Bird species are specific: know where to place their birdhouses


Seventy or more bird species are known to nest in birdhouses, but no single birdhouse appeals to them all. From a bird’s perspective, no matter how fancy and richly detailed it may be, a birdhouse, also called a nest or nesting box, appears to be just an opening in a tree. They’ll assess it for correct overall dimensions, the depth from the opening to the floor, the surrounding vegetation and its safety from predators. They’re particular about birdhouse placement, too. Notice on the chart below that some birds want a birdhouse that’s only a few feet off the ground, while others require high-hanging birdhouses. The more exacting you are about placement, the better your chance of attracting the bird species you want.

Note: Some nesting boxes listed below call for wood chips to be used. Take care not to use wood chips containing treated wood. If you don’t have wood chips on hand, animal bedding made from wood chips is readily available at pet supply stores. Don’t use sawdust, unless it’s very coarse.  

Species Where to place birdhouse Species habitat
Barn Owl Mount house on tree trunk at edge of woods,
at least 12 in. high.
Open spaces, farmland,
marshes, deserts
Barn Swallow Mount nesting shelf under an overhang or
porch, but away from doors, because of messy droppings.
Farmland, open areas, cities
Bluebirds Mount on top of post at edge of clearing. If you have lots of space, place several houses 100 to 300 ft. apart. Use a predator guard below each house. Open areas with little
understory, orchards, parks, large turf areas
Blue Jay Mount nesting shelf 10 to 12 ft. high on tree, shed, garage or other vertical surface, overlooking an open area. Forest edges, urban
areas with large trees
Chickadees Mount on tree trunk or limb, at eye level. Woodlands, parks, fields,
forest edges
Downy Woodpecker  Mount on tree trunk in woodlands, about eye level or a bit higher. Put 2 in. of wood chips inside.  Yards, orchards, parks,
 Flickers Mount in open area 10 to 30 ft. aboveground, on a tree trunk or pole. Fill to top with wood chips. Woodlands, forest edges 
 Flycatchers Mount on tree trunk at woodland edge, 4 to 10 ft.
high, near a stream.
Woodlands, orchards, parks, swamps, areas with large trees
Hairy Woodpecker Mount on a tree trunk at woodland edge. Put 2 in. of wood chips inside.

Yards, orchards, parks, woodlands 

House Finch Very urban. Mount house on tree trunk or post anywhere in the yard. Open spaces, lawns, conifer forests, desert, grasslands


 House Sparrow Will nest in any birdhouse with opening larger than 1-3/8 in. Must repeatedly remove their nests from houses you’re reserving for other species. Inhabits any area where there are humans
Kestrel Mount 10 to 30 ft. high on a post or tree trunk in an open area. Open areas, grasslands, deserts, parks meadows, fields
Mourning Dove  Mount nesting shelf 7 – 14 ft high on the side of shed, garage, etc., and overlooking open space. Widespread, except in thick forests, swamps
Nuthatches  Mount on tree trunk 6 – 15 ft. high. Put a few wood chips inside. If possible, nail or glue bark to the exterior to represent a cavity in a tree. Confier and mixed conifer forests and urban areas where there are conifers
 Phoebe Simulate a cliff edge by placing a nesting shelf (without a roof) under an overhang on the side shed, garage, porch, etc., 7 to 12 ft. above the ground. Ensure cats and squirrels can’t jump or climb to it. It must overlook open area. Woodlands, forest edges near water 
Prothonotary Warbler  Mount on post or tree trunk above water or at water’s edge  Ponds and waterways bordered by woods 
Purple Martin  Place in open area at least 40 ft. from obstructions, at top of a telescoping pole, in a white compartment house. Woodland edge near water; agricultural areas in winter 
Red-bellied Woodpecker

Mount on a tree at edge of woods; add 2 in. of woodchips.

Deciduous or pine forests, wooded urban areas.

Mount nesting platform on the side of shed, garage, etc., overlooking an open area, away from the threat of predators. Not likely to be used if placed in a tree.

Woodlands, urban lawns with a sprinkling of shrubs and trees
Screech Owl  Mount on tree trunk at woodland edge, at least 10 ft. high. Put an inch of wood chips in it. Squirrels may want to use the box, too. If a Screech Owl wants it, it will likely drive the squirrel away.  Wherever there are trees


Starling Will use any birdhouse that’s large enough. Everywhere but heavy forests, deserts, mountains
Titmouse Mount at woodland edge on tree trunk at about eye level. Forests, orchards, parks, swamps
Tree Swallow Mount on tree trunk at woodland edge, near water, 3 to 30 ft. high. Open areas, fields, near water, swamps, shoreline


*Top photo: Tree Swallow (skeeze / Pixabay; PD)
Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology;;