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How to make a bird nesting box

Ros Badger / 13 April 2016 ( 16 March 2020 )

Recycle an old wooden box by turning it into a bird box for your garden birds.

Bird nesting box
Bird nesting box made from an old cigar box

Upcycling a small storage box is an immensely satisfying and easy way to make your own bird nesting box, which you can then decorate, either as I have done here, or with a design of your own. 

I used a softwood cigar box measuring 15cm (6in) wide, 19cm (7 1/2in) high and 12cm (4 ¾) deep, which had a sliding lid that I made into the front panel to give access for cleaning at the end of the season. Most wood is suitable but CCA pressure-treated timber is to be avoided as the leachates may harm birds.

You will need

  • One wooden box
  • Electric drill & spade bit
  • Tape measure or ruler
  • Sandpaper
  • Non-toxic paint
  • Screwdriver
  • Various leaves
  • Poster paint or similar
  • Clear, waterproof exterior varnish
  • Paint brushes, small sponge
  • 2 small mirror plates & screws

How to make

Step 1

Begin by drilling an entrance hole in the sliding lid using a spade bit. The size of the hole will depend on the species you wish to attract. The RSPB advises:

  • 25mm for blue, coal and marsh tits
  • 8mm for great tits, tree sparrows and pied flycatchers
  • 32mm for house sparrows and nuthatches
  • 45mm for starlings

The bottom of the entrance hole needs to be at least 125mm from the base of the box to avoid baby birds falling out.

Step 2

Drill small hole in the base for drainage.

Step 3

Gently sand the outside of the box, leaving the inside wall rough as this will help the fledglings clamber up when it's time for them to leave home.

Step 4

Apply two coats of a non-toxic paint to the outside only, avoiding painting around the inside of the entrance hole.

Step 5

When thoroughly dry decorate by imprinting a variety of leaf shapes all over the outside of the box. Collect for or five leaves of different shapes and sizes and mix three different poster paint colours, two shades of brown and a dark green.

Step 6

Working one at a time, apply paint lightly to the back of the leaf with either a small sponge or paintbrush. Carefully press the leaf against the box, softly pressing down around the edges, being careful not to move the leaf as you do this, peel off to reveal the stencilled shape.

Step 7

Repeat all around, occasionally pressing a leaf around from one edge of the box to another.

Step 8

When happy with your design, leave to dry, then varnish with at least two coats of varnish.

Step 9

At each top back corner of the box attach 2 small mirror plates so that it can be secured to a fence, tree, or outside wall.

Step 10

Make sure the box is at least two to five metres above the ground, sit back and wait for your new neighbours to arrive.


If you can’t find an old box to upcycle, plain bird boxes are available.

Finding a box with a sliding panel will make for ease of cleaning at the end of the season.

Some birds – robins, wrens and pied wagtails – prefer to nest in an open-fronted box so adapt your box accordingly.

12 beautiful nest box designs

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.