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Build a woodpecker cave: free building instructions for a woodpecker nest box

The intensive agricultural use of meadows, fields and forests has meant that the natural nesting places for birds have become fewer and fewer. Above all, the so-called cave breeders, who hide and raise their offspring in a breeding cave, are particularly affected. The most widespread cave breeder in our country is the woodpecker. Self-made nesting boxes can be of great help to ensure its survival.

Breeding behavior

Woodpeckers lay their eggs in cave-like structures, which they prefer to beat in trees. In these caves they also hatch the eggs and raise their young. Young woodpeckers are therefore also typical nestlings. The nest box offers special protection against external influences and especially against nest predators. If woodpeckers do not find suitable trees in which to create a breeding cave, they will not multiply either. Then at the latest it can be helpful to create a kind of artificial cave with a self-made nest box. However, the specific requirements that woodpeckers make must be taken into account. Above all, attention must be paid to the dimensions, the size of the entrance hole and the height at which the nest box will be installed.


A nest box is naturally exposed to wind and weather. It goes without saying that this requires building materials that can withstand the effects of the weather. The most important material by far is wood. Classically, the nest box is made from wooden boards. Some types of wood are better suited for this than others. Spruce boards, for example, have all the properties that are needed. Poplar boards are also wonderfully suitable for a wooden breeding cave. Whichever wood you choose: It is especially important that it has a high resistance to moisture. It should also not tear easily. So-called compressed wood and plywood, on the other hand, are completely unsuitable - at least if the nesting box is to be used for longer than one season. Natural spruce and poplar boards are easily available in hardware stores or in specialist wood shops. They also cost relatively little.

Note: The boards should not be planed smooth. The birds find a better hold on an unplaned, rough surface.

Other materials you will need:
  • two metal hinges so that the lid can be opened later
  • Material to seal the roof, such as zinc sheet or tar paper
  • a hook and an eye to be able to close the nest box safely later
  • rustproof, galvanized nails or brass screws to join the individual parts together
In addition, you should stock up on a water-repellent material such as linseed oil. With this, the entire nest box is impregnated and made water-repellent after completion. Chemical impregnation agents and varnishes are taboo. With them there is a risk that the health of the birds will suffer due to outgassing. Incidentally, the impregnation has to be renewed every year.


A nest box is a relatively simple construction that does not require much effort. The tools that are needed for construction should therefore normally already be owned. Specifically, you need:
  • Tape measure, pencil and square to mark the correct cuts on the components
  • a jigsaw or a foxtail for the blanks
  • Hammer, screwdriver and pincers
  • Drill with hole saw attachment to be able to saw out the entrance hole
Tip: If you don't have a hole saw attachment, you can only make do with a drill. A hole is simply drilled with it and then manually expanded to the entrance hole with a rasp.


As already indicated, a nest box is a downright simple construction. In principle, it consists of only four side parts, a floor part and a roof. There is an entrance hole at the front of the box so that the animals can get inside. A perch should not be used. On the one hand, they do not need the animals, on the other hand, it would make it easier for predators to get their prey. The roof of the nest box construction can be opened as well as the back. The roof can later be used to check how it looks inside. And the open back of the box is cleaned after the breeding season.


Birds are of different sizes and have different needs. It is logical that the size of a nest box should therefore also be tailored to the species of bird. Basically, a nest box is mainly used by cave breeders. We want to build a nest box especially for woodpeckers. Regardless of the type of woodpecker, the following dimensions have proven successful:
  • inner width: 150 mm
  • inner height: 280 millimeters
  • inner depth: 150 millimeters
  • Entrance hole diameter: 45 to 50 millimeters
These dimensions are minimum dimensions that are definitely required for a family of woodpeckers. The nest box can of course also be a bit larger. The strength of the boards used is also important. The ideal thickness is 18 millimeters. This means that the boards are thick enough to protect the woodpeckers inside the box from the cold later if necessary. 18 millimeters is also a standard thickness in which boards are usually cut. It should therefore also be very easy to get in stores.

building instructions

Building a nest box does not require a complicated blueprint or special manual skills. The construction is so simple that practically anyone can do it quickly and without problems. In principle, only six boards are cut to size and then pinned together with nails. Everyone should be able to do that now.


The first step is to cut the boards you bought to the right size. In order for this to work, the dimensions should be marked beforehand. It should be noted that the back should be slightly higher than the front in order to ensure a roof slope later. This also means that the two side parts at the top need a corresponding slope from back to front. How strong the inclination is is relatively irrelevant and is up to you. It should only be ensured that water can drain off. The slopes themselves are best marked with a square. When marking and cutting, you should proceed as carefully as possible in order to get precisely fitting individual parts. Precision fit guarantees that the finished nest box is really tight.

Cut the entrance hole

Before starting the assembly, the entrance hole has to be cut in the front. The easiest way to do this is with a hole saw attachment on the electric drill. The hole is made in the middle of the upper third of the front. It shouldn't be too deep, but just under the roof. To do this, simply measure the center from left and right and draw a point at this point with a pencil. The tip of the hole saw attachment is then placed on this point and the hole drilled. If you do not have such an attachment, simply drill a hole at the point indicated and then enlarge it manually with a rasp.


First, the two side parts and the front part are nailed or alternatively screwed to the base plate. Then the three parts have to be nailed together completely.

In the next step, the tar paper or the zinc sheet is then attached to the roof with nails or screws.

option A

Screw the back to fit into the woodpecker cave.

The hinges are either attached to the back or to the side panels directly next to the rear wall. Now set up the hinges to screw the roof tight.

Variant B

Before the back is inserted into the construction, the two front hinges are screwed onto the front or the side panels next to the front wall.

Then the back is inserted precisely into the opening and fixed at the top with two nails on the left and right. The nails serve as a kind of axis, with the help of which the page can be opened. An eyelet is also attached in the lower area. The back can then be secured with a hook on the base plate.

Finally, the roof only needs to be screwed onto the two hinges.

Under normal circumstances such a nest box does not take long to assemble. A construction time of about an hour should be sufficient. However, it would be wise to take a little more time when in doubt. Care also clearly comes before speed when building nest boxes. The birds will thank you later.


A woodpecker nest box will usually be attached to a tree. The easiest way to do this is to use a bar that protrudes to the left and right and which is nailed across the back. A fastening wire is attached to both sides of the bar, which of course must first be routed around the building trunk. It is best to clamp an old, sturdy plastic tube between the wire and the bark to avoid damaging the tree. Then the wire is tightened until the nest box is stable. Under no circumstances should the box be nailed directly to the tree. When attaching it, it is important that the entrance hole is on the leeward side. The box should also be attached in such a way that it cannot be reached by nest robbers and especially cats. Incidentally, the best time for hanging is in autumn so that the birds can find shelter in it in winter.