To encourage birds into your garden all year round, it is worth adding a bird box. It enables the simple pleasure of watching birds nesting throughout the spring and it is wonderful to hear the sound of baby birds calling for food.
Before you make any purchases, consider the best place to put a bird box in your garden so you can cater for the needs of the birds.
Nest box requirements
There are many considerations when buying a bird box. Start by taking a look around your garden. Where would you place the bird box? Do you have any trees or fences that the bird box could be securely fixed to? Are there areas that would offer concealment? In which direction does your garden face?
Other considerations include:
- Make sure the size and type of box are suitable. Consider the species that you would most like to attract.
- Choose the type of bird box. They will appeal to different species.
- Place in a safe location. Try to find somewhere which minimises the risk from predators.
- Protect from the elements. Is the box waterproof? If you plan to paint it, use eco-friendly paints rather than lead-based ones.
As there are many types of bird boxes to choose from, it can be difficult to choose especially if just starting to feed the birds. If you live near to deciduous woodlands, you are likely to attract Blue Tits, Great Tits or Long-Tailed Tits. If you live in Scotland, near to Coniferous forests, you may attract Crested Tits. If you want learn more about the Tit family of birds, check out our article here.
Robins and Blackbirds are widespread and frequent visitors to gardens everywhere. The tiny wren, often heard more than seen are less common in the North of England and Scotland.
Choose from open-fronted bird boxes and those with varying sized entrance holes depending on the bird:
Wrens, Robins or Blackbirds – Opt for an open-front nest box.
Ideally, place these 1 to 2 metres from the ground. This is the height at which they would nest naturally. If your garden is established and you have plenty of foliage, this might be an excellent place to try so that the bird box is less visible to predators. Too many cats close by could prevent birds from selecting it or increase the risk of their being caught.
If you want to encourage popular garden birds including:
Blue Tits, Coal Tits or Marsh Tits – Opt for a bird box where the hole is a diameter of 25 mm
More info on the Tit family of birds can be found here.
If you want to encourage:
Great Tits or Tree Sparrows – Opt for a bird box where the hole is a diameter of 28mm.
Starlings – Opt for a bird box where the hole is a diameter of 45mm.
If lucky, and depending on your location, you may be able to attract birds which are less common including:
Woodpeckers or Nuthatches – Opt for a bird box with a 32 mm entrance hole.
You can also consider multi bird boxes.
It is important to place the bird box in the right location, after all, it will become the bird’s home for a period of time so must be suitable. Remember, size, height and style are really important considerations.
Many birds use man-made boxes happily. Depending on the size of your garden, the more bird boxes you provide, the greater the chance you will have of birds nesting in them. Do keep in mind that birds are territorial and so may not wish to nest close to each other. If your garden is small, then you may want to place just one or two boxes and see what happens.
Even with the best research, birdlife is anything but predictable. If the idea of buying a bird box for Woodpeckers or Nuthatches appeals, you may well find that House Sparrows commandeer it. However, don’t despair, as the population of house sparrows is sadly in decline, you will be doing your bit to protect them.
When aiming to attract Woodpeckers, fix the bird box securely to a wall or tree at 2-4 metres in height. This provides a sufficient breeding place at the right height for them. Larger birds such as Tawny Owls do sometimes use specialist bird boxes and these would need to be placed up to 5 metres from the ground.
Choosing the right direction
The direction is so important. The bird box should face between the North and East providing greater protection from the wind and rain but also, away from direct sunlight.
Never place a bird box in a south-facing direction. If the box is in direct sunlight, it will become too hot and the young birds may die. It will certainly be uncomfortable inside. This is another reason to not paint the box in a dark colour as it retains heat. A shady area is ideal.
Rain can also be problematic. Try tilting the bird box forward just a little as this enables even heavy rain to run away from the entrance hole. Never tilt the box backwards. If the bird box is fixed in a straight position, rain could still enter and fill it with water. There is even the possibility of the young birds drowning.
Remember to site any open-fronted boxes in the midst of foliage as this offers some concealment and protection. Prickly bushes are ideal. If you have established climbing plants, you can fit the box there.
The best time to site your bird box
The more time that birds have to get used to the bird box the better, however, it doesn’t really matter what time of year you site the box. However, the absolute best time is in the autumn or winter if you want the birds to occupy the box quickly.
