Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
DIY Plans for Building a Basic, Functional Bluebird House
Bluebirds are as beneficial as they are beautiful: They prey on large numbers of moths, caterpillars, crickets, and other bugs. The bluebirds visiting in our yard often perch on a tall garden post, then swoop across the yard to snatch a flying insect from the air. Because they are cavity nesters, bluebirds look for abandoned woodpecker holes and other natural crevices to build their nesting sites.
They prefer open fields, but as farmland gives way to urban sprawl, these beautiful birds have an increasingly difficult time finding suitable, natural tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes for raising their young. Bluebirds also suffer from competition with the larger starlings and sparrows, who will drive the smaller bluebirds away from potential nesting sites.
Fortunately, bluebirds can be attracted to backyards where they will nest in birdhouses built to proper specifications. This house is a simple and inexpensive project to build and can be made from pine, cedar, or redwood boards that are commonly available at home centers and lumber yards. The entrance hole for eastern bluebirds is 1-1/2" in diameter, letting the bluebirds in but keeping out the larger starlings. If you're building a nest box for western or mountain bluebirds, the entrance hole should be increased to 1-9/16" in diameter.
Step 1: The Cutting List
Bluebird houses are great projects for using leftovers from the scrap bin and for reusing bits of old wood. Quick and easy to build, birdhouses don't take much time or use much lumber.
The Cutting List:
- Front (part A): 9-1/2" L x 5 -1/2" W
- Back (part B): 13-1/2" L x 5-1/2" W
- Sides (part C): 10-3/4" L x 4" W (Qty =2)
- Roof (part D): 7-1/2" W x 7-1/2" L
- Bottom (part E): 4" W x 4" L
- Entrance guard (Part F): 3" W x 3" L
Step 2: Make an Entrance
The size and location of the entrance hole is very important in building a birdhouse for bluebirds. Too small, and the birds can't get in. If the entrance is too large, bigger and more aggressive birds such as starlings can drive away the smaller, timid bluebirds.
- Eastern bluebirds: 1-1/2" diameter entrance hole
- Mountain bluebirds: 1-9/16" diameter entrance hole
Since we live in Connecticut and I'm building this for eastern bluebirds, I used a Forstner bit to drill the entrance hole but you could also use either a hole saw or paddle bit.
To lay out and the drill the 1-1/2" entrance hole in the front (part A), measure up 6-1/2" from the bottom edge, centering the entrance hole across the width of the front section.
I also add an entrance guard to make it more difficult for predators to reach inside the birdhouse. The guard is a simple 3" square with another 1-1/2" hole drilled through the middle. Matched up against the entrance of the birdhouse, the guard provides added protection for the eggs and babies inside.
Step 3: Cutting the Angles
Cut the top edge of the side pieces (part C) at a 22-degree angle to create the slope for the roof. A power miter box makes it easy to cut the angles.
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When the bottom edges of the front and the sides are aligned, the sides are slightly shorter than the front. This creates a gap under the roof for air circulation and ventilation.
Clip off each corner of the bottom section (part E) at a 45-degree angle to create openings for drainage.
Step 4: Build the Box
The birdhouse goes together with simple butt joints, glue, nails and screws. I start by attaching the front piece (part A) to one side piece (part C) using weather-resistant nails with my pneumatic nailer. This is the fixed side; the other side is hinged to allow access to the finished nest box for periodic cleanin
Next, test fit and attach the bottom (part E) to the sub-assembly. The floor might need a bit of trimming for a good fit
To make a simple hinged door, line up the remaining side (part C) with the bottom of the front (part A). Use a single screw or nail to secure the side section to the front assembly, driven into edge approximately 1-1/2" down from the top. We'll add another screw later (driven in from the back) to complete the door hinge.
Step 5: A Simple Hinge
Position the partially assembled bluebird house box on to the back (part B), leaving 1/2" space above the side pieces. This is the gap for air flow, and the opening should be even between the front and back sections of the nest box.
