Birds need to nest somewhere every night. During winter, many species have specific requirements when it comes to roosting, and these are governed principally by the need to find somewhere secure to spend their inactive time. They need places that are protected from the wind and rain, and which are also not too cold. The energy used by small birds just in staying warm is significant, and so communal roosting is not uncommon.
After the mating season birds will be caring for eggs and chicks, and so they need a safe place to keep them. Building a nest is what birds do best, but they have to protect them well against other species as some will kick out the eggs and steal the nest from them.
Natural nesting sites are declining and it is believed that this may be contributing to the decrease in numbers of many species of birds. In the countryside modern farming methods have led to the loss of many hedgerows and mature trees. Combine this with the recent boom in development, whether it new housing, or the rejuvenation of old houses and outbuildings, and we can begin to understand why many birds are finding it harder to locate a suitable cavity in which to raise their brood.
Everyone wants to have birds nesting in their garden. The reason for this is that it’s the epitome of new life starting, and it’s happening right next to your house. Gardens also provide a good source of food, whether it’s a feeder or table with seed mixes, straight orlive foods, or simply scraps, all will help them survive.
By providing a suitable place for raising a family, you can really make a difference to the success of some of the birds in your area. Not only do they benefit from our help but watching the activity of parents bringing food into the brood until the fledglings take their first ‘flight’ can be hugely rewarding and fascinating.
Siting Nest Boxes
• A nest box can be sited in any sized garden – if you have the space try siting more than one to increase your chances of a family taking residence.
• Ensure boxes are at least 1.5m from the ground with a clear flight path and inaccessible to predators. Avoid boxes with perches as these can provide a foothold for unwelcome guests. Simple devices such as a nest box plate or Bird Guardian can help deter predators.
• Position your box away from the prevailing westerly wind, rain and strong sunlight as these can all affect the environment inside the box. Face your nest box to the east or north as a hot nest box can be fatal to the chicks inside.
• Nest boxes should be wooden or constructed from a material with similar insulating properties such as woodcrete. Plastic or metal boxes can cause birds to overheat so should always be avoided.
• Birds seek natural materials to line their nests and to provide a soft warm nest for their chicks. To help them do this, hang nesting wool out from January to July in a visible place near shrubs, tree branches, or nesting areas.
• When the breeding season is over, old nests can be removed and the box cleaned out. The best time to do it each year is in the autumn and you can disinfect with boiling water. Sometimes you will find unhatched eggs or even the remains of youngsters. This is quite normal – birds try to produce as many young as possible, knowing that there will always be some losses due to weather or food shortages. Unhatched eggs can legally only be removed between October and January and must be thrown away.
• Some hole-nesting species, including Coal Tits, may have second or third broods in the same nest. The nests of these species should be left until sometime during the autumn when it is certain that they are no longer in use.