Tree Swallow. Ken Thomas


A wide range of birds seek out tree cavities, old woodpecker holes or even a snug opening in a house or barn for nesting. These birds are often referred to as “cavity nesters”. One of the problems for cavity nesters is they need older trees or standing snags. In other words, forests with lots of available tree holes. We humans tend to cull these types of trees from our yards and tree lots. As a result, some cavity nesters have suffered. Eastern Bluebirds and Wood Ducks are two cavity nesters which have experienced falling population in past years but have bounced back, in part, due to campaigns to put up nesting boxes. The American Kestrel, a small falcon, is seeing population recovery in some areas due to nesting boxes.

I’ve put up boxes on my property, and each year I have both Bluebirds and Tree Swallows (photo by Ken Thomas) compete for them. For some reason, the Tree Swallows always win out. Other boxes have hosted chickadees. Flying squirrels use another one regularly. We recently put up two boxes at Valentine farm in hopes of attracting Saw-whet Owls. However, it turns out that these same size boxes may be used by Wood Ducks, Kestrels and maybe Kingfishers, depending on where they are placed.

If you are considering putting up nesting boxes in your yard, there a couple of things to consider:

Location, location, location – Different birds have different nesting preferences. Where the box is located will affect which birds will find your box appealing. Tree Swallows and Blue Birds will look for nesting sites along field edges. Wood Ducks will prefer wooded areas within close proximity to water. Also, make sure to check the recommended height for the bird you are hoping to attract. We placed Saw-whet boxes at Valentine farm at about 12 feet off the ground. Blue Bird boxes should be six feet high and about 100 yards apart.

Size – Obviously, the size of the box and access hole is different for different types of birds. Wrens and chickadees will use a different size nest box compared to Wood Ducks.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides good resources on bird houses and nest boxes at Learn about different types and placement. You will also find plans to build or recommendations of where you can buy the boxes and houses for the birds you hope to attract.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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