TRC Backyard Tips

Check out our seasonal information below to learn more about how your local wildlife survives through the seasons and how you can leave a positive impact on the environment!

Keep Nesting Raptors Safe this Spring

As Spring arrives, take action to keep nesting raptors and other birds safe. Consider installing a nest box and do not trim or remove trees until the fall. Many species, including American Kestrels, Barn Owls, and Northern Saw-whet Owls, don't build nests but require existing cavities for raising their young. They will nest in natural rock or tree cavities but will also readily use man-made cavities such as nest boxes.

Frequently, TRC is called to rescue clutches of young raptors when nests are unintentionally destroyed. Northern Saw-what Owls, for example, are tiny owls (less than 100g!) and the entrance to their nest cavity can be very small as well. You may not even know you have a family of nesting owls in your yard until it's too late. That’s why we recommend avoiding tree removal until the fall when the birds are done with their nests.

Three fledgling American Kestrels perch on top of their natal nest box. Photo by Julianne O'Donoghue.

Three fledgling American Kestrels perch on top of their natal nest box. Photo by Julianne O'Donoghue.

A Northern Saw-whet Owl chick rescued from its nest cavity in a cut down tree. Photo by TRC staff. 

A Northern Saw-whet Owl chick rescued from its nest cavity in a cut down tree. Photo by TRC staff. 

A nest box is installed on an aspen tree to re-nest a clutch of Northern Saw-whet Owls after their nest tree was cut down. Photo by TRC staff.

A nest box is installed on an aspen tree to re-nest a clutch of Northern Saw-whet Owls after their nest tree was cut down. Photo by TRC staff.

Barn Owl chicks in a haystack. These owls were relocated into a Barn Owl Nest box when the haystack was removed. Photo by TRC staff.

Barn Owl chicks in a haystack. These owls were relocated into a Barn Owl Nest box when the haystack was removed. Photo by TRC staff.

Four of 19 baby Barn Owls rescued after their haystack nests were unintentionally destroyed. Photo by TRC staff. 

Four of 19 baby Barn Owls rescued after their haystack nests were unintentionally destroyed. Photo by TRC staff. 

A Northern Saw-whet Owl chick re-nested in a nest box. Photo by Arthur X. 

A Northern Saw-whet Owl chick re-nested in a nest box. Photo by Arthur X. 

Installing nest boxes is another great way to provide safe nesting options for these birds.

By installing nest boxes before the birds start looking for places to nest, you could help a pair of raptors find a safe, healthy, and permanent nest location to raise their family rather than an unsuitable location.

Barn Owls, for example, will often nest in the cracks in haystacks. Although it might seem like a cozy place to nest, it doesn't always end up well. If the haystack is moved, the birds lose their nest site or can even be crushed. One year, TRC admitted 19 baby Barn Owls within 24 hours after the three clutches lost their haystack nests. All 19 owls were successfully re-nested in active Barn Owl nest boxes with wild foster parents.

American Kestrels and other birds will sometimes seek nest sites in chimneys and even vault toilet ventilation pipes. In these cases, the bird is trapped unless it is rescued. Learn more about how we're keeping birds out of these cavities.

Nest boxes are a much better option for cavity-nesters. Purchase a nest box in the Teton Raptor Center shop. Learn more about installation below.


We're collecting information from the public on active bird nests in Wyoming and eastern Idaho.

These nest sites may be used as foster nests for orphaned or displaced birds. Young birds have the best chance at survival if they are raised by wild parents. Fortunately, raptors and many other birds will adopt young birds if they are placed into their nest and close in age to the other young. The information you provide could help an orphaned or displaced bird get a second chance at life in the wild!
Nest Observation Form

Photos of the nest and birds are very helpful. Photos can be emailed to raptors@tetonraptorcenter.org with the subject line: nest info photos for database


Barn Owl Nest Box Installation Instructions

  • It's best to install Barn Owl nest boxes at least 8 ft off the ground, facing open grassland, and away from busy roads.
  • Install your box on a tree, pole, or the side of a building.
  • If installing multiple nest boxes, boxes should be placed a minimum of 80 yards apart.
  • Do not install boxes on active power poles.
  • Take into consideration that a clear approach path is needed for barn owls to enter the box, there should be no obstructions to the entryway.
  • Fill the box with 2-3 inches of wood chips - but not sawdust. Sawdust is too fine and will get into the eyes of the young birds. Straw is also not a good option because it can mold, which is harmful to birds.
  • Boxes should be cleaned out each year using a trowel or other cleaning tool during August-September. If you find an owl in the box, try another day.
  • After cleaning, a fresh layer of a ¾” layer of wood shavings should be added to the box.
  • During annual cleaning, rubber gloves and a dust mask (rated N95 or higher) should be worn to protect yourself.
  • Don’t use rat poison or other forms of rodenticide, as this poison additionally will kill barn owls and other unintended victims such as hawks, falcons, other owls and even pets.
  • Purchase at nest box in the TRC Shop
  • We most commonly use and recommend the Barn Owl nest box design by Steve Simmons. It can be found here: http://www.scvas.org/pdf/cbrp/BuildingBarnOwlBoxes...

American Kestrel/Northern Saw-whet Owl Nest Box Instructions

  • For Kestrels: install your nest box on a lone tree or pole near an open field. Kestrels do not need branches near their nest box, branches can actually dissuade them from using a cavity.
  • For Northern Saw-whet Owls: attach the box to a live tree and follow the rest of the instructions.
  • The box should be 10-30’ off the ground.
  • The box should be facing east or south, and not within ½ mile of another nest box.
  • Fill the box with 2-3 inches of wood chips - but not sawdust. Sawdust is too fine and will get into the eyes of the young birds. Straw is also not a good option because it can mold, which is harmful to birds.
  • The wood chips should be changed annually, before the arrival of the kestrels in the spring.
  • During annual cleaning, rubber gloves and a dust mask (rated N95 or higher) should be worn to protect yourself.
  • Avoid disturbing the nesting females during and shortly after egg-laying, as they may abandon the nest if disturbed early in the nesting cycle.
  • Purchase at nest box in the TRC Shop
  • We most commonly use and recommend the nest box design by the Wildlife Center of Virginia. It can be found here: https://www.wildlifecenter.org/sites/default/files...

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