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How we built our Sparrow Hotel

When we moved into our house about 20 twenty years ago we used to have a lot of sparrows in the garden but we have noticed that their numbers have gradually decreased and that there are very few now. We know that there are sparrows in the village as we have seen them recently. Quite often this decline in Sparrow populations can down to lack of nest sites so in order to try and build their numbers up we decided to build a Sparrow hotel to go on the side of our garage.

Sparrows are social birds and like to nest in close proximity to each other in colony groups. We decided on a four nest box as I had four spare cameras having upgraded the hedgehog nest boxes to Reolink cameras. Due to having the cameras in the nest boxes the height of the hotel had to be increased to accommodate the cameras and the associated wiring.

Due to the large size of the Sparrow hotel I decided to use 9mm exterior grade plywood with softwood battens as joining pieces similar to the construction I used on the Double Swift box.

The size of the Sparrow hotel was taken from the British Trust for Ornithology's pdf on how to make a Sparrow box. I just multiplied it by 5 with the 5th one being for the electronics and as I mentioned before the height was increased by 150mm to accommodate the cameras.

We have detailed below how we built the Sparrow Hotel.

The back piece was cut to size and three 50mm strips were glued to the back on the two edges and in the middle. These battens help to iron out any irregularities in the brick work when fixing it in place.

Holes for the fixing screws and a hole for the wiring through to the garage were drilled into the back board. I then mounted the backboard onto the garage wall. The reason for doing this was that the backboard was a lot lighter than the fully assemble Sparrow hotel. Working off a ladder I could easily hold the backboard in the right place with my left hand and then drill at pilot hole through the right hand top fixing hole. I then drilled the hole for the rawplug and then screwed the top right screw in. Then having leveled the backboard I drilled a pilot hole through the left hand top fixing hole. I then drilled that to take a rawplug and screwed that in place. It was then easy to drill a pilot hole through the bottom two fixing holes on both sides. Unscrewing the top two fixings I could then drill the bottom two holes to take the rawplugs before repositioning and screwing the backboard in place. I could then mark through the hole in the backboard so that I could drill a hole in the garage wall brickwork for the wiring that is going to the network switch. (I wish that I had used this method when I made the Double Swift box, It would have made fixing it at height much easier)

Here you can see that I have made the two side pieces with the tapered top edge to give a sloop to the roof. I have also cut the battens that will be used to join the sides to the backboard. The screw holes have been drilled and countersunk ready for fixing together.

The top,bottom and side battens have been screwed into place on the backboard. The notch in the side pieces is accommodate the camera board, although I realised afterwards that I didn't actually need the one on the left side as that would house the switch and electronics for the cameras. I planed a slope on the top batten to match the slope of the roof.

The side pieces are screwed to their battens and then screwed to the backboard.

The sides and base are screwed into place along with the top front rail which has a halving joint cut into it and the side battens to give more stability and to make it easier to assemble. The front rail also had a slope planed on it to match the slope of the roof.

The four partitions were then cut. Initially as four rectangles which I then held together with some wide masking tape. With them taped as one block I used my band-saw to cut the sloop for the roof at the top edge, the four cutouts for the top and bottom battens and then using the pillar drill I drilled a hole in the top for the camera wiring. I then cut some 5mm x 15mm small battens which I screwed on to the partitions to make runners for the camera boards to lie on. You can also see that I have fitted the 5 port POE switch onto the back of the electronics compartment on the left hand side.

Now that the main body of the sparrow hotel was constructed and I was happy with it. I then unscrewed it all and reassembled it again but glued all the joints using a exterior grade wood glue. This will help it to be a much stronger construction and will also enable it to be more watertight.

Four 120mm x 150mm pieces of 9mm plywood were cut to use as the camera boards. A 20mm hole was drilled in the board to accommodate the wire and the cameras were screwed centrally onto the boards. The camera board for the right hand (No. 1 camera) had to be trimmed down by 10mm to allow it to fit through the slot in the right hand batten.

