NC State Extension Publications

Why Build Songbird Boxes?

North Carolina is home to a wide variety of songbirds, each with its own specific nesting requirements. Some of these songbird species nest only in cavities, such as abandoned woodpecker holes or natural cavities in live trees. Building songbird boxes is a simple, inexpensive way to create artificial cavities and attract these cavity-nesting songbirds to your property.

Properly constructed nest boxes can provide nesting options in areas with limited opportunities for cavity-nesting species. Boxes can be installed near your home, in orchards, pastures, parks, and fields, and even near your school or business.

Before You Begin

Before You Begin

To be successful, you must first choose the species of bird you want to attract and understand its food, water, and cover requirements. Use the table below to determine the proper dimensions of the nest box for the species you want to attract. By choosing the correct dimensions and entrance hole sizes, you can furnish cool, dry, durable, easily-cleaned boxes for any of the small to medium-sized bird species in the table (Figure 1).

Materials for Songbird Boxes

To build:

  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • 112 to 134-inch galvanized nails
  • Pencil or chalk for marking
  • Saw
  • Lumber

To install:

  • Stepladder or extension ladder
  • 3-inch galvanized nails, lag bolts, or crimped wire
  • Sheet metal for predator guard
Photo of bird box with small hole for chickadees

Bird box with appropriate small hole for chickadees.

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Photo of a bird house

Bird boxes or houses can come in all shapes and sizes.

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Photo of a bluebird box with predator guard

Bluebird box with stovepipe predator guard.

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Figure 1. Songbird box.

Figure 1. Songbird box.

Helpful Construction Hints

  • Boxes need at least four 14-inch holes in the bottom to allow water to drain. An alternative to drilling drainage holes is cutting corners of the floor board to create drainage holes. Several 14-inch holes in the sides will provide adequate ventilation (Figure 2).
  • A sloped roof that overhangs the front and sides of box can help keep out rain and discourage certain predators.
  • Use durable, untreated woods such as cedar, pine, or cypress.
  • Allow for the width of the sawblade when marking and cutting a board.
  • When using hardwood lumber, drill starter holes for the nails to avoid splitting boards.
  • Use coarse sandpaper to roughen smooth interior walls. This helps nestlings leave the nest when it is time to fledge.
  • Avoid painting boxes or treating wood with a preservative. These boxes may absorb too much heat or give off toxic vapors.
  • Do not install a perch on the box. Cavity-nesting birds do not need it and it can allow predators and competitors like house sparrows easier access.
  • Hinge the roof or use a pivot nail on one side of the box to make periodic clean-up easier.
  • Install a baffle or predator guard to help deter potential predators (figure 3).
  • Proper songbird box dimensions for various species.

    Species

    Floor of Box (inches)

    Depth of Box (inches)

    Hole Size (inches)

    Hole Above Floor (inches)

    Eastern bluebird

    5.5 x 5.5

    9

    112

    8

    Chickadee
    Titmouse
    Nuthatches

    5.5 x 5.5

    8

    118
    114
    138

    6

    Carolina wren
    House wren
    Prothonotary
    warbler

    4.5 x 5

    6 – 8

    112
    1 - 114
    138

    4 - 6

    Great crested flycatcher

    5.5 x 8

    9

    134

    6 - 8


    Songbird box placement.

    Species

    Box Height (feet)

    Placement

    Carolina wren
    House wren
    Nuthatches
    Chickadee

    Titmouse

    5 – 10

    Forest edge; suburbs

    Eastern bluebird

    4 – 6

    Fields, pastures, lawns

    Great crested flycatcher

    8 – 20

    Forest and forest edge

    Prothonotary
    warbler

    4 – 12

    Forested wetland; over/facing water

Figure 2. Cutout diagram of songbird box.

Figure 2. Cutout diagram of songbird box.

Installation and Maintenance

  • Install all boxes by February. Many birds begin the nesting process early in the season.
  • Place the boxes 200 to 300 feet apart to account for the territorial nature of most species.
  • Firmly attach boxes to posts. Boxes attached to live trees are less likely to be used because of easy access to predators.
  • Clean out all boxes each year after the young have fledged.
  • Inspect boxes regularly.
  • Always work in teams when using folding or extension ladders!
photo of bird entering bird box

Brown-headed nuthatch using a nest box

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

photo of chickadee in a birdbox

Carolina chickadee in nest box (note the predator guard)

Liessa Bowen  CC BY-NC - 4.0

Figure 3. Predator guards.

Figure 3. Predator guards.

Authors

Professor (Wildlife)
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Wildlife biologist
Extension Professor
Forestry & Environmental Resources

Publication date: May 24, 2019
Revised: June 24, 2019

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.