Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
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.
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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.
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 heavy objects 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
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: Is there a certain direction the box should face? North, South, East, or West?
Answer: 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.
Question: Do you paint or stain your birdhouses?
Answer: 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.
Question: Does the inside of the owl box need a ladder?
Answer: When the owlets are ready to fledge, they will not have any problems with leaving the nest box. They do not need a ladder to reach the entrance hole.
Question: Will screech owls scare other birds away?
Answer: Screech owls are predators. While they feed mostly on mice, voles and other small animals, they will also prey on small birds. To reduce the chances of an owl attacking the birds at our feeders, the nest boxes are mounted in different areas on our property from the bird feeders. The owls cannot see the feeders from the next boxes.
Question: I’m making an owl box, and it is almost finished. What are the dimensions of the diamond piece that covers the hole?
Answer: The exact dimensions of the entrance guard are not critical. I use pieces of 3/4" thick scraps that are large enough to cover the hole, yet fit on the front of the nest box without hanging over the edges. A piece that's 3-3/4" to 4" square should work.
Question: It’s mid-April in northern Mississippi. Is it too late to hang a screech owl breeding box?
Answer: 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.
Question: An owl has taken up residence on top of the rain gutter downspout below the roof overhang. So I'm headed to Home Depot to get the material for an Owl House! Reckon he'll move in?
Answer: Owls can be very choosy when selecting their nest sites. If they are already nesting under the roof overhang, they will likely stay there until the eggs hatch and owlets fledge. There's a good chance that the owls might move into the new nest box to raise their next brood.
Question: Can I hang the owl box from my house rather than from a tree? Why did you add the diamond piece over the opening?
Answer: 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.
Question: Can a screech owl box be hung by a single heavy wire in the middle of a tree, (to protect it from squirrels) or must it be fixed to the tree to avoid swaying in the breeze?
Answer: I have only mounted my screech owl houses directly and securely to trees. Hanging an owl house from a heavy wire would make for an interesting experiment, though it's still likely that the acrobatic squirrels will tightrope the wire to reach the nest box.
Question: Is there any harm to making the interior bottom area bigger than 8x8? Say 8x9 or 8x10?
Answer: An 8"x9" or 8"x10" floor area will be fine. The size of the floor can vary, though 8"x8" is considered the minimum.
Question: How do I mount a screech owl house to a tree? We inherited a box and one side came loose from the tree.
Answer: I like to use a simple cleat to hang birdhouses, especially the larger boxes that can be heavy and awkward to handle while on a ladder. Cut a short piece of stock at a 45-degree angle, and attach one piece to the tree so it forms a "V". Invert the other piece to form the cleat and attach it to the birdhouse. Drop the birdhouse's cleat into the "V" on the tree cleat, and the box will hang securely. The cleat also makes it easy to move the nest box to another location or to take it down for cleaning.
A more detailed description is towards the bottom of the article.
Question: Why is it that we should not use cedar shavings in a screech owl box?
Answer: Several birding resource suggest using pine shavings or dried leaves rather than cedar shavings. The fine dust from cedar shavings may cause respiratory discomfort for the baby owls so just to be cautious, I used pine shavings.
Question: How wide should the entrance hole be for screech owls?
Answer: The entrance hole is 3" in diameter. I use a circle cutter mounted in my drill press to cut the hole, but you could also use a jig saw.
Question: Does the entry hole for a Screech Owl box have to be straight up and down or could it be angled?
Answer: An angled entrance hole will not deter an owl looking for a place to nest, however, the dimensions of the entry are important. Too small, and the owls won't move in. Placement of the nest box is also very important when trying to attract screech owls.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna
Tell Us About the Owls in Your Neck of the Woods
BECo on February 13, 2020:
As an alternative to wood preservatives on both the inside and outside of my nesting boxes, I make my own paste wax out of bees wax and olive oil, 3:1 respectively. The bees wax has the added benefit of being naturally antimicrobial.
carl gander on January 13, 2019:
I have several very large gourds.... will an owl nest in a free swinging house???
