Before searching the internet for birdhouse plans, you should start by answering the following question:
What species of birds do you want to nest in your backyard?
There are THOUSANDS of different free birdhouse plans available online, from small houses for chickadees to platform nests for robins to large nest boxes for owls. The size, style, and location of your birdhouse will determine which types of birds will be attracted to nest inside.
Today I have provided a list of 13 free birdhouse plans!
I have organized my list below by the type of bird you are hoping to attract. Most of the house plans include a PDF you can download or a video.
Table of Contents: Free Birdhouse Plans
Bluebird / Swallow House Plans (6 Free PDF’s)
Robin / Cardinal / Dove Nesting Shelf Plans (2 Free PDF’s)
Wren / Chickadee Birdhouse Plans (2 Free PDF’s)
Purple Martin House & Gourd Rack Plans (3 Free PDF’s)
Before we begin, I want to provide a warning:
If you are looking for “cute” or “artsy” birdhouses, this article is NOT for you.
Each of the birdhouse plans listed below is designed to ACTUALLY attract birds to your backyard. The dimensions, engineering, and size of the entrance hole were created with each specific bird species in mind.
Lastly, I want to share with you a LIVE look at my backyard bird feeding station. During the day you can expect to see a wide variety of birds common to the Eastern United States. If you’re lucky, you may even observe a juvenile bird coming to the feeders for the first time!
Live Bird Feeder Camera:
Ok, let’s begin!
1. Bluebird House Plans:
Building appropriately sized birdhouses is a great way to help conserve native bluebirds. No matter the species (Eastern, Western, & Mountain), bluebirds ONLY build nests inside pre-made cavities, which means they can’t create a cavity themselves and rely on using holes that woodpeckers have drilled in seasons past.
Bluebird numbers had been declining for decades due to competition for limited nesting sites (House Sparrows!) and humanity’s preference to remove old and rotting trees that typically have perfect nesting cavities hollowed out.
Luckily, bluebird numbers have been steadily increasing thanks to the heroic efforts of local birders dedicated to building and monitoring bluebird houses.
Important things to know about building bluebird nest boxes:
- Bluebirds like nest boxes in open spaces. Don’t put one in the forest unless you want chickadees or titmice to use it.
- You need to space individual or pairs of nest boxes at least 300 feet from one another.
- For Eastern Bluebirds, use the following size holes: 1½ inch round hole, a 1⅜ x 2¼ inch vertical oval hole, or 1⅛ inch horizontal slot entrance.
- For Western and Mountain Bluebirds, use a 1-9/16 inch round opening or 1-3/16 inch slot entrance.
- Either build a predator guard for the house entrance or buy one. Predator guards provide additional distance which makes it harder for predators to reach in and grab nestlings.
- Make sure to install something on the pole that prevents predators from climbing into the nest box, such as a baffle.
- Don’t forget to include floor drainage for water and vents to help with heat.
- Different style bluebird boxes work better in specific regions. It may be worth contacting your closest bluebird society to see which house plan they recommend.
*Other species that will use bluebird houses: Swallows (Tree, Violet-green), House Sparrows, chickadees (Black-capped, Carolina, Mountain), titmice (Tufted, Oak, Juniper, Black-crested), & wrens (Bewick’s, Carolina, House). European Starlings will also use bluebird houses if the hole is larger than 1-1/2 inches.
A. FREE bluebird house plans:
- Xbox Birdhouse PDF (Nestboxbuilder.com)
- Peterson Bluebird House PDF (Nestboxbuilder.com)
- Gilbertson PVC Bluebird Nest Box PDF (Nestboxbuilder.com)
- F30 Nestbox PDF– Ideal for Western/Mountain Bluebirds (Nestboxbuilder.com)
B. DIY YouTube video with step-by-step instructions.
Those PDF’s above can be overwhelming for someone like me that is not very handy. I tend to do better following video instructions.
Here is one bluebird house plan that I found and enjoyed on YouTube. It’s fascinating that it was built entirely from a 6-foot dog ear fence picket.
C. Buy a pre-made bluebird house.
If you have already given up trying to build your own, then buy one of these pre-made houses on Amazon and call it a day.
2. Robin / Cardinal Nesting Shelf:
Northern Cardinals and American Robins are two of the most popular and common birds native to North America. Who doesn’t enjoy watching cardinals visit their bird feeders or robins digging for worms in their yard? And I can’t think of a more pretty color than a blue robins egg!
So it’s no surprise that many people want to build birdhouses that attract these two beautiful birds.
But there is a significant problem:
Robins and cardinals will NOT use a traditional birdhouse for nesting!
That’s because only natural cavity nesters like bluebirds, wrens, or chickadees will use enclosed birdhouses where the only way in is through a small hole.
Robins and cardinals, along with Mourning Doves and Barn Swallows prefer open nesting sites!
So instead of building a standard enclosed birdhouse with a small circular entrance hole, we need to create a nesting shelf where these species will feel comfortable enough to make a nest.
I also like that installing nesting shelves around my yard provides a secure place for robins and other birds to raise their young. I can’t tell you how many times I have been monitoring a nest only to have it fall out of the tree after a massive wind storm! If birds could talk, I’m sure they would thank you for providing one of the below nesting platforms.
There are quite a few species that will use nesting shelves.
The list includes Blue Jays, Barn Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Finches, Eastern Phoebes, & Say’s Phoebe.
Robins should use a nesting shelf without much problem as they are not afraid to nest near human activity. Try placing the nest shelf underneath eaves of porches or barns or onto the side of a large mature tree.
