Build a bird box

There are never enough holes and hideaways where wildlife can shelter - help them by making a nestbox.

House sparrows visit many of our gardens, but they, and other birds, are in trouble and struggling to cope in the modern world.

You can build a bird box whenever you like, but it might be a good choice of task for a rainy day if you’ve got a suitable indoor/undercover space where you can work. You can install any bird box for this challenge, but the instructions here are for a sparrow box. Our website includes instructions for making nest boxes for a range of garden birds, plus there are specific instructions on how to make a swift box for these graceful summer visitors.

Don’t worry if birds don't move in right away – it may take a while for a family to take residence. But you'll be ready when they do! Hopefully, before long, you’ll notice some activity – such as males chirping nearby, or even from the roof of the box.

If you’re short on time or DIY skills you can buy a sparrow nestbox and put it up readymade. (You can also buy other nestboxes for a range of garden birds.) As an alternative activity, why not try decorating your box with paint? Painting your nest box is a really nice way of personalising your box and making it your own!

Follow the instructions carefully and you should have a box that could be home to a brood of baby birds. Exciting, eh?

Are you doing this activity as part of your Wild Challenge? Find out how you are progressing – are you getting closer to gold?

Did you know: that the record number of birds found in one box is 63 wrens! They are very small, but that's a lot of wrens.


people have completed this activity

What you will need

  • A plank of FSC wood 15cm x 1.4m long x 1.5-1.8cm thick and not pressure treated
  • Pencil and tape measure
  • Saw
  • Nails
  • A strip of waterproof rubber
  • Drill
  • Optional: a hole saw/cutter for making 3.2cm holes
  • Ladder 
  • Screws
  • Water-based paint
House sparrow in flight

Step-by-step guide

How to cut the wood for your house sparrow nestbox.  Two sides: 150 mm wide, with one side 200 mm high and the opposite side 250 mm high. This means that the roof will slope down towards the front. Front: 150 mm wide by 200 mm. Cut a round hole, 32 mm in diameter, 150 mm up from the bottom. Roof: 150 mm by 210 mm. Base: 150 mm by 120 mm. Drill five drainage holes into this piece. Back: 150 mm by 350 mm.  The roof of the box should start 60 mm from the top of the back piece. The base of the box should be 50 mm up from the bottom of the back piece. When assembled, a strip of rubber covering the join between the back and roof will make the box waterproof.


Remember: Adults should be in charge for all the steps involving sharp tools or nails!

  1. Find the right bird-friendly spot for your box. Ideally, it will be under the eaves of your house or high on a wall, well away from curious cats or foxes! Make sure you get permission if you need it. 

    The box will need to be at least 3 metres (10 feet) from the ground, facing somewhere between north and east to avoid it getting too hot or wet. Avoid placing it in direct sunlight and don't put it over a doorway or well-used path.

  2. Make sure you have the right wood. The thickness is important to insulate the box from cold and heat and to stop the box from warping. You can use exterior-quality plywood (for a lightbox) or, for something more sturdy, hardwoods (such as oak and beech) or softwood (such as pine, but this will deteriorate more quickly). Buy timber approved by the Forest Stewardship Council – look for the FSC logo.

  3. Measure and cut your wood according to the diagram. 

    Note: the dimensions shown are for 15mm thick wood. If your wood is different to that, the dimensions of the Base should be 150mm by 150mm minus 2 x thickness of the wood, eg if the wood is 18mm thick, the base should be 150mm x 114mm. 

    If you don't have the hole saw/cutter for making the 3.2cm round hole, you can use a jigsaw (not the puzzle!) to cut a square or wedge-shaped hole at the top of the front, as in the diagram.

  4. Nail all the pieces, except the roof, together. The sides, back and front 'wrap around' the base. 

  5. Attach the roof. By using screws, you’ll be able to get into the box at a later stage to clean it out. Use a waterproof strip to make a hinge between the top edge of the roof and the backing board. Try a piece of bicycle tyre inner tube, damp-proof membrane or roofing felt.

  6. Decorate your box. Now it's the fun part that you can all get stuck into! You should have a nice complete bird box now, so it's time to get out the paints and give it a personal touch. Think about pattern and colour and create something really unique. Remember to use non-toxic water-based paints though! There's a handy guide to painting nest boxes here.

  7. Put your box up. Drill guide holes in the backing plate at the top and bottom of the box. Taking care, fix the box to a wall using a ladder, screws and Rawlplugs.

  8. Once your box is in place, you’ll need to be patient and wait for sparrows to start house-hunting in spring. There is never a guarantee of them using your box, but if you're lucky you should see or hear the males proudly chirping from nearby, or even from the roof of the box. Sparrows are sensitive to disturbance at the nest and protected by law, so enjoy from a distance. If you are lucky, they may even raise several broods in there during one season. Maybe you'll even spot some chicks fledging!
  9. Don't forget to tell us when you have completed the activity! When you mark the activity as complete, you will be asked to upload a photo, drawing or painting to help earn your award.

Completing the activity

Use the 'Mark as complete' button at the top of this page to tell us you've completed your activity. You'll need to show us what you did by uploading a photo of your bird box, either complete or your family making it or some images of birds using it. But please don’t disturb any nesting birds! You can send us some artwork instead if you wish.

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