what kind of wood should I use to build a birdhouse

What Kind of Wood Should I Use to Build a Birdhouse?

The DIY construction of your own birdhouse is both easy and rewarding. Creating a secure, durable, and weather-proof birdhouse for birds to roost or nest in requires the right materials. If you’re wondering what kind of wood is best to build a birdhouse, we have the answer.

The best kind of wood to use to build a birdhouse is redwood or cedar, followed by other woods like cypress, pine, and good-quality plywood. Choosing the right wood involves learning about the natural habitats of the birds you’re hoping to attract and designing something that best matches their choices in the wild.

We will discuss whether you can keep the wood you choose in its natural form or whether it requires a protective coating and some important birdhouse design features. Read on to discover why the woods we recommend are best for constructing a birdhouse. 

Start by Knowing the Birds in Your Garden

The brightest birdhouses placed on a pole are certainly the most visible. However, the features we humans think are great in a birdhouse may not be perceived similarly by fowl.

Do birds that nest in cavities in nature have nice painted exteriors to their nest? Naturally, they don’t! So, we ask, “Is painted and varnished wood important?” Before starting your DIY project, you should consider the preferred parameters of a birdhouse from a bird’s point of view.

Pair of Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) on a birdhouse

If we know what birds like, where they shelter at night or rear their young, we will understand them better, and this will give us an answer as to the kind of wood we should use and whether we should add any form of coating to it.

This then leads us to ask another question: “Do you know the birds in your garden?”

Of the common birds in your garden, eastern bluebirds, black-capped chickadees, house wrens, and tree swallows are the most likely species to use correctly designed, built, and placed birdhouses. 

Others include nuthatches, creepers, tits, woodpeckers, flycatchers, finches, and even birds of prey.

Each species may have a different requirement in a birdhouse, but the wood choice will be the same.

Adding a birdhouse to your garden will help alleviate habitat loss created by urbanization as humans diminish birds’ natural habitats.

What Materials Do You Need to Build A Birdhouse?

Cedar or redwood of ¾-inch thickness works best since both of these woods are naturally weather-resistant and durable. Because of this, neither cedar nor redwood requires painting. 

Any other wood — including pine, cypress, or plywood — would do as well, but you probably would want to give the exterior of your birdhouse a coat of paint to increase its resistance to the outside elements. 

Remember, though, that paint contains toxins that could be harmful in the form of fumes or as birds are known to peck at the wood. 

On the same note, make sure the wood used is untreated. Any form of pressure-treated wood is a no-no as it contains chemicals that will harm the occupants of your birdhouse (source).

Drill bits of various sizes are required to make holes and add hinges, and you should secure joins with galvanized screws.

Image by Catkin via Pixabay 

The addition of a hinge to open a side of the birdhouse will help you clean it out once a year. As most used nests contain debris such as droppings, old feathers, and disused food, many species won’t use the nest unless it’s clean.

Also, be aware that a nest may have been occupied by vermin, such as rodents, during the winter. A spring clean will be necessary before the birds come looking for accommodation again.

Cavity users will fly straight into a birdhouse hole and do not need a perch on the front of their birdhouse. The birds that would want a perch are troublesome visitors like non-indigenous starlings and house sparrows.

Being a DIY’er, you are likely to have a tape measure, framing square, miter saw, clamps, and a drill with accessories, all of which you will need for your project.

Choosing the Wood for Your Birdhouse

The wood you choose does not have to be perfect. Old trees are often preferred in the wild, where birds drill holes to craft their nesting environments. As most cavity-nesting birds choose weathered natural wood, you may want yours to resemble the tree trunk look that birds would typically nest in. 

A naturally irregular, raw wood feel will provide the fledglings a grip to climb up to the exit, so leave it au naturelle. Both cedar and redwood are tough and durable. They should be your first choices. 

Cedarwood displays consistency and does not expand with temperature or change form when exposed to moisture. Its softness helps make cedar easy to work with when constructing your birdhouse.

