Birds are choosy – here’s where to place their birdhouses

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Thirty or more bird species are known to nest in birdhouses. But birds are choosey and 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.

Birds are particular about the placement, too. You’ll see on the chart below that some birds want to nest only a few feet off the ground, while others require very high locations. The guidelines below show the optimal placement of birdhouses. But, you may find that a bit of variance works. With some species, a “tree trunk” might successfully be replaced with a post, the siding on your house or a birdhouse hanging from a limb. But, in general, the more exacting you are, the better your odds of attracting the birds you want. 

BIRDHOUSE PLACEMENT CHART

Note: Some nesting boxes listed below call for wood chips. Avoid using 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 extremely coarse.  

SpeciesPlacementHabitat
Tree SwallowTree trunk or post near water, 5 - 6 high.Open areas near water; fields, wooded swamps, marshes, shoreline
TitmiceAt eye level on tree trunk at woodland edge.Forests, orchards, parks, swamps
StarlingWill use any birdhouse that's large enough.Everywhere but heavy forests, deserts, mountains
Screech OwlTree trunk at woodland edge, at least 15 ft. high. Place some wood chips on floor. Where there are trees
RobinPlace nesting shelf under an overhang overlooking open area. Unlikely to be used if placed on tree.Woodlands, urban lawns with a sprinkling of shrubs and trees
Red-bellied WoodpeckerTree at edge of woods; layer 2 in. sawdust or wood chips inside.Deciduous or pine forests, wooded urban areas
Purple MartinOpen area at least 40 ft. from obstructions, at top of telescoping pole, use white compartment house.Woodland edge near water, agricultural areas in winter
Prothonotary WarblerTree trunk or post; above water or at water's edge.Ponds, waterways, bordered by woods
PhoebeSimulate a cliff edge by placing un-roofed nesting shelf under an overhang 7 - 12 ft above ground, overlooking open area. Ensure cats, squirrels can't jump to it. Woodlands, forest edges, near water
NuthatchesTree trunk 6 - 15 ft. high. Put a few wood chips inside. If poss., nail or glue tree bark to exterior to make blend in.Conifer and mixed-conifer forests, urban areas with conifers
Mourning DovePlace shelf 7 - 14 ft. high on side of shed or garage, overlooking open spaceWidespread, except thick forests, swamps
KestrelTree trunk or post in open area, 10 - 30 ft. high Open areas: grasslands, deserts, parks, meadows, fields
House SparrowWill nest in any birdhouse with opening larger than 1-3/8 in. Must repeatedly remove their nests from houses being reserved for other species.Inhabits any area where there are humans
House FinchTree trunk or post anywhere in yard. Very urban bird.Open spaces, lawns, conifer forests, desert, grasslands
Hairy WoodpeckerTree trunk at woodland edge. Put 2-inch layer of wood chips inside.Yards, orchards, parks, woodlands
FlycatchersTree trunk at woodland edge near a stream, 4 - 10 ft. high.Woodlands, orchards, parks, swamps, areas with large trees
FlickersTree trunk or pole in open area 10 - 30 ft. high. Fill to top with wood chipsWoodlands, forest edges
Downy WoodpeckerTree trunk in woodlands, about eye level. Put 2 in. layer of wood chips inside.Yards, orchards, parks, woodlands
ChickadeesOn tree or limb, at eye level.Woodlands, parks, fields, forest edges
Blue JayPlace nesting shelf 10 - 12 ft. high on tree, shed, garage, or other vertical surface, overlooking an open area.Forest edges, urban areas with large trees.
BluebirdsOn top of post in a clearing. Space houses 100 to 300 ft. apart. Use predator guard below each.Open areas with little understory, orchards, parks, large turf areas.
Barn SwallowPlace nesting shelf under an overhang or porch and away from doors, because of messy droppings.Farmland, open areas, cities
Barn OwlTree trunk at edge of woods, at least 12 ft. high.Open spaces, farmland, marshes, deserts

*Top photo: Adam Greig / Flickr; cc by-sa 2.0

More reading:

How to attract birds to your yard   
No spring in the step of hungry spring birds   
Wild Turkey: more than a dinner table centerpiece   

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