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Predator Guards Carry Their Weight

Photo © Glenda Simmons

Humans have been providing nest boxes for cavity-nesting birds for hundreds of years. In the last 50 years, a lot of creative ingenuity has gone into trying to solve the problem of nest predation. Enter the predator guard, a device that is installed on or below the nest box to keep predators away from vulnerable eggs, nestlings, and even incubating females. However, almost no studies have tested their performance. In 1969, L. Kibler hypothesized that metal cone-shaped guards on nest-box mounting structures are ‘probably’ the most reliable device against ground predators, yet five decades later no conclusive research has been published.

With the rise of citizen scientist nest monitors, it’s now possible to test the effectiveness of predator guards in promoting the nesting success of cavity-nestings birds at a large spatial scale (United States and Canada). Using NestWatch data from 24,114 nest records submitted from 2014–2016 to NestWatch, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tested whether installing predator guards on nest boxes is an effective management technique. We also tested how different guard types compared to each other, and whether or not multiple guards are any better than a single guard.

Types Of Guards

Types Of Guards

These four common types of predator guards were compared in our national study. Types A (cone baffle), B (stovepipe baffle), and C (entrance hole extender) were equally effective, while D (Noel guard) was somewhat less effective.

Guarding Your Interests

When we looked at all species combined, the nest survival data suggested a 6.7% increase in nest success for attempts in boxes with guards versus attempts in boxes without guards. That may not be the 100% protection that many people believe they’re providing, but 7% is actually a large increase at the national level. There are few other actions a homeowner can take that would improve nest success to that extent. However, all species did not benefit equally. Western Bluebird stood out as a species for which a predator guard did not seem to make a difference. We’re not sure why, but it could be that other factors (e.g., drought, insect supply) have more impact on their nesting success than do predators. Other species, such as the Carolina Wren, showed a 15.7% increase in nest survival when guarded!

Although all types of guards were correlated with improved nesting success, birds nesting in boxes with cone-type baffles, stovepipe baffles, or entrance hole extenders (also called “wooden block hole guards”) were most likely to result in successful nesting. The Noel guard did not rise to the top as a clear leader, although it is surely better than nothing (see guard types in photo above). Additionally, birds nesting in boxes with multiple predator guards (such as a cone baffle and a hole extender) were more successful, on average, than birds nesting in boxes with only a single guard.

Eastern Bluebird Box With Hole Guard

Eastern Bluebird Box With Hole Guard

A female Eastern Bluebird feeds her youngster through an extended nest hole entrance. Not all extenders are made of wood; some designs are made of metal or plastic. These keep predators from easily reaching into the box.

We Are A Force For Birds

At NestWatch, we know that caring for wild nesting birds is a top motivation for providing nest boxes, and most people want to maximize nesting success while minimizing human effort. The predator guard is therefore an inexpensive, passive, and effective way to increase the survival of nests, especially with other factors being less under our control (e.g., weather, food supply). Download predator guard plans here. However, there is still no such thing as a “predator-proof nest box” because it is hard to control for predators such as bears and House Sparrows, which are not so easily deterred.

We would like to thank the legions of NestWatchers who monitored 12,274 nest boxes (both guarded and unguarded), enabling this comparative study. Without you, large-scale studies like this would not be possible!


  • Bailey, R. L., and D. N. Bonter. 2017. Predator guards on nest boxes improve nesting success of birds. Wildlife Society Bulletin 41(3):434–441. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.801
  • Kibler, L. F. 1969. The establishment and maintenance of a bluebird nest-box project: a review and commentary. Bird-Banding 40:114–129. Link

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  1. SDBluebirds says:

    The Western Bluebird in California does well in hanging boxes as well as in pole-mounted boxes without predator guards. In San Diego County, we don’t have a lot of problems with climbing predators like raccoons or opossum. That’s because the riparian habitat that supports these animals is disappearing, and also because we still have large predators (mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and foxes) which help keep their populations in check. Nor do we have climbing black rat snakes, which are so prevalent in the south-east. So hanging a nestbox in a tree here is not the “invitation to disaster” that it might be in other parts of the country. Nestboxes that have been hung in trees for years here might only face problems with ants or earwigs (which can be controlled with a Tanglefoot guard) or from strong Santa Ana winds. Trees also provide needed shade during our hot summer months. However, mounting the box on a pole under the shade of a tree at a height of 5 to 6 feet (with no predator guard) also works very well.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi, thanks for reading. Our study unfortunately did not differentiate between hanging boxes, and boxes mounted on poles. Therefore, the results you’re reading about only apply to the specific types of guards mounted (which in general tend to be used on poles).

