How To Build a Robin Birdhouse / Nest Box – Step by Step


While many birds like traditional bird houses or nest boxes, some species prefer different habitats. Robins are one of those species, as they prefer a birdhouse with an open-front, more akin to building a nest on a cliff or ledge. Well, if you are interested in attracting a Robin to nest in your yard, stay tuned! I’ll show you how to build a strong, sturdy Robin Nest Box from a single, inexpensive 1×6 Cedar fence picket.

Robins will nest in a birdhouse with an open front, also called a nest shelf. The Robin Birdhouse or Nesting Shelf must be of sufficient size to accommodate a Robin Nest (7″x8″). It should be placed on the side of a building or under an eve between 5′-25′ high.

Our design is adapted from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Their plans (and many birdhouse plans) call for using a large 1×10 or 1×8 board. Well, the price of lumber has skyrocketed during the pandemic. That makes building birdhouses a much more expensive DIY project then it should be!

We have modified the design of the Robin Birdhouse / Nesting Shelf to be built from a single cedar fence board (1×6), which typically costs less than $3.50 at big box stores. This makes building one, or many birdhouses much more affordable for the typical backyard homeowner! Furthermore, Cedar is one of the longest lasting, most durable woods to use for any outdoor project! [1] [2]

Tools and Materials

Materials

Tools

This list of tools should be considered a ‘bare minimum’. If you have power tools, feel free to use them. But, I’m only using hand tools in this build just to show you how easy it is!

  • Cross Cut and Rip Saw (or, a single 2-Sided Japanese Pull Saw)
  • Tape Measure
  • Square
  • Hammer
  • Bar Clamps (optional).
    • You don’t technically need these, but it will make holding the wood steady much easier. If you have a vise though, by all means use it!

Robin Birdhouse Plans (pdf)

Click on the image to download our plans for the Robin Nest Shelf. I have slightly modified the dimensions of the side pieces, and the cut list to allow for a single 1×6 cedar fence picket board to be used for the entire construction.

CLICK IMAGE FOR PRINT FRIENDLY PLANS

Steps to Building a Robin Bird House

Step 1 – Cut Boards to length per our plans.

Carefully measure and cut boards to length. Securing the board with a clamp or two is highly recommended. But a vise, or even your knee off the side of a deck will work.

If you are using a Japanese Pull Saw, make sure you have two hands on the handle (similar to how you would hold a golf club). And pull the saw back to your belly button.

The proper grip for a Japanese Pull Saw. This saw cuts on the ‘pull’ stroke, not when you push.

If you notice the saw being a bit ‘grabby’, experiment with the angle at which your are cutting. Steeper or more gentle cutting stroke can have a great effect on how much the saw ‘grabs’ the wood.

Another tip to make this job easier is to clamp the board you just cut on top of the picket to use as a guide for the next cut! There are several pieces that are the same size. So, after you cut out the first piece you can cut out the second using the previous one as a template for the length. This will save you time with less measuring.

Tracing the side piece onto the Cedar Board
Cutting out the unique side piece profile. Both pieces clamped together so we only need to cut once.

And remember, when you are cutting out the floor and roof width extenders, use a rip saw!

Step 2 – Edge Glue Boards to make wider boards!

Edge Gluing is surprisingly strong

The original design calls for a back of 10″ wide, and the floor of 7″x8″ and a roof of 8.5″x8″. But our cedar picket is only 5-1/2″ wide. How will we build this? By simply edge-gluing the boards to make them wider!

Apply a bead of construction adhesive to the edge of the width extender, and then press it against the other piece of the roof, floor, back. Firmly hold it in place for 30 seconds, taking care to keep the pieces flat and aligned.

Then, just let the piece sit for 24 hours.

When you return to the now-wider boards, try to break them apart! You will be amazed how strong the bond is from the exterior-rated construction adhesive.

Step 3 – Assemble the Floor, Sides, and Roof

Lay the floor down on a flat surface. Apply a bead of glue to the top and bottom of each side piece. Then, firmly press each side piece to the floor. Try to make sure everything is aligned and square. Firmly hold it for 10-30 seconds.

Then, place the roof on top of the side pieces (with beads of glue on them). Firmly hold, taking care that nothing slips.

If something does slip – do not worry. It takes a while for the glue to set-up. Just realign the pieces carefully.

Then, apply firm pressure to the roof and side piece so it doesn’t move. Gently tap in a nail through the roof on one side. Repeat on the other side. Continue until you have 4 box nails hammered through the roof and side pieces.

Next flip the Robin House upside down and repeat the steps so that the floor has 4 nails hammered to the sides as well.

Step 4 – Assemble the back to the Robin House

Flip the Robin House onto it’s face, so you can see the rear. Apply a bead of glue to each side piece.

Lay the backing board on a flat surface. Then, flip the house back over and center it on the backing board. Hold the pieces firmly for about 30 seconds.

Next flip the Robin House on it’s face again, and drive in two nails on each side. A great tip for hammering the nails in true is to use a tape measure to determine how far the side is from the edge of the backing board. Then use this measurement to place your nail. I even use a piece of scrap wood so I can see the true thickness of the board.

