September 30, 2014

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Building a Bluebird Box

One of the most rewarding ways to connect with Nature and give something back is to construct  nesting boxes. This week were going to be taking a look at Bluebird boxes. Even though it’s a little late in the year since most birds have already been busily building their nest, I’ll be posting some “how-to’s”  on building nesting boxes for a few different species of birds that reside here in the Adirondacks and over much of North America. Keep in mind you don’t have to be a master builder to do any of these projects. A handsaw, hammer, finish nails and a power drill are more than sufficient for our needs. Power tools like a chopsaw and table saw  make the job that much more easier, but certainly not required. The first thing you’ll need is a  piece of 1 x 6 lumber. Pine is the cheapest to buy, stay away from pressure treated lumber as the preservatives in the wood could be toxic to the nesting birds.  The plans below are for a flat roofed box. You can make a pitched roof  if you choose but for the sake of ease in cutting we’re doing all square cuts. Besides, birds don’t care if the roof is pitched, the important thing is the overall interior size, the hole size and distance from the floor to the hole and where the box is placed.

Materials you’ll need:

  • (1) 5 foot piece of 1 x 6 pine or cedar (natural)
  • approximately 16 exterior 1 1/2 inch screws or  nails
  • (2) 3 inch mounting screws (exterior)
  • (1) 4 inch  butt hinge
  • 1 1/2 inch paddle bit (for entrance hole)
  • 1/4 inch drill bit (for ventilation holes)
  • electric or battery drill
  • hand saw or electric chopsaw

Once you’ve secured a piece of lumber  you want to make the following cuts.

  • 1 floor piece 4 inches  wide by 5 1/2 inches long
  • 2 side pieces 5 1/2 inches wide by 9 inches tall
  • 1 front piece 5 1/2 inches wide by 9 inches tall
  • 1 back piece 5 1/2 inches wide by 14 inches tall
  • 1 roof piece 5 1/2 inches wide by 7 1/2 inches long

Once you cut the floor piece clip the corners back 1/4 inch at a 45 degree angle to allow for ventilation and water to drain out should any get inside. Assemble the 2 sides to the floor piece  on the 5 1/2 inch profile then attach the front panel over the sides. Everything should fit flush. Next attach the partially assembled box to the back panel. Leave about 1 1/2 inches of the back panel sticking down below the floor. This will allow you a surface to attach to the tree later on. Now you can put the roof panel in place, secure this with a 4 inch hinge. You can pick up the hinge at any hardware store  for about $3 bucks. You’ll get two hinges in the pack, save the second one for another nest box. The hinge make cleaning each year a lot easier than using screws or pulling nails to get inside.  Once you have the box all assembled  it’s time to drill your entrance hole. This hole will  be 1 1/2 inches wide. Hook your tape measure on the top of the front panel and measure down 1 3/4  inches and measure from the side over 2 3/4 inches .  These two marks will be the center of your hole.  You’ll need a little ventilation on the sides of the box as well. Just under the roof panel on each side drill (2) 1/4 ” wide holes about 3/4 of an inch down.

Now that your box is built you’ll want to paint or stain it … DON’T … It’s best to just leave the box natural with no sealer or paint. Paints and stains can be toxic to birds. Pine can last several years untreated, cedar will give you a longer lasting product but is 3 times more expensive than pine. If you absolutely feel the need to preserve the wood then apply a coat of Raw Linseed Oil, use Raw Linseed Oil only, not boiled; Boiled Linseed Oil contains toxins. Linseed oil takes along time to dry so you should only apply a coat to the exterior in the fall once the birds have left.  Once the linseed oil has soaked into the surface it makes for a very durable wood. Still after saying that it’s a much better idea to leave the wood natural.

Just as important as the dimensions of the house,  maybe even more important, is the placement of the nest box. You can have the nicest Bluebird box but if it isn’t in the right place then you won’t have any Bluebirds nesting in it. Bluebirds prefer open areas with short, low growing vegetation; pastures, mowed lawns, cut fields are all good examples. You should screw the house to a pole, fence post or tree at eye level. If possible place the nest box on the East side of the post or tree to prevent it from overheating inside. Exposed to too much sun the temperature inside the nest box can rise to deadly levels.  That’s one good reason to use natural pine as the light colored wood reflects the sunlight rather than absorbing it as dark colors do. If your placing more than one nest box in the same area make sure they’re at least 100 – 150 yards apart. Bluebirds like most animals are territorial and need their own space.

Now that it’s built and hung, it’s time to sit back, relax and give yourself a pat on the back for helping out Mother Nature. If you’re lucky, you may just be rewarded with a beautiful pair of nesting Bluebirds next spring.  Well done!!

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