Secure the back section to the fixed side piece with glue and nails or screws. Then, finish making the hinged side door by driving one nail or screw one through the back into the side to form a pivot point. By positioning the hinge screws directly across from each other in the front and back sections, the door opens easily (refer to the side view drawing). I used a 90-degree square to help align the pivot points directly across each other.
To keep the door closed, drill and countersink a screw hole along the center of the bottom edge of the pivoting side section. A single short screw will secure the door to the floor, yet removing the screw allows easy access for cleaning.
Attach the entrance guard to the front of the nest box, aligning the entrance holes. I like to mount the guard on a bias to create a diamond shape.
The oversized roof is the last piece to attach. Nail down through the roof into the back and front sections. The large roof creates overhangs along the front and both sides to protect the nest box from rain. A little sanding and perhaps a bit paint, and the new bluebird house is ready for the garden.
Mount the finished bluebird nest box between 5' to 10' above the ground and facing out towards an open field or grassy area. Use the entrance hole to center and drive a mounting screw through the back section and into the tree or post. I purchased a 6" long Philips head bit for my portable drill to reach through the entrance hole and drive a screw through the back piece and into a post or tree. Drive a second screw through the lower section of the back below the nesting box to secure the nest box.
Why Is the Size of Entrance Hole so Important?
The exact size of the entrance hole into the bluebird nest box is very important. The entrance hole must be large enough for the bluebird to enter, yet small enough to keep out the larger sparrows and starlings.
- Eastern Bluebirds fit comfortably through a 1-1/2" entrance hole.
- In areas with Mountain Bluebirds, increase the size of the entrance hole to 1-9/16" in diameter.
- Western Bluebirds will use either size, though some bird watchers report a higher success rate when using the 1-9/16" diameter entrance hole to the nesting box.
- Do not use nest boxes with a 1-5/8" entrance hole, which is large enough for starlings to enter.
How Do I Attract Bluebirds to My Garden?
Bird watchers and gardeners try to attract bluebirds into their yards, both for their beauty and for the beneficial role they play in eating many different types of insects.
Bluebirds inhabit open spaces in rural areas, and they are often found near fields, pastures, and in open areas at the edge of woodlands. They can also be enticed to visit gardens that cater to their basic needs while providing an environment that makes them feel safe and secure.
Our garden strives to provide the four essential requirements for bluebirds and other feathered visitors: food, shelter, water, and nesting areas. Plants include a mixture of native and cultivated perennials and shrubs, planted along and under the mature oak trees where the birds can find berries and hunt for bugs.
What Do Bluebirds Eat?
Bluebirds eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths, and other insects
Fun Facts on Bluebirds
- There are three species of bluebirds in North America: the Eastern, the Western, and the Mountain Bluebirds.
- Bluebirds eat mostly bugs and berries, and they are typically not interested in bird feeders filled with birdseed.
- Bluebirds like mealworms and will visit feeders filled with live or freeze-dried mealworms.
- Eastern bluebirds can have up to three broods per season.
- Bluebird eggs are pale blue in color.
- In winter, several bluebirds will often roost together in a bluebird house for warmth.
- Bluebird populations suffered and declined in the 1960s but rebounded with help from concerned birdwatchers. The North American Bluebird Society was formed to encourage and instruct people to build and hang bluebird houses.
Baby Bluebird Hatching in a Nest Box
Peterson's Slant Front Bluebird House
This slant-front bluebird house is a bit more challenging to build than the basic nesting box, but the interesting design is worth the effort. Bluebirds like this nest box too, and they will readily move in to raise their brood. This article shows how I built this bluebird nest box, including diagrams, photos, and step-by-step instructions.
Folk Art Bluebird Houses
These birdhouses are built to the specifications preferred by the Eastern Bluebird. A bit of whimsy, a shaped entrance guard, a little paint, and a few repurposed items transform a basic nest box into an interesting piece of folk art that looks great in the garden.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: How high should you mount a Bluebird birdhouse?
