Will predators attack your swallows?
There's always danger of predation, so protecting your nesting birds is a crucial
responsibility for you as a nest box project manager.  Finding boxes emptied of eggs
or young, or discovering discarded wings, legs and clumps of feathers is terribly
Please take steps to reduce chances of predation.  Careful choice of
project site and proper location of boxes will limit risk of predators
finding your
boxes, but you should also try to prevent predators from
reaching any boxes they do
happen to discover.

What animals predate nesting Tree Swallows?
  • Raccoons, cats and opossums will kill and eat any adults and young they can pull
    out of boxes.
  • Weasels can actually enter most boxes they can climb to.  Photo below of a
    Short-tailed Weasel exiting a predated swallow box by Barbara Russell.

  • Raccoons are especially dangerous because if they find one box and can
    predate it, they look for other boxes and may predate every box in a project.

  • Most snakes can't climb poles, but a few species can, and will enter boxes to
    eat eggs, young or adults trapped inside.

How can you stop predators from reaching boxes?
  • Make it as difficult and unpleasant as possible!  The best method is to attach a
    predator guard to the pole below the box.  
  • You should use a guard on every box because raccoons and climbing snakes can
    get up even thin metal poles surprisingly easily, as the photo below taken
    during experiments conducted by bluebird expert Keith Kridler demonstrates.  

  • Conical and Stovepipe Guards (see below) are somewhat effective, but they
    can be expensive to make and very expensive to buy.  

  • Hardware Screen Guards that project out around the entrance hole are less
    expensive, but they make it difficult and time-consuming for adult swallows to
    access nests when feeding nestlings.  (Note the overlarge hole and small
    dimensions of the box below, obviously not a good design for Tree Swallows).

Our System - Can and Grease Predator Guards:  
We use simple, cheap guards made using large juice or restaurant supply cans.  

  • Can ends are removed and the sides cut in strips that are bent out.
  • Note: One cut goes all the way through so the can will fit around a pole.
  • Wear gloves while cutting and handling the cans!

  • The cans are supported by three pieces of house construction "hanger strap"
    fastened to poles by hose clamps.  

  • Rounding the portions of the hangers that touch the poles makes them fit
    better and allows them to be tightened more securely.

  • Two or three can guards are then stacked loosely on top of the hangers.

  • Adding a band of engine grease 4-6 inches wide directly below the predator
    guard makes the barrier even harder for predators to pass (see below).  
  • Plus, this grease also discourages ants from reaching nests.  
  • Some ant species will build nests within bird nesting material inside boxes,
    where they may disturb or injure young birds and cause adult birds to desert.
  • Note: Additional grease may need to be applied during a season.  
Caution: Don't over-do the grease.  Use only a short, thin band, if you use any at all.

Caution: Wait until females begin incubating before adding can guards and grease.
  • Most predation by mammals occurs at night.  However, male Tree Swallows
    almost never roost overnight in boxes, and females usually don't until they've
    begun to incubate their eggs.  
  • If can guards or grease are added before or during egg-laying, swallows
    competing for boxes could be injured by the cans' sharp edges or get their
    feathers fouled by grease.

Learn About Birds at Tree Swallow Nest Box Projects
Predator Protection