To make the wiring neater and to make it easier to take the cameras in and out I used a hot melt glue gun to glue all the connectors onto the camera board except for the microphone wiring which I left loose.

With all the wiring connected I could test out the cameras by connecting the 5 port POE switch to my network and using the Mac mini that I have in the workshop and connect into each camera in turn and adjust the camera picture and adjust the focus.

Unfortunately the cameras were white so I gave the body, microphone and camera a coat of dark midnight blue so that they don't stand out to the birds.

To help let in a little more daylight into the individual nest boxes that will help the cameras give colour rendition during daylight hours I decided to put in some small circular windows. These have worked well in my other nest boxes and don't to put the birds off using the nest boxes. I clamped the plywood front board onto the pillar drill having marked out their correct positions. I then drilled a hole right through the plywood using a 50mm Forstner bit. Keeping it still clamped I replaced the 50mm bit with a 60mm Forstner bit and drilled 5mm into the plywood using the gauge on the side of the drill to create a 5mm recess for the perspex.

The 32mm sized nesting holes were drilled using a Forstner bit and four 60mm circles of perspex were marked out on a sheet of clear perspex and rough cut using band-saw and then cleaned up on the sanding disc. The protective film was then removed and it was frosted by rubbing on some fine emery paper. This makes them a bit like frosted glass as it lets in a good amount of light but reduces the visibility to anything inside.

The window lights glued into place. I have also cut a 35mm strip off the bottom of the front panel. This was cut off at a downward angle to prevent any ingress of rain. This was screwed onto the bottom batten and two twist buckles made from some scrap oak were added to keep it in position.

I was originally going to screw the lid on but decided that even though I could slide out the cameras on their boards it would be difficult with all the wiring. I decided instead to put it on some stainless steel hinges so that I could open it and access the wiring should anything need adjusting or need to be repaired.

The top screwed into place. I decided on a 50mm overlap on the front and sides to stop rain dripping on to the hotel itself.

To make a secure closure to the front panel I screwed a batten to the roof to hold the front panel in place when the roof was closed.

The Sparrow hotel nearly complete, just needing the waterproof covering on the roof.

I stapled a piece of rubber butyl pond liner that I had left over from our wildlife pond to the roof to make it more waterproof. By stapling it over the back it has made it more waterproof so that water wouldn't go down the hinged edge.

The 5 port POE switch used a 48v DC supply and the microphones needed a 12v supply. To reduce the number of wires going to the Sparrow hotel I took the 48v DC supply to a piece of chocolate block where I connected in a 48v to 12v DC Buck converter that gave the 12v DC supply needed for the microphones.

The Sparrow hotel now completed. You can see that I have added some gray paxoline strips as a baffle behind the bottom panel joint. This was done to stop the ingress of any water and any drafts.

The Sparrow hotel now complete it needed to be screwed into position. When I had originally screwed on the backboard at the start of the project I screwed in a large screw-eye into the brickwork above where the Sparrow hotel was going to be positioned.

This gave me an anchor point that I could place a rope through to support the Sparrow Hotel as it was hoisted into position. With my wife holding the rope it was easy to slide the Sparrow hotel up the ladder and for me to climb up the ladder and put the Sparrow Hotel into position.

Because the screw holes had already been pre-drilled and raw-plugged it was an easy job to screw the first screw into the top right fixing hole and then align for the bottom fixing holes and screw them all in.

Within 3 days of putting the hotel up on 2nd February we had a Blue tit check it out! Shame it wasn't a sparrow!

The Sparrow hotel in place on the side of our garage. You can see a row of holes just under the roof. These are to ventilate the next boxes as unfortunately the cameras do generate a little bit of heat and these were put in to reduce any heat in the nest box itself.

Right hand side view of the Sparrow hotel. You can see the small aluminum bracket that I made that holds the roof in place.

For maintenance and to clean out the Sparrow hotel all I need to do is remove the single screw from each of the brackets on either side and lift the lid. Turning the turn buckets at the bottom of the hotel will release the front panel. You can see here that the front has been removed as I needed to remove camera 3 to put in an micro SD card.