Birds Blog

Nesting Season Part III: The Right Box for You

Setting up nesting boxes is easy! No experience required — that’s what I’m here for!

Putting up a nesting box (or 30) around your home is a mutually beneficial activity for you and the wild birds that visit your home. There are several reasons why setting up a nesting habitat in your yard is a great great idea, but this is a post about finding the right nesting box for your home.

Pick Your Nesting Box

There are many different types of nesting boxes and some boxes are designed for specific species, such a House Wrens, or Bluebirds. (I won’t go into details about owl, waterfowl, or falcon boxes, so let’s stick with passerines.)

In my experience, House Wrens will use any type of nesting box that is set up in your yard — they’d even use an old boot if you left one out for them. Carolina Chickadees will use both Bluebird boxes, and Wren boxes. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, and Prothonotary Warblers tend to stick to Bluebird boxes. Confused? That’s OK.

Below you can see in the photos that a Tree Swallow and a House Wren are building a nest in the same nesting box. The House Wren won by the way — in case you had any doubts.


House Wren Boxes = Carolina Chickadee + House Wren

Bluebird Boxes = Carolina Chickadee + House Wren + House Sparrow + Bluebird + Tree Swallow + Prothonotary Warbler (location determines this).

(Note: The terms “box” and “house” are used interchangeably. Some boxes are in the shape of box, others in the shape of a house, and some not in the shape of either.)

Picking the Right Box for Your Home

Picking the right nesting box for your home takes time and some times it’s best to try a couple of boxes out throughout a couple of seasons. Things to take into consideration when picking a nesting box are: aesthetics, functionality, birds you want to attract, and materials.

Aesthetics: How will the boxes look set up around your home?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so be sure to pick a nesting box that looks right for your home. For example, the nesting boxes I have around my home range from natural weathered cedar, to recycled plastic, to PVC pipes. My mother on the other hand, prefers nesting boxes that look like this:

Not my style.

Functionality: Is it easy to open the boxes without harming the birds inside?

If you’re planning to sneak a peak at the nesting cycle, or if you are planning to participate in NestWatch, you will need a nesting box that is easy to open.

Some boxes require a screw (or two) be removed, such as this one:

Audubon Traditional Wren House.

Unscrewing a side of a nesting box will disturb the residents inside. One goal that should always be achieved when checking nesting boxes is to spend as little time as possible at the box. I timed myself and I take 25 seconds (including time to snap a few pictures).

If you plan to put up a nesting box, but don’t intend to check throughout the season, this is a good low-cost option.

Another type of box has uses a latch system:

Latch System.

This is my least favorite type of box. By using a latch system, you run the risk of young falling out of the nest. Also, to prevent this from happening, you would want to use your hand to prevent that from happening. I don’t know about you, but I am not sticking my hand into a nesting box without seeing what’s inside first! Again, this type of box is OK to use if you do not plan to do nest checks.

Materials: Are the box materials durable?

What the box is made of is important. Cedar is a very common material used to build bird boxes and is totally fine to use. Cedar weathers roughly though, it expands, chips, and breaks when exposed to the elements.

Recycled plastic boxes are durable, the color might fade a little with sun exposure, but it is a step up from cedar boxes.

I will discuss, at length, what I believe to be the best box for nest checks in my next post, “Nesting Season Part IV: The Best Nest”.

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Also read…

Nesting Season Part I: NestWatch is On!

Nesting Season Part II: Determining Habitat

Nesting Season Part III: The Right Box for You

Wordless Wednesday: Red-Winged Blackbird

Where the Screech Owl Wasn’t

5 Birds to Know in the Northeast this Spring

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