When building birdhouses, one size definitely does NOT fit all. Know which birds are common to your area and find plans for a house that will suit the birds you wish to attract to your yard.
Paints, varnishes, and polyurethane come in various types; each leaves a different finished look. Matte finish dries somewhat dull, semi-gloss (also called a satin finish) is slightly shiny, and gloss finish is very shiny.
Make a project out of learning about one species of bird that flocks to you area. Make a house that this species will use. Find out what nesting materials they need and make sure they're available in your yard; provide plenty of the food they prefer. Make or buy a bird bath so there's always a source of water nearby. Research their habits. What are their migration and nesting patterns? Make sure you have good pair of binoculars and a notebook to write down your sightings. Make friends with a bird!
One woodworking project that can be made ultra-simple or super fancy is a nesting place for our feathered friends. Birdhouse designs can be simple (a box with a lid and a hole in the front for the bird to enter) or complex (a Victorian cottage with gingerbread trim and all sorts of decorative elements).
Before you decide what kind of house to build, consider the age of your child, your collective woodworking skills, and how much time you want to put into the project before you can actually hang it outside and have your first birdie housewarming party. You will also need the right tools.
Another consideration is what kind of bird you're building a house for. It would be a shame to discover the house you thought you were building for mother robin and her babies has been invaded by sparrows instead!
You can choose the right dwelling for your backyard birds – and learn more about backyard birding and birdhouse construction – through your local Agricultural Extension Office. Look in your phone book in the State Pages section under Cooperative Extension or Agricultural Extension for a number. You can also access Extension offices over the Internet. Enter the words "cooperative extension" or "agricultural extension" in your search engine (be sure to enclose in quotes). There is also a site called State Partners of the Cooperative Research, Education, and Extension Service with state links at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/.
Local wildlife centers or resources can also help. Again, the Internet can offer a wealth of information. One of the most extensive sites I found on birdhouses is the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center's site at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/. Not only are there plans for a variety of birdhouses, you'll also learn how to build a bat house, nest boxes, and shelf feeders for a variety of birds. If you have a list of birds common to your area, you'll know whether a particular house will attract the birds you want.
Another great site, which lists nest box dimensions for 28 different birds, is the Homes for Birds site sponsored by Baltimore Bird Club. They have the entire contents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife pamphlet "Home for Birds" at http://www.bcpl.lib.md.us/~tross/by/house.html. For another great birding site with tons of links for kids and parents, check out http://birding.miningco.com/msubkids3.htm.
You're going to build a birdhouse that requires only five pieces and no special cuts. This design is a favorite of the American Robin and Barn Swallow and is actually more of a shelf with a roof than a true house. I chose this design because even urban dwellers will find robins in their neighborhoods.