So, it’s spring, and you’ve seen your first mountain bluebird, and the sap is rising, and you want to put up a bird house to attract a nesting pair of those attractive birds to your place. No problem.

Well, maybe a little detail here and there to be considered.

Although the needs of hole-nesting birds, such as bluebirds, are few, it helps to try to fill them. The nest box should be durable, rainproof, cool and readily accessible for cleaning. Wood is the best material. Pick one easy to work with. Avoid metal; it gets too hot in the sun and cold at night or in inclement periods.

Roofs should have enough pitch to shed water readily, but if level or nearly so, cut a groove across the underface of the overhanging roof part to prevent water from entering the interior. The overhang should extend two or three inches to protect against driving rain.

If you’re building the box yourself, try boring the entrance hole at an upward slant, again to protect against rain. Bird houses will last longer here, where freezing temperatures are commonplace, if the sides extend beyond the bottom of the box; this helps drain water and curtail freezing that can wedge apart the bottom and sides of the box. It is important to drill a few small holes in the bottom or cut off the corners to drain any water that gets into the next box and to provide a bit of air circulation.

A few small holes through the sides will also help to circulate air and cool the box. Rough up the interior walls to help the young to climb to the opening. Do not put a perch at the entrance; this is more a help to enemies than a need for the nesting birds.

Put the box where you can reach it easily, and provide some access to it for cleaning in the fall. A removable bottom or top, or hinged fronts, tops or bottoms, will make access easy.

Bird houses in general and for bluebirds in particular, should be placed fairly low to the ground (five to eight feet for bluebirds), not in dense woods and preferably not in trees. The opening should be away from prevailing winds and, if possible, in partial sunlight (full sun is also OK for bluebirds).

It used to be thought that it isn’t a good idea to have a large number of bird boxes in a limited area, but having two bluebird boxes about 20 feet apart enhances the chances that tree swallows won’t occupy both and increases your hopes to attract nesting bluebirds.

Most of us aren’t that handy at working with wood, and if you don’t know a tinkerer, there are commercially available boxes. Some, however, are built to attract you, not birds. Like fishing lures, you don’t know. Look for ones that meet the requirements defined above. By and large, birds aren’t into trophy houses.

Birds are, however, instinctively attracted to certain nesting situations and dimensions. Mountain bluebirds, our nesting species in the Jackson Hole region, prefer houses with inside dimensions of 5 by 5 inches at the base, 8 inches high in the interior. The hole diameter should be 1 9/16 inches (not 1 1/2 as needed for Eastern bluebirds) and centered 6 inches above the floor.

Chickadee houses should have a 4-by-4-inch or 5-by-5-inch base, be 8 inches high and have a 1-inch diameter hole centered 6 inches above the floor. Tree swallows should have a 5-by-5-inch base, be 6 inches high and have a 1 1/2-inch hole centered 4 inches above the floor. There are books on this subject, but avoid the ones intended for your architectural curiosity and not the birds’ needs.

Now. If you don’t want birds nesting on your particular people house, a humane solution is to string heavy-duty clear or colored fishing line across the place a bird shows interest in before a nest is established and eggs are laid or young hatched. String the line on nails about an inch and a half out from your structure and about 1 1/2 or 2 inches apart. Birds, such as cliff swallows, will flutter up against these strings and depart. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is among those endorsing this preventative method. It certainly keeps cliff swallows away from nesting directly above windows we can’t reach to clean.

— Originally printed in the April 5, 2000, Jackson Hole News

Field Notes: Mourning doves are making their return flights and being seen in the valley, according to Lisa Samford, Mary Lohuis and others.

May 1 brought 20 to 30 white-faced ibis to the Skyline Pond, Kim Springer reported.

Hummingbirds are also on the return. Ron Gessler spotted a calliope in the Hoback Nation, Kayla Michael spotted a broad-tailed at Flat Creek near Smith’s and on the West Bank, Frances Pollak, Frances Clark and Mary have reported sightings.

Kayla also reported a returning Western tanager Thursday at Bert’s Bench near the Jackson Hole and Greater Yellowstone Visitor’s Center.

On Saturday Louise Wade was intrigued to see a group of elk banded up in the middle of the day in South Park. Appearing on the alert to some danger, not known to us. Thanks, Louise, for sharing the photograph.

Mark Huffman spotted a male and female Northern shoveler just below the beaver dam at Schwabachers Landing on Sunday.

Here are more recent returning migrant species notes by Susan Patla within the past week: ruffed grouse, a male drumming, red-naped sapsucker, violet-green swallow, house wren, green-tailed towhee, brown-headed cowbird, blue-winged teal, ring-necked duck, pied-billed grebe, sora rail, killdeer, tree swallow, marsh wren, yellow-rumped warbler, chipping sparrow, and Brewer’s sparrow.

Bert Raynes writes weekly about whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature. Contact him at

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