Does it matter where boxes are located at your project?
  • It certainly does!  Box location is a matter of life or death for your
  • It's a sad fact that many people trying to "help wildlife" are themselves
    responsible for deaths of birds by unwittingly placing nest boxes in poor places.
  • Unfortunately, chronic shortage of suitable nest sites forces Tree Swallows to
    attempt to nest in dangerous situations.   
  • Make it your goal to try to avoid mortality of your birds by putting boxes where
    predation and competition from other cavity-nesting species won't happen.  
  • Luckily, there are some simple box placement guidelines for Tree Swallows.
    Following them will maximize the safety and nesting success of your birds.  
    Ignoring them adds risks that your birds will be killed or their nests will fail.
  • Remember, the guidelines below are for Tree Swallows only!  They aren't
    meant for Bluebirds, Purple Martins, or any other cavity nesters, which all have
    their own, different sets of guidelines.

  • Place boxes on poles well out in open areas whenever you can.
  • Space boxes about 100 feet or 30 meters apart.
  • Keep boxes at least 50 yards or meters away from water edges.
  • Keep boxes at least 100 yards or meters away from buildings.
  • Keep boxes at least 50 yards or meters from trees, bushes, fences,
    and ditches.
  • Keep boxes at least 25 yards or meters from roads and trails.

  • Once you understand the fundamentals of box placement for Tree Swallows try
    evaluating nest box situations you see as you travel around.  You'll be appalled
    at how many boxes you encounter are death traps.
  • And by the way, don't ever assume box placements at nature centers or wildlife
    refuges are correct.  Very often they are not.
  • Below are explanations for the above Tree Swallow box location guidelines.

Never put a box right next to a body of water!
Keep boxes at least 50 YARDS from bodies of water if you can.
  • Reason: To reduce the chances raccoons will find them.  Raccoons are
    deadly nest predators that often hunt along edges of lakes, ponds, rivers and
  • Many bird books state Tree Swallows like to nest "near water," which is true, but
    this does not mean you should place boxes at water's edge.  Remember, to a
    swallow water within a mile is "nearby."

Keep boxes at least 100 YARDS or METERS, from houses and barns.  
  • Reason: To avoid House Sparrows (below left), which are deadly enemies of
    Tree Swallows and many other cavity nesters.  
  • House Sparrows will take over swallow boxes, destroying eggs and killing
    swallow adults and young in the process.  
  • The boxes in the grid below right were too close to homes.
  • If you are absolutely certain there are no House Sparrows in the area you can
    risk placing boxes nearer to buildings.

  • In the photo below Monty Martin of Indiana holds the bloody remains of two Tree
    Swallows bludgeoned to death in their boxes by House Sparrows.  

Keep boxes at least 50 YARDS or METERS away from trees and bushes.  
  • Reason: To avoid House Wrens (below left), which prefer dense cover.  
    Wrens can be very destructive, and will take over swallow boxes, puncture
    swallow eggs (below right), throw out eggs and small young, and fill the box with
    the small sticks which form much of wren nests.  Remove all shrubs near boxes,
    or better yet don't put a box meant for swallows near shrubs or trees.

Keep boxes at least 50 YARDS or METERS away from wood edges,
hedgerows, fences, and ditches.  
  • Reason: Predators like raccoons and opossums move along these as
    they travel and hunt.  Also, bird-hunting hawks and falcons can approach using
    hedgerows and wood edges as screens.  The boxes below are at the edge
    of taller vegetation along which predators are apt to travel and they are
    also placed way too close to one another.

Never mount a swallow nest box on a tree or fence!  
  • Reason: They are way too easy for predators like raccoons to reach or
    for squirrels to takeover for their own use (note the squirrel-enlarged hole in
    the photo below right from  McCauseland and Sheila Johnston of Ontario).

If possible keep boxes at least 25 YARDS or METERS away from roads and
trails where people can approach easily.
  • Reason: To avoid vandalism or excess human disturbance that could
    cause nesting swallows to desert.  The boxes below are too close to a road.

To summarize:  Placing swallow boxes well away from buildings, trees and
shrubs, roads, and water edges will reduce potential dangers to the birds
and their nests.   

How far apart should Tree Swallow nest boxes be spaced?
  • Tree Swallows are more territorial than many other swallow species.  
  • Swallow boxes should be 100 feet or 30 meters apart, or more.
  • It's true Tree Swallows will sometimes nest closer, but squabbling between
    crowded pairs can interfere with care of eggs and young and reduce nesting
  • Measure your stride so you can use number of steps to determine proper
    distance between boxes in the field.
  • Arranging boxes in a grid or loop makes it convenient for box checks.

Attention:  There is additional information including height of boxes on poles and
box facing direction on the Mounting Boxes page.

Click here for Next Step: Pole Options for Nest Boxes.

Learn About Birds at Tree Swallow Nest Box Projects
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Tree Swallow Nest Boxes