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Building Birdhouses

Birds are not only fun to have around, they help keep your yard free of insects. In urban and suburban areas, however, birds have a difficult time finding a place to nest. A birdhouse may be the key to making your area suitable habitat for certain types of birds. A bird feeder also might help. Some birdhouses are purely decorative. If you want to attract birds, design your project with specific inhabitants in mind (see the chart at lower right). Once it is built, don’t paint it with bright colors; most birds prefer to blend in with their surroundings, so green or brown tones are best— or apply a light stain to cedar or redwood.

Place a birdhouse where squirrels and cats can’t get at it. To keep the inside dry, face the hole away from prevailing winds. If you hang the birdhouse, use two wires, so it will not spin. Many birds are comfortable living fairly close to humans, but will get skittish when people approach. So place the house within easy viewing distance while keeping it away from often-used footpaths. Often the best option is to place the birdhouse on top of a pole made of pipe. Clean your birdhouse thoroughly once a year. Use a mildewcide if there is evidence of lice or other pests. Some birds will not move into a house that has not been cleaned.

Tools: Drill, hammer, speed square, any type of saw.

Plan a basic birdhouse. Use this plan for a general-purpose birdhouse. Or decide which species of bird you want to attract, and build the house to the dimensions shown in the chart below. As you measure for cutting individual pieces, keep in mind how the pieces will overlap. For instance, the front piece should be 1 1/2 inches wider than the floor. Use cedar or redwood 1x8 lumber that is completely dry. Cut the pieces, and drill the holes. Attach the non-hinged side, the floor, and the front together, drilling pilot holes and driving 1 5/8 inch deck screws or 6d galvanized nails. Attach the other side with hinges only, and add the roof. Drill pilot holes and screw in the eye and the hook.

Build a diamond-shaped house with perch. To build this simple project, cut front and back pieces about 8 inches square. Cut the side pieces to fit. The roof pieces should overhang the sides by about an inch. Use screws for at least one of the roof pieces, so you can remove it for cleaning. For the perch, drill a 3/4 inch hole, squirt in a little polyurethane glue, and tap in a piece of '4-inch hardwood dowel.

Hollow out a log. This may last only a few years, but it is attractive and easy to build. Cut a piece of log that is about 4 inches wider than the floor dimension you want. Drilling from the top, make a series of holes with a 1-inch bit. (Mark the bit with a piece of tape to make sure you don’t drill too deeply.) Clean out the center with a chisel, and drill the opening hole. Attach the cover with screws.

Construct an open-ended house. Robins, phoebes and barn swallows will be attracted to a house with an open front. Place it 8 to 15 feet above the ground, securely anchored to a bough or trunk that will not sway in the wind. Position the house so it is at least partially protected from prevailing wind. There’s no need for a hinged or removable section because you can clean this one easily. Cut the sides, roof pieces, and floor out of 1x8 (which is actually 7'4 inches wide). You will need to bevel-cut the top edges of the side pieces at 45 degrees. Attach the pieces together with 2-inch deck screws or 6d galvanized nails. Add the 1x2 threshold and the mounting board, which doubles as the back of the house.

Constructing Bird Feeders

Because some birds are more sensitive than others to the presence of people, you may want to place two or three feeders at varying distances from the house. Experiment with different kinds of seed to find the type that attracts the birds you most want to see. If a feeder is close to a tree or some other form of cover, rather than being out in the open, you will be more likely to attract shy birds. Make and place the feeder so it will be easy to fill.

Tools: Saw, drill, square, hammer, posthole digger.

1. To make a hopper feeder, cut and assemble the pieces. Use cedar or redwood 1x10 with very few knots. Cut the pieces to the dimensions shown. To make the cleats that hold the glass, rip-cut lx stock to 3/4 inch wide; the length does not have to be exact. Attach the cleats with small brads and polyurethane glue. Note the small piece at the bottom that keeps the glass from sliding down. For all joints, drill pilot holes before driving 1 5/8 inch decking screws or 6d galvanized nails. Assemble the back, sides, and floor. Add the 1x2 trim pieces, flush with the bottom so they form a lip for the tray. Attach the roof with hinges that allow you to open it all the way for easy filling.

Keeping the Squirrels Away - Squirrels are remarkably ingenious creatures. If there is a way for them to get at a feeder or a birdhouse, they will figure it out. So make a serious effort to outsmart them. If you can hang a feeder by 2 feet or so of wire, that will probably keep them away. Or, put the feeder on a pole, and wrap the pole with 3 feet of galvanized or aluminum sheet metal; they will have a hard time climbing up it (especially if you spray it with a lubricant such as WD40). You can buy ready-made baffles designed to keep squirrels from climbing a pole. Or make your own, using galvanized or aluminum sheet metal as shown.

2. Add glass and mount. Measure the opening and have a piece of glass cut to fit. Slide it into place; there’s no need to caulk it. Attach the feeder to a pole or the side of a tree. Drill pilot holes and drive screws through the back or the bottom.

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1. To make an open-air feeder, build the roof and the tray. Use heartwood of redwood or cedar, clear or with only tiny knots. For all joints, drill pilot holes and drive 1 5/8 inch screws or 6d galvanized nails. Bevel-cut the top edge of the roof pieces at 22 1/2 degrees. Temporarily join the roof pieces at the peak with small brads, and use the roof as a template to mark for the trusses. Cut the trusses and attach the roof to them. Construct a 1x2 frame that will hang directly below the trusses. Cut aluminum screen to fit, and attach it to the underside with pieces of screen molding; attach the molding with small brads.

2. Hang the tray from the roof. Insert four eye hooks into the trusses and four into the tray; position them so that the tray will hang directly below the roof. Cut four sections of chain, all with the same number of links, about 6 inches long. Use pliers to open the chain links, insert them into the eye hooks, and close them again.

3. Finish and hang the feeder. A coat of sealer/preservative will hold the natural color of your wood; otherwise it will turn gray. Insert two eye hooks through the peak of the roof and into the trusses. Hang the feeder with chain or wire. This feeder will be easy to load with seed, and the screen will help seeds to dry out after rains.

Make a suet feeder. Some birds need suet to survive the winter. Although you can buy a hanging wire basket designed to hold suet, a section of log with holes bored in it works as well and blends better into the surroundings.

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