As National Nest Box Week comes to an end there is still time to put up a new nest box or clean out your old ones…if you are quick. There are signs already that some species of garden birds have started prospecting for potential nest sites but with reports of the UK being hit by a cold arctic blast over the coming days then activity is likely to slow down again.
But what makes a good nest box and what kind of species are likely to use them? Read on to find out.
Natural nesting sites for many species of birds are rapidly disappearing. As we continue to modify the landscape to suit our own needs (agriculture, housing, etc.) its all too easy to forget about how wildlife is affected, especially birds, and how our actions have a direct impact on their lives. Birds in particular have had a rough time with the destruction of many of their normal nesting habitats.
Our gardens can play a massive part in redressing this imbalance. Planting hedges in or around our gardens is a fantastic way to provide shelter, safety and breeding places for many species of birds and wildlife in general. However, there are a number of cavity nesting birds that prefer a more enclosed nest site. Each species has its own particular requirements, although birds can be remarkably versatile and opportunistic, seeking out the most unexpected nest sites if insufficient natural holes are available.
You can pop out roosting pockets too such as this one below from Vine House Farm. Roosting pockets can provide a safe roosting spot for a variety of species but it’s very unusual to find birds actually using them for nesting. However, I have heard stories of wrens using them as a base for their nests so you never know! As you can see from the photo I’ve hidden this one in some ivy which should offer extra shelter and protection from the elements. I’ll be keeping a close eye on it and will let you know if I notice any lodgers.
What makes a good nestbox?
Each species has its own particular requirements but there are a number of common nest box attributes regardless of species. These are…
- Boxes should be durable
- Boxes should exclude avian and mammalian predators
- The contents of the nest should be shielded from extremes of weather
- Box design should facilitate the inspection of nest contents without disturbing the breeding attempt
- Boxes should be simple and cheap to construct while bearing in mind the welfare of the occupants
- Boxes should be easy to clean
There are lots of plans available online showing you exactly how to make your own nest box and if you have time and the materials it’s a very fulfilling project. If you don’t fancy getting your saw out there are plenty of places you can buy ready made nest boxes. Be cautious though as there are some shockingly bad designs out there.
I recommend avoiding the sweet looking ornate bird houses that are usually way too small inside, use very thin material and are virtually impossible to clean out. This nest box from Vine House Farm is an excellent example of what I recommend as a good basic bird box for Blue Tits and Great Tits.
It’s made using 18mm thick timber so feels chunky and durable and should offer good protection to any birds nesting or roosting inside. It also has a hinged roof making it easy to look inside and clean out. This particular box has a brass hinge and an extra felt layer on the roof for extra durability. This is great but I would have liked to see the felt extend up behind the hinge maybe and fixed/glued to the back panel to make 100% sure that no rainwater can leak down inside the box.
Ensuring any nest box you use is easily accessible for inspection and cleaning is essential but it should also be secure enough so predators can’t easily gain access. The roof of some nest box designs are screwed down when in position and others are held in position with a small latch like below. This particular box has a latch on both sides of the roof for added security.
For the final couple of checks when choosing a new nest box you’ll need to look inside. Most nest boxes are supplied with the timber treated or painted to extend its life. Any paint or preservative should only be on the outside of the box. Avoid boxes that are painted on the inside as there is the potential that a) the chemicals/smell could put the birds off nesting and b) the chemicals could affect the developing chicks.
The final point is to make sure that the box has drainage holes in the bottom. In the unlikely event that rainwater gets inside it will have somewhere to drain rather than drenching the nest and occupants.
So, once you’ve chosen and purchased your nest box you need to find the best place to put it. The best spot will vary depending on the type of nest box and species you are trying to attract.
Taking the nest box above as an example, it is likely to attract Blue Tits or Great Tits, therefore it should be placed 1.5m – 3m above ground level facing north to south east so its out of the prevailing wind and not in direct sunlight for most of the day.
After the breeding season
Once nesting has finished and before the new breeding season begins don’t forget to clean out any old nesting material. Check out the video below explaining how I do it.