* Be sure the box can be opened from the front or side for easy cleaning and monitoring. A box that can't be opened and cleaned is worthless after one nest.
* Extend the roof at least 5 inches over the front of the box to protect the hole from wind-blown rain and marauding paws. Drill four quarter-inch drain holes in the floor so the box drains well if it gets wet.
* Never put a perch on the outside of a box. Cavity-nesters have strong feet and easily cling to wooden surfaces. A perch invites house sparrows to use and defend the box.
* Finally, boxes should be in place by mid-March. Use plastic coated electrical wire to strap boxes to posts. Hang boxes so they will be shaded during hot summer afternoons, and orient the hole to the east to avoid prevailing winds and driving rain.
Bigger nest boxes with larger entrance holes attract bigger birds such as kestrels, screech owls, and wood ducks. For detailed nest box plans for a variety of species, visit http://www.birds.cornell.edu/nestinginfo/nestboxref/construct.
If you lack tools and a workshop, purchase nest boxes at wild bird stores and nature centers. The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) also sells a variety of surprisingly affordable next boxes; a set of two bluebird boxes, for example, costs just $30, delivered. The PGC also sells nest boxes for kestrels, screech owls, wood ducks, mergansers, squirrels, and bats.
To order, call 1-814-355-4434, or visit www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on "Howard Nursery" from the "General Store" drop down menu and then select "Wildlife Homes Order Form."
Cavity-nesters have already begun searching for and exploring cavities, but nest building usually doesn't begin until late March or early April. Hanging nest boxes now makes them a part of the natural landscape so birds are more likely to use them.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or email sshala...@aol.com.