Screech Owl House Plans: How to Build a Screech Owl Box
Give a Screech Owl a Home
Screech owls are year round residents in nearly every state across the country. They typically inhabit mature woodlands but they are also commonly found in suburban and urban areas. They are one of the smallest owls in North American, standing about 10 inches tall with a wingspan up to 24 inches across.
Nighttime hunters, screech owls feed on rodents and other small mammals as well as insects and small birds. They swallow small prey animals whole; larger victims are torn into pieces. The bits of bone, teeth, fur and feathers that cannot be digested are expelled as 'owl pellets' that often accumulate under their roosting spots. Finding a pile of pellets at the base of tree is a good sign that there is an owl nearby.
Screech owls often nest in abandoned woodpecker holes or in the natural cavities of dead trees. They are very active during the fall and winter breeding season as they search for mates and places to nest. Like many birds that rely on tree cavities to raise their young, habitat loss makes it harder for screech owls to find suitable nesting sites. Fortunately, they will move into a birdhouse to raise their brood - so long as the nest box is build to meet their specific needs.
This birdhouse is sized to attract screech owls, and it is an easy project to make.
How to Build a Screech Owl Nest Box
Step 1: The Cutting List
The nest box is made from pine. Inexpensive and readily available, pine works well for this project and will last for several seasons. Painting or staining the exterior helps to protect the wood from the elements. Cedar, redwood, certain hardwoods or pieces of salvaged lumber are also good choices for building birdhouses and feeders.
Cut pieces of wood into the following dimensions:
- Front (A) 9-1/2"W x 16"L
- Back (B) 11-1/2"W x 24"L
- Sides (C) 8"W x 19-1/2"L (Qty = 2)
- Roof (D) 11-1/2"W x 12"L
- Floor (E) 8"W x 8"L
Step 2: Slope the Sides
The diagonal edges of the side pieces (part C) are cut at a 30-degree angle for attaching the sloped roof as shown in the plans (see diagram below). I used a miter saw to cut the angles. To lay out the angle, measure up 19-1/4" up from the bottom edge along one side of the board. Use a pencil to make a mark. From the same bottom end, measure up 15-3/4" along the opposite edge of the side piece and make another mark. Use a ruler or straight edge to draw a line across the board and connect the marks. Cut along the line to create an angled side piece.
Note: The sides are 1/4" shorter than front (part A). When the bottom edges are aligned with the floor (part E) and attached to the front and back sections, the shorter sides create a 1/4" gap under the roof line for air circulation.
Step 3: Make an Entrance
Birds can be choosy when selecting their nesting sites, and the size of the entrance hole is one of their primary considerations. Screech owls will move into a nest box with a spacious 3" entrance hole. To layout the position of the entrance on the front piece (part A), measure up 11" from the bottom edge, centering the entrance hole across the width of the front section. I used a 3" hole saw attached to a drill to bore the 3" entrance hole but a jig saw will also work to rough out the opening.
The top edge of the front section is beveled at a 30-degree angle to match the slope of the roof and sides. Tilt the table saw blade to 30-degrees to make the cut.
Drill another 3" hole into the center of the entrance guard (part F). Round off the edges with sandpaper or use a router with a round over bit to create a finished edge. I like to attach the entrance guard on a bias to create a diamond shaped entrance.
Step 4: A Sturdy Floor
To create notches in the floor for good drainage and to encourage air circulation within the nest box, I clipped off the corners of the floor section (part E) at a 45-degree angle. A power miter box makes it easy to cut the corners.
Step 5: Some Assembly Required
The nest box is easy to assemble using weather-resistant glue, screws or nails to attach the pieces together. Start by attaching one side (part C) to the front section (part A). This is the fixed side of the nest box; the opposite side will be hinged to allow access to the box for cleaning. Run a bead of glue along the edge of the side and position the front section, making sure to align the bottom edges of both pieces together. I use a pneumatic nailer though screws or nails will work just as well.
Test fit the floor (part E) inside the front and side sub-assembly. The floor should fit nicely however due to variations in the thicknesses of lumber purchased from home centers, some minor adjustments might be needed for a good fit. Temporarily clamping the back and the other side in position can help determine if the floor is sized correctly for your nest box. When satisfied with the fit, attach the floor to the subassembly.
Next, position the partially assembled nest box against the back section (part B), leaving space both above and below the nest box assemble for mounting the finished box to a tree or pole. Attach the back to the nest box assembly with nails or screws.
Step 6: Make a Swinging Door
One side of the nest box ‘hinges’ on two screws that are positioned directly across from each other to allow the side to swing up and open like a door for access to the interior. The two screws are carefully positioned to form a pivot point for the door to swing open.
