About a decade ago we graciously accepted Mother Nature’s bit to assume control of our farm in rural Illinois. After raising sheep for years, we retired from competitive herding trials with our Border Collies. We sold the sheep and turned our efforts to training Service Dog for people with disabilities. To prevent our pastures from becoming overgrown with scrub brush, we hired a ‘Hay Guy’ to cut the fields a couple of times a year. However, other than that occasional intervention – which supports a prairie-like ecosystem –the flora and fauna which would likely have existed here before the land was first plowed by early settlers were granted rights to the natural resources that abound on our property.
Now, our Farm Gone Wild is home to an abundance of wildflowers, birds, bees, butterflies and other native animals which I enjoy filming and sharing here on my blog.
After starting out with a single bluebird house that we purchased at the local farm store, we now maintain a few dozen nest boxes around our fifty acre farm. Eastern Bluebirds and Tree Swallows use these boxes to raise up to three broods during the summer breeding season. House Wrens also use some of the boxes, especially those which are located close to brushy plants. This blog is filled with posts about those birds.
As an amateur wildlife photographer, I have thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to get to know the various couples as they work together to fledge their chicks. It’s hard to avoid becoming deeply attached to these birds that, day in and day out, in freezing rain or blistering heat dedicate nearly all of their energy to raising their young. It goes without saying, then, that I feel obligated to provide the best quality nesting places for these special birds.
Each Spring we have had to replace a handful of the wooden nest boxes. Some lasted only one season before the wood cracked, the hinges failed, or screws rusted causing the sides to pull apart from each other. I feel responsible for the birds to which I offered housing for their most important deed of their lives. Mother Nature provides plenty of reasons for failure, including inclement weather, predators, disease and competition from other birds within the species and with other species. I certainly don’t want to be responsible for another reason that a pair of lovely birds doesn’t reach the goal of fledging healthy chicks because of choices I’ve made about nest boxes I’ve offered.
I have purchased many different models of bird houses and have been immensely disappointed with the inferior quality of many of them. I also question the design of most of the boxes. I wonder why the door that is supposed to provide the nest box steward an opportunity to make unobtrusive observations, swings from the bottom upwards. That design facilitates the disruption of the nest and its contents. Then, once the door is lifted, the observer is left without a clear view of the eggs or chicks. Taking a photo requires inserting a phone into the box. If it is inadvertently dropped it can damage the nest, eggs or chicks!
The nest box models which have front doors which swing from the top typically have latches which fail over time. That means the door can flop open leaving the nestlings in peril. Those latches rely on a sort of pressure of the door upon the latch. When the latch loosens, the door can drop open. I purchased a PVC based model made of soft material which is designed to be squeezed from a permanent mounted roof. I struggled to have the hand strength to open it, and I don’t like that the top cannot be removed from the pole.
After a few years of offering several types of boxes, I decided to design a model which alleviated many of the problems I experienced with other products. I put bird safety first when creating the prototype and then partnered with my husband, Robert, who helped me hone our design. When we installed a few of our newly designed bird houses around our property, Bluebirds and Tree Swallows moved in within a couple of days and successfully fledged their broods.
These are a few of our prototype boxes and the birds which reared their chicks in 2022. Below, you’ll see the description on how to create your own box using our design, which includes several updates, like a PVC roof.
One, 10″ piece: PVC Sch 40 DWV Plain End Cellular Core 4″ Pipe
Two, 4″ PVC Inside Pipe Drain fittings
One, 6″ piece: 1/2″ x 6″ PVC trim board (choose the color you want for your roof.)
One, 5/8″ piece: 1/2″ x 6″ PVC trim board (cut from the same board as the roof piece above)
One, 2″ piece: 1/2″ x 6″ PVC trim board (cut from the same board)
One, 8″ piece: 1.5″ PVC pipe
One, 1.5″ hard hat PVC cap
One, 3.5″ diameter circle cut from vinyl tile (we used Armstrong Commercial grade)
One, 8″ long eye bolt with wing nut
Two, 1″ long bolts with nuts
One, 11/8″ wood screw
Exterior paint or stain for finish (solid spray paint color, or acrylic stain for wood-look, or acrylics for floral design)
This image includes one “Wood look” and one “White” (10″ L, 4″ diameter PVC pipe for the house body), the materials required for the vented bottom and the removable vented top, the PVC board for the roof and the 1.5″ PVC pipe for the mounting tube, as well as the minimal hardware which is required.
