National Nest Box Week
If you’re feeling the effects of the winter blues and wishing you could get out into the garden more, then why not participate in this year’s National Nest Box Week and provide a home for garden birds over the coming months?
Organised by the British Trust for Ornithology, it takes place from 14-21 February and encourages everyone who has the space to provide a haven for our feathered friends.
With natural habitats such as trees and hedgerows being lost to development every year, nest boxes can represent an essential place for species including sparrows, Blue Tits and Robins to lay their eggs and raise chicks, so it’s a worthy cause to get involved with. Indeed, over 60 species are known to use some form of nest box.
However, don’t feel you have to wait until Valentine’s Day to go out and choose your site - weather permitting, you can get the job done any time between now and the middle of March to encourage awaiting feathered prospectors in a few weeks’ time.
Which nest box should I go for?
Don’t worry if your garden is small and you only really have space for one box; it’s better than nothing! However, try to put up two or three for different species if you can for maximum results. Think about targeting once common birds such as House Sparrows and Starlings that are in decline and so need your help in particular.
There are lots of nest box styles around, but look for those that have drainage holes, natural-looking designs and materials treated with safe preservatives. The entrance holes should also be at a height that doesn’t allow predators to reach in and scoop chicks out.
Here at CJ Wildlife all of our nest boxes meet the birds’ key requirements, and they are available in an array of designs and finishes to ensure they look great in your garden.
Blue, Great and Coal Tits, along with Tree Sparrows and Pied Flycatchers, prefer a 28mm entrance hole, while the larger Nuthatch and House Sparrow need at least 32mm.
When should I put up my nest box?
As we mentioned, you can add nest boxes to your garden now, with any box put up before the end of February standing a reasonable chance of being occupied this year.
If you’re lucky, you might even attract some birds to raise more than one brood in your box, as House Sparrows, Robins and many more will nest more than once during each year’s breeding season.
Where should nest boxes be placed?
Birds need nest sites where they feel safe and sheltered, so place yours away from sites such as the top of fences that make life easy for predators, and protect from strong sunlight and prevailing winds and rain. For most of us that means facing somewhere between north, east and south east. As an added bonus the early morning sun will gently warm the box after a cold night.
Walls tend to be a better choice than trees since cats find it more difficult to scale them, but you can plant dense and prickly bushes around trees to deter them if you haven’t got suitable walls. In terms of height, around 1.5 metres to 5.5 metres is ideal, with at least 3 metres recommended if your garden is frequented by cats.
Another good point is to avoid putting your boxes too close to feeding stations as the regular presence of other birds of the same species in their territory will make the parent birds focus on driving out competitors rather than feeding their young.
Don’t forget to put your nest boxes somewhere you can appreciate the inhabitants either - but don’t be tempted to go over and disturb them unless you’re operating under the guidance of a nest recording survey, because it can cause the parents to desert their offspring. Either put in a specialist nest camera before they arrive or watch from a distance.
How do I maintain my nest boxes?
It’s tempting to want to stuff your new nest boxes with potential nest material, but birds prefer to find their own. You can craftily help them out though, by putting things like dog hair and hay around the garden for them to find. We also do a special organic nesting wool, which you can put offer from a Fiesta, Vierno or Apple Nester in so the birds can help themselves.
Nest boxes will only need one cleaning session in late autumn, but be absolutely sure that any occupants have gone first. Never clean out nest boxes between 1st February and 31st July as you risk disturbing the occupants – whether birds, bees or some other occasional nest box using wildlife – and technically it’s an offence to handle wild bird eggs even for the purpose of nest box maintenance during this time.
Cleaning is simply a matter of removing as much of the old nest as it’s possible to get at safely. We don’t advocate using chemicals to kill off any parasites present as nest boxes are often used by some quite interesting and specialist species of other invertebrates.
These tips should give you the best chance of attracting nesting birds in 2017, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen this year – it’s unusual for a well positioned, properly designed nest box to go unused for long, and the boxes are also a valuable roosting site at other times of year.
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