Cardinals, on the other hand, are challenging and extremely secretive when it comes to building a nest. If you can attract cardinals to any of the plans listed below, please share what worked!
A. Popular DIY nesting shelf plans:
- Robin Nest Shelf PDF – NestWatch.org
- The Basic Robin, Barn Swallow, & Phoebe House Plan PDF –Wintu Audubon Society – You need to scroll down to Chapter 8 on page 56!
B. YouTube video with step-by-step instructions.
Here is the best video on YouTube that I could find that demonstrated how to build a nesting shelf. My favorite part is he only uses scrap wood from around the house!
C. Buy a pre-made nesting shelf.
- JCs Wildlife Robin Birdhouse – Nesting shelf made from cedar and recycled plastic.
3. Wren / Chickadee Birdhouse Plans:
Both chickadee’s and wrens are cavity nesters and regularly use enclosed birdhouses.
To build a birdhouse that only lets chickadees and wrens inside and not larger birds, such as House Sparrows, you want to drill a hole that has a diameter of 1.25 inches.
The bluebird house plans listed in Section #1 above also attract chickadees and wrens, but these small birds will have to compete against a wider variety of species for the nesting space. That’s why I like giving chickadees & wrens their own nesting boxes. 🙂
Here are some tips for having success with chickadee/wren birdhouses:
- Place the nest box on the edge of the woods to attract either species. The farther into the forest you go, the more likely you will have chickadees instead of wrens.
- Attach the box to a building, post, or tree between 5 -15 feet above the ground. Chickadees and most birds want the house secure, but House Wrens will tolerate their nest swinging freely!
- Box spacing: 650 feet for chickadees, 100 feet for House Wrens, 330 feet for Carolina Wrens.
A. FREE wren & chickadee birdhouse plans:
- Classic Nest Box: (NestWatch.org)
- Slanted/Side Entry Nest Box: (Empressofdirt.net)
- Remember that any of the bluebird house plans in Section #1 above will work for chickadees and wrens, especially if you drill the entrance hole smaller than 1-1/2 inches.
Here are the different species that may use the above nest boxes, depending on what size hole you drill:
- 1-inch hole: House Wren, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch
- 1-1/8 inch hole: Chickadees, Bewick’s Wren, Prothonotary Warbler
- 1-1/4 inch hole: Carolina Wren, Titmice, White-breasted & Red-breasted Nuthatch, AND House Sparrows.
B. DIY YouTube video with step-by-step instructions.
In the video, it is advised to drill the hole 1-1/4 inches in diameter for chickadees. While that distance will work for chickadees, my recommendation is to drill the hole 1-1/8 inches. This diameter will still allow chickadees and House Wrens but prevents House Sparrows.
Don’t like any of the plans listed above? Then try one of these birdhouses that can be purchased on Amazon:
- Woodlink Hanging Wren House: The hole diameter is large at 1-1/4 inches, but if you hang this house then you should only have House Wrens making their nest inside. Most other species need their nest securely attached!
4. Purple Martin House Plans:
Purple Martins are considered colonial cavity nesters. This means that they like living together in large groups!
So any plans you will find for Purple Martins won’t include just one birdhouse. To successfully attract these birds you need to provide a multifamily martin house or a group of gourds. It’s recommended to give a minimum of 4 cavities, but 6-12 is a better start for a colony.
You should feel good about helping Purple Martins. Over the years these acrobatic birds have become entirely dependent on humans for housing, due to extreme competition from invasive cavity-nesting species such as European Starlings!
You need to know that signing up to host a colony of Purple Martins is not a set it and forget it project. Managing your site requires some maintenance on your end. Here are a few tips and guidelines:
- The minimum size of each cavity should be 6 inches x 6 inches, but the larger, the better. There must be room for 6-8 birds since parents sleep with their babies at night. For gourds, make sure the diameter is at least 10 inches.
- Recommended Book: The Complete Guide to Attracting and Housing Purple Martins
- The size of the round entrance hole should be between 1-3/4 in to 2-1/4 in. Anything larger and you run the risk of allowing predators such as small hawks and owls to raid the nest.
- It’s recommended to keep the cavity holes closed until Purple Martins arrive back from their migration from South America. Otherwise, you risk invasive European Starlings and House Sparrows moving in before the martins arrive. If you do find a nest from an invasive species, remove it promptly.
- Place your Purple Martin nesting area at least 60 feet away from buildings and trees. Try to find the center of the most open spot available. Place at least 10 feet high. Boat docks make great spots for gourd racks and houses.
A. Free Purple Martin house & gourd rack plans:
- Gourd Rack PDF Plan: (Pennsylvania Game Commission)
- Purple Martin House PDF: (Purple Martin Place)
- Purple Mountain Birdhouse PDF: (Wisconsin Public Service)
B. DIY YouTube video with step-by-step instructions.
This video shows how to build a GORGEOUS purple mountain house.
If you’re more interested in building a gourd rack for Purple Martins, here’s a video that shows how to install one complete with a pulley system.
C. Buy pre-made Purple Martin houses.
12 Gourd Rack Combo Kit – Includes all accessories to install complete housing community
*Links take you to Amazon.*
Final Thoughts and Conclusion
Are you ready to turn your backyard into a bird nursery?
I hope that’s the way you are feeling after learning about all the different bird species you can attract using the above free birdhouse plans.
Just remember that the first question you need to ask yourself is:
What types of birds do you want to attract?
Your answer will guide you the specific birdhouse or nestboxes you need.
If you are looking for more information, I’d highly recommend the book below. It gives a lot of great information about not only building birdhouses but also many tips on how to maintain and attract birds to them.