Your Ultimate Guide to Nest Boxes + DIY Tips

As winter draws closer, the first spring blooms aren’t the only ones braving the cold weather. The same goes for species of birds, seeking nesting sites. So aside from covering your patio furniture, it’s time to think about your feathered friends.

Winter can be a difficult time for a wide range of birds. Not to mention the scarce food supply and limited nesting options. These make it even harder to survive the season. During this period of survival, they need somewhere warm and safe to conserve their energy.

Providing starlings with nesting boxes is a genuine way to show some much needed support for them. Here’s how.

Bird Nesting Boxes

A bid on its nesting box

(Image Credit: Pxhere)

Colder months can be a critical time for most British wildlife. Common birds are no exception, particularly vulnerable winter birds. There are a plethora of ways to conserve these flying creatures.

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Putting out bird food in the feeders is one thing, and birds love them! But if they don’t have access to warm sanctuaries, they might not have anywhere to raise the next generation. Cue nesting sites.

The protected environment given by nest boxes can leave a positive impact. Not only for wildlife, but also for your garden and peace of mind. One, it allows bird species to keep their young ones safe. Two, it offers a safe, warm place to lay their eggs, helping their numbers decline.

Providing Nesting Sites for Birds

Birds face all sorts of dangers, such as when they are trying to sleep, or when they have vulnerable eggs or chicks. In winter, not only do they need protection against the weather, but also from wild predators. So when helping them out, it’s all about safety and shelter.

Different birds prefer different sized nest boxes and entrance holes. A hole that is big enough for them to squeeze through means nothing larger can reach them. This can also mean they’re well protected from harsh weather conditions.

If you build bird houses, they will come

A small bird on the roof of its bird house

(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Most UK garden birds are permanent residents. They’ll nest as early as the weather allows before the migrants arrive. The ideal months you should be getting the active nest boxes is around February to March.

Migrants will start arriving at the end of March, although a few won’t be until the end of May. This gives you a good amount of time to get those nest boxes up for some of these late comers into early spring!

It’ll do yourself good too

Once you’ve set up those bird houses, you’ll find hours of pleasure in watching the comings and goings of the birds. You can feel good about doing good and enjoy the theatre of your tiny friends. Best of all, you achieved a wildlife-friendly garden!

Choosing a Bird Nest Box

Wooden nesting box

(Image Credit: Stockvault)

No trees to put up the bird next box? No problem! Lucky for you, it’s quick and easy to add artificial nests, but consider the hole size.

Just like us birds come in all shapes and sizes and have different habits and needs. You need to ‘target’ the species to create a home for it. Also, each of your future feathered tenants is looking for the right sized hole in the right place. Small bird species like Blue tit will be happy in small nest boxes. Meanwhile, Swifts may need bigger or specialist homes.

Small bird box kit

A small box with the right sized hole will suit Great tits, Coal tits, Marsh tits and even Willow tits. The size can also house Tree Sparrows, Redstarts, Pied flycatchers and Nuthatches.

Large bird box kit

Larger boxes with an entry hole suit Starlings, Great-spotted woodpeckers and little Owls. The entry holes must be different sizes for different birds. 

25mm or larger for the smaller tits, 28mm or larger for Great tits and Tree Sparrows, and 32mm for House Sparrows. Other birds, such as Robins, prefer open fronted boxes.

Top tip: One of each type in your garden would be great and double your chances of occupants!

Creating Cosy Nest Boxes

Putting up bird houses in your garden can give them a safe home where they can roost and raise their chicks. You can set them up whenever you like, but early spring is ideal as the nesting season can start as early as mid-March.

Follow the DIY step-by-step guide below, including some things to consider:

Step 1: Find a desirable and suitable location

DIY nesting box on the tree

(Image Credit: Pixnio)

We all want to live in a nice neighbourhood, well birds are the same. Just like bird feeders, you need to put the nesting box where predators, such as cats and squirrels, can’t get at them.

It’s nice to be able to see the boxes from your window, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of predator safety. It could be under the eaves of your house or on a mature tree. Ideally, at least 3m (10 feet) from the ground, facing North or East to avoid direct sunlight. Avoid placing it over a doorway, window or well-used path.

