Birdhouses 101 - Materials Used for Building Birdhouses

BirdHouses 101

Bird Houses 101 - Everything You Need to Know About Birdhouses, for North American Birds

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Materials Used for Building Birdhouses

Building an attractive, sturdy and weather-proof birdhouse is very easy to build. Wood is a particularly good building material because it breathes, is durable and has good insulating qualities. The ideal choices are naturally decay-resistant wood such as cedar, redwood or a good grade of exterior plywood. It should be at least ¾” thick as anything less will result to heat built-up which is very harmful to young birds. It doesn’t really matter whether the wood is slab, rough-cut or finished as long as the inside has not been treated with stains or preservatives. Fumes from chemicals are likewise harmful to the birds.

Cypress and cedar wood would require no painting but pine and plywood houses will last longer when coated with water-based exterior latex paint. Brown or dark-green stain applied only to the exterior will camouflage the house and prevent rough boards from rotting. Purple Martin houses are usually white while tan, gray or dull-green works bests for the other cavity nesting species. These colors will reflect heat and are less conspicuous to predators.

Never use lead-based paints if there is a need to paint or varnish to preserve the wood. It is possible that birds may peck at the painted wood and ingest the toxic paint in the process. One good option is the use of natural oil on the outside of the house such as linseed oil that is food safe and not petroleum-based for maximum safety. The inside of the house is best left as natural wood only.

Brightly painted birdhouses are fun to see but draw unwanted attention to themselves. It helps to keep the backyard bird families safe when the birdhouse blends into its surroundings. Bird enthusiasts can compensate through the use of garden ornaments, stepping stones or flowers.

Gluing all the joints before nailing them will extend the life of the birdhouses regardless of the kind of wood used. Galvanized or brass shank nails, hinges and screws are more rust resistant and are able to hold boxes together more tightly as they age. Hinges and fasteners can both be functional and decorative but extreme care should be taken so that there will be no sharp edges that can harm the birds.

Birdhouses should never be made of metal since the hot summer sun heats metal to very high temperatures that can kill nesting birds. Reflective metal also attracts predators. Purple Martins have their own special aluminum birdhouses. Other possible materials are properly designed pottery, concrete and plastic. Concrete offers one unique protection as squirrels cannot chew their way in. Natural gourds make very attractive birdhouses as well.

Some experts recommend using rough sawn wood to make it easier for birds to grip with their feet. It can be very difficult for some species to get out of the house if the inside surface is too smooth. Cutting grooves on the inside front panel of the house or adding a small strip of hardware cloth on the inside under the entrance to serve as an escape ladder for the birds will make the box more bird-friendly.

Provision for nest building materials is not necessary for box occupants. However, materials such as yarn, paper, feathers and pieces of string may be placed near the birdhouse. Birdhouses that do not use nesting materials such as those for flickers and woodpeckers should have its floor covered with a layer of sawdust or ground cork.

Readers Comments

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alex smith  11/30/2006)
i made one of these bird houses and it came out so wrong can u help me but u are awsome

Katherine in Texas  2/14/2007)
Be certain not to use pressure-treated (PT) lumber when constructing your birdhouses. The PT lumber may contain arsenic, which is toxic to the adults and offspring. PT lumber includes pickets and rails from wooden privacy fences, and also wooden warehouse pallets.

Carl   2/4/2008)
What documented research proves that the use of pressure treated is detrimental (toxic) to adults and offspring?

Brenda Riley  5/19/2008)
I dont know much about building period. What I am looking for is how to start and what to use and a basic knowledge of the tools to start with. Thanks. Brenda

Christopher J.  5/25/2016)
For carl do a google search on pressure treated wood toxic to adult birds, and click on the third result. Read the entire article. It's better to be safe than sorry. Just don't use anything with lead or other heavy metals!

jwp clover  5/25/2016)
I made a birdhouse with a one way door. the birds get in but can't get out. I feed them to by boa constrictor. Free food

Jim  Justice  5/25/2016)
Pressure Treated Wood Use in Playground Equipment Introduction Preserved and pressure-treated woods can provide some opportunities for exposure to wood treatment substances. This may raise concerns about toxicity. Do not use wood treated with Creosote or Pentachlorophenol(PCP). Arsenic treated wood (the least acutely toxic) should meet the American Wood Preservers' Association commodity standard. Use a supplier that guarantees this standard. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the wood treatment substance can be obtained from the supplier. The MSDS is a summary of properties, health effects, protective precautions used to reduce exposure, and spill cleanup procedures. Precautions The following precautions, if followed, should significantly reduce or eliminate exposures to arsenic residues from arsenic treated wood. Children should not be exposed to preserved or pressure-treated wood or its dust during construction. Adults should use special precautions in handling pressure-treated wood when constructing the playground or play structures. For all wood treatment substances, including arsenic, double coat the pressure treated wood with an appropriate non-toxic, non-slippery wood sealant, such as an oil-based stain. Reapply every two years Do not place food, drink or paper products used for eating on preserved or pressure-treated wood products that have not been properly sealed. Children and staff should wash their hands immediately after playing on wooden playground equipment that contains preservatives. Do not use wood that shows signs of crystallization or resin on its exterior. Use only clean pressure-treated wood. Inspect structures for wood decay and/or structural weakness regularly. If the pressure-treated wood cracks to expose the interior, but the wood is still structurally sound, apply a double coat of non-toxic, non slippery wood sealant to the effected area. If there are still concerns about using pressure-treated wood, alternatives to consider include cedar, redwood, painted metal, or plastic. Types of Pressure-Treated Wood The most commonly used substances that are or may have been used for playground structures are Pentachlorophenol (PCP), Creosote, Arsenic and related compounds and CCA. CCA contains Arsenic Pentoxide, Copper Oxide, Chromium (III) Oxide or different related compounds. Other wood preserving substances used are Copper Napthenate, Zinc Napthenate, Copper-3, Niedox-10 (contains Boric Acid) and Ethylene Glycol. The least acutely toxic are Copper Napthenate, Zinc Napthenate, Copper-8, Niedox-10, and Arsenic. Creosote and PCP are the most acutely toxic. Playground structures and other home-based structures built from pressure-treated wood are most likely to be of the CCA type. Routes of Entry Toxins may enter the body through the skin or by ingestion. Ingestion occurs most frequently when contaminated hands are mouthed or contaminated hands are used on food that is being eaten. Splinters piercing the skin are a more questionable means of entry. Wood is an irritating substance. Different woods have different degrees of irritation. The combination of chemical and wood irritation may lead to an adverse reaction. Health Effects of Exposure Some effects that can be associated with pressure-treated wood are an irritation of skin, eyes, nose or throat. In the manufacturing or construction process there may be an increased risk of cancer due to significant or prolonged exposure. Available sampling data related to the use of CCA-treated wood indicate low but detectable amounts of arsenic residue released from such structures. However, under typical use these amounts of arsenic would not be expected to present unusual health concerns. It is important to note that any exposures can be reduced or eliminated by following the precautions described above. Current Regulatory Activities The agency responsible for regulating the use of chemicals used in pressure-treated wood is the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA reviews toxicity and exposure information on these products before allowing them to be used. EPA periodically reviews new scientific information for registered products to determine if there is a need for change in the regulatory practices. For More Information Massachusetts Department of Public Health Max Care Health Line (800) 487-1119 Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Environmental Health Assessment (617) 624-5757 Environmental Protection Agency regional office (617) 918-1111

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