QUICK TIPS: A Noel Guard is useful for deterring raccoons, cats and hawks from grabbing nestbox contents. It is a must for boxes that must be mounted on climbable thick wooden posts or trees. Some people put it up after the first egg to ensure acceptance, so leave it up year round.
A Noel Guard, invented by Jim Noel, is used to deter raccoons, cats and large birds like hawks from preying on the contents of nestboxes. It is inexpensive and useful for boxes mounted on trees and wooden posts that offer easy access to climbing predators. (I recommend mounting boxes on smooth metal pipe with a wobbling stovepipe baffle, which also protects the nestbox contents from snakes.) You can easily make one yourself, and only cost about $1 to make. It is estimated to be 90% effective in keeping raccoons and cats out of a box. (Missouri Bluebird Society.) A Noel Guard does NOT deter snakes.
Make sure it is deep enough and securely attached (it can be stapled on) so a raccoon can not pull it off or reach past it to eggs or nestlings. Also make sure that the guard cannot be reached by horses or livestock because they may rub against it and bend it over, trapping your birds inside.
Be sure to bend back any cut wires on the exterior edges, as they are very sharp and could hurt incoming birds or you!
If bluebirds have a choice, they may select a box without a Noel Guard. Other monitors who leave them up year round have not had issues with acceptance, and find that bluebirds, chickadees and House Wrens are not deterred. Consider putting up a Noel Guard after the first egg is laid to avoid scaring the birds away, although some folks have success leaving them up year round. The NABS website says this guard is estimated to be 90% effective in keeping raccoons or cats from reaching into the box. Some people find it does not deter raccoons, as they have long arms and a bendable wrist. Keith Kridler speculates that if the guard were 6-9" deep, it would deter all raccoons. Do not put these on boxes where livestock can rub on them as they can flatten them and trap nestlings inside. This guard does not deter snakes (use a Kingston wobbling baffle instead) nor does it deter starlings. They may deter Tree Swallows, and make it awkward for both swallows and bluebirds to feed young who were at the holes. Charlene Anchor of Illionis reports that wrens seemed to love them and would sit in them comfortably just outside of the entrance.
Cut a piece of hardware cloth 5.5" x 18". (Don Yoder makes the guard deeper - 7" to 9" - as he continued to have raccoons raiding boxes with a 5" guard. Joe Baker makes his guards 2.5" wide.)
Fold 15 1.5", 5.5", 3.5", 5.5" and 1.5".
Bend down and leave the pointy ends of the wire mesh pointing outwards
Bend in the vertical sides and attach them to the outside of the box with staples or screws, with the entrance hole in the center of the guard.
Jim Thompson created a Noel Guard Adapter, which is a block of wood the same width as the box front, with a corresponding entrance hole, that you mount the Noel Guard, and then secure it to the box with three screws. It is easy to carry around and mount.
WARNING: A Noel Guard should only be used on boxes that are frequently monitored. On occasion, a frustrated raccoon will grab and compress a wire guard, leaving eggs/nestlings trapped inside with no way for the adults to enter, or even adults trapped inside. (Thanks to the Missouri Bluebird Society.)
Tree Swallow Acceptance:
Joan Watroba of PA installed a 4" wide Noel Guard on a box with Tree Swallow nestlings and then observed. The adult male Tree Swallow adapted to it right away, but the female tried to enter the nest box 4 times, and each time she did not fold her wings down soon enough and they bumped against the Noel guard and she backed away. Watroba immediately removed it, and then she was able to get in and continue feeding the young. The fledge was successful. This experience emphasizes the importance of the following: When adding any device/gadget to a nestbox, the landord must observe that both parents will accept it and be able to enter and exit the box easily.
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