I confess. I often scan Craigslist, looking for derelict cedar fences. When I see the words "free: come and get it," I grab my gloves and hammer and hop in the car. There's a certain excitement that accompanies re-purposing projects, especially when old fences can be turned into a series of lovely birdhouses. Here are some important tips for making your birdhouses safe and family-friendly for the birds, as well as aesthetically interesting.
Re-purposed, aged cedar offers a wonderful texture that birds can grip with their feet, but you'll need to carefully assess it as you go along. I use a wire brush to remove debris and then cut around any rotten sections with a chop saw. Choose the side of the wood you want as the birdhouse exterior. Scratched, mossy, faded, it doesn't matter; that's the cool part of using salvage. But the inside? That needs to be relatively free of any moss, mildew, rot, pet hair or anything else that could discourage potential tenants. Use a planer or palm sander to smooth these surfaces.
Before you begin, do a bit of research about your area. Find out what kinds of birds will be shopping for a place to raise their young. Find out what sized birdhouse they prefer and what sized entrance hole they require. Too small a hole and the birds won't fit; too large and they are easy marks for predators. This is also a good time to consider factors such as temperature, weather and safety in the optimal placement of your birdhouse.
Google "birdhouse" and you'll find every imaginable style, color and decoration. That's what makes building your own house so much fun. But keep in mind: nesting birds DON'T WANT attention drawn to their nursery. So, that collection of shiny gum wrappers you've been wanting to glue all over something? Put them on your shoes, along with the spray-painted macaroni you've been working on. Generally, natural colors are safest and most likely to attract bird parents who are shopping for a place to nest.
Also, resist the temptation to attach any kind of perch to the house. Those fancy, twisted branches, or door knobs, or brass handles may look perky, but they can endanger your young feathered family. Predators can use these perches to ambush the parents and/or fledglings. They can also reach in and retract the young. Springs, wires and coils can also entrap fledglings as they are learning to fly. So, unless you're getting ready for the Outsider Art convention, or don't mind if your birdhouse goes unused, moderation might be best.
Time to Build
On the inside, make numerous horizontal scores below the entrance/exit hole. This provides a way for fledglings to climb up the wall, and out into the world. On the outside, a double-thick entrance prevents predator access.
Use this Titebond III wood glue on all joints (it's waterproof), then nail them together. Double-check your nails, to make sure there are no sharp points inside the birdhouse.
I like to make the various birdhouse components in groups. This saves time and makes for a uniform product. Manufactured homes for birds - How do we do it? Volume!
For this mossy-toned series, I chose copper foil as the roofing material. I let the copper get a natural patina in the elements, then cut it slightly smaller than the roof and scalloped the edges. After I stapled the copper to the roof, I buffed off some of the patina.
I build and hang/mount my birdhouses in the autumn, giving them time to shake off the human scent before birds begin their "apartment hunting." After adding some clean wood shavings to the bottom of the birdhouse, I consider placement options. Research will tell you how high to place the birdhouse. Consider weather and exposure. North and South exposures can be tricky. One could be too wet; the other too hot. Eastern exposures have the most success, but Western exposures can work if there is some shade available. It's important to make sure that the birdhouse is securely mounted - so a windstorm cannot dislodge it. As well, birds will need a clear flightpath to their birdhouse.
I hope these tips have been helpful!
Monika Lidman is a Seattle artist and maker of birdhouses.