Bluebird and Small Cavity Nester Conservation
Sialis - Bluebirds and other small cavity nesters



Log Box

Log box from The Book of Woodcraft

This drawing is from The Book of Woodcraft, pages 104-106, under the chapter entitled General Scouting Indoors. I picked it up in an antique shop. The title page was missing, but I think this is by Ernest Thompson Seton, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1917. It's interesting to see what people were thinking almost 100 years ago when it came to building birdhouses.

Note of interest:

  • recommended use of a perch (which invites House Sparrow domination)
  • apartment-style housing (which can also attract House Sparrows). However, on the front of the wooden nestbox, notice the words "To Let (or rent, then) NO English Need Apply"
  • reference to Chicasaw and Choctaw Indians making purple martin housing out of gourds
  • The author believes the natural log style/bark on the outside is appealing to birds.
  • He recommends chestnut or elm wood, which are certainly no longer readily available, due to Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm disease. Keith Kridler notes that American Chestnuts made up 25% of all trees in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1700s.
  • He recommends painting the exterior a soft olive green; some modern bluebird landlords believe boxes should not be painted (at least not the interior, and not with oil based paints) due to concerns about toxicity.
  • He discusses protection against climbing predators (use of tin) on poles


"A good line of winter work is making bird boxes to have them ready for the spring birds. Two style of bird houses are in vogue; one a miniature house on a pole, the other ins an artificial hollow limb in a tree.

First - the miniature cabin or house on a pole. This is very good for martins, swallows, etc., and popular with most birds, because it is safest from cats and squirrels. But most of us consider it far from ornamental.

To make one, take any wooden box about six inches square put a wooden roof in it (a in Cut), then bore a hole in the middle of one end, making it one and one half inches wide; and on the bottom nail a piece of two inch wood with an inch auger hole in it (b). Drive in a nail for a perch below the door and all is ready for a coat of soft, olive-green paint. After this is dry, the box is finished. When you set it in place, the end of the pole is shaved to fit tight into the auger hole in the bottom, and the pole is set up, or fastened to the end of the building. In the latter case a six or eight foot pole is long enough. In some neighborhoods it is necessary to put tin as a cat and rat guard, on the pole, as shown (c and d.) Some elaborate on these bird houses, making a half dozen compartments. When this is done the pole goes tight through the lowest floor and fits in a small hole in the floor above.

These large apartment houses are very popular with the purple martin, as well as with the English sparrow if they are set up in town.

Alexander Wilson tells us that the Choctaw and Chicasaw Indians used to make bird houses for the purple martins thus: "Cut off all the top branches from a sapling, near their cabins, leaving the prongs a foot or two in length, on each of which they hang a gourd, or calabash properly hollowed out for their convenience."

But the wild-wood box or hollow limb is more sightly and for some birds more attractive. There are several ways of using the natural limb. One is, take a seven or eight inch stick of chestnut about twenty inches long, split four slabs off it : (O) then saw off three inches of each end of the "core" and nail the whole thing together again (P and Q), omitting the middle part of the core.

Another way is to split the log in half and scoop out in the interior of each half (L and M). When nailed together again, it makes a commodious chamber, about five inches wide and a foot or more deep.

Another plan is: Take a five-inch limb of a green chestnut, elm, or other tough-barked tree. Cut a piece eighteen inches long, make a long bevel on one end (e). Now carefully split the bark on one side and peel it. Then saw the peeled wood into three pieces (f g h), leave out g and put the bark on again. Cut a hole in the bark on the longest side, at the place farthest from the beveled end (x in e) and your bird nest is finished. The beveled end is there to make it easily nailed up; when in place, it is as at I. The front - that is, the side where the door is - should always be the under one; and the door in each case should be near the top.

But these methods presuppose a fine big stick of wood. I have more often found it convenient to work with scraps.

Here is one easy way that I have long used: From a four or five inch round log saw off two sections each two inches thick, or failing a log, cut out two circles from a two-inch plank, for top and bottom parts (like f and h); then using six or seven laths instead of bark, make a hollow cylinder (J). Cover the hollow cylinder with a large piece of bark and cut the hole (K). Cut your entry at the top, half on each of a pair of laths. Cover the whole thing with bark nailed neatly on, or failing the bark, cover it with canvas and paint a dull green mottled with black and gray.

This last has the advantage of giving most room in a small log. Of course, if one can find a hollow limb, all this work is saved. By way of variety this one can be put up hanging from a nail, for which the wire loop is made.

To a great extent the size of the hole regulates the kind of bird, as most birds like a tight fit.

For wrens make it about one inches, for bluebirds and tree swallows one and one half inches, for martins two and one half inches.

For latest ideas send to The Jacobs Bird House Company, 404 South Washing Street, Waynesburg, PA.

See also the "making of a Hollow Tree," by E. T. Seton, Country life in America, November, 1908, and seq.

"Putting up Bird Boxes," by B. S. Bowdish (special leaflet), Audubon Society, 141 Broadway, NY, 5 cents per dozen.

"Useful Birds and Their Protection" by E. H. Forbush, Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, p. 388."


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