When breaking up wooden pallets you will always get a few short boards and a few split boards. But even these seemingly useless pieces can be turned into wonderful things. Making a bird box from old scraps of pallets is easy, but the reward of seeing a pair of finches nesting in the box you made for them and later seeing a family of young birds emerge is almost indescribable.
And the best bit; bird boxes are really easy to build using only the most basic tools.
Alongside about a metre of pallet wood (a nice wide board) you will need:
- some pins and glue or about 10 screws.
- A saw to cut the wood
- hacksaw or jigsaw or dremel to cut the entrance hole.
- Sandpaper, or an electric sander to make it all smooth.
- a pencil and ruler.
- A drill to make the hole to hang the box
Keep the birds safe
There are extras to consider and one of the key ones is a plate made of metal around the entrance hole. It isn’t 100% necessary, but a plate is very good for keeping predatory birds and squirrels away from the baby birds. Crows will comeback day after day, scratching at the woodwork the enlarge the entrance hole so they can get their heads inside and pick up a tasty lunch. A metal plate will stop them in their tracks and keep the growing chicks safe. The plate should have a hole in it exactly the same diameter as the entrance hole. For blue tits, the hole should be 28mm across (same as a ten pence piece) and up to 4mm bigger than that for larger box nesting birds. The base of an aluminium can is thick enough to make a great hole plate. Make sure to smooth off rough edges on the plate to avoid hurting the bird boxes inhabitants.
Another extra consideration is the addition of ventilation holes. Four or fiveholes in the base and at least one on each side, drilled with a size 6 drillbit will help keep a good airflow around the bird box. That is particularly important after rain to dry out the wood quickly.
There again, I would say with regards to all the little extras don’t sweat it. After all birds are not fussy or at least they’re not following the same rules of what is good accommodation that we are. The cigarette disposal ashtray outside my office door is currently home to a nest of blue tits. We have had to put up a sign to make sure nobody stuffs out their cigarettes on the babies heads.
Rather than have the bottom of the birdhouse flush with the base of the walls, you could also consider recessing the base to guarantee that no water seeps into it.
I did this by cutting in a box section on each sides and then simply sliding in the base during construction. The added benefit of doing this is that next year I can change the base with ease to facilitate easy cleaning. Here is an illustration of the sides to give you a clear idea of what I did.
How to build your bird house.
Start by cutting the four main pieces from off-cuts of pallet that are all of equal width.
My piece of pallet was 12 centimetres wide so the sizes I used for each of the pieces are as follows:
- Back – 30cm x 12cm
- Sides – 26cm x 12cm (x2)
- Front – 21cm x 12cm
- Base – 9cm x 9cm of thinner wood (reclaimed from a fence panel that blew down last winter).
- Roof – 15cm x 15cm
As you can see I sanded the pallet wood down to smooth and clean surfaces (a very rewarding task in itself) but this was for my benefit rather than strictly for the birds. I just love working with smooth clean wood. It is easier to be precise with pencil lines and saw cuts when you can see them clearly.
Starting with the front I drew around a ten pence piece and drilled around the perimeter to start my entrance hole. I then sanded the edges and a slight recess where I glued in a brass hole plate to keep predators at bay.
For the roof I joined a couple of palette ends together to make a slightly wider piece. I then cut it down to size so that it had a good overhang at both the sides and front when placed on top of the box. I added some ridges for decorative effect, but that was probably a silly idea as it may stop the water from running off as quickly. I will check that and replace with a smooth roof if necessary.
The sides has some screw holes, but since a bit of ventilation is a good thing I didn’t fill them in. I cut the pitch of the roof at 30 degrees which seems as good an angle as any. I also had the continue this angle on the top edge of the front of the box to ensure the roof would lay flat.
The back of the roof needed a similar but reversed cut so that it would but up against the back plate without any gaps.
Sealing can be achieved with a water-based exterior paint or varnish, but is not strictly necessary.
Putting the pieces of the bird box together
When putting the bird house together, the options are to either glue and pin or use screws. On the front I used pins and glue for an invisible join, but I decided to use four brass screws to hold the back on. This will allow me to easily take it apart for cleaning next year. The base was slotted in without any glue so that can also can easily be cleaned or replaced.
Hanging the bird house.
I read up at the RSPB website that bird boxes should be at least 1.5 metres above the ground and facing north or east. Think about whether predators can easily get to the birdhouse. Placing it at the top of a fence where cats can get to it is a bad idea.
What I could have done better.
Well I think from the photo you will agree that the hole is about two centimetres too high on the front panel. I guess I could have added a paint job, but my wife thinks the bird in our garden prefer the natural look. Who am I to argue with someone who knows what birds are thinking?