Answer: Bluebird houses should be mounted between 4' to 6' above the ground. Ideally, the birdhouse should be mounted securely to a 4x4 post and facing towards an open area. Position the birdhouse away from trees and shrubs that can provide hiding places for predators.
Question: What should I put in my birdhouse to help with nesting?
Answer: I do not place anything inside my birdhouses. I let the bluebirds gather the nesting materials themselves.
Question: What do you recommend for sealing the wood of the bluebird house?
Answer: I use oil-based stains and latex paint (thinned with water) to seal and color the exterior of many of my pine birdhouses. This helps to protect the wood from the elements. I also use tung oil to protect and bring out the grain of hardwoods including mahogany, walnut, and teak.
Sealing the wood isn't necessary, and I often leave the birdhouses unpainted to weather naturally. The wood quickly takes on a silvery-gray patina, and the birdhouse will last for several years.
Question: Should the opening of the birdhouse face any particular direction?
Answer: The Audubon Society recommends facing the nest box towards the east whenever possible, though bluebirds will move into birdhouses that face in other directions. It's May in Connecticut and right now, I have bluebirds nesting in a box that faces south and another that faces west. In both cases, the nest boxes are positioned on the edge of a wooded area, are not within sight of each other, and face towards an open field.
Question: Will the bluebird be more attracted to a colorfully painted house or natural wood and how many times a year and when will they lay and hatch eggs?
Answer: Bluebirds can be quite finicky when searching for a place to raise their young, though they tend to be more particular about the size and placement of the birdhouse than its color. Only paint the outside of the nest box, leaving the interior natural for the safety of the baby birds. It's common for bluebirds to raise two broods during the summer season.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna
Tell Us About Your Bluebird Birdhouses
Marie Adamson on July 10, 2020:
Very informative with lots of useful information. The only thing I would caution against would be mounting your bluebird nesting box on a tree. Predators such as raccoons and squirrels have easier access to the box.
CharlesD on April 01, 2019:
Just getting ready to make a couple of your bluebird houses using your plans.My question what board did you use to make the roof ?
Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on April 04, 2015:
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I've used several different types of wood to including cedar, redwood and pine to build birdhouses. The birdhouses made from pine last several years; the pine bluebird house in the second photo has been outdoors for at least five seasons (maybe more). It has weathered to a silvery-gray and is still structurally intact. The key is making pine birdhouses that last include the overhanging roofline, drainage holes in the floor and gaps under the roof that allows rainwater to drain while creating good air circulation to help dry out the interior of the birdhouse. Staining or painting the outside further protects the wood from the elements. While the pine won't last forever, pine is inexpensive, readily available and birdhouses are fun to make. When the wood finally decays, I just build another birdhouse!
Woodn't yah know on March 31, 2015:
According to the above list of the types of wood to use for the birdhouses, wouldn't pine dry out, crack, rot, and fall apart under wet conditions in just a few years?
pawpaw911 on October 08, 2012:
These are clear and easy to understand plans for building a bluebird house. The already made bluebird houses are great too. We rarely see them.
KimGiancaterino on April 14, 2012:
We only see blue thrush jays in our Los Angeles garden. The beautiful bluebird continues to elude us.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 27, 2012:
I had two pairs of bluebirds arrive this week. They have been house hunting (checking out my two nesting boxes). I'm making a third bluebird house today. I need to modify one that is designed for Eastern bluebirds. My Mountain bluebirds need a slightly larger interior and entry hole. Thanks again for the plans.
julieannbrady on January 28, 2012:
Ah, the magical bluebird! We have seen just a handful of them as they come to visit. I never realized that you had to build a special house for the bluebird.
anonymous on October 02, 2011:
Another well presented DIY on making a Bluebird house, the birds of the world thank you for teaching others how to make a house a home for them!