Blue tit starting to build a nest in a nest box
Julie Parker
My interest in gardening & wildlife stemmed from childhood days spent working in the garden with my parents & reading books on anything from robins to giraffes. As time has moved on these influences have stayed with me inspiring the creation my own garden & leading to interests in fish keeping & the natural world around me. I still love to read & hope that the knowledge I gain will make topical reading through these articles.

National Nest Box Week 14th - 21st Feb

There is always plenty of advice given at this time of year about feeding the birds to get them through the harsh winter months before they start breeding but you may be surprised to learn how early our British birds start to make their nests. Although some birds such as doves will lay eggs at any time of year, in general, most birds start thinking about pairing up from mid-January when you will hear the increase in birdsong as the days start to lengthen & temperatures increase prompting birds to attract a mate or defend their breeding territory. The weather will have an effect on this timing & nest building in a mild winter may start earlier although there is less food around for the adults during this busy time.

Blue tit nest box

So if you want to help the birds out why not take part in National Nest Box Week which runs between 14-21 February each year & is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Natural nesting sites are being reduced all the time as hedges & old trees get removed & old buildings get knocked down or improved. So to increase the choice of nesting sites the BTO are encouraging everyone to put up a nest box then monitor & record the birds that nest in it to measure the breeding success of birds in green spaces. The more space you have the more birds you can attract by putting out the correct size & shaped bird box in the right location. Many birds are quite fussy about where they will nest & need special requirements such as the size of the hole in the bird box itself & where it is sited. Robins & blackbirds prefer open fronted nest boxes that are typically lower down & partially concealed by foliage. However, sparrows & blue tits prefer a nest box with a hole & like to nest higher up with sparrows preferring to nest under the eaves. If you want to put up more than one nest box it is also better to space them apart to avoid conflict unless you are trying to attract sparrows who prefer to nest in colonies & therefore need several nest boxes placed together in a little terrace.

The ideal place to site a bird box is in a quiet, sheltered, spot out of direct sunlight & the prevailing weather. It needs to be high enough off the ground to avoid predators but at the right height for the bird you want to attract. If you have the right tools you could make your own nest box, there are lots of designs on the internet, or you could buy one ready-made but choose a sturdy wooden design. The BTO website will give you details of the type of nest box which is suitable for the bird you want to attract & where it should be sited but a nest box with a 32mm hole can be used by a range of small birds. Put your nest box up by the end of January or early February if possible & attach it to the side of a tree, house, wall or shed using galvanised screws so they will not rust.

Not only do birds need food to make life easier whilst they are nest building but you can also put out anything that might be suitable as a nesting material. Many birds will take natural fibrous materials such as hair or fur if you have been brushing a pet, feathers from an old pillow, wool, straw, sticks & moss from the lawn. You can make a collection & push it into the edges of a hedge or bush for them to collect.

Visit the BTO site to enter the nest box challenge & to learn more about the scheme then sit back & enjoy watching your new brood!