River Cottage Australia

How to Build a Nest Box for Native Birds

Building a nest box is the perfect way to attract and introduce native birds into your garden, farm or backyard. They are simple to make and the rewards of listening to their cheery chirping throughout the day will certainly be worth the effort! Here's how.

Paul West , host of River Cottage Australia, has built a simple nest box for the farm to attract native birds such as the Eastern Rosella or the Crimson Rosella - both of which are common to the Tilba area.

What is it?

A nest box is a man-made enclosure provided for birds to nest in. It is supposed to replicate the hollow of a tree.

Why build a nest box

Many native Australian birds like parrots, kookaburras, black cockatoos, owls and pardalotes live and breed in natural tree hollows. It is estimated that there are around 400 species of fauna that use tree hollows in Australia; however it takes over 100 years for a tree to form in the first place. Agricultural clearing, logging and higher fire frequencies can lead to the extinction of their homes. Nest boxes may be a viable alternative to these hollows and are also a great way to observe birds in your garden.

Paul has listed the following as common to River Cottage:

1) Swallow
2) Magpies (Don’t nest in tree hollows)
3) Peewees
4) Restless Flycatcher (Don’t nest in tree hollows)
5) King Parrot
6) Crimson/Eastern Rosella
7) Willy Wag Tail


The first thing to consider is what kind and size of bird you wish to encourage to breed in your garden. In most Australian suburban areas species include some Parrots, Tree Swallows, Pardalotes, kookaburras and Boobook Owls. Each species varies in size, shape and breeding requirements, and has different, although frequently overlapping, needs which a nest box can supply. These include different depths, lengths or shapes of hollow, size and placement of entrance, height above ground, and protection from predators. Also ensure the box is waterproof and make sure to drill drainage holes at the bottom of the box.

Paul used screws at the top of his nest box so he can open it to inspect chicks or to clean the box out when need be. Furthermore, the picture hooks and wire method for tying the nest box to a tree means that you can easily move the box at any time.


1) Cut your ends for the box - 40 cm high x 15 cm wide x 15 cm deep

2) Take your hole saw and cut your holes for the entrance (5cm) and the smaller one (2cm) for the perch

3) Glue your four walls to secure the walls together

4) Hammer in your 20 nails up the height of each side, front and back

5) Take the top piece and secure on with screws [use drill]

6) Take a suitable sized piece of branch (2cm) to fit into the small hole. Glue around edge to make sure it sticks, press in firmly

7) Coat with linseed oil

8) Screw in your two picture hooks on the back of the box, up the top

9) Secure wire wrapped around the hooks

10) Drop in your leaf litter and some dirt [so that it smells like and resembles a tree hollow)

11) Position box in tree


• 12 mm Ply wood
• Linseed to coat box
• Wire for attaching box to tree
• Drills
• 5 cm hole saw
• 2 cm hole saw
• Wood glue
• Hammer
• 20 nails
• 2 picture hooks
• 4 screws
• Dried leaves and litter for bottom of box

It is best to use recycled wood, such as off-cuts or plywood, rather than using unsustainably harvested timber. Keep in mind that the timber should be thick enough to provide insulation for vulnerable eggs and chicks.


  • Nest boxes require care and vigilance. Having a nest box isn't just about putting up a box and forgetting about it!
  • After the chicks have fledged and the adults have left the box, clean it out to prepare it for the next year.
  • Regularly check your box to ensure that the intended species has not been driven from their nest by introduced birds.
  • Regularly check the lid is intact and that the box is held securely to the tree. Using screws on the lid allows you to open the box easily once in a while to take a look inside, or to clean it out.
  • Try to deter introduced species and bees!
  • It may take up to a year before the nest box is occupied, so don’t be disheartened!


  • Ensure the box is protected from human disturbance, cats and away from roads.
  • Position the box at least 5 metres above ground – or high enough that it can’t be reached by predators.
  • The box should face north or northeast and away from prevailing winds, as well as nighttime lights.
  • Place the box in a position so that it’s protected from rain, cold and direct light

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