How to make a DIY bird box for nesting garden birds

This guide to making your own DIY bird box is not only a fun project for you, it also provides a safe place for cavity-nesting birds to raise their young.

A DIY wooden bird box hangs on a tree among green leaves

What you need to know before making a DIY bird box

In many urban areas, there is a limited amount of natural habitat suitable for birds to breed in undisturbed. Making a bird box is one way that anyone with a garden, balcony or allotment can help by giving birds a place to nest and lay eggs. Birdhouses and nesting boxes for birds are popular and simple DIY projects that are usually made from wood, to provide shelter from wind and weather and protect against predators who could steal eggs from the nest. You can find plans for building various birdhouse designs online; our design idea transforms an old log.

How big should the bird box be?

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) recommends minimum floor space of 10 cm by 10 cm and a height of 20–25 cm. However, you also need to consider the size of its entrance hole, as this generally determines which bird species takes up residence. Small bird species will choose small entrance holes to prevent larger birds and predators from getting in. This means that if you have enough space, you may be able to support a range of bird species by making bird boxes with entry holes in various sizes. Think about what birds you have in your area and which you would like to attract to your bird box.

Nesting box for tits

Blue tits and marsh tits prefer a bird box with an entrance hole around 25 mm wide, while great tits need a slightly larger entry of 28 mm.

Nesting box for wagtails

Wagtails and spotted flycatchers prefer birdhouses that are semi-open at the front, as do blackbirds and robins.

Nesting box communities for sparrows

Little sparrows are different from most hole-dwelling bird species because they love to be sociable. For most species, only a single bird box in an area will be inhabited, but if you are making a sparrow box, it’s a good idea to consider designing it for multiple nests or installing several in a group.

Close-up of an entrance hole to a weathered wooden bird box

When making my bird box, how big should the entrance be?

The entrance hole depends on the size of the bird species that you hope to move into the bird box. The RSPB recommends the following sizes:

  • 25 mm for blue tits and coal tits
  • 28 mm for tree sparrows and great tits
  • 32 mm for house sparrows, nuthatches, and pied flycatchers

Preparation for making a bird box 

All you need to get building our beautiful DIY bird box is a piece of log, a STIHL chainsaw, a drill, a sawhorse and a free afternoon. Once you have decided on which bird species you want to attract, take note of the size you need your entrance hole to be. Now you can start building a perfect haven for local birds.

A man wearing protective clothing uses a STIHL MS 170 petrol-driven chainsaw to cut through a tree trunk on a sawhorse.

Choose the right wood for making your DIY bird box

Oak, robinia and larch are ideal for long-term outdoor use as they are highly durable. Pine and spruce are also possible alternatives. It’s essential that you use untreated wood to build your birdhouse, as wood preservatives and varnishes give off fumes that could scare off birds and even put their health at risk. 

If you want to protect the wood from moisture and fungal attack, linseed oil is suitable for treating the exterior. However, because the bird boxes are hung outside, they will dry of their own accord after wet weather, which means that untreated wood boxes last several years.

Committed to your safety: protective equipment

Using a chainsaw for the bird box means you can get the job done quickly, but always make sure you are wearing personal protective equipment when working with your chainsaw. This includes cut protection trousers, safety boots, safety glasses, a face shield, gloves, a helmet if there is a risk of falling objects and ear protection. You don't need to wear ear protection with most of our cordless chainsaws but the instruction manual for your product contains more details on this. Fully familiarise yourself with the tool before you use your chainsaw for the first time, and check it is in flawless condition before each use. On request, your STIHL dealer will be happy to prepare your tool for its first use, and will also advise you on models and sizes of protective clothing that you can try at your leisure. Please remember that personal protective equipment is no substitute for safe working techniques.

Illustration: log, STIHL chain saw, folding rule, sawhorse, drill, eyebolts

Material and tools for making a bird box

  • A log, approximately 20 cm in diameter
  • Wood screw eye bolts (60 to 80 mm) 
  • Drill (with 25 to 30 mm hole saw drill bit)
  • Sawhorse
  • STIHL chainsaw

How to Make a DIY bird box

Once all the preparations are in place you can get started on making your bird box. Check your surroundings and make sure you have enough room in your working area to avoid tripping and other hazards.

Use eyebolts so you can open the box between seasons

Using eyebolts instead of nails means it will be easy to open your bird box for cleaning after the birds have moved out at the end of the season. Old nests will not be reused, so you should clean it out to make sure the bird box is as healthy as possible for your garden birds.

Information on DIY bird boxes in your garden

How should the bird box be set up?

Making a DIY nesting box is only half the job: you also need to take care when it’s time to put it in place. It’s important to follow these instructions so that resident birds and their offspring are sufficiently protected against predators, weather conditions and people:

  • Hang the bird box so that it can't be reached by cats and other predators – we recommend a height of two to three metres.
  • Try to hang it in a sheltered spot to prevent rain from getting into the box. 
  • Don’t place the birdhouse in full sun, as it will quickly get too hot inside.
  • Avoid moving the bird box after it has been installed; otherwise, parent birds may abandon their nest.
  • Do not put a perch under the entrance hole, as cats and climbing predators can take advantage of this.
  • The birdhouse should be installed as far away as possible from footpaths and where children play so that the birds remain undisturbed.
  • The bird box can be put in place as early as autumn.
  • The ideal habitat for birds is one where there is a food source nearby, such as berry bushes.
  • Any excess fur from combing your cat or dog will be welcomed by the birds when they are making their nests.
  • Consider adding a bird bath in the vicinity of your bird box.

How to clean your bird box

  • You should use wood screws when assembling your bird box in the interest of making it easy to open for cleaning.
  • Late summer is an ideal time to clean the bird box, from around September.
  • Do not take the bird box into your house, as it may contain mites, fleas and other parasites.
  • Always wear gloves when emptying the nesting box.
  • Thoroughly brush out the inside of the bird house, then rinse it out with boiling water.
  • Old nests should be disposed of in household waste or burned. 
  • Do not use insect repellent spray or other cleaning agents in your bird box.

Summary: making a DIY bird box

  • Plan the construction and dimensions for your DIY bird box based on the species of bird likely to breed in your garden.
  • Robinia, oak and larch are ideal outdoor materials.
  • Always wear personal protective equipment when working with a chainsaw. For more details, see the operating instructions for your power tool.
  • First saw a slice of wood for the base of the bird box.
  • Use your chainsaw to hollow out a chamber and then make a roof piece.
  • Drill an entrance hole; this should be between 25 and 32 mm in diameter, depending on the bird species.
  • Attach the base with screws and the roof with nails.
  • Never use chemical products to clean the bird box. We recommend you clean it out with a dry brush in the garden, then wash it with hot water for hygiene.
  • Hang the bird box in an appropriate spot for the relevant species, and so that it is protected against predators.