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My Wild Backyard and Vivariums

Making Outdoor Critter Houses
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Different types of construction for different types of critters for the back yard, from birds, bats and frogs to butterflies.

Bird House

The easiest way to make a bird house is to get a 1/2" by 6" board and cut it to these dimensions.

a)*One - 1ft length
b)*Two - 1ft length
c)*One - 1ft, 6inches length
d)*One - 8 inches length
e)*One - 6 inches length

*Pre-drill holes into one board before screwing together.

A - This is the front which you can drill a hole near the top large enough for a small bird using a hole saw drill bit or just cut a U-shape in the center of the top with a jig saw (I love my jigsaw). Optionally you can just make the board a few inches shorter than the others.

B - Add both sides to the front, laying the front board over the sides of the B - boards. Screw them in place with the bottom ends very level.

C - Turn it over with A - side down. Lay this back board over the sides of the B - boards with three inches over level on the top and bottom and screw in place.

D - If you want the option of hinges for the top, they'll have to be placed on one of the sides in this particular style of bird house. You'll need a latch on the other side to keep the wind or squirrels from popping it open. Otherwise, lay the board over the top and screw in place, it should have a little, jutting out roof.

E - Turn it over and place the bottom board.

Using wood glue or a caulk gun, fill the edges and corners making it leak proof. Using the drill gun, make pre-drilled holes in a circle on the bottom and just a few on two sides. Optionally you can add a perch using a long screw or pre-drilling a hole and wood glue half of a chop-stick into it. Paint the outside or use Thompson's water seal and let dry. Don't paint the inside at all.

Before spring, pick a good tree and screw it against the tree using the extra 3" on the back at the top and bottom. Pre-drill the holes before you get up there and make sure your screws are long enough to allow some space between areas where getting against the bark just isn't perfect.

Butterfly House or Toad House

The butterfly house is the same principle as the bird house. Only, you make the entrance hole 1/2" wide and 3,1/2" to 4" long. The size of the house will depend on how many butterflies will actually get in there so you may want to make a larger or longer/wider house as the bird house above might be more appropriate for several small butterflies but only three or four larger ones.

Rough up the inner sides with a rough grain sand paper for easy footing.

Butterflies will use this shelter to get out of the weather or spend the night. Other potential critters that might get in there as well are small reptiles like lizards and geckos.

If you lay this butterfly house on the ground with only one slot entrance at 1/2" to 1" width, it could also just as easily become the favored home of a toad. Just bury the bottom portion, longest side down, at least 2" deep to ensure it's steady and not going anywhere, with all or a portion of the slit entrance just above ground surface so they can easily squeeze in from hopping over to it.

Tree Frog House

This is my own invention inspired by my Hyla's who like to hang around places I have plastic green sheet roofing on the side of my house. Basically the Hyla's like anything that's green and moist like around a rolled up garden hose or rain barrel but I swear I'm running a tree frog epidemic so having more places for all these tree frogs appeals to me. If the neighborhood gets overrun, it's because they started in my yard!

Just get one sheet or whatever you feel like affording and cut it about 3 to 4 feet in length. There's allot of ways you can get this sheet around and anoles like it too.

*Wrap the sheeting around the base of a tree or rain water barrel.

*Use 1 foot sizes or taller to line the bottom edge of your house or wooden privacy fence.

*Size a sheet of ply board against it and cut it to the same dimensions. Nail or staple gun the long ends of the sheet to the ply board and set it upright. You can set this against anything, or a cyclone fence, or put two sheets together so the grooves make hole slots with the fencing between them.

*Roll several 3 foot lengths together to make a honeycombed tube, tie it closed and set it out by the compost or garden.

Other alternatives include using a 2 or 3ft Pvc pipe and cap off the end with small holes to allow rain water to slowly leak out or partially dig it into the ground. You want the water, fill it a quarter way with rain water and just leave it alone in an out of the way place or against a tree or fence and tree frogs will use it.

The Hole House

This is nothing more than a hole a shovel deep and two shovels long in an out of the way spot. All you do then is place a board over it and maybe a little leaf litter inside it. This is the simplest type of refuge for the ground critters. For some reason I always find the spotted Hyla Squirrella prefering to rest from foraging or hybernate under a board on the ground. I kind of like to think of the hole in the ground as a way of paying back all the spots I disturb because most of these ground critters are very benificial to my yard and garden. This hole or board may home anything from a mole, toads, harmless snakes, skinks, centipedes, millipedes, land planarian, woodlouse and some spiders to snails and slugs. Earth worms will prefer it as a safe spot to stick a part of themselves out for some fresh air. The snails and slugs might not be so desirable for the garden but some people do like them and they're more beneficial than harmful in moderation, helping build rich soil from munching on organic materials and as prey to other critters you would prefer to attract such as the land planarian, centipede, mole and toad. They love slugs.

Toad Houses

Ground burrowing toads like the Gulf Coast Toad, American Toad and Texas Toad can have houses made out of clay plant pots or even an over turned skillet. You can buy other types of houses for them that look kind of cute. Anywhere from a pottery to a long house out of wood.

Toads mostly prefer being slightly under ground and come out to forage insects or for the rain to mate. They like anywhere moist and cool, plenty of insects close by and a spot that's unlikely a curious cat, small dog or child could easily come after them. You can find toads any where from in the air gap of a large plastic plant pot to beneath a board left on the ground for a long time.

