Nest boxes for gerbils

nest box

Gerbils love things they can nest inside. Something with sides, top and a bottom. These are especially useful for breeding gerbils. Mom will have a suitable burrow for raising her family where she will feel safe. And you will be able to easily find the pups to check on them. And even if you don't have pups, gerbils of all ages love nest boxes!

Nest boxes can be made from a variety of materials. For something that can be sterilized and used long term, you could buy bathroom/kitchen tiles and put the pieces together with silicone. I like to work with wood though. The gerbils will eventually chew it up but that's fine (it's not like you spent a fortune making it). Once it's getting chewed down, just trash it.

There are lots of great ways to build your box. Every box I make is different, usually depending on what particular scaps of wood I have on hand. There's no reason yours has to look like mine. Unleash your imagination!

Update: Experience has now shown that many gerbils prefer nest boxes with two entrances. If there is only one entrance they will expend a lot of time and effort into creating a second exit. The entry corner is not essential if you face the entrance close to the side of the bin as this creates the illusion of a tunnel and corner.

For the actual research on what features a great nest box should have and an alternative method for building them, see Eva Waiblinger's "Comfortable Quarters for Gerbils in Research Institutions".

Features of a great nest box

Updated March 27, 2012

1. Some Walls

Thick sturdy walls
  • That should be obvious, of course! Walls form the main structure of the nest box and should therefore be sturdy.
  • A heavier box is harder for the gerbils to push around or knock over. So I've cut some lumber to equal lengths and put them together using white glue. White glue is non-toxic, so no worries if your gerbils chew it. It does take a while to dry fully so it will support the weight of the lumber. Give it a good 24 hours before using the nest box. You could use thicker plywood or MDF instead and save yourself some cutting and gluing.
  • If you plan to have a couple of litters, you'll need around 15 cm by 15 cm (6 inches by 6 inches) interior floor space so everyone fits in the nest. For smaller groups, you can make it smaller if you wish. If you make it too big, many gerbils will just fill the extra space with bedding.
entrance to the nest box

2. An Entrance Tunnel

  • In the wild, gerbils dig tunnels and hollow out a cavity for their nest. This gives them some distance between their home and and dangers out there. They still have that instinct. A tunnel gives them a feeling of security.
  • A tunnel can be formed as part of the walls, or added on. If all else fails, face the opening toward a wall in a corner of the tank or bin. This forms a natural corridor, though without a roof.
  • The tunnel need be only about 4 - 5 cm (about 1 1/2 inches) wide. They need just enough space to get in and out. It should feel like a tunnel. It need not be very long unless you want to make it long. The gerbils won't mind!

3. A Corner

A corner from the tunnel to the nesting area
  • If a wild gerbil built a straight tunnel to their nest, predators could just stick their paws in and pull out dinner! Putting a corner in the tunnel prevents that problem and makes gerbils feel safer.
  • Their actual nest is typically built at the end, after the corner, surrounded by walls on as many sides as possible. This will make it nice and cozy.
  • Ever watch a gerbil grab a treat and run off and turn? Turning corners instinctively makes them feel safe. It doesn't always work out that way for our pets, but we can still do our best to give them the opportunity.

4. A Floor

Bottom of nest box
  • A bottom on the box will help keep everyone inside where they belong. Without it, the box could get pushed around and the walls could crush a pup that gets caught under it.
  • The bottom needs to be flat with no nooks or crannies for anything to be caught in if they manage to crawl under the nest box.
  • Place the nest box flat on the floor of your tank or bin to prevent gerbils from burrowing under it and knocking it over.
  • On this box, I cut the bottom out of a piece of the lid from a bin I earlier made into a bin cage. I placed the finished box on the plastic and traced it out with a utility knife. Then I turned it over and stapled it on (with a staple gun, not a stapler). White glue won't hold plastic on wood.
  • You could instead make the bottom out of plywood, MDF or lumber and glue it on.

5. A Roof

Top of nest box
  • Gerbils feel safest when they have a roof over their heads (don't you too?). It gives them a cozy feeling and keeps the heat in.
  • I suggest making the lid removable... it'll be so much easier to check on your gerbils any time.
  • The lid should be designed to stay on the box. You don't want it falling in on the gerbils or getting knocked off all the time. There are various ways to keep the lid from falling off. You could put edges all around it. Or, do like I did on this box. Glue a piece of wood parallel with the entrance tunnel on the underside of the lid. The tunnel walls will hold the stopper in place and keep the roof from flying around.
  • Gerbils will pee all over the roof. It'll soak into plain wood.
  • Overhead view of nest box Stopper prevents lid from being knocked off all the time

Almost done!

Nest box buried in bedding
  • Be sure to give the glue a good 24 hours to dry before using the nest box. You don't want it falling apart after all that work do you?
  • Place the nest box flat on the bottom of your tank or bin and fill the rest with lots of bedding. Give them a good 15 cm (6 inches). They'll rearrange it, deeper some places, shallower others. They'll appreciate having all that bedding available.
  • Put some nice soft tissue in the nesting area. They'll fluff it up nicely for a cozy bed!