  2. Robert Spahn says:

    The obvious problem in the analysis here is that there is no assessment of the percentage of nests lost to various causes. Without that the number resulting from adding nest guards is almost just a number hanging in space with interpretation very difficult.
    Going to your WEBL example, maybe the observation of little effect from adding guards just means there was very little predator impact to begin with.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi Robert,
      We removed other sources of loss, such as eggs not hatching, or all young found dead in the nest (starvation). Therefore, we believe we have isolated the effect of predation as much as possible. Let me know if you’d like a PDF of the original paper, and I’d be happy to send it to you. Thanks for reading!

    • SDBluebirds says:

      “Going to your WEBL example, maybe the observation of little effect from adding guards just means there was very little predator impact to begin with.”

      Yes, I think your statement is correct. Competition from other birds and insects are a much bigger threat to WEBLs than climbing predators.

      • Robyn Bailey says:

        Yes, that is the point being made in the article. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

        • SDBluebirds says:

          Kudos to NestWatch for collecting nesting data and using it for current bird population studies and trends! I read your full research paper on the effectiveness of predator guards in promoting the nesting success of cavity-nestings birds… Good scientific study.

  3. Mason Sexton says:

    I would think that a similar study on house sparrow deterrence is even more important given the recognition that wherever house sparrows are nesting eastern bluebird/tree swallow populations are statistically lower by as much as 50%. The truth is that because of local and state regulations in many parts of the country trapp and release is not a viable option.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi Mason, NestWatch is collaborating with some scientists at North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to work on House Sparrow deterrent methods. We have had some promising results, but this is a long-term study that will take a bit more time to report on. Thanks for reading!

    • I am uncertain that I understand what is meant by the statement, “that because of local and state regulations in many parts of the country trapp [sic] and release is not a viable option.” Perhaps I am simply missing the point, yet would you kindly clarify this for us?

      As a rule, we (MBS, as an organization) do not trap and release nor to we recommend the trapping and releasing of House Sparrows on our trails. We trap and/or euthanize HOSP outright. There are no legal restrictions or regulations for the trapping, releasing, euthanizing or even the transport of House Sparrows across county boundaries inasfar as I am aware (according to state, federal or MiDNR regulations), at least in Michigan (where we are located).

    • Paula says:

      Trap and release is no-win, anyway. Besides depositing the problem in someone else’s backyard, populations of HOSP allowed to reproduce unchecked will eventually fan out to re-colonize the areas from which they were “evacuated”.

  4. Rick Barber says:

    Conical baffles are not only useful for nesting boxes, but also for bird feeders on poles. For a while, my feeders were being regularly emptied overnight. I suspected racoons were to blame. Installed a baffle on the pole, end of problem.

  5. Marcia says:

    I monitor a few trails totaling over 200 boxes with a large number of them deliberately placed in high snake and raccoon locales. I do not report my nesting results, not because I don’t know whether I have lost nesting attempts to predators, but because, unfortunately, I do not believe all of the results reported by others. For example, snakes quite often will take birds even one day before fledging, giving the impression to the monitor that the birds fledged and reported as such, when the snake , in fact, consumed the young birds, with little evidence left of their work. I, personally, always use a method to determine predation whereas most others do not. The reason I place my boxes where I do is that I am studying a few low cost methods to hopefully end all predation by snakes (a major problem). I had tremendous success this year and will need one more year before reporting my results. It’s the most excited I’ve been in the 22 years I have been monitoring. (I will say, after many years of using the Kingston baffle, made from 8″ diameter stovepipe, I can most definitely say that, alone, they do not work against black or rat snakes. It’s not to say I don’t use them, but never, ever alone.)

  6. Dick Malnory says:

    There was no discussion concerning snakes. How effective are guards A and B at deterring snakes? I wouldn’t think type C and D would be of any deterrent.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi, thanks for reading. We agree that types A and B are probably most effective against snakes and other climbing predators. However, when we look at all types of predators, and all over the country, types A, B, and C were equally effective.

    • Marcia says:

      In my experience of hundreds of unsuccessful attempts to stop snakes, type B alone definitely does not work. One method of detection is to use vaseline with added food coloring placed with a syringe around the cylinder. A snake gives a telltale sign of predation. In the photo included,

      you can see how the snake dragged the vaseline up the guard to the box. The snake holds the pipe with the bottom of its body then moves upward with the top part to move over the guard to the box. Therefore, we must stop them either below the cylinder and/or above it. I am hard at work on that and will report after another year of success.

  7. Julia G. says:

    Can the cone-type guard be placed directly on a tree trunk? Squirrels and roof rats climb the trees, then go from branch to branch looking for bird food, nests, eggs, and babies.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Julia, I have seen some folks wrap sheet metal directly around a tree trunk to protect nest boxes mounted on trees. You might also see something like that mounted on fruit/nut orchard trees to keep pests out. We did not look at the effectiveness of those because sample sizes were too low, but I have seen at least one study on stork nest trees being wrapped in plastic, and it was effective.

