National Nest Box Week: Tips to give a bird a home

Birds are a sign of a healthy environment and are among Britain’s most welcomed garden visitor.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of celebrating National Nest Box Week 2017 and become your neighbourhood’s newest property developer.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) established National Nest Box Week over 19 years ago and its clearly proved a favourite festivity with homeowners, schools and wildlife groups to name but a few.  National Nest Box Week aims to encourage everyone to put up nest boxes in their local area in order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our breeding birds and wildlife. 

The weeklong celebration started on Valentine’s Day but you can put up a nest box at any time of the year and what better way to add a splash of colour to your garden whether it be through your choice of nest box design or the variety of lively birds you might attract with your newly created habitat! 

The species of bird you can expect to attract will depend on what type of box you provide, where you install it and what other bird friendly features your garden or local area has.  There are a great variety of ‘off the shelf’ bird boxes available and of course the more avid DIYers or hobbyists can get as creative as they like and make their own! Nest boxes generally follow one of two basic designs, either, an open fronted box or a closed front with a circular entrance hole.  Entrance hole size can vary with each species of bird having a particular preference.

Bird nest box entrance hole size guide:

Blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits prefer a closed front box with an entrance hole diameter of 25mm.

Great tits, pied flycatchers and tree sparrows prefer a closed front box with an entrance hole diameter of 28mm.

House sparrows, nuthatches and lesser spotted woodpeckers prefer a closed front box with an entrance hole diameter of 32mm.

Greater spotted woodpecker, green woodpecker, starlings, stock doves and little owls prefer a closed front box with a large entrance hole diameter of between 45mm and 50mm.

Blackbirds, robins, song thrushes, wrens and pied wagtails all prefer an open fronted box. 

Another important element to remember is that the bottom of the entrance hole must be at least 125mm from the floor of the nest box so to avoid the chicks falling out. 

Believe it or not, not all birds like their new pad to be discreet! Blue tits for example like their nest boxes to be fixed 2-4 metres above the ground and be free from overhanging branches and foliage for a clear exit from the nest.  House sparrow and starling nest boxes are best placed high up under the eaves of your own house so may require additional helpers and a tall safely secured ladder when installing.  Robin nest boxes on the other hand don’t require a ladder as robins prefer their homes to be below 2 metres and although hidden out of sight amongst low lying shrubs will still need an open line of sight to the entrance hole.

Here’s a few tips to make your new nest box a triumph

  • Increase the chances of birds finding your nest box by encouraging more birds to visit your garden; adding a reliable supply of food and water will make your garden a must visit destination.
  • Select a location which is safe from predators like cats and even grey squirrels.  If buying a nest box choose one which features a plate metal rim around the entrance hole as this will stop unwanted guests chewing their way in.
  • Choose a location which is sheltered from strong sunlight as well as the wind and rain.  Adjust the nest box so that the front is angled slightly downwards which will help shield its inhabitants from adverse weather.
  • If you are planning to install more than one nest box, try not to position them too close together as this can create aggression when the new lovebirds compete for a piece of your prime real estate.
  • The optimal time of year to install your new bird box is between Autumn and Spring when birds are actively seeking new nest sites, however don’t worry if you’ve missed it! Nest boxes can be installed any time of year, after all a nest box is not just for laying eggs and rearing young.  A nest box will provide shelter opportunity in harsh conditions so will be a welcome addition at any time of year.
  • And finally, be patient.  Not all nest boxes will become occupied in the first year.  Good luck!