Your Wildlife Garden Part 1 – Nest Boxes

As our gardens and green spaces are becoming tidier and better maintained, many of our bird species are being robbed of the natural feeding and nesting sites that they depend on. Therefore it’s more important than ever that people who have an interest in wildlife make that extra effort to create a ‘wildlife garden’, providing a space for our native species to feed, bring up their young and do everything else that birds like to do. So starting with some tips on how to set up a nest box in your garden, we are writing series of blogs that will help you to provide the ideal habitat for many of our iconic garden birds.

Although many garden birds will roost in empty nest boxes during autumn and winter, at the same time checking their availability, serious investigation of nesting sites may not start until February or March so there’s still time to set up your nest box if you’re quick!

So first of all what kind of nest box should you choose? As each species has its own nesting requirements and preferences it just depends on which species you would prefer to attract, although putting up a variety of nest boxes would, of course, increase your chances of attracting a nesting pair. The most common type of nest box, and probably the most likely to attract a nesting pair, is small nest box with small holes. Nest plates can be bought (including here in our gift shop) and easily fixed to boxes depending on what species you are looking to attract, with 32mm holes suiting House Sparrows, 28mm Great Tits and 25mm for Blue Tits and Coal Tits. Larger nest boxes can be bought to help attract Starlings and Great Spotted Woodpeckers whilst open-fronted boxes can be bought to attract Robins, Spotted Flycatchers or Wrens, depending on the size of the open front. Another essential tip when buying a nest box is to make sure that it’s constructed from an insulating material such as oak or beechwood, avoiding ones made from plastic or ceramic.

Great tit nestlings (c) Suzsanna Bird
Great tit nestlings (c) Suzsanna Bird


The next question that needs to be answered is, where should I put my nest box? The first thing to take into account is that nesting birds need space, as this helps to avoid any aggressive behaviour between pairs. Therefore you should make sure that your nest box isn’t put up too close to any existing boxes or feeding tables. It’s also essential to place your nest box in a position that will be sheltered to some extent from the rain, sun and wind. If there aren’t any trees or buildings to provide shade then face it between north and east to make sure it’s protected from strong sunlight and prevailing winds. Protection from rain can be provided by simply angling it downwards slightly. The height at which you place the box will also have an effect on what species you attract. If you are using a small nest box then place it between 1 and 5m high to attract Blue Tits and Great Tits, whilst House Sparrows prefer boxes at least 2m high. Medium boxes need to be placed up higher, at least 2.5m above the ground, whilst open-fronted boxes also need to be placed high to deter predators such as cats.

Blackbird in nest box(c)Amy_Lewis
Blackbird in open nest box(c)Amy_Lewis

A final point to remember when using your own nest box is to ensure that it’s kept clean between use. Bird nests are full of fleas and parasites that will remain in unused nests to infest chicks that hatch the following year. So as long as you’re sure the resident birds have left, you can open the box, remove the old nest and clean it out to be ready for the following year. It’s important to avoid using insecticides or chemical substances, instead use boiling water and making sure the box is dry before replacing the top. Make sure that you’re cleaning the box between the 1st of August and the 31st of January as it’s illegal to interfere with nests out with this period as they are likely to be in use.

So now that you’ve been told all that needs to be known about putting up nest boxes, it’s just up to you to make that first step in transforming your garden into a garden bird mecca!

Craig Shepherd,

Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.

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As our gardens and green spaces are becoming tidier and better maintained, many of our bird species are being robbed of the natural feeding and nesting sites that they depend …

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