      • Georgia Quinn says:

        I watched squirrels climb right across the sheet metal that I wrapped around a tree to keep them out of a wood duck box.

  8. John Finnell says:

    I was experiencing predation on 2 or more attempts per season which I suspected were due to snakes since I saw king snakes and racers occasionally. After I installed a stovepipe baffle I have had no predation problems at all. I am only surprised that the increase is only 7%. My experience would be more like 20%.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi John, thanks for commenting. The 7% increase is all species pooled, across the country. When you break it down by individual species, the results are varied, with some species seeming to benefit more than others. However, I do think that people tend to overestimate how much of an improvement the guards make, and this is likely because they are confounding other variables, such as natural food supply, weather, and nonviable eggs. In this study, we removed those nests that failed due to nonviable eggs, or where all young were found dead in the nest (not predation-related). Therefore, the effect of excluding some predators is not as high as you might think. I have never seen a study that looks at what proportion of attempted predation events are thwarted by these devices (if you know of one, please share it with us!), so it would be great to know how effective these guards are…20%? 30%? 50%? I don’t think we know.

  9. Leda Beth Gray says:

    What are the specs for a cone baffle that is effective against raccoons? We had something get past our baffles in Sedgwick, Maine and I am guessing it was raccoons and maybe the baffles weren’t large enough.

  10. Linda Orkin says:

    Great study with such a large data set. Is there any data to compare to natural nest sites, which are, of course, in short supply these days

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Linda, there are lots of studies on natural cavities versus nest boxes. This paper mentions a few in the introduction (although we did not study natural cavities). I can send you the PDF if you like.

  11. As both a long-time nestbox trail steward and the Kalamazoo & Barry County Coordinator of the Michigan Bluebird Society, and also the owner of Friend of Birds Wildlife Products, I have always stressed the importance and value to trail monitors and to clients regarding the attachment of multiple nestbox guards to all nestboxes if at all possible. In my experienced opinion, it is better to not install a box than to erect an un-protected box. The risk is simply too great and the odds are too stacked for the potential of unwanted incursion and/or predation.

    In my 20+years of anecdotal evidence, the use of multiple guards increases the nesting and fledging success rate consistently at or above the levels indicated in the above article. We attach deep (up to 3″ long) wooden entrance hole extenders to all of our production Bluebird nestboxes, and to most of the boxes on the trails that I manage. Nesthole extenders are very simple and inexpensive to create and quite easy to attach.

    An extenuating and highly changeable variable is the siting/location of boxes, which by nature may be highly subjective in actual practice- while also being an inexact science subject to the seasonal and daily iterations and fluctuations of any intrusive species, any alterations in the habitat and to the breeding intensity and/or density of any target species.

    Many nestbox monitors are hesitant to attach entrance hole extenders during the breeding season when boxes may be occupied. Another issue is that boxes with upward-front-opening doors do not accommodate an extender since it makes the door incapable of being opened when an extender is attached. The consumer-ready cylindrical plastic or ceramic extenders have never worked well on my trails, with typically only House Wrens appropriating boxes with that type of guard attached. The hesitancy or fear of monitors in attaching an extender block (or other guard) even after a box is claimed, a nest constructed, eggs have been laid, eggs have hatched, and even into the juvenile stages can be assuaged by my personal experience in successfully attaching guards (of all types) with the guards being accepted (in all cases, almost immediately, and at an almost 100% acceptance rate) during all such crucial phases or junctures. One simply has to attempt to initially ascertain the overall “temperament” of the individual adult (parental) birds or the strength of their pair bond/site fidelity (this may take years of working around wild birds), and then most importantly also to observe the nestbox until and after the new object (a guard) is accepted, optimally by both adult (parental) birds, and the nest, eggs or young are subsequently observed being tended. Conversely, if the guard is not accepted within an appropriate period of time, it must be removed immediately to prevent potential nesting failure.

    Of course, attaching guards before the breeding period begins is optimal, yet this doesn’t always occur, especially with large trails consisting of many multiple boxes.

    I hope this information might assist all nestbox trail stewards in their service and tasks.

    • Van Kleiner says:

      Are all of the extenders cylindrical? I make bluebird nest boxes from recycled cedar fence pickets and could envision square extenders as practical since they would be made of wood scraps. If so, what dimensions would be appropriate?

  12. Vaseline on a birdbox pole is a horrible idea and people should stop using it to try to prevent predation of their birds. Vaseline is difficult for animals to remove from their bodies and this could have detrimental effects upon their lives. Additionally, this sticky substance could trap insects and spiders, the numbers of which are declining. They should not be needlessly killed.