CREATE THE HOUSE BODY
Sand cut edges of the 4″ PVC body and the 1.5″ PVC mounting tube.
Measure and drill a 1.5″ entry hole 6″ from the bottom end of the 4″ PVC pipe. Sand to a smooth finish.
Use a dremel tool with a rotary blade to etch foot-hold grooves into the 4″ PVC pipe below the hole.
Using the dremel, etch similar grooves on the interior of the tube, below the hole, to provide foot holds for the chicks.
PREPARE AND INSTALL THE BOTTOM
Apply PVC cement to the vinyl tile circle and press it into one of the Drain pipe fittings. It will be the bottom of the nest box and will provide vents for drainage along the edge of the circle and through the center hole which was created by the drill bit.
Apply PVC cement to the bottom drain pipe fitting and the inside of the 4″ pipe. Insert the fitting and press it tight. Allow to dry.
CREATE THE ROOF ASSEMBLY
Draw a line down the center of the 6″ cut of PVC, running the direction of the length of the board. This will be used to position the top drain cap to the roof.
Using PVC cement, glue the rough side of the 5/8″ roof spacer board at one end of the 6″ roof board, making certain that it lines up plumb to the corners of the roof. Use clamps to hold it in place as it dries.
Using PVC cement, glue the rough side of the 2″ roof spacer board at the other end of the 6″ roof board, making certain that it lines up plumb to the corners of the roof. Use clamps to hold it in place as it dries.
Position the second drain fitting over the roof spacers so that the center hole lines up over the center line that was drawn earlier. Position the drain fitting so that it lines up just at the edge of the 5/8″ spacer, but does not exceed the edge of the roof. This will leave the other side of the drain fitting to sit atop the 2″ roof spacer towards the front of the roof. Use a pencil to trace the radius of the drain fitting at each side where it sits on the roof spacers. Then, remove the drain fitting and apply PVC cement on the roof spacers within the arched spaces and also on the corresponding top of the drain fitting. Press together and hold until the cement provides a good seal.
Using the wood screw, secure the drain fitting to the roof board through the center hole of the drain fitting. You may choose to slide a small piece of Tygon tubing under the fitting and line it up under the center hole, before drilling in the screw. It has no function, but hides the look of the screw – which is already quite hard to see.
PREPARE AND PAINT SURFACES
Sand the 4″ PVC tube with 220 grit paper inside and out. Then wash with acetone to remove any manufacturer’s inked marks and other dirt. The sanding and acetone wash opens the PVC so that it will accept paint.
Paint the interior of the box a dark brown color. Use spray paint for plastics or acrylic stain.
Paint the exterior of the box to your liking.
For a Wood-Look appearance, you may use an acrylic stain directly onto the PVC pipe.
For solid colors, use spray paint designed for plastics. Krylon brand is most often recommended for PVC coverage.
Let dry completely.
INSTALL EYE BOLT TO SECURE ROOF
Once the roof assembly has dried, insert the roof cap into the top of the 4″ pipe. Center the front over hang over the entry hole.
Drill a hole half way around the left side of pipe from the entry hole, and drill a second hole half way around the right side of the pipe from the entry hole – directly across from the first hole. This will hold the 8″ eye bolt, to secure the roof in place.
ATTACH THE MOUNTING TUBE
Remove the roof. Drill two holes in the rear of the house body directly across from the entry hole, and below the location of the bottom of the roof assembly. Stand the 1.5″ Pipe adjacent to the 4″ pipe body, and mark it where the two holes exit the house body. Drill two holes through the 1.5″ mounting tube. From inside the house body, insert a bolt into the lower hole and through the body wall and into the mounting tube. Using a small wrench, tighten the first nut, then repeat with the top bolt.
The new FarmGoneWild Bluebird house is ready to be mounted to a standard T-post or a metal conduit pipe up to 1.5″
You may purchase one of our special bird houses from our shop at Etsy.com www.FarmGoneWild.etsy.com
We just opened the store and would love to share our awesome bird house design with you.
THIS AMAZING BIRD NESTING HOUSE IS:
Holding a camera over the top is easy and yields great photos without disturbing the nest or chicks. (always knock before opening to allow the mama bird to exit.)
We live in Cumberland County with 20 acres of woods. How close are you?
Hi Jerry, We’re in Fayette Co, the county just west of Effingham Co.
Hi, I’d like to print the directions off for my husband to build. Is there a link to print options?
I’m sorry. I don’t have that option on this site.
Thanks for the reply!