As horse owners, we often wrongly believe we are destined to “put up” with flies and insects as well as rodent infestations. Other times we become so frustrated with the situation that we resort to chemical warfare, potentially adding unnecessary and harmful toxins to the environment. This week at Sweet Pepper Ranch we took a step towards a least-toxic rodent and bug control method: we put up our first nest box to begin encouraging the native animals that will help us with pest control. 


Alayne and Felix proudly pose next to their new Kestrel nest box.

Encouraging insect and rodent-eating birds to move into yards and barn areas is an excellent, low-tech, cost-effective, green method for pest control—one our grandparents probably utilized on their farms. Here at Sweet Pepper Ranch in southwestern Idaho the pests we hope to check off our list with the addition of this nest box are mice around the barn area and grasshoppers in the pasture—we have an overwhelming supply of both in the summer. So with nesting season just around the corner we hoisted a nest box for an American Kestrel.

American Kestrels are secondary cavity nesters, which means they nest in the hole someone else created, usually a woodpecker of some sort. Secondary cavity nesters often have a difficult time finding dwellings since snags and old trees are often cut down and are in scarce supply. Supplying a nest box for a Kestrel is a great way to help the local population because they adapt easily to nest boxes; if you build it, they will come!

A member of the falcon family, the American Kestrel is small, about the size of a robin, which is why it used to be called a sparrow hawk. Its primary food source is insects, such as grasshoppers and crickets, as well as small mammals such as mice, rats, shrews, gophers, and young ground squirrels.  American Kestrels are found in a wide variety of open habitats across North America such as grasslands, meadows, pastures and other agricultural lands, year-round in both urban and suburban areas.

Find out more about the insect- and rodent-eating birds and bats of your area by contacting your local Audubon chapter. They usually have knowledgeable members who can help you identify the potential helpers in your area as well as sources for nest boxes. 

A nest box needs to be made specifically for the bird you want to attract. An Internet search will get you plans for building a box, including the recommended shape and hole size. Kestrel nest boxes should be hung eight to 20 feet off the ground, facing away from the prevailing weather and in an open area.

Local conservation districts, extension offices andother natural resource agencies are also good resources and can supply handouts on encouraging native wildlife or blueprints for building different types of nest boxes. In addition, wild bird stores often have lots of information and appropriate nest boxes for the birds and bats native to your neighborhood. Or you can check your library for books like The Original Birdhouse Book, by Don McNeil, Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest by Russell Link, and other wonderful books available on these topics.

Even though it may be snowing in many parts of North America, putting up nest boxes now is good timing with nesting season coming up–plus it helps remind us that spring is just around the corner. Stay tuned for more on other birds and other native animals that can help out on your horse property.