    Also, netting that entraps and kills snakes, is equally horrendous and wrong-headed.

    Remember, predation is SUPPOSED to help limit bird numbers, so losing SOME nestlings is natural and should not be seen as something to be totally prevented.

    • That is an interesting comment regarding “natural” predation and the idea of acceptability regarding the allowance of “natural” predation on nestbox trails.

      My opinion differs for a couple of reasons. I disagree that all “natural” predation be allowed or viewed as acceptable.

      One reason is based upon the fact that as nestbox trail stewards who erect nestboxes and subsequently establish and monitor trails, we are creating artificial cavities for the target or focal species. Within this construct, we are thus also tasked by common rule of our being trail managers to do all within our power to secure those boxes for the overall safety and success of those individual birds. Thus, I disagree that in these scenarios of focused, targeted hosting that any predation is “acceptable”.

      There is a clear differentiation or disparity of thinking, terms or definition between “natural” predation, “unnatural” predation and “acceptable” predation, in my mind. I would add the terms “unnatural” and/or “preventable” predation to the scope of predation scenarios that monitors should combat as a regular part of their duties as nestbox stewards.

      For example, although it is nigh-impossible to predict House Sparrow incursion, HOSP must be rebuffed at all costs and/or eradicated by monitors as they are neither a native, “natural” predator nor are they afforded protection, yet it is difficult to prevent them from accessing nestboxes. On the other hand, a Cooper’s Hawk predating the hen while she is on the nestbox is “natural” predation and should objectively be viewed as “acceptable”, while it also in all likelihood cannot reasonably be curtailed nor can the raptor be lawfully harrassed or taken.

      Conversely, a roaming domestic cat or non-native snake species climbing up a post to a box and predating the hen is unnatural, unacceptable and preventable and should by any reasonable standards be prevented by any means available, such as guards, a live trap, or outright euthanization of the predator.

      A raccoon is a native predator, yet it should also be prevented by all means available from accessing nestboxes. The same is true for House Wrens, whose nature and definition is on par with the Cooper’s Hawk in the acceptability of “natural” predation and loss and the resources lawfully allowed to prevent predation. The White-footed Deermouse, on the other hand, is a native, “natural” incursor yet whose presence should be rebuffed, and whom like most small game or non-game furred mammals either have seasonal takes or hold no legal protections. They should be prevented from entering and predating the nestbox (I only remove them if extant, and do not harm them).

      Snakes (and also other species on the decline) typically are afforded special protections and should only be prevented from accessing nestboxes. I agree that using Vaseline and netting fro prevention is unnecessary and harmful.

      I understand the underlying caveat or fact that native, “natural” predators also need to eat, feed their offspring and procreate. When an artificial cavity is erected, an invitation is likewise extended to a target species to risk nesting in it, exposing it the threat of predation. We accept this when we establish a nestbox trail. We likewise rarely ever know what occurs with natural cavities, although research shows that most are predated in much higher numbers than artificial cavities (and there lies an important piece of the puzzle, too). In my opinion, native predators will locate prey items elsewhere and anywhere that they are able to and they will thrive; simply giving them a trail to buffet from is not going to tip the scales in favor of their overall populations- yet will undoubtedly decrease the populations of the hosted species on those same trails.

      We as nestbox stewards must prevent any unacceptable and preventable incursion, predation and loss from occurring. We are trying to produce breeding birds from our trails, either to keep population numbers static/stable, to reduce decreasing population numbers in some species, or to increase population numbers overall. Allowing “preventable” predation is not a logical methodology to use within the artifices we have established. I simply wish to highlight the difference, and underscore the responsibility of the steward toward this goal. Anything one can lawfully do within these parameters to prevent predation is a positive thing.

      I’m certain that the moderators/authors may have some valid input on this very important topic.

      • Paula Ziebarth says:

        All great insights, John. Simply put, IMHO when we install an artificial nestbox, we invite native cavity nesters to nest there. It makes NO sense to invite them to be eaten. There is personal responsibility associated with installing nesting cavities for native birds. I would agree with earlier comments that other native wildlife should not be killed if they attempt to enter that nest cavity. They must, however, be stopped if possible.

    • Jim willey says:

      To slow the snake problem down on my trails I use both predator guards

  13. Lacy Thomas says:

    I make ‘healthy’ bird houses (ventilation, drainage, easy access, etc.) for cavity nesters; predator guards are VERY important to me. I have found that the ‘standard’ hole extension of 3/4″ is not very effective, so I have started adding a 1 1/2″ guard. Also, I have found that the extra thickness PLUS a 2-3″ extension using PVC conduit is VERY effective against HOSPs – the HOSPs hate the “tunnel” effect and are reluctant to even try to enter. This is 1.5″ inside diameter conduit and I use it for Bluebird homes.
    Also, the Woolwine Bluebird Society has conducted a 5-year study for Bluebird houses using TWO entrance holes and have found that this style is very effective a.gainst HOSP. You can easily review their study by googling. I do not have a website but I do have a facebook page (Coops D’ Villas) where I have photos of my PVC guard boxes – they are SW Kachina style; if anyone needs more info I will be glad to share.

