Bird boxes for garden birds
( Frequently asked questions)
Some of the answers to these questions can be found elsewhere on this website,
but it seemed appropriate to also address the issues here.
I don't have a garden. Is there any reason for me
to have a bird box?
The countryside and natural nesting sites for birds are diminishing to make
way for housing, roads and industrial development. By having a nest box fastened
to the wall of your house or your flat you can create a safe nesting site
for birds and help reverse the decline of some of our once common garden
Which birds will use bird boxes?
Blue tits and great tits are the most prolific users of bird boxes in domestic
gardens, although the RSPB has recorded over 60 species of birds know to
have used nest boxes. Robins prefer open fronted nest boxes (hidden in vegetation,
such as ivy) and it's possible to either buy or fabricate nest
boxes for house sparrows, and other species including house martins,
swallows, starlings, kestrels and owls. This site restricts itself to nest
boxes for small garden birds.
Can you recommend any pre assembled boxes
and camera kits
I have a four page review of the HANDYKAM nest box and camera kit that you
can view, commencing on this page. It's a very comprehensive kit and is realistically
I would like to make my own bird boxes. What materials
do I need?
Any rough wood, planking or exterior ply wood will be suitable. Try to use
at least 15mm thick wood, to ensure better insulation. You can protect the
exterior of the box with water-based wood stain, but do not use any wood
stains or preservative inside the box or round the entrance hole. Fenceguard
and Sadolin Classic (a wood stain, not a preservative) are recommended by
the manufacturers as being suitable products for use on nest boxes. Cuprinol
TimberCare (for use on rough sawn timber) is also safe to birds when dry.
As with any preservative, do not paint the inside of the nest box or around
the entrance hole.
Where can I find some bird box plans?
I have nest box plans for small birds
such as blue tit and great tit, and also instructions on how
to build a sparrow terrace.
How big does the entrance hole need to be?
A hole diameter of 25 mm will allow blue tits, coal tits and
marsh tits to enter the box. Use 28 mm for great tits and 32 mm for house
sparrows, tree sparrows and nuthatches. Blue tits will also use boxes that
have the larger holes, but they may be driven out by the bigger birds. Great
tits are not averse to using nest boxes with 32mm holes, in fact two of the
three sections of our sparrow terrace were occupied one year by great tits.
Do I need a perch on the front of my nest box?
No. A perch simply gives cats, squirrels and other predators
an extra foothold.
How can I protect my nest box from domestic cats?
Make sure that the entrance hole is at least 12.5cm from the
floor of the box to keep the young chicks safe from predators and to minimize
the chance of cats clawing out the tiny chicks. Rose cuttings or any thorny
material on the roof of the box should discourage cats. If the box is mounted
on a tree, ensure that there are no overhanging branches for the cat to gain
easy access to the nest hole.
Woodpeckers have enlarged the entrance hole to the
box and taken the chicks.
How can I prevent this happening in the future?
Site visitor Anna Beswick, who had the same problem for two
successive years, used a piece of aluminium sheeting across the front of
the box and further protected the entrance to the nest box with an aluminium
extension tube. If your nest box is shaded, or faces north, this should not
result in an excessive temperature rise within the nest box.
When do I need to get the bird box in place?
Ideally, nest boxes should be in place as early as possible in the new year.
Although most birds will not start building their nests until March, they
spend many weeks making exploratory visits, checking out suitable sites,
hopefully yours, and mine! If you get your nest boxes in place in the
autumn, you may well attract winter roosters who will then consider
their winter quarters a suitable location to raise their brood
the following spring.
Where should I site my nest box ?
Bird boxes should be fixed a minimum of 2 metres from the ground,
either on a house wall or in a tree, in a quiet part of the garden, away
from predators. Preferably site the box with the entrance hole between north
and east. This avoids the worst of the weather and prevents the box and its
inhabitants becoming overheated in sunny weather.
Do I need to provide any nesting material?
If you leave newly raked moss from your lawn in a part of your
garden, the birds will take this as nesting material, along with other natural
material you put out such as hair clippings, strands of wool or feathers
from old pillows.
The birds are pecking at the
entrance hole. Is it too small?
It's natural to think that the birds are trying to enlarge
the hole. 25mm looks too small for a blue tit to get through, but believe
me it is big enough! The RSPB suggest that the pecking may be a form of display
by the male, and that the females peck at the hole to test the strength of
the wood to determine if the box will make a secure home.
How can I help the birds once the chicks have hatched?
Mealworms, mealworms and more
mealworms! Live food is essential for the development of the young
birds. Sunflower seeds or hearts, summer bird food mix, insectivorous mix,
mealworms, mild grated cheese etc. should all be fine to help a developing
family. Remember - Whole peanuts can cause the death of young birds, so
peanuts should always be placed in a metal mesh feeder. Peanuts, fatty
foods and bread are not appropriate foods during the breeding season, but
they are fine for the winter months.
Where can I buy mealworms?
Some specialist pet shops sell mealworms as live food for lizards
etc. It's possible to rear your own, but it's a lengthy process
Why was my nest box not used?
Birds are so fickle! One year our box was home to a family
of 11 chicks that were all reared successfully. The next year it was not
used at all. Some bird boxes that are on sale are just not suitable, even
though they may look appealing to humans. Many are too small and some are
incorporated into a bird table. No self respecting bird would choose to have
a house directly above a fast food restaurant! If the box is not used one
year try moving it to another location - maybe a quieter part of the garden
and away from bird feeders and other nest boxes. Also consider a higher location,
out of the afternoon sun, moving it away from other nest boxes, and somewhere
safe from possible predators.
Do I need to remove the old nest from the box?
Yes. Remove this at the end of the breeding season. Wait until
late October or November in case the nest is used for a second brood. If
there any unhatched eggs or dead chicks (sadly they might not all develop)
then dispose of them. It's against the law to keep birds' eggs. Wash out
the box with boiling water to kill off any parasites. The box may be used
by roosting birds if the winter is harsh, so replace the box after cleaning
Is that it?
I think so (!) but I will add to this list if necessary!
| Bird box plans | | Building
a sparrow terrace |
| Images from our nest box cameras 2005 | | Images
from a previous year |