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Build a Nest Box to Attract Birds

by Barb Ogg, PhD, Extension Educator

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In the springtime in Nebraska some birds, like robins, build an open nest, but others prefer nesting in cavities in decayed trees or stumps. Cavity-dwelling birds, like woodpeckers, chickadees, house wrens, and bluebirds, will substitute a nest box for a tree cavity. Natural nest sites have disappeared as weakened or dying trees are removed from our landscape. Depending on other attributes in your landscape, providing an appropriately sized nest box may help attract some bird species to your yard.

Although elaborate designs for boxes are available, you can successfully attract birds by building an inexpensive, simple, six-sided box. Whatever the design or material used, the boxes must be strong, weatherproof, and securely fastened.

 

Single-compartment nest boxes are the easiest to build and the most frequently used by birds. When you are building the box, be sure to allow easy access for cleaning and occasional observations. You can use the same basic box design for all species (see Table 1 below). Table 1 gives the proper dimensions and hole sizes that are appropriate for different species.

Tips to improve the nesting of these species:

**Wrens like to build "dummy" nests before they choose one to lay eggs in. Provide more than one box to improve the chances of attracting a nesting pair.

**Chickadees prefer their nest boxes set close to shrubs or bushes. They will not tolerate any other chickadees in the vicinity of their nest.

**Bluebirds may attempt a second nesting and would benefit from the chance to lay their next clutch in a second box. 

**Wood Ducks prefer a nest box near (or standing in) water. The young leave the nest within 48 hours of hatching by climbing up from the floor to the entrance hole and tumbling to the ground. Horizontal sawcuts or a piece of hardware cloth stapled to the inside wall between the floor and the entrance are essential for these species.

An excellent publication that gives diagrams of do-it-yourself bird houses is Shelves, Houses, and Feeders for Birds and Mammals, North Central Regional Publication 338. It is available from the University of Nebraska for $4 + shipping and handling.

For more specific information about bluebird nesting, contact Bluebirds across Nebraska; P.O. Box 67157; Lincoln, NE 68506.

Use the table below to design a bird nest box.


Table 1. Dimensions for nest boxes for some species of birds found in Nebraska

Species

Entrance Hole Diameter
Width of
Floor Panels
Height of Wall Panels
Minimum Height Above Ground
On Pole or Tree Near Shrubs
On Pole or Tree in Open Areas

House Wren


Chickadee


Nuthatch


Downy Woodpecker


Eastern Bluebird


House Sparrow


Starling


Common Flicker


Screech Owl


American Kestral


Wood Duck

1"


1 1/4"


1 1/4"


1 1/4"


1 1/2"


1 1/2"


2"


2 1/2"


3"


3"


3"x4" oval

4" x 4"


4" x 4"


4" x 4"


4" x 4"


5 1/4"


5 1/4"


5" x 5"


6" x 6"


8" x 8"


8" x 8"


10" x 10"

6"


5"


5"


5"


10"


10"


12 1/2"


15"


17"


17"


20"

5 1/2'


5 1/2'


5 1/2'


5 1/2'


6 1/2'


6 1/2'


9'


9'


14'


14'


7'

yes


yes


yes


yes


-


-


-


-


-


-


yes

-


-


-


-


yes


yes


yes


yes


yes


yes


yes

Source: Nest Boxes for Birds from Canada's Wildlife Service. 


The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180