  14. Hi Jonathan and Paula,

    Please note that I said SOME predation, not “that all ‘natural’ predation be allowed or viewed as acceptable.”

    Also, I agree with Paula that “It makes NO sense to invite [birds] to be eaten.”

    My point is that you do your best to minimize predation, but people need to understand that no predation whatsoever leads to OVERpopulations of particular species of birds, and that is not the result anyone should want. Please keep in mind that a properly functioning environment is a continuous balancing act in which no species is supposed to take too much from the environment.


  15. Richard Poole says:

    Birdhouses: What’s Printed, What’s Fact
    Richard Poole & Christine Brown, Longwood, FL
    Bird houses are beneficial for birds and provide entertainment for the spectators. These houses have become important for the propagation of cavity nesting birds. Dead trees with holes are frequently scarce and in areas where dead trees are quickly removed, bird houses are essential.
    When Richard moved to Central Florida in 1968, he lived a short drive to property owned by Florida Audubon. Someone suggested that he place bird boxes in the property. His father, an excellent carpenter, said he would make the boxes. Richard consulted many “how to” books about bird box construction and his dad started building. Other people contributed boxes so there was a variety of designs. Richard’s father died and Richard began making boxes ten years ago. Some are sold, the money goes to conservation organizations. Other boxes go to schools, parks and friends and we are able to monitor some of these boxes as well as boxes in our yard. As the years progressed, we learned that birds can’t read. When selecting boxes, birds disregard specifications written about bird boxes.
    Before you make or buy a nest box, consider the following comments. We address seven myths about nest boxes and tell you why they are wrong .
    1) NOMENCLATURE. Take the term “bird houses.” Residents in our boxes include: squirrels, flying and gray, various species of snakes, mice, bats, anoles, bees, wasps, raccoon and opossums. We call our boxes “nest boxes.”
    2) HEIGHT ABOVE GROUND. One of the first questions we are asked when discussing boxes is, “How high should I place my box?” My reply, “Just high enough so that when you climb the ladder you can easily open the top and take a picture.” For my boxes the height is 9-10 feet to box entrance. The impetus for this article occurred when I read, “screech owl boxes should be 30-40 feet high.” A friend had a screech owl nest in a box 7 feet high. We have had many screech owls nest in our boxes. “Everyone knows, a purple martin box should be 10 feet plus high.” I have seen two martin nests in one wood duck box with the entrance 6 feet above ground. “A great crested flycatcher box should be over 8 feet high.” A great crested flycatcher nested in a ‘bluebird box’ with a hole 4 feet above the ground.
    3) BIRDS WANT A SPECIFIC SIZE BOX. “If you want a certain bird, you have to build a box for that bird’s specifications.” See purple martins above. We have raccoon and opossums in the neighborhood. I decided they should have a box. The floor was 10” x 10”, the height 18 inches, hole 6”. A great crested flycatcher nested in it (Fig. 1). Some commercial boxes for red-bellied woodpeckers are 9 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches (Duncraft). What is the diameter of a hole made by a red-bellied woodpecker? Maybe four inches at the most and I have had red-bellied woodpeckers nest in boxes as small as 3.5” x 5.5” x 10” (Fig 2).
    4) VENTILATION. “Without air vents, boxes can turn into bird ovens (US Fish and Wildlife Service, Homes for Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N. A. Bluebird Society).” Knowing heat rises I had trouble thinking anyone would write this. I decided to have a test. The test showed the ventilated boxes were cooler, by 0.9 degrees C. The experimental procedure and results are published in Florida Field Naturalist 36:3, p.64. While checking eastern bluebird boxes, no ventilation holes, in central Florida we found 4 young. They were in a ‘bluebird’ box but one was larger than the others (Fig. 3). A cowbird? I waited and as they grew feathers, learned that all were bluebirds. Inquiring about the cause of the large one, the best answer received was, “it was the first egg laid and the temperature was hot enough to start incubation.” Usually the female waits until the last egg is laid to start incubating them, so this one got an early start! I have checked hundreds of boxes, no ventilation holes, with a thousand plus fledglings, no roasted birds yet.
    5) HOLE: SIZE AND LOCATION. “If you want a specific bird, you need a specific size of hole.” The size of the hole will exclude larger birds, if squirrels don’t enlarge it. But the size of the hole will not exclude smaller birds or other animals. We put metal flashing around our holes. Someone in the past decided screech owls need a 3 inch hole. Our Florida screech owls, smaller than northern owls, have nested in boxes with 2 1/4 “ holes (Fig. 4). The recommended standard size hole for wood ducks is 4 x 3 inches. I made that size at first, but using a drill is a lot easier than a jig saw. My holes are now 3.5 inches in diameter which is OK by the wood ducks (Fig. 5). The size of the hole for the great-crested flycatcher box mentioned earlier has a diameter of 6”. One day as I was measuring the width of the box to put the hole in the middle I asked myself, “Why the middle?” so I drilled the hole to one side. The result, birds laid their eggs on the side furthest from the hole.
    6) LADDERS INSIDE THE BOX. “ rough surface both inside and out makes it easier for the adults to get into the box and, when it’s time, for the nestlings to climb out.” For a wood duck, yes. No feathers on the babies. But most birds have feathers before their exit. Think like a mama or papa bird. If your baby can’t get to the exit hole, do you really want it outside in the cold cruel world? Better to stay an extra day or two and build those muscles. Adult birds fly directly to the hole, no need for rough surface or perch.
    7) ROOF. Many boxes are made with roofs nailed so the inside cannot be checked and pictures cannot be taken. Result, almost all of these boxes will be filled with squirrel nests. And no pictures taken. We check boxes late February or early March, primarily to remove squirrel nests. “A good bird house has a roof extension,” Florida Fish and Wildlife. My boxes don’t have a roof extension. Hundreds of birds survived. Question-How many woodpecker cavities have a roof extension?
    Richard makes three box sizes, one with 6” boards, 1.5 inch hole, one with 8”boards and 2.5” hole and one with 10” boards and 3.5 inch hole. Tufted titmice, bluebirds and flying squirrels prefer the smaller one, great-crested flycatchers and red-bellied woodpeckers sometimes. The medium size is used by screech owls, flycatchers, woodpeckers titmice and squirrels. The larger size is my “wood duck” box although not exclusive for wood ducks. I use a hinge for the roof with one screw near the front to prevent an animal, usually a raccoon, or heavy wind from raising the roof. To take a picture or clean the box, I simply remove the screw. We have opened boxes with side entrances. Richard doesn’t make them. Once a screech owl egg rolled out. Splat! Another time a startled chickadee exited and kicked an egg out while doing so. The bottom of our boxes are secured with three screws, one in front and one on either side. If woodpeckers or owl nests in the box, the floor is covered with poop. Remove screws, clean the bottom and replace.
    Tufted titmice, great-crested flycatchers, red-bellied woodpeckers and screech owls have nested our yard, 1/3 of a acre in a suburban neighborhood. Bluebirds and wood ducks have also used our boxes.
    We have enjoyed our experiences with nest boxes and hope you will place some in your area. Someone once asked Richard, “If I buy your box, will you guarantee I’ll get a screech owl.” “No,” he replied, “but if you don’t get the box, I’ll guarantee you won’t get a screech owl. And don’t be surprised if some other critter takes up residence.” Birds can’t read.