Eugene Hamilton on April 11, 2018:
is April too late to hang a box in Southeast Texas? My screech owls have been nesting here for several yrs.and box finally rotted out.
TERRELL HOLSINGER on March 21, 2018:
Built a box and have a resident. Makes her appearance about 2:30 - 3:00 PM almost every day - seems to be taking some fresh air. Here in Texas already warming and evenings still cool. Hope for babies later this year.
Martha on January 28, 2018:
I observed a screech in my yard almost nightly if I don't see them I hear them- needed a project thought this would be fun may make one for my mothers yard as well! Thanks for sharing
Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on January 17, 2018:
Thanks for visiting, and for posting your note. My apologies for the confusion. The top diagram has a typo. The owl houses were built from 1x12 lumber (approximately 11-1/2" wide from the home center). Have fun building the nest box, and good luck attracting owls!
OwlWatcher on January 11, 2018:
I built a box and have one screech owl now. The plans list a 1X10 board but the back is 11 1/2 inches. Should it be a 1/12 board? Great design, just confused on measurements.
Charles Harmon on December 31, 2017:
This is going to be my first project now that I can work in my shop again. It’s been three yeats since I last was able to stand. We have several owls i be heard them maybe I’ll get a chance to see them. Your plans are straight forward and easy to understand. This articulate is great for a beginner or someone getting started again. With you plans I can again build for real not just in my head. Thanks
Camundson on August 11, 2016:
Thank you for your wonderful instructions. I'm heading out to Lowe's as soon as I post this. About an hour ago I just discovered a screech owl asleep in/on a slightly curled leaf of our giant rubber tree. (I love in Florida, and saw the little owl around 3PM.) Cute little guy- he was a bit dwarfed by the leaf. Have a dead tree 10 feet from the rubber tree, and now, instead of cutting that tree completely down, I'm just going to cut it to around 16 feet - I'll use it to mount the screecher box.
Susie Lehto from Minnesota on November 08, 2014:
There are owls that I hear in the woods after sundown, and once in a while one flies through the yard. A mating pair made their nest in the woodshed one year, and that was pretty neat to get to see those babies grow up enough to fly away. Owls are great hunters, so I am not too sure I would want them after other critters that live around yard. Great hub!
TanoCalvenoa on June 29, 2013:
I love screech owls, they fly around at night where I live in Southern California and sound like something from a haunted house. We also have great horned owls, and occasionally I've seen a couple of other species but much more rarely than the first two.
outdoorprojects on December 27, 2012:
I have owls around my house, one of these would be great!!!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on October 03, 2012:
I love stopping by your wildlife friendly articles. From backyard birds, to wild deer, your information is so wonderful to see. I don't think that I will be building a screech owl house but it is nice to know that I now know where to look should I decide to.
anonymous on July 12, 2012:
I just love the idea of making Screech Owl houses, had never seen one until you introduced me to them.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 03, 2012:
Those baby owls are too cute! Thanks for another great DIY project. I know I have owls around my property. I hear them at night. Not sure which species. I really must make sure they have proper nesting options. Appreciate the plans.
julieannbrady on January 28, 2012:
Gosh, I sure do love listening to the owls in the nature area out back ... More often than not, I hear them rather than see them. Had never thought of building a screech owl house ... you make it all look so easy!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 30, 2011:
The screech owls looks so leery with their great big eyes. Love your article on building a screech owl bird house. I had heard years ago that bird houses must be designed for each species of bird and it shows in your articles. Hmmm? I wonder if the blue jays and crows which love our cherry tree would fit in that bird house?
anonymous on August 04, 2011:
That baby Screech Owl video is just dear. Once again you demonstrate your expertise with clear and concise directions to successfully construct a Screech Owl house. I've only seen a Screech Owl up real close one time years ago when one decided to hang around our woodshed for awhile, they are the cutest little guys.