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. 

SpeciesWhere to place birdhouseHabitat
American KestrelOn lone trees on woodland edges or farm buildings 10–30 ft. high. Facing south or east.Open areas, grasslands, parks, meadows, fields, orchards
American RobinPlace nesting shelf under an overhang overlooking open area. Unlikely to be used if placed on a tree.Woodlands, urban lawns with a sprinkling of shrubs and trees
Barn OwlTree trunk at edge of woods at least 8–25 ft. high. Need a nearby source of mud.Open spaces, farmland, marshes, deserts
Barn SwallowPlace nesting shelf under an overhang or porch and away from doors because of messy droppings.Farmland, open areas, cities
Black-capped ChickadeeOn tree trunk or limb 5–15 ft. high with entrance facing away from prevailing wind. Should receive 40–60% sunlight. 1 in. of wood shavings can be placed in box (never sawdust).Woodlots, forest edges, meadows, parks, yards with mature trees
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
Carolina ChickadeeOn tree trunk, limb, or pole 4–15 ft. high with hole facing away from prevailing wind. Should receive 40–60% sunlight.Woodlots, forest edges, meadows, parks, yards with mature trees and thick underbrush
Carolina WrenHang house on building or tree 3–6 ft. high.Backyards with mature trees and tall shrubs, meadows, forest edges, suburban parks and gardens.
Downy WoodpeckerTree trunk in woodlands about eye level. Put a 2 in. layer of wood chips inside.Yards, orchards, parks, woodlands
Eastern BluebirdOn top of post 3–6 ft. high. Space 100–300 ft. apart. Entrance should face open area, preferably east, then north, south. West is least preferred.Open areas with little understory, orchards, parks, yards with large turf areas
Eastern PhoebePlace an unroofed nesting shelf under an overhang, 7–12 ft. above ground, overlooking open area.Woodlands, forest edges, near water
Eastern Screech OwlTree trunk at woodland edge at least 10–30 ft. high. Add 2–3 in. of wood shavings.Parks, forests, forest clearings, yards with mature trees
Hairy WoodpeckerTree trunk at woodland edge 12 ft. or higher. Put a 2 in. layer of wood chips inside.Yards, orchards, parks, woodlands
House FinchTree trunk or post 5–6 ft. high. Anywhere in the yard, preferably in the middle.Open spaces, lawns, conifer forests, deserts, grasslands
Mountain BluebirdOn post or tree facing open area 4–6 ft. high with entrance facing east, north, south, west, in that order.Open field or lawn, orchards, forest edges
Mourning DovePlace shelf 7–14 ft. high on the side of a shed or garage overlooking open space.Widespread except thick forests and swamps
Northern FlickerTree trunk or pole in open area, 6–12 ft. high, with entrance facing south or east. Fill to top with wood chips or shavings.Woodlands, clearings, forest edges, orchards, fields, meadows, city parks
Prothonotary WarblerTree trunk or post 4–12 ft. high, above or near water.Ponds or waterways bordered by woods, marshes, swamps, ponds
Purple MartinMount 10–15 ft. high in open area at least 40 ft. from obstructions. Hang many in a group or use “apartment” style house. Should be painted white.Large open areas, meadows, fields, farmland, ponds, lakes, rivers.
Red-bellied WoodpeckerOn a tree at edge of woods 10–20 ft. high. Layer 2 in. sawdust or wood chips inside.Deciduous or pine forests, wooded urban areas
Red-breasted NuthatchTree trunk, 5–15 ft. high. Put 1 in. wood shavings inside. If possible, nail or glue tree bark to exterior to make it blend in. Face hole away from prevailing winds.Mixed conifer-deciduous forest edges, scrublands, urban areas, parks, swamps
Tree SwallowTree trunk or post near water, 5–6 ft. high. Hole should face east.Open areas near water, large open fields, meadows, wooded swamps, marshes
Tufted TitmouseOn a tree trunk or pole at woodland edge 5–15 ft. high. Should face away from prevailing winds.Forests, orchards, parks and yards with mature trees
Western BluebirdPost or tree 10–30 ft. high, with entrance hole facing east, north, south or west in that order of preference.Open fields, lawns, orchards, areas with scattered trees and little ground cover, forest edges
White-breasted NuthatchHang 5–20 ft. high with entrance facing away from prevailing wind. Place 1 in. wood shavings in box.Mature deciduous forests, forest edges, orchards, frequently near water.

*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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