  16. John/Evelyn Sennema says:

    We have both the cone and the stovepipe baffles on the pole leading to our bird feeders. They work well together to prevent squirrels from robbing the seed put into the feeders for the various types of birds we have visiting. The cone is about 3feet above the ground, then there is a space of about another 3 feet and then the stovepipe. The squirrels do try to climb but are prevented. We have no problems with the squirrels feeding from the ground eating the seed dropped by the birds. We feed peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet balls, safflower seeds along with regular bird seed and niger in various feeders suspended from the pole’s arms. It is such a joy to watch them through all four seasons enjoying the food we put out for them. If only we could find an alternative to the holly berries which the robins consume upon returning in late January – they seem to want only the berries which are gone in no time, leaving the poor things close to starving as there are no bugs or worms they can obtain from the frozen ground.

    • Paula says:

      John/Evelyn, is the varied feed being served in hanging cages or perch feeders? If so, it may be that the Robins can’t use the feeders. Clinging is not their natural mode of foraging. I suggest serving some in a hanging tray feeder or on a mounted platform and see if that makes a difference.

      Cornell’s FeederWatch site offers a nice reference for finding the appropriate food and feeders for common birds, including the American Robin:

      I provide dried mealworms for the local bluebirds. On many occasions I have witnessed American Robins eating them, too. They are sold commercially, dried or live. I know of one anecdote in which the birds preferred “fresh” to “processed” and would not touch the dried stuff. However, our birds had no problem whatsoever in accepting freeze-dried worms. It serves as a nutritious supplement in the bitter days of winter and is especially useful during rainy spells in nesting season when insects become scarce.

