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Nest box “rules” often play more like guidelines. For example, there is a west-facing nest box near our office. It receives full afternoon sun and strong winds. Popular thinking suggests that birds would avoid this location. Yet, for many years, bluebirds have selected this box over other options and have never had an unsuccessful brood.

Several factors contribute to nest box habitation. Among these are construction, ventilation, placement, mounting, and monitoring. Choose a quality nest box, conscientiously evaluate your environment, and use this collection of tips to help increase your odds of great results.

Find nest box placement tips here.
Nest Box Placement Tips
Even cavities of properly designed, constructed, and ventilated nest boxes will become warmer than their ambient environment. Temperatures around 105°F can threaten nesting success. So, if you have options, consider placing nest boxes in areas offering relief from hot afternoon sunlight. Here are some guidelines for nest box placement:

Select pasture-like areas with nearby fences, power lines, or sparse trees for perching and fledging protection.

Face away from cold, prevailing winds.

Mount on poles to help prevent predation.

Position for relief from afternoon sunlight, but not too close to structures within reach of predators.

Depending on bird populations, habitat, and food supply, distance nest boxes 100 to 300 yards apart.

To prevent territorial competition between bird species, consider installing nest boxes in pairs approximately 20 feet apart. (Separate each pair 100 to 300 yards.)

Find recommended entrance hole sizes here.
Entrance Hole Sizes
Bluebirds receive their share of attention. However, many other cavity nesters suffer from habitat loss and can benefit from nesting structures. Star Prairie Nest Boxes can be ordered with solid, interchangeable, entrance panels to allow easy creation of species-matched nest boxes. (To help attract chickadees and nuthatches, fill nesting cavities with approximately one inch of wood shavings.)

Based on information from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, here are preferred entrance hole sizes for many species.

Ash-Throated Flycatcher — 1-3/4″ diameter hole

Bewick’s Wren — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Black-Capped Chickadee — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Black-Crested Titmouse — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Boreal Chickadee — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Bridled Titmouse — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Brown-Crested Flycatcher — 1-3/4″ diameter hole

Brown-Headed Nuthatch — 1″ diameter hole

Carolina Chickadee — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Eastern Bluebird — 1-3/8″ x 2-1/4″ oval hole

Great-Crested Flycatcher — 1-3/4″ diameter hole

House Wren — 1″ diameter hole

Juniper Titmouse — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Mountain Bluebird — 1-9/16″ diameter hole

Mountain Chickadee — 1-1/8″ diameter hole

Oak Titmouse — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Prothonotary Warbler — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Pygmy Nuthatch — 1″ diameter hole

Red-Breasted Nuthatch — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Tree Swallow — 1-3/8″ diameter hole

Tufted Titmouse — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Western Bluebird — 1-1/2″ diameter hole

White-Breasted Nuthatch — 1-1/4″ diameter hole

Find recommended nest box heights here.
Height Recommendations
Star Prairie Nest Boxes employ an adjustable-height mounting mechanism. This feature allows nest boxes to be properly positioned for nesting, yet lowered to safer monitoring and maintenance heights — without a ladder in most situations.

Based on information from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, here are preferred nest box heights for many species.

Ash-Throated Flycatcher — 3–20′ height

Bewick’s Wren — 3–6′ height

Black-Capped Chickadee — 5–15′ height

Black-Crested Titmouse — 3–20′ height

Boreal Chickadee — 5–10′ height

Bridled Titmouse — 3–30′ height

Brown-Crested Flycatcher — 5–30′ height

Brown-Headed Nuthatch — 5–10′ height

Carolina Chickadee — 4–15′ height

Chestnut-Backed Chickadee — 5–15′ height

Eastern Bluebird — 4–6′ height

Great-Crested Flycatcher — 3–20′ height

House Wren — 5–10′ height

Juniper Titmouse — 3–11′ height

Mountain Bluebird — 4–6′ height

Mountain Chickadee — 5–15′ height

Oak Titmouse — 3–11′ height

Prothonotary Warbler — 4–12′ height

Pygmy Nuthatch — 3–25′ height

Red-Breasted Nuthatch — 5–15′ height

Tree Swallow — 5–6′ height

Tufted Titmouse — 5–15′ height

Western Bluebird — 4–6′ height

White-Breasted Nuthatch — 5-20′ height

Find nest box monitoring tips here.
Regular Monitoring
Nest box monitoring increases chances for successful reproduction of native cavity nesters. Routine monitoring also helps ensure that nest boxes remain available for nesting and invasive species are deterred. (Songbirds have a poor sense of smell and will not abandon nests due to monitoring of nests, eggs, or nestlings.)