Step 2: Choose your piece of wood

The type of wood you choose for a bird box is important. Cedar is the best choice, as it stands up well to the elements and won’t rot as quickly as pine or other softwoods. If you don’t have access to cedar, pressure-treated lumber will also work. Just be sure not to use treated wood near any food sources, like fruit trees.

The thickness is also crucial to insulate the box from cold and heat, and stop it from warping over time. Oak and beech are excellent choices, as they’re more durable and have exterior-quality.

Step 3: Measure and cut your wood

Mark and cut your plank, depending on your nest box design. Drill some holes in the bottom for drainage using a reliable drill bit. Then, make a 4.5cm round hole for the bird’s entry point,

Step 4: Drill more holes for air vents

Next, use a wood drill bit smaller than two inches in diameter for ventilation on the opposite side. Make sure these holes are high enough not to dip into water when it rains.

Step 5: Assemble the box

Now that all the pieces are cut out, assemble them with nails. Nails work better on outdoor projects because they don’t rust over time as screws do.

Nail all the pieces, from the sides to the back and front, and ‘wrap around’ the base. Skip the roof. Keep all four corners tightly together for extra stability. However, if sawdust blocks ventilation holes during assembly, opt for screws. This is to prevent high sawdust build-up.

Step 6: Attach the roof

For this step, use screws so you can get into the box at a later stage for cleaning. Use a waterproof strip to make a hinge along the top edge, such as a roofing felt. Drill guide holes at the top and bottom of the box’s backing plate. This is where you’ll screw the box to its final home.

Step 7: Hang your bird nest box

Small bird house attached on the tree

(Image Credit: Geograph Ireland)

Finally, attach your box to something solid that won’t move, such as a tree trunk, branch, or wall. If fixing it to a wall, use screws and Ralwplugs. But if you position it to a tree, use adjustable ties, e.g. a thick fencing wire threaded through a strip of hosepipe. As the tree grows, you can adjust the wire.

Once the box is up, keep your eyes peeled to know whether local winged ones have taken it up. Watch in spring for a pair coming to claim their new home!

Extras (optional)

  • Add insulation materials. Lay insulation material inside before securing it closed with hinges and hasps. Or “door catches” attached with small nails or screws. Doing so will not only protect fledglings from rough weather conditions. But also, it’ll help trap heat during the colder months. This provides valuable warmth for the chicks to survive until daybreak comes again!
  • Attach perch or decoy entry door. Adding a perch above or below the entrance hole gives mother birds an area to wait. This offers safety and protection from predators while trying to find food elsewhere. Decoy doors also work, where an adult bird can land and trick the squirrels!
  • Install mini cameras. Life, camera, action! There’s so much joy from watching wildlife move into the wooden bird houses you’ve provided. Even better, when you install mini-cameras inside. This enables you to watch the action live and see what your feathered friends are up to. Are they having a comfortable home and sleeping well amidst the cold weather? Who’s stealing the premium bird food?

If you don’t have time or the DIY skills, why not buy a box or two, so the birds can have neighbours?

After-season Maintenance

A Black sparrow guarding its bird house

(Image Credit: Stockvault)

Finally, at the end of the season, when all the birds have fledged, you’ll need to do a little light housekeeping. With lidded boxes, it’s easy to take down the box and empty the contents into the compost bin.

Moss, feathers and dropping will rot nicely, so it’s better in the compost than in the box. Moreover, mites, lice and other parasites can build up. So when you’ve cleaned out the old nest material, thoroughly wash them. Use plain old boiling water and leave them upside down to drain and dry completely. This will kill off the bugs without leaving any dangerous residues.

Don’t store them away, but put them back on site. Even when the winter has passed, birds will always appreciate a warm home any season.


We all need a safe place to live, and it’s no different for wildlife, such as nesting birds. Unfortunately, one of the biggest causes of their decline is a lack of suitable habitats.

But fortunately, you can give a helping hand by offering them cosy bird boxes and natural nest sites. If you have a suitable property, think how you can help. Whatever the size of your outdoor space, this is an easy way to help the nature on your doorstep.

If you have a wooded area, then you might be lucky to attract owls as well! Fix owl boxes high up in the trees; they too can be easily made.