  17. Daniel Sparks says:

    I’m disappointed with this study. Anyone with any field experience knows that a 3/4″ hole extender is not as effective at stopping climbing predators as a cone baffle.
    I’m one who believes that climbing predators should be stopped on the pole before they get to the box. Once at the box it’s almost impossible to stop the predator. I’ve had raccoons pull out the contents of a nest box where a Noel guard was installed. Plus the trauma to the nesting parents could cause abandonment.
    Critically important in stopping climbing predators is the diameter of the pole baffle– there is no mention of this in the study. A good pole baffle will have a diameter of AT LEAST 24″. This can be a cone, a metal disk, a heavy plastic garbage can lid, etc.
    There is a big difference in pole baffles and it is important to use one that is effective.

    • Robyn Bailey says:

      Hi Daniel, thanks for reading.

      We think that the bluebird community must move beyond anecdotal evidence and incorporate research results into decision-making. To a large extent, this is being done, but there was no direct research on predator guards that looked at this many species across the entire nation. We used 24,114 nest records–the most comprehensive study on predator guards to date. I’m not sure which portion of the study you disagree with, but our results indicate that all predator guards were equally helpful, with the possible exception of the Noel guard. If you would like us to send you a PDF of the full study to read, we are happy to email it to you. This blog post is shortened for space, but I encourage you to read the full paper and the graphs within.

      Robyn Bailey

  18. Ian Stewart says:

    Hi Robyn, Great study! Could you send me a pdf please? (email below) Ian Stewart

  19. Ray Busler says:

    All the data in the world is not the effective motivator for nest guard construction that the sight of one black snake exiting one bluebird box is. Percentage be dammed; my boxes are build with guards.

  20. betty Gllenn says:

    I have the greatest success with WD40…Spraying on the metal posts….snakes hate it….so do most predators. I respray at least every three days….

  21. betty Gllenn says:

    I have been using WD40 for many years….snakes hate it….so do most predators.

    I respray perhaps every three days. I spray it on the metal posts/

  22. Sara says:

    Please send me a PDF of the original study. Thanks.

  23. Holly Morales says:

    I have not found the stovepipe nor cone effective against raccoons. The ones around here simply climb the stovepipe, or bend the cone. However, we made a very inexpensive and relatively effective baffle from a garbage can. I bought a large round kitchen type plastic can with a dome lid, threw away the lid, and used the can upside down on the pole. This garbage can has almost no lip, and is too large in diameter for the raccoons to climb. I use it on both feeders and nest boxes. Easy to install and cheap.

  24. William Pully says:

    Great work. Could I get a pdf copy of the article. Thanks.

  25. Bob Barry says:

    I have used a “Magic Halo” to discourage house sparrows from taking over my feeders for several years. It doesn’t keep them away entirely but definitely discourages them. Last summer a pair of chickadees took up residence in one of my bird boxes and a house sparrow soon started hanging on the front of the box trying (unsuccessfully) to get at the eggs inside. I made a crude halo out of copper tube and suspended it just above the top of the box. Mr. sparrow never returned and the chickadees managed to raise a nice brood.

  26. We are a nonprofit that is promoting bluebird nest boxes as a way to promote Rosie the Riveters, who chose this species of bird to represent them. We want to work with children and young adults on a national level to install and monitor bluebird nest boxes.

    Who are the best partners to make this happen, as we start the American Rosie Movement (ARM)?

    We were about to promote two hole boxes for an escape from predators, till we found that that predators will block both openings. Yikes.

  27. What’s the best way to involve children and young adults in preserving bluebirds. Are nest boxes better made from scratch or bought (e.g. from Amish).

  28. Dave says:

    The University of Northern BC (UNBC) has either done, or is in the final stages of, a study of the Mountain Bluebird and why their population numbers are shrinking. Their findings indicated that the largest reason for Mountain Bluebird populations shrinking and/or failing to expand was due to squirrel predation. The squirrel species is the red squirrel and they will prey on eggs, young birds and, sometimes even fully grown birds. Nest guards need to take squirrel predation seriously.
    My dad and brother saw a red squirrel stalk and kill a ruffed grouse and I saw one stalk another grouse although it flew away before the final attack.

  29. P Tutini says:

    I have had success with the following:
    1) Cone baffle to keep most animals at bay
    2) Carpet tack-strips (sharp, needle-like projections through wood strips, pointing outward) to deter snakes and other animals
    3) Specially impregnated plastic strips I had manufactured for my company which I wrap around the post to keep ants out of the nests.

  30. Paula says:

    Squirrels can bypass pole baffles by jumping down from above. If feasible, boxes could be placed 10-15 feet away from overhanging limbs to discourage this behavior.

