Which Birds Will Use A Nest Box?

Around 85 species of birds are cavity-nesters in North America. About three dozen North American birds will nest in bird houses.

As you know, many of the birds that visit feeders and baths may stay and nest in nearby trees.

Most of them, including cardinals, doves, orioles, finches and others, but they don't nest in boxes.

You can still help them by considering their food and shelter requirements in your landscape plans.

You can also hang out a wire cage full of nesting materials (fiber scraps, twigs, wool, or feathers) in the spring

The following descriptions will help you determine which cavity-nesters might visit your neighborhood.

Eastern Bluebird

Bluebirds: We have a love affair with these cavity-nesters. After all we almost lost them to more aggressive non-native House sparrows and European starlings and loss of habitat.

Bluebirds prefer open areas. If you put up a bluebird house near an old field, orchard, park, cemetery, or golf course, you'll have a good chance of attracting a pair of bluebirds.

They prefer nest boxes on a tree stump or wooden fence post around five feet high. Bluebirds also nest in abandoned woodpecker nest holes.

The most important measurement is the hole diameter. A 1-1/2" hole is small enough to deter starlings.

Starlings and house sparrows have been known to kill baby bluebirds as well as adults sitting on the nest.

Bluebirds have problems with other animals too. The easiest way to discourage predatory cats, snakes, raccoons, and chipmunks is to mount the house on a metal pole. You can use a metal predator guard to deter sneak attacks. Predator guards or carpet tack-board on a wood post work wonders.

House sparrows are still a problem. Trapping or destroying sparrows helps the Bluebirds. It is the male sparrow that starts the nest and it is him you must stop.

There is a long way to go, but thanks to people like you, our Bluebirds are making a nice come back.

Chickadees, Nuthatches, and Titmice: Chickadees, Titmice, and Nuthatches are in the same family and share the same food, feeders, and habitats.

If you put a properly designed nest box in a wooded yard, at least one pair is sure to check it out.

Put chickadee houses at eye level (mine are about six feet off the ground).

Hang them from limbs or secure them to tree trunks. The entrance hole should be 1-1/8" to attract chickadees yet exclude house sparrows.

Carolina Chickadee

Anchor houses for titmice and nuthatches on tree trunks five to six feet off the ground.

You can encourage these cavity-nesters to stay in your yard by continuing to fill your suet and peanut feeders through the summer.

Brown Creepers and Prothonotary Warblers: Look for brown creepers to nest behind the curved bark of tree trunks. In heavily wooded yards, slab bark houses will appeal to creepers. Prothonotary warblers also prefer slab bark houses, but theirs must be placed over water.

Wrens: As cavity-nesters,Wrens don't seem to be very picky about where they nest. Try nest boxes with a 1"x 2" horizontal slot (1-1/2"x 2-1/2'' for the larger Carolina wrens) instead of a circle. These are easier for the wrens to use. Traditional boxes have a 1-1/8 inch hole.

Wrens are notorious for filling up any conceivable nest cavity with twigs, regardless of whether they use the nest. Since male house wrens build several nests for the female to choose from, hang several nest boxes at eye level on partly sunlit tree limbs.

Wrens are sociable and will accept nest boxes quite close to your house.

Wrens are also known to break eggs and kill babies of other cavity-nesters like Chickadees and Bluebirds.

Swallows: Tree swallows prefer nest boxes attached to dead trees. Space the boxes about seven feet apart for these white-bellied birds with iridescent blue-green backs and wings. The ideal setting for these insect-eaters is on the edge of a field near a lake, pond, or river.

Violet green swallows nest in forested mountains of the west. Boxes placed on large trees in a semi-open woodland will attract them.

You can pair houses for cavity-nesting swallows and Bluebirds.

Purple Martins: History shows the American Indians were providing nest sites for Martins centuries ago. Many people want Martins because, it's been said, these birds "can eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day." While it's true that they eat flying insects, don't expect Purple martins to wipe out your mosquitoes.

Martins actually prefer dragonflies and other large insects which prey on mosquito larvae.

Mosquitoes are most active after sunset. If you want to rid your yard of mosquitoes, put up a bat roosting box. One bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes a night.

Don't cross Martins off your prospective tenant list because they don't live up to their "bug zapping" reputation. If you need a reason for attracting them, these gregarious swallows put on a show that's better than any television soap opera.

You have the best chance of attracting Martins if you put a house on the edge of a pond or river, surrounded by a field or lawn. Martins need a radius of about 40 feet of unobstructed flying space around their houses. A convenient wire nearby gives them a place to perch in sociable groups.

