Photo © Robert J. Baker

Nest Box Placement

Need help placing your boxes? You’ve come to the right place!

Tree Swallow Feeds Nestling
Tree Swallow Feeds Nestling

When to Place Boxes

Make sure that your boxes are installed well before the breeding season begins. Don’t be discouraged if birds don’t begin nesting in them immediately; sometimes it takes time for the birds to discover them.

  • In the south, place your nest boxes by February.
  • In northern regions, place your nest boxes by mid to late March.
Eastern Screech-owl, Red Morph
Eastern Screech-owl, Red Morph

Where to place nest boxes

Because different species of birds prefer different kinds of nesting habitat, the vegetation surrounding your box will play a role in determining which species will nest in it. Remember: right box, right place. For example, nest boxes for bluebirds should be placed in open habitat. Refer to the habitat requirements page for specific information.

If you are looking to attract a variety of species to your nest boxes and have ample room, you might consider pairing your boxes. This involves placing boxes in pairs on poles 15 to 25 feet apart. Or, you can put two boxes back to back on a single pole. Birds such as Tree Swallows and bluebirds will nest closely to one another, although they will drive away others of their own species. Pairing boxes has the advantage of allowing more birds of both species to coexist peacefully within the same habitat.

A word of caution: Golf courses, cultivated fields, gardens, and yards are potentially good habitats for nest boxes, but avoid areas where pesticides and herbicides are used. These are not only harmful to birds, they decrease and sometimes eliminate the insect populations that are the primary food source for many cavity-nesting species.

Male Eastern Bluebird
Male Eastern Bluebird

How to place your nest box

Whichever method you choose to install your boxes, be sure that they are secure enough to withstand high winds and severe weather. The best way to put up small nest boxes is on free-standing metal poles or PVC pipes. These pipes or poles offer several advantages:


Requirements for Your Favorite Cavity-nesting Birds

SpeciesNesting HabitatBox HeightHole SizeMinimum Spacing
American KestrelPastures, fields, meadows, or orchards with mowed or grazed vegetation; place boxes on lone trees in fields, on trees along edges of woodlots, and on farm buildings. Facing south or east10-30 feet3" diameter1/2 mile
Ash-throated FlycatcherChaparral, mesquite thickets, oak scrub, dry plains spotted with trees or cacti, deserts, and open deciduous and riparian woodlands3-20 feet1 9/16" round200 feet
Barn OwlPrefers open areas like fields, deserts and marshes which are in close proximity to hollow trees, cliffs, riverbanks, or man-made structures, including barns, bridges and other accessible sites, and which support healthy rodent populations20-25 feet6" round100 feet
Black-capped ChickadeeForests, woodlots, and yards with mature hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight, hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-15 feet1 1/8" round1 box per 10 acres
Brown-headed NuthatchOpen stands of pine-hardwood forests, clearings scattered with dead trees, forest edges, burned areas, cypress swamps5-20 feet1" round1 box per 6 acres
Carolina ChickadeeForests, woodlots, and yards with mature hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight, hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-15 feet1 1/8" round1 box per 10 acres
Carolina WrenForests with thick underbrush, forest edges, woodland clearings, open forests, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs5-10 feet1 1/2" round200 feet
Chestnut-backed ChickadeeConiferous forests, mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, forest edges, woodlands, thickets, burned areas, often near streams; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-15 feet1 1/8" round160 feet
Common GoldeneyeBreeding habitat is limited to aquatic areas with dead trees, in boreal, deciduous, aspen and montane woods; favor calm, large, clear lakes without much vegetation or fish20-30 feet3" high x 4" wide2/3 mile
Eastern BluebirdOpen field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions3-6 feet1 1/2" diameter300 feet
Eastern Screech-OwlForests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb. Add 2"-3" of wood shavings10-30 feet3" round; north facing100 feet
European StarlingHabitat generalists, nesting in areas ranging from rural and agricultural to suburban and urban areas, but they avoid heavily wooded, mountainous, and arid regionsproviding nest boxes is discouraged for this species can squeeze through holes with 1 9/16" diameter5 feet
Great Crested FlycatcherDeciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, forest edges, woodlots, orchards, parks, on post or tree at forest edge3-20 feet1 9/16" round1 box per 6 acres
Hooded MerganserQuiet, shallow, clear water pools surrounded by or near the edge of deciduous woods: small forest pools, ponds, swamps; add 3" of wood shavings; add ladder under inside of entrance hole for young to climb out6-25 feet3" high by 4" wide horizontal oval3 miles
House SparrowAgricultural, suburban, and urban areas; tend to avoid woodlands, forests, grasslands, and desertsproviding nest boxes is discouraged for this species can fit through holes with 1 1/2" diametervariable
House WrenVariety of habitats, farmland, openings, open forests, forest edges, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs5-10 feet1 1/4" round50 feet
Mountain BluebirdOpen field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; will also use deciduous and coniferous forest edges; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions3-6 feet1 9/16" diameter300 feet
Mountain ChickadeeConiferous forests, forest edges, woodland clearings; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-15 feet1 1/8" round1 box per 10 acres
Northern FlickerPastures, groves, woodlots, orchards, fields, meadows, woodland clearings, forest edges, urban parks, on pole or tree at forest edge or along fence rows bordering crop fields; box should be completely filled with wood chips or shavings6-30 feet2 1/2" round; southeast facing200 feet
Prothonotary WarblerLowland hardwood forests subject to flooding, stagnant water, swamps, ponds, marshes, streams, flooded river valleys, wet bottomlands; box should be over or near water4-12 feet1 1/4" round 300 feet
Purple MartinBroad open areas (meadows, fields, farmland, swamps, ponds, lakes, rivers) with unobstructed space for foraging on flying insects; there should be no trees or buildings within 40 feet of the martin pole in any direction; houses should be painted white10-15 feet2 1/8" round100 feet
Red-breasted NuthatchMixed coniferous-deciduous forests, shrub lands, swamps, farmlands, suburban parks; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-15 feet1 1/4" round1 box per 7 acres
Tree SwallowOpen fields near water, expansive open areas, marshes, meadows, wooded swamps; on a post in open areas near tree or fence5-15 feet1 3/8" round east facing30-100 feet
Tufted TitmouseDeciduous forest, thick timber stands, woodland clearings, forest edges, woodlots, riparian and mesquite habitats; hole should face away from prevailing wind5-15 feet1 1/4" round1 box per 8 acres
Violet-green SwallowOpen or broken deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, wooded canyons, edges of dense forest9-15 feet1 3/8" round30-100 feet
Western Bluebirdopen field or lawn; orchards; open, rural country with scattered trees and low or sparse ground cover; will also use deciduous and coniferous forest edges; entrance hole should face open field, preferring east, north, south, and then west-facing directions3-6 feet1 1/2" diameter300 feet
Western Screech-OwlLower elevations, forests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, deserts, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb. Add 2"-3" of wood shavings10-30 feet3" round; north facing1,000 feet
White-breasted NuthatchDeciduous woodlands, mature forests, woodlots, near open areas, forest edges, orchards, often near water; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box5-20 feet1 3/8" round1 box per 25 acres
Wood DuckForested wetlands or near marshes, swamps, and beaver ponds; place boxes in deciduous trees, 30-100 feet from the nearest water6-30 feet4" wide, 3" high600 feet