Now, depending on where you plan to install the Robin House, you may wish to apply a bead of caulk or construction adhesive to the roof/backing board joint. If you are planning to attach the Robin Nest Shelf under an eve, or where it is sheltered by a drip line you don’t need to apply this extra protection.

That’s it! You’ve now built a Nesting Shelf for a Robin! You just need to let the glue cure for 24 hours before hanging it outside.

Where should you install a Robin House?

Robin Houses should be installed on the sides of buildings, under eves, above light fixtures, or on posts. Robins like to nest near humans as they know other predators tend to not get too close to human occupied structures. [3]

Make sure that the location you install the nest shelf doesn’t provide easy access to predators.

American Robins like to have a wide-open view out of their nest box. Somewhere that they can survey the area and scout for food from the nest. So, they don’t want to be a dense forest.

Once the nesting season begins, if you placed the Robin Birdhouse in a nice location, and Robins live in the area, you can expect a female Robin to build the nest using grass, twigs, and mud. The nest is generally 3-8″ diameter, so the house you made should be large enough to accommodate their nest.

How do you install a Robin House?

Install a Robin House using 1-5/8″ exterior deck screws. Drill pilot holes prior to driving the screws home, as the thin Cedar board can split.

Where do Robins build nests in nature?

Robins typically build nests on rock ledges, crevices, or on tree branches where they have an unobstructed view, but also have significant cover. They tend to do this in branches of evergreen or deciduous trees (after leafing out). One of the best trees to attract robins and other platform-nesting birds would be White Cedar or Eastern Red Cedar. [4]

How high should you install a Robin House

Robin Houses should be installed between 5′-25′ tall.

What direction should you install a Robin House?

Robin Houses can face any direction. Although they may appreciate not facing prevailing winds or rain.

Can I install multiple nesting shelves?

Multiple nesting shelves can be installed. However, note that Robins are territorial and shelves should be placed a minimum 65′ apart.

Will other birds besides Robins use this nest shelf?

Cardinals, Blue Jays, Phoebes, Mourning Dove, House Finches and Swallows all will nest on shelves and may use this box.

When should you put up a Robin Nesting Box?

The nesting season of Robins is from April through August. So, Robin Nesting Boxes should be installed from September through March.

How do you attract Robins to nest?

You can attract Robins to nest in your yard by installing a Robin Nest Shelf on your home, shed, or a post fixed to the ground.

Fun fact – Robin nestlings will actually compete to get to the center of the nest, where more food is provided by the parents! [5]

Where should you not install a Robin House?

Do not install a Robin House on a tree. The Robin Nest Shelf will be very noticeable to predators. And, unfortunately common Robin predators such as Squirrels, Snakes, and Chipmunks can all climb trees to steal eggs or baby Robins. Squirrels will eat bird eggs and baby birds, given the opportunity.

Can I visit the nest after it is built?

Yes, you can observe the nest after it is built. But do not move the nest unless if happens to fall out of the box, in which case you should put it back. There is some research suggesting that frequent visitation of a nest by a human observer can increase the defense response of Robins, which possibly could increase the babies chances of survival. [6]

Another interesting finding of research is that Robins get more defensive against other avian predators during nesting, which is understandable. But the interesting part was that they will attack/mob screech owls within, and outside of their territory! [7]

Do Robins reuse their nests?

Robins will build a new nest each breeding season. During a single breeding season, Robins will keep using the same nest if it is safe and suitable. But Robins will not reuse a nest year to year.

Read more about bird houses…

References:

[1] – Morris, P.I., Stirling, R. Western red cedar extractives associated with durability in ground contact. Wood Sci Technol 46, 991–1002 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00226-011-0459-2

[2] – Anderson, A. R. 1962. On the chemistry of wood rot. Tappi. 45: 40Ð62. https://www.bcin.ca/bcin/detail.app?id=34648& Accessed 26 MAR 2021

[3] – Howell, Joseph C. “Notes on the Nesting Habits of the American Robin (Turdus Migratorius L.).” The American Midland Naturalist, vol. 28, no. 3, 1942, pp. 529–603. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2420891. Accessed 26 Mar. 2021.

[4] – Young, Howard. “Breeding Behavior and Nesting of the Eastern Robin.” The American Midland Naturalist, vol. 53, no. 2, 1955, pp. 329–352. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2422072. Accessed 26 Mar. 2021.

[5] – McRae, S.B., Weatherhead, P.J. & Montgomerie, R. American robin nestlings compete by jockeying for position. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 33, 101–106 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00171661

[6] – Richard L. Knight, Stanley A. Temple, Why Does Intensity of Avian Nest Defense Increase During the Nesting Cycle?, The Auk, Volume 103, Issue 2, April 1986, Pages 318–327, https://doi.org/10.1093/auk/103.2.318

[7] – Douglas H. Shedd, Seasonal Variation and Function of Mobbing and Related Antipredator Behaviors of the American Robin (Turdus migratorius), The Auk, Volume 99, Issue 2, April 1982, Pages 342–346, https://doi.org/10.1093/auk/99.2.342

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

Recent Posts