holes are slightly countersunk on the underside. I flipped the roof over and countersunk the topside of the holes before aligning the roof and attaching it to the base with weather-resistant screws.
I repeated the process to align the back section to the base section: position and center the base on the back piece, trace around the base to show where it will connect to the back, then drill and countersink holes for the screws.
The robin nest box is now ready for sanding and paint. I removed the back and roof from the base to make it easier to sand and paint each of the pieces. After the paint dried, I reattached the roof and back sections to the base. The nesting shelf is ready for occupancy!
Ready for Occupancy!
We attached the new nesting shelf to our shed in an area of our yard that's protected from direct sunlight, wind and rain. It is about 7 feet above the ground to keep the birds away from cats, raccoons and snakes. The shelf is over a grassy patch, providing a soft landing area for the young fledglings who might crash land on their first flights.
The American Robin
Robin Facts: Did You Know?
- The American Robin is a member of the thrush family. They are among the top three of the most abundant bird species in North America.
- The robin is the State Bird of Connecticut, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
- They are one of the first species of birds to nest in the early spring and can raise three broods of young in a season.
- Only the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs. Both parents help to feed and protect their babies.
- The average clutch contains three to five blue eggs (Robin's Egg Blue is a color named for the color of their eggs).
- The eggs hatch in about 14 days. Two weeks later, the young are ready to leave the nest.
- Nests are only used once. A new nest is built for each brood.
- Robins are migratory birds and they are welcomed back to their summer range as one of the first signs of spring, though at least some individuals stay around our yard throughout the winter (we live in Connecticut).
- Their average life span is less than two years, though lucky individuals can live significantly longer.
Baby Robins in Our Backyard
Do Robins Nest in Your Yard?
American Robin Range Map
Mama Robin Feeds Her Babies in a Homemade Nesting Shelf
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