Purple martin

Martins nest in groups, so you'll need a house with a minimum of four large rooms -- 6 or more inches on all sides, with a 2-1/2 inch entrance hole about an inch and a half above the floor.

Ventilation and drainage are critical factors in Martin house design. Porches, railings, porch dividers and supplemental roof perches, like an old TV antenna, will make any house more appealing for your cavity-nesters.

Gourds may also be made into houses for the cavity-nesters by making an entrance hole and providing drainage. If you use gourds, it's not necessary to add railings and perches. Adult Martins will perch on the wire used to hang the houses.

Before you decide on a house, take the time to think about what kind of pole you're going to put it on. Martins will occupy a house that's between ten and twenty feet off the ground. Some poles are less cumbersome than others.

Plastic Gourd house

Gourd houses are the easiest to set up. You can string them:

• from a wire between two poles

• from a sectional aluminum pole

• on pulleys mounted to cross-bar high up on a pole.

Light-weight aluminum houses can be mounted on telescoping poles, providing easy access for maintenance and inspection. Because of their weight (well over 30 pounds), wood houses cannot be mounted on easy-access telescoping poles.

You'll have to use a sturdy metal or wood pole attached to a pivot post. The problem with this "lowering" technique is that you can't tilt the house without damaging the nests inside. If you put your house on a shorter, fixed pole, ten to twelve feet high, you can use a ladder to inspect and maintain it.

There is a lot of work and responsibility in being a Martin landlord. The cavity-nesters rely almost totally on human housing.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Flycatchers: The great crested flycatcher and its western cousin, the ash-throated flycatcher, are common in wooded suburbs. These cavity-nesters natural nesting sites are abandoned woodpecker holes.

Flycatchers may nest in a bird house if it's placed about ten feet up in a tree in an orchard or at the edge of a field or stream.

Woodpeckers: You can attract all the Woodpeckers with a suet feeder, but only the Flicker, Red-bellied and Downy are likely to use a bird house.

As cavity-nesters, they prefer a box with roughened interior and a floor covered with a two inch layer of wood chips or coarse sawdust. Flickers are especially attracted to nest boxes filled with sawdust, which they "excavate" to suit themselves.

For best results, place the box high up on a tree trunk exposed to direct sunlight.

Owls: Most owls seldom build their own nests. Great horned and long-eared owls prefer abandoned crow and hawk nests.

Other owls (barred, barn, saw-whet, boreal and screech) nest in tree cavities and bird houses.

As cavity-nesters, Barn owls are best known for selecting nesting sites near farms. Where trees are sparse, these birds will nest in church steeples, silos, and barns.

If you live near a farm or a golf course, try fastening a nest box about 15 feet up on a tree trunk

Screech owl

Screech owls prefer abandoned woodpecker holes at the edge of a field or neglected orchard. They will readily take to boxes lined with an inch or two of wood shavings.

If you clean the box out in late spring after the young owls have fledged, you may attract a second tenant --

Kestrels: Our smallest falcons are also cavity-nesters and use the same size box as Screech owls. Sometimes the Kestrel will nest after the owl in the same box if you clean it out.

Trees isolated from larger tracts of woods have less chance of squirrels taking over the box.

American robins: Robins aren't cavity-nesters, They are our largest thrushes.

They prefer to build their nest in the crotch of a tree. If you don't have an appropriate tree, you can offer a nesting platform. Pick a spot six feet or higher up on a shaded tree trunk or under the overhang of a shed or porch creating a "mud puddle" nearby offers further excitement, as Robins use mud to line their nests.

Barn Swallows and Phoebes: If you have the right habitat, Barn swallows and Phoebes are easy to attract. It's their nesting behavior, not their plumage or song, that catches your attention. They aren't cavity-nesters, these birds tend to nest where you'd rather not have them on a ledge right over your front door. To avoid a mess by your door, offer the birds a nesting shelf nearby where you'd rather have them.

Cavity-Nesters and Other Common Birds

Location of Your Nest Boxes

Learn about Bird Houses

Make Bird Houses from Gourds

Monitoring Your Nest Boxes


Materials when Buying or Building a Nest box

Maintenance on Your Nest Boxes

Native Trees Provide Food and Cover

Native Shrubs for Protection and Food

Native Flowers Provide Food and Cover

Feeding Birds

Offer Fresh Water

Share Your Passion with "SBI"

Native Habitat is shrinking, you can give God's creatures a helping hand.

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