Bird Box Buyers Guide
Why do birds need nest boxes?
Birds are using nest boxes as many of their natural nest sites are disappearing from our gardens and surrounding environment. With the declining number of wooded areas, hedgerows and large trees available, birds are having to find safe alternatives for somewhere to build their nests. This shortage of natural nesting sites for birds has played a part in the decline of some of the UK’s most iconic species. However, we can do our bit to help, by providing safe nest sites as well as feeders and bird baths in our gardens or outdoor spaces we can keep our native birds healthy and happy.
What type of bird box is best?
The best type of bird box is one that is in use! To ensure your bird box is used you need to be sure that you have species of birds that make nests in cavities visiting your garden. The birds most likely to use nest boxes are blue tits, coal tits and many other members of the tit family, sparrows, robins and wrens may also take up residence. To attract these species of birds try placing some bird feeders near to your bird box, this will hopefully encourage birds to start exploring your garden. Try using peanuts and sunflower seeds for tits and mealworms for robins, wrens and thrushes. Remember that activity at the feeder could disturb nesting birds so make sure you move the bird feeders away from the nest boxes once the birds have found them.
There is no one box design that fits all birds, for example tits prefer smaller boxes with smaller entry holes whereas a robin will prefer to nest in an open-fronted box. Pick a nest box that is not only in keeping with the style of your garden but one that will be best used for the birds in the surrounding area. If you live near wooded areas or in the countryside you might try a bigger nest box to attract birds like woodpeckers or owls. These wouldn’t see much action in urban areas where the smaller bird boxes for tits, finches and sparrows will be more successful.
Perches are not necessary and can in fact be somewhere for squirrels and other predators to cling to as they try to reach in for the chicks or eggs. Drainage holes located at the bottom can be a useful addition as can holes for ventilation. As you’ll need to clear out the nest box once a year, or after use, an easy access lid, side or bottom for cleaning will prove to be highly beneficial.
Where to position a bird box.
Bird boxes must protect the inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather. They must also provide a safe, comfortable environment otherwise they will not be used. Positioning your bird box out of reach of predators such as squirrels, rodents and cats may also leave it exposed to the weather so take your time to find the best location.
The nest box should be sited on a tree, wall, fence or building at least 1.5m – 2m above the ground. Preferably in a place where it cannot be accessed by cats and predators. Many people make the mistake of positioning their bird boxes too high up. Garden birds tend to prefer to nest in shrubs, small trees and bushes nearer to the ground so try to find a safe and similar position to places where they’d naturally build their nests.
In the UK the ideal aspect is facing east, SE and NE are also fine. This will hopefully ensure the box is sheltered from rain and strong sunlight. The direction of the entrance hole should be away from the prevailing wind and having a clear flight path to the box can also be beneficial. Positioning the box with a slight downward angle can also provide further protection from the rain.
Some species do have specific requirements for where a box should be sited (e.g. house martins and swifts’ nests need to be sited under the eaves); please see our product details for particular instructions for different species. The box should be left empty as wild birds will bring their own nest material into the box. Remember to place nest boxes away from feeders and baths and never disturb the birds once they’re in the box.
Wherever you position the box, try to ensure that you can still get access to it for maintenance. And finally, if possible, try to put it somewhere where you can see it, or invest in a nest box camera, to maximise your enjoyment of watching wild birds in your garden.
How to attach your bird box
Nest boxes can be fixed to trees, walls, fences or buildings depending on the suitability of the design and style of the box. One benefit of fixing to artificial surfaces is that you don’t have to worry about the growth of the tree or shrub. Many bird boxes made from well-seasoned, treated timbers painted with non-toxic paint can last over 20 years, which for a small tree is a significant amount of time.
Using a nylon bolt or attaching a piece of hose to the wire around the trunk or branch, instead of nails, will help to prevent damage to the tree. This will have to be checked every two or three years as a tree grows in girth as well as height. Open fronted robin and wren nest boxes should be positioned low down, well hidden and protected in vegetation. Most designs will come hooks or instructions on the best method to attach the nest box into areas of vegetation with string or wire.
When is the best time to put up a bird box?
There really is no 'best' time to put up nest boxes. By putting up boxes in the autumn you can provide much needed winter refuges for roosting birds and possibly increase the chance of them staying and nesting in the spring. This is a good practice to maintain as a well-designed nest box will only need cleaning once per year, waiting until mid-autumn to clean them ensures they are not still occupied.
If possible, you should keep your bird boxes up year-round to give the garden birds the chance to get used to them. Leaving it until Spring may be too late as birds could already have found somewhere else to build their nests, saying that a bird box up is always better than one left in the shed.
Nesting is most likely during April and May and in the event of chicks hatching there will be frenetic feeding activity by the parent birds. Take care not to disturb during this time as any intervention may result in the eggs or young being abandoned by the parent birds.
With a lot of things in nature, a little patience may be needed as it may take a couple of seasons before birds start to use your nest box. But hopefully, the birds will return each year once they know that the home you’ve provided for them is a safe place to rear their young.
How to clean a bird box
Birds will not use old nests and dirty nest boxes can be potentially hazardous. A well-designed nest box will only need cleaning once per year, waiting until September or October, after the breeding season but before winter, to clean them ensures they are not still occupied. If you do wait until winter you might find that birds may already be roosting in them.
When cleaning out the nest box remove the contents and scatter them on the ground away from the box to help prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. It can be helpful to use a small brush to remove debris from the corners and wearing gloves is advised. Disinfecting with a suitable product such as Wildkleen can help kill parasites but boiling water will have a similar effect. Just remember to make sure the box is dry before you put it back in its place.
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