Prothonotary Warbler Nest Box Installation

A week and a half into March saw an enthusiastic group of Coastal SC Master Naturalists meet in the classroom at the Caw Caw Interpretive Center for a morning of installing bird boxes.

Prothonotary Warbler Nest Boxes
Photo by Colin Hocking

Our host was Jay Keck, the Habitat Education Manager for the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and over the next few hours we were going to be helping the Prothonotary Warbler with its nesting challenges! First though came an introduction to nesting boxes and the whys and wherefores of where to place them for these bright yellow swamp dwellers.

Prothonotary Warblers, which are declining in numbers in this area, generally nest in holes in standing dead trees in our forested wetlands. The hope is that by providing additional places for the warblers to nest, it will facilitate an increase in their numbers, or minimally stop the decline due to habitat loss.

To attract the warbler though, requires a box with the right size hole (1.25”), and some very specific requirements for their placement. The box itself should be placed in or near still or slow-moving water, between 3 and 12 feet high. If placed in water, the box should face land, and if placed on land needs to be around 16 feet from the water, facing towards it. Minimally, the area the box is placed in will be 250 plus acres and you’ll rarely find nests less than 250 feet from each other. It’s also a good idea to install a predator guard.

Prothonotary Warbler Nest Box Installation
Photo by Colin Hocking

Interestingly, the male selects several nesting sites within its territory and the female decides which one to use, and once started takes between 3 to 8 days to furnish with moss, cypress bark, grass and leaves.

Once the introduction was over, we split into two groups to find suitable locations for the boxes to be placed. One group, with Keith McCullough, went looking for dry land locations. The other group went with Jay and Kristina Wheeler, looking for swamp locations.

Between the two groups, we placed about a dozen boxes, so it will be interesting to see now that nesting season is upon us if any of the boxes have attracted any residents. Of course, we’ll have to wait for our parks to re-open after the Covid-19 shutdown, but it would be fantastic to see that they’re being put to good use!

For information and downloadable plans for building your own nesting box, visit this link on Nestwatch


Colin Hocking has a Bachelor of Science in Photographic Science with Honours from the University of Westminster in London, England, so he likes to think of himself as a “SciArtist”, being able to blend the art and science of photography to create impactful images. See more of Colin’s work at