Nest boxes – making a little birdhouse in your soul

by , Garden Researcher Energy & Home 24 February 2013
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The British Trust for Ornithology launched National Nest Box Week on Valentine’s Day to encourage people to put up boxes in their garden. Do you have nest boxes in your garden, and have they been successful?

Baby birds inside a nest box

Even if it feels like we’re still in the depths of winter, the days are now longer and there are definite signs of spring in my garden, including flirtatious birds! National Nest Box week launched on February 14, as this is the time of year when many birds pair up and start prospecting for somewhere to lay their eggs.

I’ve got a nest box on my shed that has seen two broods of blue tits raised in it, but it hasn’t been without problems. The box is close to the shed roof and one of the neighbourhood cats started sitting just above it, trying to catch the parent birds as they whizzed in and out.

Nest box know-how

Of course, when you put up the nest box you need to be aware of things like that, and the RSPB advice about where to put a box is comprehensive.

You need to make sure the rain can’t get in, as well as consider how much sun the box will get (you don’t want the baby birds to overheat on the first warm spring day). You can’t put boxes too close together, because birds are territorial, and you shouldn’t put them close to where you feed birds, as the activity will probably put them off nesting.

In a small garden like mine, that doesn’t leave much choice about where it can go. Also, birds naturally have parasites, so it’s vital to clean out the box between visitors.

Squawky squatters

Sometimes I wonder whether it’s worth it, and whether, left to their own devices, birds might find their own nesting sites.

I know natural nesting sites are disappearing, but I’ve noticed birds will often improvise. Some robins nested and raised four chicks on top of suitcase inside my shed a few years ago, and one pair of blackbirds built their nest in a climbing plant next to our garden table. I took a coffee out there one day and suddenly realised I was being watched! We’ve also had robins nesting in a watering can at the Capel Manor trial garden, though that led to disaster when someone missed the sign we’d put up and filled the can with water.

I want to help birds in any way I can, of course, because I know many species are in decline. But my question is, how much help do we give them with our nest boxes? Do you have a nest box? If you do, I’d love to know where you put it, how you look after it, and how many baby birds you’ve seen raised in your box.

12 comments

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Malcolm R

We have four nest boxes in the garden – two a few years old that have been inhabited each year by bluetits, and two new last year that were not used – maybe this year the birds will have got used to them.
One box has a colour tv camera, sound and LED infra red lights – a present that was around £100 – linked to our TV. That provided hours of interest, watching the bluetits building the nest, producing eggs, feeding and raising their brood. Better than many TV programmes.

Wow, you have your very own Springwatch! If I had a garden, I would definitely have some nest boxes and I would love a camera set-up like yours.

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John Ward

We had nine nest boxes in our previous [fairy large] garden but our new place is still a work in progress. I have just been putting up some trellis and will be putting a few nest boxes around as soon as I can. We had plenty of viewings of the nest boxes by Bluetits at our previous home and two couples took up residence and raised families. We also had a pair of Robins but I don’t know whether they had a brood. We’ve seen plenty of birds around the new house [we're just a stone's throw away from the BTO HQ so the birds come over for a chat and to update their profiles]. Two Wagtails have already adopted our garden and don’t seem bothered by the Woodpigeons, Rooks and Seagulls who drop in for a snack everyday.

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wavechange

I assume that mean your birds will be updating their Twitter profiles, John.

I like the idea of Malcolm’s bird cam, though I can imagine that it could make rather too compulsive viewing.

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Janice

Nine nest boxes is pretty impressive and from what I’ve read you would have needed some space to get nesting pairs in all of them as they don’t like being too close.

Of course you can ‘mix and match’ different types of box to suit different types of birds, but Bluetits and robins seem to be the most common nesting pairs in boxes.

I wonder if anyone has had anything more unusual taking up residence?

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John Ward

Yes Janice, the nest boxes were of different types and well spaced out so there was a choice of properties for the discerning homeseekers. It probably does not count much with the BTO, but we did host a Budgerigar for a short time; we think he either did not survive the night or found his way back home.

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richard

I have three nest boxes – inhabited most years – the problem is CATS invading the garden – causing distress. If only the cat owners kept them in their own gardens.

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Janice

I found the same thing. Of course cats are just doing what comes naturally, too, and in my case I don’t think they could reach the box, but they certainly caused a lot of alarm when they tried.

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Maewyn

I have had the same issue. I have now grown the prickliest roses I can find – Kew Rambler and Rhapsody in Blue are good – to help protect the boxes, It seems to work, the birds don’t mind the roses, in fact they seem to love them, and the cats are somewhat deterred.

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wavechange

I have frequently had birds nesting in Pyracantha. Nature’s barbed wire. :-)

That’s a great idea. I’d never thought of putting the box inside a prickly shrub, but I’ll certainly see if I can do that in future.

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Ali Corf

i have recently had blue tits in a box on our house wall and have been really enjoying watching them. However since Sunday after a really hot day i have not seen or heard any activity. does this mean they have died? I have only heard sounds over the past 7 days so they wouldn’t have flown. i wonder if the box position is too hot as it is south facing. Is it possible that the heat could have killed them? i feel awful as i put the box up. any advice would be great. i have not yet looked in the box just incase they are still alive although i dont think that this is the case.

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