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How to Build a Purple Martin House To Attract Bug-Eating 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 two-family house and attract these bug-eating birds to your yard to help make your summer pest-free.


  • 3/4-inch-thick western red cedar
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Wood screws
  • 4 small hinges
  • 2 gate-hook sets
  • Some screen
  • Stapler
  • All-purpose caulk
  • Water-based primer
  • White outdoor water-based paint
  • Paintbrush


Cut the following from 3/4″-thick western red cedar:

  • One piece, 29 1⁄2″ long and 15 1⁄2″ wide, for the base
  • Two pieces, 18 1⁄2″ by 7″, for the sides
  • Two pieces, 15 1⁄2″ by 7″, for the front and back
  • One piece, 14″ by 7″, for the interior divider
  • One piece, 20″ by 15 1⁄2″, for the ceiling
  • One piece, 11″ by 11″, for the roof peaks
  • One piece, 29 1⁄2″ by 11 1⁄2″, for the roof
  • One piece, 29 1⁄2″ by 12″, for the roof

STEP 1: Attach the sides to the base, leaving 5 1⁄2″ on each end.

STEP 2: Drill four 5⁄16″ holes, 2 1⁄4″ and 4 1⁄2″ from each end and 1″ from the top of the interior divider.

STEP 3: Attach the interior dividers to the base with screws.

STEP 4: Drill six 5⁄16″ holes through the floor of each of the compartments, one in each corner and one midway along each side.

STEP 5: Drill four 5⁄16″ holes in each of the front and back panels, 1″ from the top and 2 3⁄4″ and 5″ from both ends. Cut a 1 3⁄16″-tall half-circle hole in the middle of each panel 1″ from the bottom.

STEP 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.

STEP 7: Cut the 11″ square of wood along the diagonal to create roof peaks. Drill a 2 1⁄8″ hole 3″ 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.

STEP 8: Attach the ceiling to the sides. Drill a 2 1⁄8″ hole centered over each compartment and cover with screen.

STEP 9: 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 water-based outdoor 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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11 Comments on How to Build a Purple Martin House To Attract Bug-Eating Birds

  1. 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)

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

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

    it really works!

  4. 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

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

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

  7. 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!!

  8. 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!

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

  10. 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…

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