  31. We are launching the Amerivan Rosie Movement to honor Rosie the Riveters. The species of bird they chose is the bluebird. Can you suggest who we might work with in greater Philadelphia and nationally to help us get this one phase of our work to the public who will get to know Rosies and learn about bluebirds at the same time.

    Rosies chose the bird because:
    1. The male is red, white and blue.
    2. They need the public to help them survive.
    3. They are good parents.

    Can you see other reasons?

  32. Cathy Walsh says:

    We live in an area with lots of black bears. Yesterday at 5pm we witnessed a young black bear stroll across our front yard, amble up to our bluebird nest box on a pole with a baffle on the pole, rise on its hind legs and peer into the box. Are there any recommendations for deterring this predation?

    Thank you for an excellent study and discussion.

  33. Paula says:

    Hi, Cathy. This is a link to “Sialis” website page which lists a variety of strategies for coping with Black Bear presence on the nest-box trail, (including a recipe for Peanut Pepper deterrent which seems to have been effective for some):

  34. Christi Koenig says:

    Could you please send me a copy of the original study?

    Do you have any theories on why the Noel guard was less effective? It seems to me that it should work as well as the entrance extender against raccoons, but I’m probably missing something. I’ve got a Noel guard for my bluebird house, since we had raccoon issues last year, but haven’t installed it yet.

  35. Martha says:

    I am interested in Marcia’s comments and her attempts to experiment with different predator guards to cut down on rat snake predation. I hope that if she finds something effective at keeping snakes out of the boxes (without harming the snakes) she will post it on the internet somewhere to help others. My experience at my North Carolina nature preserve has been similar to hers with rat snakes being significant predators. In our nest boxes this year, I estimate nearly 1/3 of the bluebird nestlings were eaten by rat snakes. Many nestlings “disappeared” without a trace around Day 12 or 13, just days from fledging. No disturbance to the nest itself, just frantic parents calling for their lost chicks. Really heart-breaking. I also directly observed two different sets of bluebird parents “alarm” when black rat snakes were present in the vicinity of their nest boxes, causing the young to prematurely fledge in both instances. (These were large snakes, 5-6 feet in length. I captured and moved the snakes about one mile away. Not fun for me, for the snakes or for the bluebirds.)

    Our boxes are mounted on metal poles with 8-inch diameter, 2-foot long cylinder baffles. When nestlings began disappearing and it was obvious the baffles alone were not effective, I tried using long, slippery plastic “capes” over the baffles. This has worked for me in the past, but not this year. I even resorted to Dr. T’s Snake-a-way in an attempt to throw off the snake’s olfactory sense, and I used lots of grease on the poles. In spite of all that, the snakes ate a lot of bluebirds.

    I know that the Krueger snake traps (with bird netting) are highly effective on these larger snakes, but can kill or injure the snakes. I can’t use them at a nature preserve. I am considering removing the bluebird boxes since I cannot reasonably protect the birds. I will keep the brown-headed nuthatch/chickadee boxes. These species nest early when snake activity is much lower. I have observed only one instance of rat snake predation in these boxes.

  36. Marcia says:

    I’m interested in your baffle “capes.” I’m not sure what you mean by this. Could you give me more information on this. Even if it doesn’t work, I’d like to know what it is. Also, I think I “may” have the answer to the snake problem. “May.” I will need to confirm this next year. I don’t like to get others’ hopes up until I get confirmation on hundreds of boxes, most of which have already been attacked by snakes. I will tell you that I have had no snake predation in the second half of this year IF I apply the guard correctly. I must tell you, as you know, the 2 foot length cylinder does not, and never has, worked. I also believe that huge numbers of monitors think their birds fledge when, in fact, they are eaten that last night. The North American Bluebird Society needs to finally stop recommending this “guard” against snakes. They are harming the species. Almost 30 years of recommending this is enough.

  37. Belle Newheart says:

    Have a nesting blue bird that has inhabited an existing box which had been “raided” or damaged in the past by something scratching the
    entrance hole “larger” than a blue bird hold of 1.5 inches. The mother has laid 4 eggs, but they have not yet hatched. I bought an entrance
    EXTENDER 1” with copper around the hole. Should I install it now or after the babies are hatched OR after the babies have fledged? I am
    concerned about nest robbers in the meantime.

    Your input please. What is my best course of action? Please reply.

    Bob Butz

    • Holly Faulkner, Project Assistant says:

      Hi Bob, It’s best to wait until the young have fledged to reduce disturbance. Nest visits should last no longer than 60 seconds and any tools used to attach the extender would also be too much of a disturbance for the birds. Any work done on boxes should be done when there are no active nests inside. Please email with any further questions. These comment sections are not monitored regularly.

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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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