With habitat at a premium, many birds will take to artificial nest boxes. They also use holes in trees, crannies in rocks and secure places in trees and hedges to build their own nests. By offering a wide range of natural habitat in your garden, birds will find handy spots to build their own nests.
Different birds have different nesting habits. Wrens like to build a cave-like nest of moss low down. Blackbirds will make a mud and twig open nest higher up in hedges. Finches make elegant pockets in trees.
There are many styles and designs of nesting boxes. They can be made for the type of bird and their preferred nesting habitat.
With less natural nesting places available, birds need our help. Putting up bird nesting boxes is a very good way of encouraging them back into our gardens.
National Nest Box Week (14th-21st February) is a great time to do this, as most of our feathered friends will be on the lookout for the perfect place at this time of year.
There are so many different nest boxes available to buy that it can get very confusing, but below are a few hints and tips to help you get the right box for you. Nest boxes tend to be natural in colour to help reflect sunlight. Man-made boxes can also help with protection from predators and the weather because of the more robust construction.
Nest boxes with a hole:
The best place to site a bird box with a hole is 2-4 metres from the ground either on a wall or tree. The size of the hole will attract different birds:
25mm will attract birds like Blue Tits, Coal Tits or Marsh Tits
32mm will attract birds like Pied Flycatchers, Great Tits, Nuthatches and Tree Sparrows
Open fronted nest boxes:
The best place to site an open-fronted bird box is low down (under 2 metres), hidden in vegetation. Be careful that predators can't reach them! Open fronted nest boxes will attract birds like Robins, Wrens & Spotted Flycatchers.
Terrace style nest boxes:
House sparrows will happily nest side by side, so a terrace style box with 2 or more entrance holes each into its own cavity can attract a whole community of sparrows to your garden! Attach high up under the eaves of your house or shed.
When deciding on where to place your nest boxes, think of the sunlight it will be exposed to; the best direction is either north or east.
Birds will need a clear flight path to the entrance and if you tilt the box slightly forward, it will help stop rain driving into the nest If the ground directly below the box is bare, consider planting a shrub underneath (where possible).
Fledglings leaving the nest may fall and this will offer them some cushioning and somewhere to hide if predators are watching. If possible, plant something thorny as this will deter the predators.
Our research has shown that bird feeders and nest boxes need to be well removed from each other to reduce predation rates. Space permitting, it is recommended that they should be spaced well apart - click here to read the research
Preparing and cleaning your nest boxes
We recommend you clean your nest boxes each year. However, by law, you can only clean them between August & January (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981).
To clean them, wash the boxes with boiling water. Do not use any form of insecticide or chemical as this may harm the birds.
Once washed, wait for the box to completely dry and inspect it for any damage which may need repairing.
If your nest boxes need any repairs, make sure you use wildlife-friendly products. We recommend you give all new boxes a thorough wash with boiling water before putting up to remove any trace of infectious bugs or diseases.
Make your own - if you are interested in making your own nest box please click here for a handy guide
Most songbirds pair up in the spring; finding mates by singing, dancing and making nests to impress.
A safe, warm place to nest, secure from predators and out of the wind and rain is essential. Food sources nearby are also required – both fuel for the parent birds as they rush around, as well as insects to feed the nestlings on. Parents time their breeding to coincide with the time of year when there are most insects around with which to feed their young.
In the nest
Eggs take around 11-15 days to incubate and hatch depending on species. Clutch sizes vary by species, weather and food availability. Nestlings are born very tiny and helpless; the parents will spend nearly all their time hunting for insects to feed their hungry babies, as well as cleaning out the nest and keeping their nestlings warm. The nestlings will grow very quickly and (depending on species) within about 2-3 weeks will have feathers and be ready to fledge (becoming fledglings) and leave the nest.
Leaving the nest
Fledglings, encouraged by their parents, leave the nest in fits and bursts. A lot tend to fall out of the nest. Some take to the wing straight away, others are slower to work it out. Once they leave the nest, fledglings do not return. Parents may return for a second brood, or make an entirely new nest. Sometimes nests are reused by other parents, even other species.
Out and about
The parents will spend some time showing the fledglings where to find food and fend for themselves, but after this the youngsters are on their own.
During this whole process the mortality rate is very high. Disease, competition from nest-mates, injury and predation by cats, rats, grey squirrels, magpies, crows, jays, badgers and foxes (to name a few), cause nearly half of baby birds to die in the first 2 weeks.
Magpies are particularly a problem at this time – over half of nests that fail due to predation are because of magpies. Parents try to compensate for this by having large broods. The more food that is available, the larger the brood that parents will try to feed. The more that you can do to help your songbirds through this difficult and testing time, then the more fledglings will make it through to adulthood, and have a chance to start the process all over again the following year
Nesting birds attract a lot of attention from predators, such as cats, squirrels and magpies; who find the eggs, fledglings and the parents a very tasty meal. Below are a few suggestions on how you can help protect your nest boxes:
Nest boxes constructed from a composite material called woodcrete.
These boxes are predator-proof.
Find out more and order at livingwithbirds.com
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