Is That a Tree Swallow in my Bluebird House?

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Bluebirds aren't the only species to use nest boxes! Learn about tree swallows' nesting habits and how to choose a swallow bird house.

tree swallow houseCourtesy Jean Owens
Tree swallow bringing nest material to the other adult inside the bird house.

Many backyard birders grow concerned when another species swoops into their bluebird boxes. A closer look at who’s moving in is warranted, since invasive species like house sparrows can harm and even kill bluebirds. But not all non-bluebird residents mean trouble! A lovely tree swallow will use a bird house meant for bluebirds.

Meet 8 types of swallow birds you should know. Plus, learn about the significance of swallow sightings.

Tree Swallows Use Bird Houses

tree swallow bird houseCourtesy Carol Pedersen
Tree swallows using a nest box

The tree swallow is a native bird species that builds its nests in the same type of birdhouse bluebirds use. Their range stretches through the northern and upper western United States, as well as most of Canada, during the summer months. These uniquely colored birds are extremely fun to watch as they swoop and swerve, chasing after insects. You should be delighted if they move into your bluebird box!

“I was so disappointed that a tree swallow family took over my bluebird nesting box (above) but I could not chase them away. So I decided to enjoy this family! By the end of June, the little ones were very anxious to be fed! I love be able to enjoy nature up close and personal in my backyard,” says Carol Pedersen.

Baby swallows are too cute — here are 16 super sweet photos of them.

Tree swallows are cavity nesters. They’ll build nests in holes woodpeckers leave in trees, but they’ll also use bluebird boxes if available. The female builds her nest out of grass, needles and feathers, and she’ll lay up to eight white eggs.

Discover fascinating barn swallow facts.

How Can I Help the Bluebirds?

Bnbbyc16 Bobbie Alexander 003 (1)Courtesy Bobbie Alexander
This Eastern bluebird came home to its nesting box only to find out it had been evicted by a tree swallow

If you’re concerned your favorite bluebirds won’t nest in your yard with the bluebird box taken by a tree swallow family, here’s a potential solution. If you have enough space for it, consider putting up two nest boxes. Just make sure to monitor both boxes so invasive bird species don’t get in.

Even if you’re disappointed not to have nesting bluebirds, you cannot remove a swallow nest from the house. Unlike house sparrows, swallows are native birds and their nests are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. But we don’t think there’s reason to be upset. Swallows are exciting, gorgeous birds, and any bird lover would be lucky to have them in their yard.

What does it mean when you see a bluebird?

Swallow Bird House Options

tree swallow houseVia Etsy.com

Hang up a birdhouse on a sturdy poll in an open area if you’re interested in bringing nesting tree swallows to your yard. Most of these houses also work for bluebirds and other cavity-nesting birds. So just as there’s no guarantee your bluebird box won’t get a swallow, there’s no guarantee your swallow bird house won’t attract a bluebird! We like this attractive wooden house available from Etsy, which is made with reclaimed materials.

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tree swallow houseVia Amazon.com

Also consider this cedar birdhouse from Wild Wings that will work for both species. It includes a predator guard and the front door opens wide for easy cleaning.

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Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in magazine writing from the University of Missouri - Columbia. When she’s not writing and editing, you’ll find her swimming, running, or hiking. She knows blue jays are controversial, but she loves them anyway.