How to Create and Manage Tree Swallow Nest Box Projects

tree swallow pair on perch bar

Creating and managing Tree Swallow projects is a wonderful way to learn about the behavior, biology and ecology of songbirds as they nest and raise their young.  Tree Swallows are perfect birds for close-up, hands-on experiences: they are active, attractive, and super-tolerant of people.  They are among the easiest native songbirds to attract to nest boxes. Best of all, they live right out in the open so you can really see what they’re doing.  They will let you into their lives like few other songbirds, and they will teach you about songbird life and reproduction in ways no book can.

What is a Tree Swallow Nest Box Project?

  • It’s a place, usually out in a large open field, where one or more pairs of Tree Swallows nest in pole-mounted nest boxes designed specifically for them.
  • The goal is to provide the swallows with the resources and protection they need to raise broods of strong, healthy young prepared for survival after fledging.
  • If a project has multiple boxes, each is spaced roughly 100′ away from other boxes.  
  • Since Tree Swallows only defend small territories their boxes can be clustered in one location.  They don’t need to be spread far apart in bluebird-trail fashion.  
  • In fact Tree Swallow nest box projects make enjoyable alternatives to bluebird trails for people who want to conserve birds.
3 boxes spaced out in an open field

If you want to create your own Tree Swallow Project we can help you:

  • Pick a good project site.  
  • Make and mount your boxes.
  • Protect the nests from predators.
  • Reduce competition with other species of birds.  
  • Check your nests and keep records of their progress.
  • Maximize the nesting success of your swallows.
  • And help you learn in the process.
  • Photo below by Robert Thomas.
male tree swallow perches at box entrance

You’ll be able to witness these swallows close up as they:

  • Compete for nest boxes.
  • Court and form pairs.
  • Build nests and mate.
  • Care for their eggs and young.
white eggs in a nest with one starting to hatch

Plus, if you want to learn even more about Tree Swallows:

  • You can use our Tree Swallow Life History and Nesting Guide to follow the swallows through the details of each step of their nesting cycle. The guide is designed to help you think about and understand what you see.
  • We’ll take you along as we experience one actual season with our Tree Swallows at Salmon Creek. See below for more on this feature.
  • We’ll explore the value of bird banding and show you how to find a licensed bander.
  • We’ll examine the tremendous contribution Tree Swallows have made to ornithological research.
half-grown young tree swallows in a box

Creating and managing Tree Swallow nest box projects can help you become:

  • A conscientious and successful wildlife manager.
  • A skilled field observer who sees rather than just looks.
  • Able to experience the natural world in new and enriching ways.  
  • More aware of ecological, biological, and behavioral issues faced by all life.
seated person watching swallows at a box close-up

There’s one more reason why you should offering nest boxes to Tree Swallows:

You can assist a species that’s showing signs of difficulty.

  • It saddens us to mention this but, while Tree Swallows are still abundant birds, their numbers have been falling slowly but steadily for decades.
  • Tree Swallows have actually expanded their breeding range recently into the southern United States. But in their heartland in Canada, the Great Lakes States, and New England, records show Tree Swallow nesting numbers have decreased significantly since 1970.
  • Tree Swallows appear to be part of a widespread decline of aerial insectivores, birds such as swallows, swifts and nighthawks that feed on flying insects.
  • The graph below shows changes over time of major Canadian bird groups.  The troubling trend for aerial insectivores in the United States is similar, though less extreme.
graph showing relative status of bird groups over time
  • Although Tree Swallow populations have not dropped as dramatically as many other aerial insectivores, in 2016 the North American Bird Conservation Initiative changed the species Conservation Concern Score from 8 to 10 in recognition of its deteriorating situation, and shifted their overall assessment of the Tree Swallow’s status from “least concern” to “moderate concern.”
  • The decline in Tree Swallow population is likely due to a complex mix of factors.
  • These may include a reduced supply of flying insects due to agricultural intensification and pesticide use.
  • And loss or degradation of breeding ground, migration and winter habitat undoubtedly comes into play.  
  • Another possible factor is a shortage of suitable nest cavities, and we can do something about this, can’t we?

Goals of the Tree Swallow Projects website:

  • There are a number of excellent websites devoted to particular birds. For instance, the website Sialis is an outstanding sources of information regarding Bluebirds. And the Purple Martin Conservation Association website is a go-to place for these favorites. We refer to these great websites often.
  • Our goal here was to focus on our own favorite bird, the Tree Swallow. We wanted to be comprehensive but employ our own unique format and style of presentation.
  • We have tried at all times to make this website useful, accurate, and informative, so others will create, enjoy and learn at their own Tree Swallow projects.  
  • Certainly, there may be other ways to pursue these goals. However, we believe management for and field observation of one highly visible and approachable species offers a comprehensive and natural set of learning experiences.
  • We also believe that much of what a person learns studying one species can be applied to other birds. In short, Tree Swallows are the perfect birds for this task, and nest box projects for them are ideal settings for this type of learning.

Who is this Tree Swallow Projects website for?

  • The site was written for beginning or novice enthusiasts who wish to learn more about birds as living, reproducing organisms.  
  • However, we suspect even experienced birders will learn a thing or two here as well.
  • This site is also meant to be a resource to help children and adults connect with the natural world.
  • So, if you do want to learn about birds we believe this website can help you on your journey of exploration. And if you do decide to create a Tree Swallow nest box project of your own we’ll be here to help however we can, from start to finish.
Female tree swallow peeks out box entrance

And here’s something else you might enjoy:

One Nesting Season with the Tree Swallows of Salmon Creek

  • Would you like a sense of what managing a Tree Swallow project is really like? And what trials and tribulations Tree Swallows face as they try to survive and nest? If so, check out One Nesting Season With The Tree Swallows Of Salmon Creek.
  • At this, our other website, we invite you to join us and follow day by day the story of what happened one year at our box project in upstate NY, from the earliest swallow’s arrival in March through post-fledging departure of adults and young in mid-July.
  • We’ve tried hard to make this diary the closest thing to being there, to experience what we experience. There’s much more than just information; there’s action, drama, suspense, conflict, emotion, even sex and death. What more could you want in a good read? So, give One Nesting Season a try. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Photo below from Charlie Kelley.
group of fledged juveniles begging parent for food

Our Thanks!

We are extremely grateful to those of you who have already shared your experiences and photographs!  You have helped create a more comprehensive and instructive web site, and we look forward to your future contributions.