Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, the kitchen, the garden, and out fishing. Many of his projects are featured in his yard.
It's hard to say how long the old birdhouses have been out there, but it's been at least ten years. Probably closer to fifteen. It's also hard to say how many families of birds fledged from the nests that they built inside. Made of pine, the wood weathered nicely over the years to a rustic silvery-gray. Colonies of grayish-green lichens sprouted from the roof and spilled down the sides. Though the birdhouses are still structurally sound and functional, I decided to make a new and improved version. I'll move the original birdhouse to another part of the yard where it will continue provide the locals with places to raise their young.
The new birdhouses are also made of 3/4" pine. Cheap and easy to find at the local home center, pine is easy to work with and it takes paint well.
Step 1: The Cutting List
The condo is three separate birdhouses nested together. Each birdhouse is a simple four-sided box with angled top. Following are the dimensions of the pieces needed for each of the boxes. The roof peaks are cut at a 30-degree angle (I used a power miter saw).
Though I often use bits and pieces of scrap wood to build birdhouses, for this project I used mostly new pine and MDF purchased from the local home center.
Condo Base: 14" x 15-1/2" (I used 3/4" exterior grade MDF)
- Front = 15-1/2" H x 5-1/2" W
- Back = 15-1/2" H x 5-1/2" W
- Long Side = 14-3/4" H x 4-3/4" W
- Short Side = 12" H x 4-3/4" W
- Roof = 8-1/4" L x 8-1/4" W
- Top Floor = 4-3/4" L x 3-7/8" W
- Bottom Floor = 4-3/4" L x 3-7/8" W
- Entrance Guard = 3-1/4" x 3-1/4" square
- Front = 11" H x 3-1/2" W
- Back = 8-1/4" H x 3-1/2" W
- Sides (2) = 11" H x 3-1/4" W
- Roof = 8" L x 5-1/2" W
- Entrance Guard = 3-1/4" x 3-1/4" square
- Front = 8" H x 5-1/2" W
- Back = 8" H x 5-1/2" W
- Long side = 7-1/2" L x 3-1/2" W
- Short side = 4-3/4" x 3-1/2"
- Roof = 8" L x 5-1/2" W
- Floor = 4"L x 3-1/2" W
Step 2: Make an Entrance
The diameter of the entrance hole is important to the types of birds that will move into your birdhouse -- and to keeping out the larger undesirables such as European starlings and House sparrows. Introduced to North America in the early 1900's, these aggressive birds are very territorial and will drive native species away from prime nesting sites.
Wrens and Eastern bluebirds can fit into smaller entrances than the larger House sparrows and starlings. Bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, downy woodpeckers and nuthatches can fit through a 1-1/2" diameter entrance but this hole is too small for the larger sparrows and starlings to enter. Wrens only need a 1-1/4" diameter entrance.
I use 1-1/2" and 1-1/4" diameter Forstner bits to drill the entrance holes through the front pieces of each birdhouse. The large and medium houses get 1-1/2" entrances. The small house gets a 1-1/4" entrance.
Step 3: Some Assembly Required
Each birdhouse is a simple box that's easy to assemble. Since the roofs are angled, it's important to position the pieces in the proper orientation to achieve the desired look when all three of the nest boxes are nestled together. I paid special attention to which direction the entrance would face, and which side would become the door for access to the interior.
Start by attaching the front and back sections to one of the sides. The opposite side will be attached with a couple of screws to create a hinged door for cleaning out the nest boxes. I attached the pieces together a bead of water-resistant glue and 1-1/2" galvanized nails.
I started with the largest birdhouse, positioning the longer side piece against the left edge of the front section. Looking at the birdhouse from the front, the roof pitches down to the right. Align the bottom edges of both pieces together and secure with glue and weather-resistant nails or screws. Then, position and attach the back.
Please note: the top edge of the side pieces will not meet up flush with the angled roofline of the front and back sections. This is intentional to create a small gap under the roofline for air circulation in the finished birdhouse.
I put together the mid-sized birdhouse next, this time attaching the shorter side piece to the right edge of the front section. This way, the roofline will pitch down to the right when the birdhouse in placed in position. Then I attached the back.
The roofline of the smallest birdhouse pitches downward to the left, so I attached the smaller side piece to the left side of the front section. Then I attached the back.