Line up the remaining side piece (part C) to the open side of the subassembly. Measure down 1-1/2" from the point where the top of the side piece nearly meets the angle section of the front piece, and secure the side with one nail or screw driven into each edge -- one through the front (part A) into one edge of the side, and one through the back (part B) into the opposite edge to form a pivot point. Position the hinge screws directly across from each other so that the door will open easily. Drill and countersink the holes, and then attach the pieces with a weather-resistant screw.
Drill and countersink a screw hole along the center of the bottom edge of the hinged side piece, and secure the door with a screw. Removing the screw provides easy access for cleaning.
Step 7: Raise the Roof
With the table saw blade tilted to 30-degrees, mill a bevel across the back edge of the roof (part D). The bevel matches the angled sides and allows the roof to fit snugly against the back (part B).
Position the roof on top of the subassembly, and secure it in place with more glue, nails or screws.
Step 8: A Little Touch Up and a Little Paint
The nest box is complete but it stills look a little rough. A bit of sanding and some paint not only looks good but also helps to protect the wood and extend the useful life of the nest box. To get the units ready for paint, I filled the nail holes with putty, sanded all of the edges and rounded over the corners. Breaking the sharp edges gives the birdhouse a finished look and allows the paint and stain to adhere better.
Screech Owl Nest Box Plans
Location, Location, Location
Hanging the nest box: Add 1" to 2" of pine shavings to the bottom of the finished nesting box. Unlike many nesting birds, screech owls do not bring materials into the box for building their nests, and a layer of pine shavings will help to protect the eggs. Do not use sawdust or cedar shavings.
Mount the nesting box between 10' to 30' above the ground. Screech owls are tolerant of human activity, but are known to defend their nests so it's best to place the nesting box in a tree or pole where it can be seen yet is set back away from paths and walkways.
Hear a Screech Owl's Call
How do you know if there are screech owls in your neighborhood? Since they are most active at night, these little owls are heard more often than they are seen. Their call is distinctive, though it sounds more like a trilling whistle than a screech. If you hear their call, there is a good chance that a screech owl will find the nest box that you put out for them.
Have you ever seen an Owl?
Baby Screech Owls
These orphaned Screech Owls are being weighed in WildCare's Wildlife Hospital. They will stay in care until they're old enough to be released back into the wild. Orphaned birds like these are always raised with others of their own species and contact with humans is kept to an absolute minimum. These little owls are gaining weight and soon will be ready for release!
Make a Simple Cleat Hanging System
Hanging a heavy birdhouse can be awkward, especially if you are standing on a ladder to reach up into a tree. This simple cleat makes it easier -- and safer -- to hang projects such as this owl nesting box or other birdhouses and feeders, window boxes and similar projects.
The cleats are made by ripping a piece of stock at a 45-degree angle. Start with a piece of wood at least four inches wide, and slight shorter than the width of the birdhouse or other project. Tilt the table saw blade to 45-degrees, then set the fence to 2" from the blade to rip the stock into two mirror image pieces, each with a 45-degree bevel cut along one edge. When ripped at a 45-degree bevel, a 4" wide piece of stock will yield two mirror image cleats that are approximately 2" on the wide side.
To make the cleat system, attach one piece to the back of the project with the 45-degree angle of the cleat pointing downward to form an inverted "V" between the back of the project and the outside surface of the cleat. Attach the second piece where you want to hang the feeder, this time with the "V" of the cleat facing upward. Use weather resistant screws, and make sure the cleat is level. When fitted together, the two 45-degree "V"s from each piece will lock together securely to hold the nest box in place.
Adding a filler strip along the bottom edge of the birdhouse will hold it upright, level and plumb. Cut the filler strip to the same thickness as the cleats.
Vacancy: Screech Owls Wanted
Questions & Answers
Is there a certain direction the box should face? North, South, East, or West?
Owls don't seem to prefer a nest box that faces in any specific direction. We've had occupants in owl houses that face south, east, and west; none of our boxes happened to face north.Helpful 26
- Helpful 2
Can I hang the owl box from my house rather than from a tree? Why did you add the diamond piece over the opening?
We have lots of trees on our property, so I haven't tried hanging an owl house from my house. Squirrels will move into a vacant owl house, but the owls don't seem to have any trouble evicting the squirrels when they are ready to move in.
The entrance guard makes it a little harder for predators such as raccoons to reach into the nest. The diamond shape adds a little decorative element to the nest box.Helpful 7
It’s mid-April in northern Mississippi. Is it too late to hang a screech owl breeding box?
Owls start looking for nesting sites in late winter, however it's never too late to hang a nesting box. It might take a season or two for the birds to find your new owl house so even if the breeding season has passed in your area, the nest box will be ready for next year.Helpful 12
Do you paint or stain your birdhouses?
Yes, I like to paint or stain the exterior of my birdhouses. I only paint (or stain) the outside to protect the wood from the elements, leaving the inside of the nest box unpainted for the safety of the baby birds.Helpful 19
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna