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Tree/Violet Green Swallow Nest Boxes

Tree Swallows' natural nesting habitat was originally found around ponds and wetland margins where standing dead trees were excavated by woodpeckers. Violet-green swallows occupy similar habitat however they tend to prefer the higher available nesting cavities and range farther up a habitat including up hills and cliffs near a wetland.

With the loss of natural nesting cavities due to land clearing and urban development, decreases in dead tree stands (sometimes removed for public safety), competition and or other factors, providing nest boxes can help with breeding success and the continuation of the swallow populations in your area.

As nesting season approaches, it is time to clean out and service existing nest boxes or build new boxes. Here are some resources to help you provide and safe and successful swallow nesting box:

Nest box plans: ... wallow.htm ... allow.html

Exact hole size is critical. Check it before putting the box up.


Additional resources:

Want success? Make it difficult for the English House Sparrows
In a nutshell, house sparrows are a real problem when it comes to competition and nest box success for swallows. This cannot be overstated! Without due care and attention to what is required to keep house sparrows at bay, you will likely find the crushed swallow eggs on the ground and/or an adult swallow parent pecked to death. (warning - raw photos of attack outcomes)

So what to do:

The best passive means of controlling house sparrows is to setup the box so that a house sparrow cannot perch on top of it or enter it. Hole size is critical. Placement of the box in a location that is difficult for house sparrows to reach (like right under house roof) will limit a house sparrows ability to mount a successful attack.

Read more on managing house sparrows:

Good luck with your swallow nest box projects and successful swallowing nesting!

Further tips, comments and suggestions appreciated.
Great info, thank you for sharing! The hardwood entrance block is a great idea.

I've built many nestboxes for Chickadees and flickers and am always interested in new designs and information.

I live in North Van and we don't seem to have many English House Sparrows in my neighbourhood and the few I've seen seem to be very localized - Edgemont Village and along Marine Drive are about the only places I see them on a regular basis.

I guess all the Merlins and crows keep the numbers down here.

I'd be interested to see successful designs from others. I guess I'll have to post some of my nestboxes at some point!


Ian Lloyd
Here's an older thread with Nest Box photos. Again, hole size is critical and you can see in the photos which boxes have House sparrows as occupants (native species out-competed.)


I've been using the hardwood block over the hole ever since my original nest boxes where successfully breached by house sparrows. House seem particularly aggressive at my location.
Thanks for the link.

Anti-Sparrow is not entirely accurate and should not be generalized. I'm sure all of us are in favour for the breeding success of all our native sparrows including white-crowned, vespers, golden-crowned, savannah, and so on.

In nest box building, I hoped to offer an awareness specific to the introduced house sparrow and how its breeding behavior effects other cavity nesting species. Specific to this thread, Tree and Violet-Green Swallows nesting.

I'm advocating some responsibility on box builders not to build boxes that help to increase house sparrow populations through house sparrow nesting success or swallow breeding disruption/failure, or the worst case, setting up a box that leads to swallow death as the result of a successful house sparrow attack. (yes, I've witnessed this, heard the commotion, and the outcome was brutal and heart-breaking to say the least. )

Perhaps the only part I have not touched on is when not to put up a swallow next box.

In some locations, where house sparrows are abundant, the breeding pressure on the nest box might be too great that a swallow doesn't have a chance. In such a case, it would be better to not offer a box. This would encourage swallows to look elseware (perhaps in an area less populated by house sparrows), where they might have a better chance for success.
Sorry Kevin - I wasn't being entirely serious with the 'anti-sparrow' comment (hence the inverted commas and exclamation mark) - perhaps we need a 'tongue-in-cheek' emoticon? Apologies if you thought I was belittling your nestbox post.

Nonetheless, I thought it worth emphasizing the serious issue regarding the plight of declining house sparrow populations in their natural range. I realize that they are not so fondly regarded here in Canada as they are in Europe!


I have had a nest box outside my house (west side of Vancouver) for a long time. It was meant for Violet-green Swallows and I used to get them nesting in it, but they haven't used it for several years. (In fact I don't see them around here nearly as much as I used to.) However it has recently housed Black-capped Chickadees successfully instead.

Unfortunately over the last year squirrels have been chewing on it and have enlarged the hole considerably. I'm going to leave it up and see what happens but I don't have any expectation that Violet-greens will use it this summer.
Thank you Kevin. Lucky for me, I live in a rural area, where there are no House sparrows. I've had sucessful violet-greens nesting for several years, and have not provided a nest box, they find their own little spot in the eaves of the barn. :) It's shocking what the sparrows do to them!

Some may be interested to know that in the Netherlands, House sparrows are an "at risk" species, and there is a young woman in charge of ensuring that nesting places are built into all new homes under construction to encourage an increase in the population.

I've often wanted to send her ours.....

Malahat, B.C.
I've been thinking of getting some swallow nest boxes put up at my high school. It's in the middle of the city, but I've seen swallows foraging over the soccer field and track. I've heard you're supposed to put nest boxes away from buildings and fences, but I obviously can't put them in the middle of the field. Is it okay to put them in a less open spot, like next to a fence or in a tree, or should I just avoid putting up a box?
Hi. My name is Chris Gates and I operate a web site devoted to creation and operation of nest box projects for tree swallows. Since preventing house sparrow damage to nests of native cavity-nesting birds is an ongoing and frustrating concern, I was wondering if any of you have tried the anti-sparrow "pendulum" device sold by Hironbec of Quebec that attaches over the entrance hole of a nest box? It apparently utilizes an adjustable weight sensitive platform a bird must pass over in order to enter a box. If the bird is light, such as a violet-green swallow (14 g.) or tree swallow (20 g.), it may pass into the box. But if a house sparrow (28 g.) attempts to enter the pendulum operates, barring the opening. If you're interested the device can be viewed at the inventor's web site: His site also includes a page of fairly explicit instructions for its use:

This spring I'm going to run a very small-scale trial of the pendulum (3 units) in upstate New York on tree swallow boxes, and I'm hopeful it will function as claimed. I have to give inventor Rene Lepage credit for creating the first really original sparrow detergent since the "spooker." Of course it would be nice to get results from other parts of North America, especially from violet-green swallow range, where the device's chance of success should be enhanced by this species' significantly lighter weight.

I must stress that this note is not an advertisement or a product endorsement of any kind. I have no stake in Hironbec and I don't sell things. Of course I would like to get as many results as possible in order to better gauge the pendulum's performance. If any of you have already tried or will try the pendulum I would appreciate it greatly if you dropped me a post-season note regarding its success or failure. I can be reached at

Thanks very much,

Chris Gates
Hilton, NY, USA
Hi Else,

By all means put a few nest boxes up. I've already got swallows checking out my nest box but don't put it by a tree with leaves that could cover the box. Swallows don't like it but house sparrows do. Keep the box out in the open since you can't put them in a field at school it's perfectly fine to put it against a building or on a fence. Make sure it's 6 feet or higher though and angle the box slightly forward. If you put up several keep them at least 30 feet apart.

Good Luck Else.

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