Alaska Outdoor Journal's Ecology CenterEcology Animals Composite
by Klondike Kid
AOJ Ecology

Building Nest Boxes For Alaska's Bug Eating Swallows

Swallows are an enjoyable species of wildlife to have around the yard. In addition to their entertaining acrobatics they are wonderful bug eaters, especially for mosquitos here in Alaska. The Violet Green swallow and tree swallow migrate to southcentral Alaska around May 1st. In the wild they chose to nest in abandoned woodpecker nest sites but these are relatively rare and so the birds will take up residence in anything that meets their requirements.

Manmade nest boxes are easy to construct and install. The following instructions, illustrations and guidelines will guide you through the process. Its a great project for the whole family to participate in.


Materials: Sides, back and bottom panels 1 x 8" finished boards (actual dimensions 3/4" x 7 1/2"). Top: 1/2" plywood.

Place a 1/4" hole in the back, near the top, for hanging the nest box on a nail. If the nest box is to be placed on the side of a building, extend the back panel board an additional 2" in length for easy mounting.

The box can also be placed on a 3" or 4" diameter post or pipe, ten or more feet tall, attached to the bottom of the box and a 12" metal sleeve should cover the wooden post just below the nest box to discourage predators. If painted it will not be unsightly. When a post is used, add one inch overhang to the back of the nest box top.

Plans for building Swallow Bird Houses
Plans for building Swallow Bird Houses
I built both of these at the same time in 2 1/2 hours from scratch. I used screws (with drilled pilot holes) rather than nails so that I could replace any component that might need repair. And I can take the top off to clean out the interior every two years to prevent insect pests without adding expensive hinges. As you can see, I mounted two versions. One "plain Jane" unpainted version to age and weather naturally and the other with birch bark stapled to it to give it somewhat of a tree cavity appearance. I'm sure both will be occupied once the swallows return but there could be a difference in preferences. The bark house is mounted on a ten foot tall 3" pipe. A dog food can 3 1/4" in diameter was screwed to the underside of the house with 1/2" wood screws and then slipped over the pipe. I used two layers of an old sock slipped over the pipe to take up the slack and prevent any house wobble when the wind blows. Birch bark has a natural wood preservative in it which prevents it from rotting. I added small pieces of Gorilla tape where I put the staples to prevent the bark from popping off the staples. The "plain Jane" box is mounted on a nine foot tall birch tree stump and hangs on a nail through a back panel hole with a piece of bailing wire tied around the body to prevent it from moving when the wind blows hard.

Plans for building Swallow Bird Houses

  1. Preferred nest sites have south, east or western exposures.

  2. Violet Green and tree swallows do not like close neighbors. Place boxes away from each other, at least forty or fifty feet, and making the entrances face different directions is helpful. Apartment swallow houses are cruel, and cause the death of many birds, due to constant territorial fighting. These birds are not martins and lack the gregarious instincts of martins.

  3. Swallows like open country or open, mixed woods. In tree-less areas, Violet Green swallows nest in small crevices in rock cliffs.

  4. Place nest boxes well out of reach of cats and squirrels. Never place nest boxes on spruce trees or squirrels will move into them.

  5. Swallows prefer nest sites with front over-hang either under the eaves of buildings or built onto the nest box by extending the roof. See photos.

  6. No perch is really necessary, and the typical peg type perch is unacceptable because it damages tail feathers. Use a cross perch made from a small tree limb.

  7. The normal nest site for tree swallows and most lowland Violet Green swallows are the abandoned nest cavities of woodpeckers. Homemade nest boxes should resemble these. Care should be taken not to make the inside dimensions too large, bigger isn't better, follow the sizes in the illustrations, these have proven to be the best for hundreds of years.

  8. No nest material should be placed in the boxes, nest building is a vital part of swallow courtship. Paint the box any color you wish, the birds will be unaffected by it.

  9. NEVER put wire or other fabric inside of boxes for the young to climb up. This causes the young birds to crowd the entrance and forces them out of the nest before they can fly, making them easy prey for predators. Don't worry, they will get out when the time is right.

  10. Never drill air holes in the bottom of any nest box. It invites ants which move into the nesting material and will kill the young. Woodpeckers don't make holes in the bottom of their nest cavities and they should not be there for swallows either. Don't worry about air circulation, and if the roof is water tight the nest cavity will stay dry.

  11. Clean out the old nesting material about once every two years. If you attach the top with hinges this is an easy chore.

  12. Don't make metal nesting sites such as pipes; they get too hot and too cold.

  13. DON'T OPEN THE NEST BOX TO SEE THE BABIES! Install boxes by May 1.

All Content Copyright ©1996-2014
Visual Media Design & Alaska Outdoor Journal
All Rights Reserved