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Build a Purple Martin House for the birds

SAFETY FIRST: Ask an adult to help with tools you haven't used before.

More than 100 years ago, Native Americans made homes for purple martins out of gourds, attracting the friendly swallows to their camps. Here’s how you can build a four-family house and attract these bug-eating birds to your yard to help make your summer pest-free.


What You’ll Need

  • 1⁄2-inch-thick plywood
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Wood screws
  • 4 small hinges
  • 2 gate-hook sets
  • Some screen
  • Stapler
  • All-purpose caulk
  • Primer
  • White outdoor oil-based paint
  • Paintbrush

What You’ll Do

Cut the following from 1/2-inch-thick plywood:

  • One piece, 29 1 ⁄2 inches long and 15 1 ⁄2 inches wide, for the base
  • Two pieces, 18 1 ⁄2 by 7 inches, for the sides
  • Two pieces, 15 1 ⁄2 by 7 inches, for the front and back
  • One piece, 14 1 ⁄2 by 7 inches, for the main interior divider
  • Two pieces, 9 by 7 inches, for interior dividers
  • Two pieces, 7 by 5 inches, for the porch dividers
  • One piece, 19 1 ⁄2 by 15 1 ⁄2 inches, for the ceiling
  • One piece, 11 by 11 inches, for the roof peaks
  • One piece, 29 1 ⁄2 by 11 1 ⁄2 inches, for the roof
  • One piece, 29 1 ⁄2 by 12 inches, for the roof

bird_step1.jpgSTEP 1: Attach the sides to the base, leaving 5 1⁄2 inches on each end.


bird_step2.jpgSTEP 2: Drill four 5⁄16-inch holes,

2 1⁄4 inches and 4 1⁄2 inches from each end and 1 inch from the top of the main interior divider.


bird_step3.jpgSTEP 3: Attach the interior dividers to the base with screws.


bird_step4.jpgSTEP 4: Drill six 5⁄16-inch holes through the floor of each of the four compartments, one in each corner and one midway along each side.


bird_step5.jpgSTEP 5: Drill four 5⁄16-inch holes in each of the front and back panels, 1 inch from the top and 2 3⁄4 inches and 5 inches from both ends. Cut two 2 1⁄16-inch-diameter holes in each panel, each hole 3 inches from the side and 1 inch from the bottom.


bird_step6.jpgSTEP 6: Hinge the front and back pieces to the sides. Secure an eye catch to the free end of the front and back panels, and screw the hook into the sides.


bird_step7.jpgSTEP 7: Attach the porch dividers to the front and back between the entrance holes.


bird_step8.jpgSTEP 8: Cut the 11-inch square of wood along the diagonal to create roof peaks. Drill a 2 1⁄8-inch hole 3 inches from the top of each peak. Cut a piece of screen and staple over each hole. Attach the peaks to the front and back of the ceiling.


bird_step9.jpgSTEP 9: Attach the ceiling to the sides. Drill a 2 1⁄8-inch hole centered over each compartment and cover with screen.


bird_step10.jpgSTEP 10: Attach the narrow roof panel to the peaks. Position the wide panel so it overlaps the top edge of the shorter panel and secure to the roof peak. Seal the roof edge with caulk and finish the exterior with primer and white outdoor oilbased paint. Mount your house on a wooden post using angle irons or on a telescoping pole with a floor flange of the appropriate diameter.<


The Purple Martin Conservation Association offers tips for choosing your martin house location and the best dates to open the house in your region at

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17 Comments on Build a Purple Martin House for the birds

  1. How do you attach the house to a 4×4 post?

  2. micheal jackson // April 10, 2015 at 7:53 am // Reply

    it really works!

  3. Little Man // April 9, 2015 at 9:42 pm // Reply

    I havnt build one yet but going to like the plans very reasonable well built. I built an 18 hole martin house was fun they are very heavy.thanks littleman

  4. I believe a half moon entrance hole is a preferred solution to discouraging unwanted pest birds.

  5. How much wood is needed? And how much does it cost?

  6. Out of the three I built for the kids Christmas, two have Martins.. I’m sure the third one will in time.. Thanks for a great design!!

  7. Mr. Recklies and Mr. Hurley many thanks for the illustrations and complete instructions on simply a first-rate set of plans. Mine is mounted on a sixteen foot treated 4×4 and awaits the first Purple Martin Scout’s arrival. Your hard work on design is appreciated!

  8. Chris & Kevin- Thank you kindly for the excellent plans, illustrations and descriptions on this project. It is simply first-rate.

  9. Built three at one time for the kids Christmas present. I will put them up in the spring.. Challenging for someone who doesn’t do a lot of woodwork.. I’m very happy with the design…

  10. albert einstien // September 22, 2012 at 11:05 am // Reply

    thanks for the tip about purple martin house plans!
    i plan to build larger bird houses in the future.

  11. could you not put the screen and use that for more birds

  12. I am getting ready to build a martin house with your plan out of cedar. Hope the birds like it.

  13. can you size this down ? the house is very heavy

  14. This seems like a lot of work i dont think i will try it

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