Red painted handmade nest box hanging on tree

Cedar and redwood do not absorb water, which makes them both naturally waterproof. This means that your birdhouse constructed out of either of these woods can withstand harsh weather conditions for up to 30 years before succumbing to water damage.

The tannin in redwood and cedar, from which the wood derives its color, helps keep the wood insect-resistant. In addition, neither wood is prone to cracking.

You don’t need to worry about redwood’s rich color being conspicuous because, over time, it discolors into a lovely gray that helps it merge into the surrounding habitats as if it were completely natural instead of man-made.  

What about untreated wood? If you have some untreated wood and want to use it on a birdhouse, check out our post on if you can use untreated wood outdoors here.

How Do You Protect Your Birdhouse from Water?

Put yourself in the birds’ feathers and imagine them cuddled up at night in your newly constructed, well-intended birdhouse. Then along comes a storm, and the driving rain soaks your structure.

Without waterproofing, it’s going to be a disaster for your feathered friends. To find out more about how to solve this issue, read “How Do You Waterproof A Wooden Birdhouse?

Redwood and cedar both provide natural waterproofing. However, this doesn’t mean that water won’t enter the birdhouse through the ventilation holes or the entrance. So, to reduce this risk, design and placement are very important.

Overhangs and structural features for weather protection are best. Using a forward-sloping roof with a four-inch overhang in the front and two-inch on each side of your birdhouse will really help keep much of the rain out.

Make four half-inch drainage holes in your wood at floor level. Any water that gets in can drain away when water enters the birdhouse. A recessed floor will also assist with waterproofing, with a quarter-inch recess doing the job adequately. Consider facing your birdhouse entrance away from the prevailing wind and rain direction. This will also help keep the birdhouse dry.

Birdhouse mother bird and hungry baby bird wants seconds

Does Your Wood Need Varnish?

Sure, you want your birdhouse to look great. Lots of birdhouses are painted or varnished to give a smooth finish. But what about the birds?

Well, it seems the old wood-worn look is preferred, and birds have been known not to use a birdhouse until it starts showing signs of aging. They prefer an unvarnished original pine, redwood, or cedar to a shiny painted structure.

However, if you really want to use varnish, sure you can. But choose a non-toxic varnish made from natural oils, such as a natural linseed oil varnish. It’s better to err on the side of safety and leave the varnish off or to use natural varnish.

Perhaps the answer to your choice of wood is a really weathered-looking piece of redwood or cedar. Which wouldn’t need varnish anyway because these types of wood are naturally resilient.

Will the Birds Use Your Birdhouse?

Birds prefer a birdhouse that is located near their natural habitat. Place your birdhouse in or near the habitat type of the species you are aiming for (source).

Small and medium-sized owls such as the Western Screech Owl or the Barn Owl are cavity-nesting owls and are likely to use a nest box. We find Screech Owls in forested habitats, particularly in rows of deciduous trees. Barn owls are known to nest on roofs of houses and have a wide range of habitats.

Image by Alok Uniyal via Pexels

Birdhouses should not be hung but rather be secured against poles, buildings, or trees to offer stability. Be aware of preventing access by predators when placing the birdhouse. 

This also applies to the height of placement of the birdhouse. Your bird reference book will guide you regarding what height nests are built in natural environments. As a rule, nests are never lower than five feet off the ground.

The beauty of a DIY birdhouse is that you can design your own once you have the right information about your birds’ habits and habitats. 

Certainly, while the norm is a box, bear in mind that many birds use tree trunks, fence poles, cavities in buildings, and other similar secure places to nest. Time to think “out of the box”!

Final Thoughts

We have seen birdhouses offer a shelter and nesting place for birds that use natural cavities. Get to know the cavity occupiers and be inspired to build a birdhouse of durable wood like cedar and redwood as the first wood choice. 

When you start to understand your birds, you are on your way to making birding a great hobby. By understanding the birds’ habitats and nesting choices in your garden, you will be more informed about the type of birdhouse that will suit the different species.

With your newfound insights into your garden birds, you can design, construct, and place your new birdhouse confidently. You will know that the right birds will get good use out of it. Enjoy your DIY assignment!

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