Knowing what species are using nest boxes is beneficial, too. With the aid of volunteer nest watching data, researchers can study the current conditions of breeding bird populations — how they may be changing over time as a result of climate change, habitat degradation and loss, expansion of urban areas, and the introduction of nonnative plants and animals.

NestWatch is a nationwide monitoring program designed to track status and trends in the reproductive biology of birds, including when nesting occurs, number of eggs laid, how many eggs hatch, and how many hatchlings survive. You can participate in NestWatch. Follow these links to visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch website and download their Nest Monitoring Manual.

Here are some guidelines to observe when monitoring nest boxes:

Learn about the nesting cycles of cavity nesters in your area.

When you see nest box activity, plan to visit every 3-4 days during nesting cycles (approximately 30 days).

Complete inspections as quickly as possible (one minute or less).

Avoid checking nest boxes in early morning. Most birds lay eggs in the morning. Also, adults often leave nests when humans approach. Eggs and young nestlings can become cold if left alone in the early morning.

Avoid nests during the first few days of incubation. If possible, view nests from a distance and approach only when females have left their nests.

Do not approach nests when young are close to fledging. If disturbed, they may leave nests prematurely. When young birds are fully feathered and very alert, only observe nests from a distance.

Avoid nests during bad weather. If it’s cold, damp, windy, or rainy, postpone nest checks.

Do not check nests at or after dusk. Females are often returning for the night at this time.

Approach nests with care and try to minimize leaving dead-end trails. Walking regularly along the same path can lead predators directly to nests. When possible, take varied routes to and away from nest boxes.

Minimize disturbance to nesting materials and nest box inhabitants. Whenever possible, allow adults to leave nests on their own, rather than scaring them off. While standing to the side of entrance holes, ensure that no adult birds are present by lightly tapping nest boxes before opening.

Do not handle birds or eggs.

Find nest box maintenance tips here.
Routine Maintenance
There’s some debate whether it’s best to remove old nesting materials between broods. Several studies have been inconclusive about bird preferences for reusing nest boxes containing previous nest materials. Cavity nesters behave differently, too. For example, male house wrens usually remove old nests between clutches, whereas bluebirds often build new nests over old materials. Old nest removal depends on your location, species, and experiences.

A note on nest abandonment. If you find nests with eggs and no parents, verify that nests are indeed abandoned. Prior to incubation, birds may leave their eggs unattended for most of the day. The eggs of many birds also will remain viable for up to two weeks after being laid — even before they are incubated. So as a general rule, wait at least one month after expected hatch dates before removing nests that have been abandoned.

Cellular PVC construction makes Star Prairie Nest Boxes more resistant to ectoparasite contamination than birdhouses made from other materials. Plus, entrance panels can be stored in internal channels — eliminating nesting cavities and preventing rodent contamination during off seasons.

Here are some guidelines for maintaining Star Prairie Nest Boxes:

Perform nest box maintenance before cavity nesters begin searching for nesting locations in your area.

Prior to breeding season, wipe nest boxes with a bleach solution to eliminate contaminants (follow instructions on your cleaner).

During breeding season, keep entrance panels in front nesting channels.

After breeding season, remove nesting materials and place entrance panels into rear storage channels. Wear a mask, if necessary to prevent inhalation of nest dust.

In regions where birds winter after breeding season, consider converting Star Prairie Nest Boxes into roosting boxes with the addition of our roosting panels.

Lubricate setscrews on pole mounting brackets using a waterproof lubricant and rust inhibitor to maintain adjustability.

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Star Prairie Birdhouse Company, LLC
PO Box 757 • Osceola, WI 54020 • (612) 276-2342

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