Nest Box Placement
Need help placing your boxes? You’ve come to the right place!
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.
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.
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:
- Nest boxes can be mounted higher than when mounted on a fence post.
- Some predators find poles difficult to climb.
- Poles can be easily equipped with predator guards.
- Get construction plans for building predator guards.
Requirements for Your Favorite Cavity-nesting Birds
|Species||Nesting Habitat||Box Height||Hole Size||Minimum Spacing|
|American Kestrel||Pastures, 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 east||10-30 feet||3" diameter||1/2 mile|
|Ash-throated Flycatcher||Chaparral, mesquite thickets, oak scrub, dry plains spotted with trees or cacti, deserts, and open deciduous and riparian woodlands||3-20 feet||1 3/4" round||200 feet|
|Barn Owl||Prefers 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 populations||8-25 feet||3 3/4" x 4 1/2" elliptical||100 feet|
|Black-capped Chickadee||Forests, 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 box||5-15 feet||1 1/8" round||650 feet|
|Brown-headed Nuthatch||Open stands of pine-hardwood forests, clearings scattered with dead trees, forest edges, burned areas, cypress swamps||5-10 feet||1" round||1 box per 6 acres|
|Carolina Chickadee||Forests, woodlots, and yards with mature hardwood trees, forest edges, meadows; area should receive 40-60% sunlight, hole should face away from prevailing wind. Unlike other chickadees, Carolina Chickadee does not do much excavating, so wood chips are not necessary.||4-15 feet||1 1/8" round||30 feet|
|Carolina Wren||Forests with thick underbrush, forest edges, woodland clearings, open forests, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs||3-6 feet||1 1/2" round, or 2 1/2" x 5" slot||330 feet|
|Chestnut-backed Chickadee||Coniferous 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 box||5-15 feet||1 1/8" round||160 feet|
|Common Goldeneye||Breeding 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 fish. Please several inches of wood shavings in the box in early spring.||6-30 feet||3 1/4" high x 4 1/4" wide||2/3 mile|
|Eastern Bluebird||Open 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 directions||3-6 feet||1 1/2" diameter (round), or 2 1/4" high x 1 3/8" wide (oval)||300 feet|
|Eastern Screech-Owl||Forests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb. Add 2"-3" of wood shavings||10-30 feet||3" round||100 feet|
|European Starling||Habitat generalists, nesting in areas ranging from rural and agricultural to suburban and urban areas, but they avoid heavily wooded, mountainous, and arid regions||providing nest boxes is discouraged for this species in the U.S.||can squeeze through holes with 1 9/16" diameter||5 feet|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||Deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, forest edges, woodlots, orchards, parks, on post or tree at forest edge||3-20 feet||1 3/4" round||1 box per 6 acres|
|Hooded Merganser||Quiet, 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 out||6-25 feet||3" high by 4" wide horizontal oval||100 feet|
|House Sparrow||Agricultural, suburban, and urban areas; tend to avoid woodlands, forests, grasslands, and deserts||providing nest boxes is discouraged for this species in the U.S.||can fit through holes with 1 1/4" diameter||variable|
|House Wren||Variety of habitats, farmland, openings, open forests, forest edges, shrub lands, suburban gardens, parks, backyards; near trees or tall shrubs||5-10 feet||1" round||100 feet|
|Mountain Bluebird||Open 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 directions||4-6 feet||1 9/16" diameter||300 feet|
|Mountain Chickadee||Coniferous forests, forest edges, woodland clearings; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/8" round||1 box per 10 acres|
|Northern Flicker||Pastures, 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; south or east facing; box should be completely filled with wood chips or shavings||6-12 feet||2 1/2" round||330 feet|
|Prothonotary Warbler||Lowland hardwood forests subject to flooding, stagnant water, swamps, ponds, marshes, streams, flooded river valleys, wet bottomlands; box should be over or near water||4-12 feet||1 1/4" round||235 feet|
|Purple Martin||Broad 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 white||10-15 feet||2 1/8" round or 3" wide x 1 3/16" high crescent||10 feet|
|Red-breasted Nuthatch||Mixed coniferous-deciduous forests, shrub lands, swamps, farmlands, suburban parks; hole should face away from prevailing wind; 1" wood shavings can be placed in box||5-15 feet||1 1/4" round||150 feet|
|Tree Swallow||Open fields near water, expansive open areas, marshes, meadows, wooded swamps; on a post in open areas near tree or fence, east facing||5-6 feet||1 3/8" round||35 feet|
|Tufted Titmouse||Deciduous forest, thick timber stands, woodland clearings, forest edges, woodlots, riparian and mesquite habitats; hole should face away from prevailing wind||5-15 feet||1 1/4" round||580 feet|
|Violet-green Swallow||Open or broken deciduous or mixed deciduous-coniferous forests, wooded canyons, edges of dense forest||9-15 feet||1 3/8" round||30 feet|
|Western Bluebird||open 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 directions||4-6 feet||1 1/2" diameter||215 feet|
|Western Screech-Owl||Lower elevations, forests, parks, woodland clearings, forest edges, deserts, wooded stream edges, under a tree limb, south or east facing. Add 2"-3" of wood shavings||10-30 feet||3" round||1,000 feet|
|White-breasted Nuthatch||Deciduous 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 box||5-20 feet||1 1/4" round||1,040 feet|
|Wood Duck||Forested wetlands or near marshes, swamps, and beaver ponds; boxes can be installed on posts or poles in water, at least 3 feet above the high water mark, facing south or west. If installing on land, choose a site within 100 feet of water with no branches near the entrance hole and with a predator guard. Place 4 inches of wood shaving in box floor. Box should have fledgling ladder inside entrance hole to enable young to climb out.||6-30 feet||4" wide, 3" high||600 feet|