The all time easiest home to make for them is the clay pot, basically you can use any size. Dig a hole deep enough to angle the pot into the ground so that at least a finger can fit between ground and the lip of the pot with some of the bottom sticking up. Bury the sides back over, so it looks kind of like a sinking ship. The finger space between the lip and earth makes them squeeze in and they'll feel more secure as they hang out in the large space underneath. You'll know it's occupied if the dirt around the lip starts to look a little like it has a worn depression from digging and fitting in. It's also kind of neat looking in the garden or along a tree with chances one will come out to see what you're stirring up with your spade.

Doing the same with something like a tea kettle has a nice country feel to it around a garden. While a ceramic one would be prefered you can use just about anything as long as it isn't glass and they can get in through a large enough spout or a half buried lid opening.

A Bat or Reptile House Shingle

*Two 1/2" by 6" boards at 1ft in length maximum or 7" length minimum
*Two 1/2" by 2" at 1ft length (or 7" if making the shorter house)
*One 1/2" by 2" at 4inch length

Make grooves going across the inside of the 6" boards at 1inch apart like ruled paper with a groove wood cutter, exacto-knife or groove/grinder bit for a hand drill. These are the foot holders for a bat for easy resting and climbing.

Sandwich all three of the 2" boards between the two wider boards, making an inner, three sided frame. The inside frame boards on the length sides should be sticking out an inch for a 1/2" width, 4" length hollow center or chamber inside. Screw the sandwich together. You can use the extra inch sticking out from the inside frame boards as what you'll use to screw this panel in place at least 12ft high against a tree or the side of the house or in the garage. Paint the outside of it with such as Thompson's water seal to protect the wood from weather and termites but leave the inside as is. You now have a single shingle bat house and can add another shingle or two by laying down another frame of 2" boards over it and another panel over that and screw in place.

Bats might actually come live in it by the next spring, but this is a fairly small house so chances aren't as good as with a bigger house, more comparable from a tent-out to a model home. Other critters that might take to this house though are geckos, lizards and butterfly's. You can use cedar and pine but the strong smell can be irritating to a butterfly or reptile and they might not house it depending on the strength of the resin smell. A harsh resin smell could also give even a bat some respiratory complaints.

The 1/2" width of the inside chamber is more than enough for a bat (no less than 3/4") and not so big wasps and hornets might house it instead, they mostly prefer 1 and 1/2" entrances.

Even though you had bats in mind, you could place this shingle a little lower on a tree, fence or put it on a stake and place it in the garden or against the house and lizards or even tree frogs will use it for a quick refuge and shade.

Ventilated Small Bat House

A true bat house needs 6-8 hours of sunlight in a day and bats do not usually house in one over the winter. It needs to be mounted at least 12ft from the ground. Close to water like a pond will increase your chances bats will actually use it.

This one is very much like a combination of the bird house instructions above with adding the bat house shingle.

Back of the house
Back: *One: 1/2" thick board: 1', 2" length and 1', 3" height with ruled paper grooves on one side. This will be the bottom (back of the house).

Sides, Bottom and Top of The House
Sides: *Two 1/2" by 6" boards 1',3" height
Top (bottom optional): *1/2" thick board 6" length and 1',2" height.

Frame the back board inside this box so that the sides and top are around it rather than inside and screw in place.

If you want a bottom board to close up the entire house but still be able to clean it out of possible guano in the winter, set it in place and use two small hinges on one side against a side board and latch or use a single screw to hold it to the other side board. Otherwise, just leave the bottom board out of the whole thing to allow possible droppings to fall to the ground.

The Inside Frame Boards
Ten: *1/2" by 1" boards, 1ft in height.

Lay two of these 1" boards 3inches below the top board or so they're level with the bottom, laying on their 1" side on the bottom board and their 1/2" side snug against the frames. Wood glue them in place.

Overlaying Inside Board
Chamber: *1/2" thick boards, 1',1.5" length, 1ft height.

Lay this board over the two 1" inner frame boards and wood glue into place. This should make a chamber that is 1/2" width and 1ft length. Keep making chambers, laying frame and then board, until you have five of them or 1inch between the final chamber and the outer frame of the house. The final chamber board should have grooves on both sides.

Basically it should look like a bird house with a grooved face that also has a 3inch opening at the top between the roof and chambers with the bottom left open or closed. The frame itself should have 1 inch left from putting five chambers inside it.

Final Face of The House
One: 1/2" thick board: 1', 2.5" length and 1', 3.5" height with ruled paper grooves on one side facing in. This will be the front (face of the house).

Lay this board completely over the face of the bat house and screw in place. You should now have a box with six chambers, the face being the entrance chamber at the bottom, with the other chambers accessible to a bat by going up through the 3inch leeway at the top of the box if you added a bottom. Even if you didn't add a bottom and left all the chambers open, the 3inch leeway at the top makes the perfect ventilation for this bat house and adds a roomy spot for crawling around, breeding and younglings.

It's still a rather small box at just a little over a foot squared and 6 to 7 inch width but that's still allot of bats considering the tiny size of almost all of the 32 species known to native Texas. I'm most likely to see free tails and Vespertilionidae

Making a Bluebird House

Bird and Bat Houses

Toad House