Building Bluebird Boxes

The past week has been incredibly warm, a stretch of hot, sunny days with temperatures approaching 80° F. My joke has been, “We couldn’t go to Florida this year, so Florida came to us!” As we are usually dark, dismal, cold and sleeting at this time of year, everyone in town has been smiling — except the ski resorts (closed early after a scant, poor season) and the maple sugar operators (ditto). It is frightening to think what this bizarre weather may portend in terms of global warming. Despite my uneasiness, however, it is hard to stay gloomy when the sun is shining, the wood frogs are calling, and the woods are alive with the sound of returning songbirds.


Songbirds! I have a list as long as my arm but I had a sudden brainwave and asked the lumberyard, when their truck next passed by, to drop a dozen six-foot 1×6 boards. I have been meaning to build some bluebird nest boxes. I have had a pair of bluebirds nesting at the farm for the last three years, but I’d like to have more. I’d also like to have swallows.

barn swallow

Two years ago I had my first barn swallows. I was lyrically happy to see them swooping over the fields. I was a little less excited when I discovered their nesting spot: in the rafters of the unfinished garage apartment. They had flown in through a tear in the plastic over the garage doors and zoomed upstairs through the stairwell. I was careful not to disturb them and after the nestlings fledged, Lucy and I spent an hour removing the mud nest and scraping the floor underneath it. That winter the garage doors went up.

Last spring I was in the barn hayloft when the swallows returned, searching for new accommodations. I had the hayloft door open for heat ventilation as well as the back window. It would have been perfect to have barn swallows in a barn. However I could not risk leaving the loft door open all summer in storms and wind; it would bang on its hinges and be destroyed. When the reconnoitering scout flew out again, I closed the door. There were no swallows on the farm last year. The fly population exploded.

tree swallow

This year I am trying to boost my natural defenses. I have a plan for barn swallows, which I will report if it works. In the meantime I am determined to attract more bluebirds, plus tree swallows.

Bluebirds and tree swallows often live side by side in harmony. They prefer the same sort of nest box but their diet is different. The bluebirds eat grasshoppers, spiders, and other bugs; the swallows patrol ceaselessly for flies.

The lumberyard dropped off my dozen pine boards. I’d looked up plans for bluebird boxes on the internet and taken ideas from several to make a plan. I borrowed the use of the school’s compound miter saw for an hour and cut each board into six pieces. As I had to cook our supper, I laid out the piles for each box on the kitchen counter, to form a production line. (This is the sort of project I like to finish quickly before DH gets home and reels at the disarray.)

The various plans called for either screws or finishing nails to fasten the boxes together. I tried both and decided on screws. I am the sort of ham-fisted carpenter who likes the option to back up, take things apart easily, and start over when I make mistakes. I have never had a carpentry class so I tend to figure things out by trial and error, leaning heavily on error.

At first each box took about half an hour to put together. Most of that time was spent drilling the 1.5″ entry hole, the two 1/4″ ventilation holes in each wall, and the four 1/4″ ventilation holes in the base.

I sweated for quite a while before I realized that pre-drilling a tiny pilot hole reducing the drilling time of all the larger holes by 75%. It also took me much longer than it should have to realize that because I’d bought rough-cut boards, only planed on one face, to save money, the random widths meant I had to work a little harder to make my pieces fit together, and they would rarely be perfectly tight.

“The birds won’t care,” Lucy reassured me.

Yesterday I hung the first six boxes. I’ll hang the rest today.

Duncraft's bluebird box

I notice online that Duncraft Wild Bird Supplies sells almost the same bluebird box. To clean out the Duncraft boxes at the end of the season, you have to unscrew one wall. Mine have one wall hinged on nails. The Duncraft box sells for $49.95. I built twelve boxes for $23.98 — $2 a box, not including the screws.

This pleases me greatly.

Now I just have to wait and hope for the birds!

4 Responses to Building Bluebird Boxes

  1. Elaine Murphy says:

    We also have bird houses up at the beach on the shed walls, and on the edge of the pond across the street. They are always occupied in the spring and summer. Sparrows, tree swallows we are hoping for bluebirds. We love to watch the nest building,the male brings the material and the female throws it out when it’s not what she wants. Then there is flight school. Oh what a sight!
    We have geese and ducks on the pond and last summer a beautiful trumpeter swan for a few days. We are fortunate to be able to enjoy nature at its best.

  2. Jo says:

    I work at a state park and we have dozens of these bird houses all around. We find that the tree swallows come a bit earlier than the bluebirds, taking most of the boxes. But then I read this tip on a bird website: “If tree swallows, chickadees or other native species are taking over your bluebird boxes; try placing two nest boxes about 5 – 25 feet apart. Nesting tree swallows, for example, will not allow another pair of swallows to move in so near, but will not bother the bluebirds.” I plan on trying this out myself. Good luck!

    • adkmilkmaid says:

      Someday I would love to have dozens, Jo! I do know that about putting the houses up in pairs so that the tree swallows and bluebirds can co-exist. I have my fingers crossed.
      Elaine, you folks are so lucky in Maine.

  3. Rayya says:

    Great and very informative post. I hope you get heaps of bluebirds nesting on your property! I look forward to seeing pictures 🙂

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