Wrens, bluebirds and tree swallows are the birds most commonly attracted to single-unit, enclosed bird houses. Each species prefers certain locations and habitats in which to nest and rear its young.


To attract house wrens and chickadee, place the box very close to or actually in the cover of a bush or small tree. Wrens seek the shade and protection of thick bushes where mated pairs find nesting materials and food for themselves and their young. The box may be placed 3’ to 10’ from the ground. In our university studies we placed wren boxes at about 5’. If cover is available, wrens will nest as high as 15’ from the ground.

The difference between wrens and chickadee is the materials the use to fill the house, The Male Wren will fill many house in a small area with small twigs and sticks.  Then he will sing till the female shows up and decide to move in. Where Chickadees are already pairs up and will work together to fill the house with moss and dog hair or other types of fur.


  Bluebirds and Tree swallows are more exciting. Bluebirds will tolerate a shaded box but usually choose fairly open areas interspersed with trees and shrubs. Place bluebird boxes 4’ to 6’ above the ground. The bluebird is truly a bird of the fencerow, preferring cavities of rotted wooden fence posts. In recent years, bluebird numbers have greatly diminished, but in some localities well-placed nest boxes along fencerows or in orchards have helped this handsome species maintain its numbers.


The tree swallow feeds on the wing and seeks open agricultural fields and meadows or treeless and shrub less wild areas as its nesting place. A nest box for the tree swallow must be placed in the open on a fence post or special box support. A broad sweep of open country in front of the box opening is the best inducement for the tree swallow to accept the box. This graceful swallow is not particular about the height of its nest cavity, provided the above requirements are met. We recommend placing tree swallow boxes 5’ to 6’ above the ground.


The wren builds the bulk of its nest of sticks, the bluebird uses grass, and the tree swallow gathers large chicken, duck or game bird feathers to line a shallow nest of grass and roots. Where Chickadees fill the house with moss and dog hair or other types of fur. Usually there is no lack of these materials in the wild, but we have encouraged tree swallows and wrens to use our boxes by placing nesting material near the boxes.


Spacing of boxes is necessary because birds space themselves naturally during the nesting period. Some birds, such as purple martins, gulls, cliff swallows or ledge-nesting sea birds, will tolerate other nests at very close quarters. But others—hawks, owls, kingbirds, and even robins—cannot be crowded into small spaces, nor can you get wrens to nest together in a house like martins.

The spacing of nest boxes depends on the arrangement of the food and cover and the degree of isolation this arrangement affords. In general, the average city back yard or garden is large enough for one or perhaps two families of wrens. The large expanses required for tree swallows and bluebirds eliminates these birds from most city locations. In farm yards or in rural areas, a tree swallow box should be at least 30 feet away from any other box. Bluebird spacing is less critical than that for tree swallows, but a box every 150 feet should be adequate.

Put the bird boxes up by March 15 so they will be ready when the birds arrive from the South. Occasionally, unwanted birds like the English sparrow or European starlings take over boxes. You can discourage them by repeatedly removing their nests. A periodic check will tell you if you have desirable tenants to encourage or undesirable ones to evict.

It often takes several boxes placed in the most likely sites to attract one pair of birds.


Several designs have proven successful in providing safe homes for bluebirds.  Use the plan that best fits your budget, available woodworking tools and woodworking skill. One—inch rough lumber is ideal as it is less expensive and provides better insulation than planed (3/4 inch) lumber or other materials.


  • Avoid painting boxes dark colors: they will absorb too much heat.

  • Provide ventilation by drilling holes or leaving cracks at the top of the sides of houses (see house plans).

  • Entrance holes should be 1 1/2 inches in diameter and near the top  for Bluebirds and tree swallows, And 1 1/8" for Chickadees and Wrens,

  • Predator guards on poles or at entrance holes are strongly recommended.

  • All boxes should have a side, top or front that swings open so boxes can be cleaned out when necessary.

  • Put drainage holes in the floor of all houses.



Bluebirds feed in areas of short grass or sparse vegetation, locating their prey from elevated perches. Install your boxes in areas that provide open space with adequate perches, such as open woodlots, pastures, orchards, hayfields, and roadsides.


  • Place houses 200 yards or more from farms. feedlots, buildings, or other areas inhabited by house sparrows.

  • Avoid areas where domestic or feral cats are common.

