LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) - As winter arrives, there are thoughts of building bird boxes in many Arkansas households.
It's a good and beneficial winter project, one that can involve parents, kids and even an older generation.
Plans are readily available. Do an Internet search to download drawings and instructions quickly. A word of advice from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is to KIS - keep it simple.
Your box doesn't have to be complex, and it doesn't have to fit exact specifications. The size of the entrance hole largely determines which species of bird your box may attract. For wrens and chickadees, make the entrance hole an inch and a quarter in diameter. For bluebirds, make it an inch and a half. Make a larger box with a hole of 2 and a half inches in diameter, and you may get screech owls or several other larger birds.
Also keep in mind that nest boxes are for birds that use cavities for their nesting. A box won't attract robins, cardinals or mockingbirds, for instance.
The basic bird box is made from six pieces of wood - back, front, two sides, roof and floor. The back should be several inches longer than the sides and front so the box can be fastened to a tree or post.
Almost any type of wood will work for a bird box project, but cedar, cypress and redwood will hold up longer in weather. Yellow pine and fir are common and obtainable at any lumberyard in Arkansas. But these won't last more than a couple of years, sometimes less, outdoors.
Make some calls to fence companies as well as lumberyards. If you can find one-inch cypress boards (three-quarters of an inch in finished or surfaced lumber), buy enough for the birdhouses you have in mind.
Cedar pickets used for fences can make adequate and long-lived material for bird houses up to 6 inches wide. Redwood works well but is expensive; some may be obtained by scrounging - ask fence companies about leftovers or cut-off pieces.
If you find rough-sawn or unplaned lumber in these species, take it. Just allow for the extra thickness if you are following a plan, and the birds may like it better than smooth-faced wood.
Absolutely, under no circumstances, use treated lumber. The chemicals can be toxic to birds. For the same reason, don't paint or stain the bird house. Some authorities believe that latex paint on the outside won't hurt, but most advise leaving the wood unpainted for a more natural appearance, as well as the birds' health.
The six wood pieces for the box can be cut from a single 1x6 board six feet long.
Saw a piece 15 inches long for the back. Saw three pieces 9 inches long for the front and sides. Saw a piece 7½ inches long for the top. Wait to cut the bottom until you assemble the other pieces, and then make an exact measurement for the bottom.
These measurements are approximate and are for a bluebird box. For smaller birds, the dimensions can be slightly less.
Use galvanized nails or wood screws to fasten the pieces together. One side should be fixed with pivot nails near the top so the box can be opened for cleaning after birds nest in it.
It is easier to drill the entrance hole in the front before assembly; make this hole an inch or so below the top of the front. A perch on the front is not needed; birds simply fly directly into the hole.