February marks the start of Nest Box season, it is actually National Nest Box week in the UK between 14–21 February. Some birds will already be busy making their nests, long-tailed tits for instance start towards the end of January — their nests are so elaborate they take a long time!
Blackbirds are also early starters, they begin to pair up with their previous partner at this time of year. They usually split up over the Winter but always find the same partner to breed with the next season!
Most other birds are finding their partners, either old or new, and beginning to think about territories and where to create their nests.
This is the most important time for putting up nest boxes in your garden and getting the birds used to their new homes. Providing safe, comfortable and well-positioned nest boxes can be a great boost for the wildlife in your gardens.
Natural nest sites for birds such as holes in trees or old buildings are disappearing fast as gardens are ‘tidied’ and old houses are repaired. There has been decline in House Sparrows, Martins and other birds which has been attributed to the lack of nesting sites. With hedgerows being taken down, people creating neater gardens and removing bushes has also meant that gardens birds are struggling to find the right nesting sites.
It can also be a fantastic and rewarding experience to have nest boxes in the garden, it will certainly give you a much higher probability of having baby birds around your garden. It will boost your populations for years to come too!
With so many on the market it can be decide which ones to choose. Choosing a good quality nest box is important, as it will have an influence on whether your birds will use it.
What birds use nest boxes?
There are a variety of nest boxes on the market, in all different shapes and sizes. Most birds will use a nest box but they do have preferences!
For smaller birds, nest boxes can be a great substitute for small holes in trees. Nest boxes with small holes at the front are great for:
- Blue Tits
- Great Tits
- Coal Tits
- House Sparrows
- Pied Flycatchers
- Tree Sparrows
- Robins — although these guys do have their own varieties of boxes which can be purchased separately
Consider the size of the hole on the front of the boxes, some boxes can also be fitted with a ring that makes them A 25 mm entry hole is best suited for smaller birds, such as blue tit, coal tit and marsh tit. A 32 mm entry hole is suitable for slightly larger garden birds like great tit, tree our house sparrow, nuthatch and lesser spotted woodpecker.
You can also add plates to the front so that birds like Jays and Woodpeckers cannot get in to the boxes and steal the fledges.
Open-fronted nest boxes are great for small birds who like a little bit more space:
- Spotted flycatchers
Larger nest boxes with a hole are great for:
- Little Owls
- Great spotted woodpeckers
You can also get a range of specialised bird boxes for for the more fussy birds like tree-creepers, woodpeckers and of course birds of prey!
Where to position your boxes?
Positioning your nest box can be key to it being used or being shunned. Where you are placing the nest box depends on the type of birds you are trying to cater to.
Nest boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should be fixed two to four metres up a tree or a wall. Unless there are trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, face the box between north and east, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds.
Make sure that birds can fly to the nest boxes directly and keep the front of the boxes cleared so that there is nothing blocking the nest holes. Make sure the boxes are titled away so that the rain doesn’t drench the boxes or get in to the holes and flood!
Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m, well hidden in vegetation. Those for spotted flycatchers need to be two to four meter high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook. Woodpecker boxes need to be three to five meter high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
Do not fix a perch on the front of any box, as this will encourage intruders. Birds don’t need a perch in order to use the box.
Cleaning the nest boxes
Cleaning boxes should take place from late August onwards once the birds have fledged and they are no longer in use. Rinse the inside of the boxes with boiling water and remove the parasites and bacteria, this will stop them from infecting baby birds the following year.
Unhatched eggs in your nest box can only be removed legally between August and January — and must then be disposed of.
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