  • Boxes should be placed 100 yards apart to avoid territorial disputes between bluebird pairs. However, placing boxes in pairs may reduce competition between bluebirds and tree swallows by allowing one pair of each species to nest in close proximity.

  • Install boxes 4 to 5 feet above the ground and face the openings  southeast,  Buy a 10 foot, 1/2 " conduit pole and cut it in half, either drill two 1/8' hole for 1/2"screws or use two 1/2" pipe bracket  to secure the pole to the back side of the house. Note; 1/2" conduit is ideal for keeping mice, snakes and small rodents from taking up residents or destroying the nests....

  • Face boxes toward trees or shrubs that are within 50 feet of box so that young birds can fly easily to a perch when they leave the nest. Power lines, trees and shrubs also provide roost sites for adults.

  • To avoid ant problems, do not place nest boxes on wooden fence posts that are rotten or deteriorating.

  • Obtain permission before installing nest boxes on utility poles.

  • Do not place nest boxes near brushy vegetation along forest edges where house wrens will likely occur. Unless you want wrens..

  • Avoid placing nest boxes where chemicals are sprayed frequently.

  • You can discourage climbing predators such as weasel, mice or  raccoons by placing an inverted metal cone, or use metal or plastic pipe, or axle grease around the nest box pole.


Nesting Failures


Raccoon: A predator of bluebirds that will eat the eggs, young, and adults. Raccoons can climb nearly anything, and can reach into the nest cavity to grab eggs or birds from the nest. Look for a nest that is disturbed. Claw scratch marks may be found on the nest box. Raccoons eat their food outside of the nest cavity, so look for coarsely broken eggshell fragments or feathers below the nest cavity entrance or near the nest box.

House wren: Most nest losses attributed to wrens occur in nests containing eggs. The eggs are punctured and left in the nest, or are removed after being punctured and either dropped beneath the cavity entrance or carried away. The puncture holes may be very small. Wrens may build their nest on top of these eggs, so check under wren nests built over active bluebird nests.

House sparrow: They destroy eggs, but frequently kill young and adult bluebirds by pecking at their scalps. Look for bluebirds with substantial damage to the scalp region. Feathers will be missing and blood will be found. House sparrows Fill the entire house full of grasses and frequently build their nest over the corpse of their victims. Avoid placing nest boxes in areas with house sparrows, for instance near farmyards and in towns.

Snakes: They take nestlings and adults, but most frequently eggs. It is very difficult to determine nest failures from this cause because snakes usually leave no sign of their visit. 

Wessels, Red and flying squirrels: Squirrels will enter the nest box, and unlike raccoons, squirrels eat the eggs inside the nest cavity. You should find small fragments of eggshell in the cavity. They can be a problem near pine trees.

Other: Other types of nest failure that are uncommon include human, wasps, house cats, and opossum.  Vandalism can sometimes be a problem.

Also remember to use 1/2" galvanized poles, and clean your houses out in the fall and leave open, Then recheck  and close them back up in March to await the early arrivals.

Heat: During extended periods of hot weather in Wisconsin part of or entire broods of both bluebird and tree swallow young may die in nest boxes from overheating. This type of nesting failure can only be proven when individual nest boxes are checked nearly every day. If you suspect that a brood may be suffering from heat you may want to check that box more frequently.

Blowflies: Nestling birds are often parasitized by blowfly larvae.  Adult blowflies lay their eggs in the bluebirds nest. After hatching, the larvae feed on the blood of the bluebird nestlings by attaching to their feet, legs, abdomen, bill, or wing and tail feather shafts. They feed mostly at night, and drop from the nestlings during the day, returning to the bottom of the nest box. Up to 85% of eastern bluebird nests may be parasitized by these larvae. Artificial nest boxes appear to contain more larvae than natural cavities, with larvae more numerous during the late summer nesting period. A single nest may contain as many as 200 blowfly larvae. When heavy parasitism occurs, the nestlings are weakened and sometimes killed. To determine if there are larvae in the nest box, gently lift the nest material and look for the larvae on the bottom of the nest box and in the nest material. If larvae are found, Remove the larvae by scraping them from the bottom of the box.


Membership meeting information

Board meetings are the third Tuesday of the month at 7:00pm.

Membership meetings are the fourth Tuesday at 7:30pm. With Guest Speaker To discuss farm issues and conservation efforts.

All Meetings are held at the VFW Hall, 133 E. Lakeside St.(off John Nolen drive). in Madison.