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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


Check out these photos of the completed project sent to us by Boys’ Life readers. If you have a photos of a BL Workshop project, please use the form below to send them to us.

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50 Comments on Build a Purple Martin House for the birds

  1. How big should the entrance holes be? Thank you.

  2. Wood-be Builder // April 15, 2017 at 10:38 am // Reply

    Sorry–make that 29 1/2 for the base, but only 19 1/2 for the roof pieces.

  3. Wood-be Builder // April 15, 2017 at 10:34 am // Reply

    The base and 2 roof pieces should all be 19 1/2 inches long, not 29 1/2.

  4. BSA Star Scout // April 8, 2017 at 12:57 pm // Reply

    What are the specifications of the completed birdhouse? I am using this for requirement number nine for the personal management merit badge (BSA)

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

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

    it really works!

  7. 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

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

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

  10. 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!!

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

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

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

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

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

  19. Thnak you for cool plan. This is really great. Others charge money for a simple plan

  20. Awesome any other woodworking ideas

  21. cool stuff

  22. PEE WEE MAN // March 31, 2011 at 11:03 am // Reply

    Like it

  23. random guy on the street // March 21, 2011 at 7:23 pm // Reply

    this is great! my mom was just talking about buying one, but now i can make one for her!

  24. Ill put a bird feeder right next to it.

  25. This is the perfect birdhouse for virtually any small bird. Thanks.

  26. troop 7 jace // January 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm // Reply


  27. The Man with the Banjo // August 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm // Reply

    At first I thought that it meant a purple house for martins. 😀

  28. about how much will this cost

  29. I like birds

  30. Im 11 and I built 2 one for my grandpa and one for my mom. Thanks!!

  31. i am so going to build this for a 4-h project!!!!!!!

  32. dlshggdhfgdfgdhf // July 16, 2009 at 11:43 am // Reply

    uhh.. icant really say any thing

  33. Birdhousebuilder38621 // May 2, 2009 at 6:19 pm // Reply

    This is a difficult project to attempt to build. The purple martin songbirds will refuse to use this type of birdhouse if the entrance to each individual room does not have the correct diameter of the entrance to each room in the birdhouse as accepted to the correct species of songbird. If a person can properly build this project, it is a great accomplishment to build this type of birdhouse. This is difficult to build.

  34. thanks so much for the pattern for martins, we are new at this so we are still learning. again thanks

  35. im agirl

    Im so going to use this idea for

    my Quarter project

  36. I am going to build this in my wood working class

  37. That Is awsome

  38. I am definitely going to build it.

  39. it’s funny OK!!!!

  40. i was a cubscout

  41. cool

  42. cool

  43. cool.

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