Installing and Monitoring a Nest Box

If you are interested in installing a nest box with the intention of helping kestrels, you've come to the right place! Research shows that nest boxes aren't a golden ticket to American Kestrel conservation. That is, installing nesting boxes isn’t necessarily going to help declining populations if their decline is caused by something other than nest site limitation. However, since the cause of kestrel decline is still unknown, data from nest monitoring programs are extremely valuable to helping us uncover the mysterious causes of these declines.

Once we understand the causes, we will be able to make management recommendations that do help kestrels! We’ve included information, protocols, and data sheets below to ensure that your efforts will help the kestrel cause. Once you are registered as an AKP partner, you will be able to enter your Nest Record and Observation Data into AKP’s centralized database.


Why Monitor?

Monitoring kestrel box activity is arguably a more critical step than installing boxes when it comes to helping kestrels!

While it might seem like putting up a box could only help, our research has shown this isn't the case. It is surprisingly easy to place a kestrel box too close to stressors such as busy roads, outdoor cats, the territories of predators such as Cooper's Hawks or Great Horned Owls, or other stressors. If a box is being regularly disturbed (or worse, predated), these so-called "bad boxes" will have a notably lower-than-average nestling survival rate than other nests in the area—which means installing these "bad boxes" can actually REDUCE the local kestrel population. If you find that your box results in repeated nest failures, you might have a "bad box" and should strongly consider removing or relocating it!

Inputting your data consistently is equally important. By submitting your observations to our database, you ensure that your time, energy, and resources help not only the kestrels in your box, but all kestrels everywhere. And you should still submit your observations even if kestrels don't use your box! Regularly monitored boxes give researchers valuable information regarding kestrel biology, phenology, and reproductive activity, but much of this information (such as box selection preferences, the prevalence of interspecific competition events, and more) simply cannot be gleaned from occupied box data alone. Consistently monitoring your box according to AKP’s basic protocols and reporting your data will help biologists answering local, regional, and continental-scale research questions. Additionally, submitting data from your box(es) even if you don't have kestrel tenants lets us know that you're still active as a partner and that we don't need to recruit new partners in your area!


Installing American Kestrel Nest Boxes

Because American Kestrels don't create their own nests, they will choose a variety of cavity types. This includes barn and roof crevices, old woodpecker cavities, and constructed nest boxes. American Kestrels will readily use boxes for breeding during spring and even roosting during winter.

We recommend boxes be installed:

  • 8–20’ (2.5–6 m) off the ground; 10' (3 m) is our preferred height
  • at least a half-mile (0.8 km) apart
  • during the non-breeding season (October–January in North America) 
  • with the box opening facing southeast, or as close to it as possible—this helps keep the box cool and dry, as sunlight can't shine directly into the box during the hottest portion of the day and typical weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere move west-to-east
  • in fairly open habitat, such as pasture land, agriculture fields, or short grass prairie, preferably with perching opportunities (powerline, utility pole, singular tree) nearby
  • away from loud roadways

For backyard boxes, supervise dogs during the kestrel breeding season and keep cats indoors always. Add 1–3 inches (2.5–7.5 cm) of fresh bedding to prevent the eggs from rolling; we recommend using hardwood shavings, of which aspen is the most readily available. Replace the bedding and clean the nest box out every fall. As soon as your box is installed, enter your nest record data (location, dimensions, etc.) into the AKP’s centralized database. 

The links below take you to box building plans as well as options for purchasing pre-made boxes. We’ve also provided a template letter that partners can complete and request material donations from local hardware stores.

Kestrels are wide-ranging and will nest in many ecosystems ranging from high mountain valleys to southeastern coastal plain savannas. If you want to put up a box but still aren't sure where to begin, you may have luck by contacting someone locally who is knowledgeable about birds that may be able to tell you where they've seen kestrels locally. You could also check eBird's species maps for American Kestrels in your area to identify local sightings. Many of our partners find that once they install boxes and monitor them for a few breeding seasons, they become the local experts and can better identify where kestrels will nest in that area.


Build Your Own Kestrel Nest Box

Kestrel box blueprints found here

Template to Request Donations


Purchase a Kestrel Nest Box

Kestrel Nest Boxes from Orchard Guard (handmade by an AKP Partner)

Screech Owl/Kestrel Nesting Box on Etsy

Sponsor a box in the Treasure Valley!

Monitoring Boxes and Collecting Data

AKP’s preferred protocol is for partners to check the contents of their box once every other week beginning in late winter/early spring (in North America, monitoring should begin in early March for most locations).

Alternatively, and at minimum, monitor once there are eggs, and then check again within 30 days for nestlings. Do not monitor more than once a week to avoid stressing the kestrels. Record what you see inside the nest on our data entry forms. It is helpful, but not required, if partners estimate the age of nestlings using the aging guide below. Then, input your data into the AKP’s centralized database.

Monitoring and inputting your data consistently – even when there is no nest activity – is critical.


Download Monitoring Instructions & Data Collection Sheet (one sheet per box)

Download Our Data Collection Sheet (multiple boxes on single sheet)

Download the Nestling Aging Guide here (must be logged in to access)

Download our Guide to American Kestrel Biology and Monitoring for additional information

Entering Your Data into the AKP Website 

See our Entering Your Data page for information on how to log in and enter your nest record and observation data into the AKP database.

Other Tips and Tricks

See our Other Tips and Tricks page for information on team management tools, sharing large datasets, designs for building your own pole camera, and other useful information for monitoring American Kestrels.

Do you have other questions? The Partnership community's experience and expertise is one of the fundamental purposes of the Partner Network, so join the conversations today!