Making your own nest box is simple and rewarding. Decide on the type of box that you want to make and then use a cutting plan, such as the ones provided here or available in our book, to cut the wood and put it together.
Building a box - the essentials
Wood is the best material for building a nest box, as long as it is at least 15mm thick. This will prevent the wood warping and provide sufficient insulation to protect chicks from heat or cold. Soft woods, such as pine and cedar, are easy to cut and their natural resins ensure a long life. Hard woods such as oak or beech will also be weather resistent but may warp when conditions switch from dry to wet. Buying planed wood or quality plywood is not cheap, so it may be worth seeing if you can pick up some off-cut scraps from a timber merchant.
For those who have a basic toolkit, then you will probably have to lay out money for a set of drill bits to create entrance holes. It is worth keeping an eye out for special offers on multi-size bit kits at discount supermarkets, but if you can only afford one then opt for a 32 mm bit as this will potentially allow any of the common small birds to use the box.
Use nails or screws to fix panels together. For extra security you may like to glue the side panels together as well as nailing them, but do not rely on glue alone – over time the wood may flex or shrink and the joint will split apart.
To make it easier to clean out old nesting material at the end of the breeding season or to inspect the progress of a brood for nest recording, make sure the roof is hinged or fixed in such a way that it can be opened fully. Attach a waterproof hinge to the roof of the box, so that it can be lifted easily but won’t fall off. Old inner tubes, damp proof membrane or rubber are ideal waterproof materials to use. Cut to the width of the box and then nail in place.
Box types - hole-fronted or open-fronted
The two main types of small nest box offer opportunities for different species of bird. Those with a small hole may be used by tits and sparrows, while open-fronted boxes are used by Robins and Spotted Flycatchers. With hole-fronted boxes the diameter of the hole is key. While a smaller species, like Coal Tit, will use a box with a larger diameter entrance hole, there is a risk that a larger species will take over the site. We recommend using the following hole dimensions.
- 25mm or larger for Blue, Coal and Marsh Tit
- 28mm or larger for Great Tit and Tree Sparrow
- 32mm for House Sparrow and Nuthatch
Simple hole-fronted (Blue Tit, House Sparrow) and open-fronted (Robin) designs are available below as PDFs. Larger species, such as Starling and Jackdaw, need a larger entrance hole and a larger box.
Details and cutting plans for these are available in our book 'Nestboxes: your complete guide'.