We can encourage many of our garden birds, especially Blue Tits and Great Tits, to raise a family in our gardens by providing nest boxes.
There are 3 popular types of nest boxes used in gardens, each type designed to attract a particular group of birds.
A box with a small circular hole cut in the front and usually placed at about 1.5 m (5 feet) or higher.
The size of the hole determines which bird is most likely to take up residence, for example:
The open box is like the standard box except that most of the front is missing. These boxes usually attract Robins, Pied Wagtails, and Redstarts. Usually placed at about 1.5 m (5 feet) or higher.
These are large wooden boxes or tubes used to encourage Kestrels, Barn Owls, and Tawny Owls. These are usually placed in trees or buildings and at a height of 5 m (16 feet) or more.
Be aware that young owls can be noisy at the nest, and other birds will mob owls during the daytime, and this noise may not make you popular with your neighbours!
Roosting pockets are made from natural materials, such as coconut fibre, and provide a place for birds, particularly wrens, to shelter during harsh winter weather. The pockets are best placed in a quiet, sheltered spot - away from direct sunlight and prevailing winds and rain.
Some pockets are mounted on a wooden frame with a roof, which makes them more weatherproof.
These nest boxes can be purchased from most garden centres, do-it-yourself stores or wild bird food suppliers.
Alternatively, you could make your own nest box and there are several books to help you, such as Birdfeeder Handbook and the BTO Nestboxes Guide. Also, the RSPB has a leaflet entitled "Nest boxes for large birds".
A basic standard box plan is available if you decide to build your own.
A standard nest box for small birds should be fixed to a tree or wall at between 2 to 5 metres (6 to 16 feet) above the ground, out of the reach of cats and people.
The holes should be sheltered from prevailing winds and direct sunlight. If there are no trees providing this shelter or shade, the hole should face north to south-east. The box should tilt forwards slightly to ensure rain runs away from the hole.
If you are fixing the box to a tree, tie it to the tree using wire or leather strapping to avoid damaging the tree. If you must use nails, use aluminium ones or the special fixings that are now available that the reduce damage that would be caused to the tree as it grows.
Some species have more than one brood, so when one brood fledges and leaves the nest, do not straightaway remove the old nest, because the parents may return to have another brood. The simplest approach is not to removing the nest material until 3 or 4 weeks after the brood had fledged, but do remove any dead nestlings.
In the autumn, the nest boxes should be cleaned out by removing nest material, eggs and dead birds. Unhatched eggs may only be removed from September through to January and they must be destroyed - it is illegal to keep them.
Further, the infectious or parasitic organisms that may be present in the box should be killed by washing out with boiling water or veterinary disinfectant.
If you forget to do it in the autumn, late January is the next best time to clean the box out.
Remember: Hygiene is paramount - especially for yourself.
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