Step 4: Hang the Doors
Now it's time to add the last side to each of the boxes by creating a simple door for access to the interior. Attaching the side to the subassembly with two screws that are positioned directly opposite each other forms a pivot point for a simple swinging door. The first screw is driven through the front piece and into the edge of the side. Then the second screw is positioned directly opposite and driven through the back piece and into the other edge of the side, creating a basic hinge.
Line up the bottom edge of the side piece with the bottom edges of the subassembly. Then on the front section, measure 1-1/2" down from the point where the angle of the peak nearly meets the top edge of the side. Drill and countersink a hole through the front section, and then attach the pieces together with a weather-resistant screw. Using a square or straight edge, transfer the location of the screw across the side piece to the back section. Finish attaching the door by driving another screw through the back and into the edge of the door, forming a pivot point. The door should swing open easily.
Step 5: Raise the Floor
Test fit the floors and trim as needed for a snug fit. I clipped off the corners to create openings for drainage and air flow.
Most small cavity nesting birds prefer an entrance hole that's about 4" to 6" above the floor of the nest box. Since the large birdhouse is 15" tall and I want the entrance to be visible over the roof of the smaller birdhouse, I elevated the floor so that it's about 5" below the mid-point of the entrance hole. A bit of glue and a few nails hold the raised floor in place.
Step 6: Build the Base
The birdhouses sit together on a base of exterior grade MDF. I positioned the boxes with the entrance hole on the large birdhouse facing forward and the roof sloping down to the right. The door opens to the right. The entrance hole of the mid-size box faces to the left and the roof slopes forward. The smallest house is more or less centered in front of the other two.
When I was satisfied with the placements, I traced around the outside bottom edge of each of the boxes. The birdhouses are secured to the base by attaching the floors to the base, and then attaching the birdhouses to the floor. This is simpler than it sounds....
Step 7: Fit the Boxes to the Base
Starting with the large birdhouse, slip the floor into place and then put the birdhouse into position on the base. Open the door and while holding the floor in place, lift away the box. A couple of screws secure the floor to the base.
The birdhouse fits snuggly over the floor. A screw through the bottom of the door and into the floor makes sure it stays in place.
Repeat the process with the other two boxes: position the mid-size house up against the bigger birdhouse, slide the floor into place, remove the box while holding down the floor and then secure it with a couple of screws. The smallest house presses up against the other two.
To attach the birdhouse to the base and to keep the door closed, drill and countersink a screw hole along the center of the bottom edge of the pivoting side. Use another screw to secure the door to the floor. This will hold the unit securely in place, yet removing the screw allows easy access or to remove the unit from the base.
After the floors are in place, drill out the drainage holes in each of the corner sections. The drainage holes will let any rain or snow to drip away, and also allow fresh air to flow up into the inside of the nest box and then out through the gaps under the roof.
Step 8: Add Some Color and Some Style
Now that everything fits together, it's time to fill the nail holes with putty, sand the sides and lightly round over the edges and corners. Pine takes paint very well and besides adding color and looking good, paint extends the lifespan of the wood. It's easier (and neater) to stain the roof and paint box sections separately before fastening them together. The base was spray paint black and the roofs were stained brown. Only stain or paint the exteriors, leaving the inside natural for the safety of the birds.
After the paint dried, I attached the roof to each of the boxes with a little glue and a few more nails. A bit more putty to fill the nail holes and some more stain finished the roofs.
To add some interest and to make each of these birdhouses unique, I added few extra bits. A vintage brass drawer pull was repurposed as an awning over the entrance hole on the large birdhouse. Another drawer pull overhangs the entrance on the smallest unit. Two more repurposed handles act as decorative perches. The rustic fence was cut from a pallet slat.
The third opening is protected by 3-1/4" square entrance guard that painted to match the nest box. There's a faux entrance on the back of the large birdhouse along with a rustic picket fence to add a little extra visual interest to the rear view of the condo units.
Ready for the Garden
The new and improved version of this three unit condo birdhouse is ready for occupancy. It's in the same place as the original where it will provide good homes for many families of birds. Within weeks of placing it in the garden, a pair of bluebirds moved into the red house.
Many species of birds are territorial and will not tolerate any competitors moving in next door, so only one of the units might be occupied at any given time. Over the years, each of the originals saw their share of tenants from wrens and bluebirds to a family of flying squirrels.
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.
© 2020 Anthony Altorenna