Bird Box Buyers Guide
Why do birds need nest boxes?
Birds need us to put up nest boxes in our gardens because, sadly, many of their natural nest sites are disappearing from our houses, green spaces and surrounding environment. With the declining number of wooded areas, hedgerows and larger, old trees available, birds are having to find safe alternatives for somewhere to build their nests. This shortage of natural opportunities for breeding 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 nest box is best?
You can find out everything you need to know about bird boxes from our birding ambassador, Dan Rouse in this handy video, or keep reading below for more information.
The best type of bird nest box is one that is in use! What we mean by that, is you need to have the species of birds visiting your garden first, for them to make a nest there. So we all start with observation. As our Ornithologist, Dan Rouse, says, "you get an idea of what's around, and the more time we spend in our garden - you just notice things more. You get to know the birds which is nice." Why is this important? Because different species of bird need different styles of nest box.
If you have a lot of robins and wrens visiting your garden, they prefer what's known as an one nester. Our Simon King Brushwood Nester is a prime example of this. These species like to conceal their nests in a secretive, quiet place but they also like to be able to hop onto an open landing before heading into the nesting cavity. The Brushwood Nester was designed by wildlife cameraman himself, Simon King, and is one of our longest and best selling nesting pouches. It went on to inspire the cute Simon King Cabin Nester and the new Wreath Nester which doubles up as a crafting project for wildlife-friendly gardeners.
If you have a lot of blue tits, coal tits and marsh tits, then you want to invest in what's known as a hole nest box. Take a look at our New England Nest Box as an example, or our new Timeless Multi Species box. Both of these feature an entrance hole which measures 25mm in diameter. This is the perfect sized hole for these birds to use. So this is the right style of box to pick if you have species of this sort using your garden a lot. The Curve nest box from our ambassador, Simon King, is a new innovation on the hole nester. It is still designed for tits but the entrance hole mimics a natural tree hollow, which is great for the birds but also aesthetically very in keeping for your garden.
However we also have a range of specialist nest boxes, including many owl boxes. 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 nest boxes for tits, finches and sparrows will be more successful.
The Tree Nest Pouch is a unique habitat for not only birds, but also various mammal species, including wrens and tree creepers, robins, goldcrest, wagtail, marsh tit, willow it, dormouse and wood mouse. The Tree Creeper featuring a tapered design with side entrances to emulate the nests that tree creepers establish in the voids of tree bark. And the Blackbird Nester is designed in the form of a deep open ledge with an apex roof for shelter, again mimicking just the type of spot that a blackbird likes to build its nest.
All of our nest boxes are designed to be weather proof, with drainage holes, where necessary, at the bottom of the boxes. However it is a good idea to clear out your nest boxes at the end of the nesting season to encourage other species to roost in them over the winter and ensure they're ready for the next residents the following spring. You can find out more about how to do that here. You will find an easy access lid, side or bottom opening for cleaning on most of our boxes where practical.
Where to position a bird nest box?
Bird nest boxes must protect the inhabitants from predators and the worst of the weather. They must provide safe, comfortable environments, otherwise they will not be used. Positioning your bird box out of reach of predators such as squirrels, rodents and cats could also leave it exposed to the weather so take your time to find the best location.
If you have chosen a hole nest box, then you want to site this on a tree, wall, fence or building at least 1.5m – 2m above the ground. Many people make the mistake of positioning their bird boxes too high up. So don't worry, you don't need to be metres high for success. Especially if it's on a fence post, position it a little lower to stop cats dangling their paws inside from the top of the post. You want to ensure your birds have a clear sight line into the box. So don't hide it amongst vegetation. And it's best to position it so that the entrance hole is facing north-east. This means the box gets the warmth of the morning sun, but the chicks won't get too hot in the midday sun.
If you've chosen a robin or wren nest pocket then you want this to be more hidden, and you should secure it within vegetation like a bush or hedgerow. Robins prefer to nest closer to the ground, so something like a metre off the floor is good. Look for somewhere quiet in your garden where the robins would feel safe and secure. Surrounded by branches or twigs they can hop onto before jumping onto the landing platform of the nest.
The box should be left empty as wild birds often bring their own nest material. 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 nest box?
Bird nest boxes can attach to trees, walls, fences or buildings - it just depends 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. Check 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 with instructions on the best method to attach the nest box. Best practice is to attach into areas of vegetation with string or wire.
When is the best time to put up a bird nest 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. Further increasing 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. Doing so gives garden birds a chance to explore them. Leaving it until Spring may be too late as birds could already have found somewhere else to build their nests. However, a bird box up is always better than one left in the shed.
Nesting is most likely during April and May. In the event of chicks hatching there will be frenetic feeding activity by the parent birds. Take care not to disturb during this time. Intervention may result in the eggs or young being abandoned by the parent birds.
Like a lot of things in nature, patience is needed. 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 the home you’ve provided for them is safe to rear their young.
How to clean a bird nest 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, this 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. This helps prevent parasites re-infesting the nest box. Using a small brush with gloves on, to remove debris from corners 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.