During the autumn and winter months, birds may choose to roost in it. If you have followed the advice given here and the bird box is in the best location, you will at some point, have a discerning bird take ownership of it.
Nest box essentials
Do not place bird boxes too close to permanent bird feeders. While you do want the birds to become aware of it quickly, established bird feeders have a great deal of activity back and forth. This can easily disturb nesting and may even lead to birds abandoning the nest site.
Avoid having too many bird boxes in one area. Birds are often territorial and they may fight if they are on each other’s patch. Distribute bird boxes around the garden making sure that there is a direct flight path to each entrance.
Birds may land on a nearby branch first, checking that the route is all-clear. Once they are certain it is safe, they will fly to the entrance hole with a beak full of insects. Placing perches nearby will be appreciated by the birds. Do not place a perch beneath the bird box because it can be useful for predators.
Other considerations include:
- Is a bird box unused for over two years? Move it to a new location.
- Do not use nails if attaching to a tree. It can damage the trunk. Try to use an adjustable strap or galvanised wire.
- Avoid placing next to a door. It should remain as undisturbed as possible. The garden should be quiet too. Even neighbours can unwittingly disturb nesting birds.
- Always consider the risk of predators. Try to avoid a location where it is easy for cats to sit and wait for the birds to come in and out. Equally, consider the risk from birds of prey who will be attracted to any activity on the feeding stations.
- Use different types of bird boxes. This will have a greater potential for attracting a wider range of birds.
Clean out nest boxes
Cleaning the nest box on an annual basis as this helps to reduce nest parasites. Wear gloves and use a small brush to remove any debris. Usually, it is safe to clean them out between September and January but some birds will breed early or late in the year so be vigilant.
It can be tempting to put a lot of nesting material in ready, but this will likely deter birds. If you want to give the birds a helping hand, avoid using straw but opt for wood shavings at the bottom instead. Providing a ready source of material for bird boxes nearby will make it easier for birds to set up home. You can place feathers, dog fur or wool nearby.
A ready supply of nesting material will increase bird activity in the garden. This is a frantic time of the year for all birds. Many bird-watching enthusiasts do all they can to protect the food in feeding stations from hungry squirrels. During the bird breeding season, it can help to leave food out for the squirrels. It may prevent them from searching for nest sites to steal eggs.
How to attract birds to a nest box
If your bird station is fairly new or, you are trying to incite the birds nearer to the bird box, put a new food supply closer to it. This is for a short time only just so that the birds spot the new bird box. Remember, if there is too much activity, this can deter the birds from nesting.
Make your garden wildlife-friendly
Another way to attract birds into the garden is to make it as welcoming for them as possible. Having a wildlife garden does not mean leaving the areas to become overgrown or unmanaged but instead, try to think what the birds need. In the spring months, as they start to breed, they need a safe space to lay eggs, they need food and water.
Mix up the habitats. Consider planting dense shrubs or climbers as these will be perfect for concealing a bird box and climbing plants will offer protection. Consider the plants and flowers that attract insects and berries for birds to eat. The nesting season takes a lot of energy from the birds where they have to feed lots of hungry mouths.
Another way to create ample food is to create a bug hotel. It is possible to purchase one, but you can also create a bug hotel by placing branches or twigs in a stack in the corner of the garden. This provides the perfect habitat for insects to live in and birds will explore these areas looking for spiders and bugs.
When attracting birds or any wildlife into the garden, do not use pesticides. Birds will feed on insects but this poison will be passed onto the adult birds or the young birds with devastating consequences.
There is a shortage of good natural nesting places. Providing bird boxes and feeding birds help to sustain the population. The birds that visit your garden were potentially farmland or woodland birds at one time. As these areas in the UK are becoming scarce, birds choose gardens as their habitat of choice.
To gain the most success, do consider the species of bird that regularly visit. This is likely to be House or Tree Sparrows, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Blackbirds. You may also have visitors such as Long-Tailed Tits or Wrens. Each bird species has its unique needs. The more you learn about these birds, the greater the potential to attract them.
Do you have any questions about bird boxes? If you need help, do let us know.
Remember that the size of the bird box entrance hole is all-important as is the location and direction at which you place it. Do not take shortcuts with these steps. For a successful breeding season, help the birds to help themselves. Make it easy for them to visit and stay.
Remember, it may take a while for the birds in your garden to use the bird boxes. Have patience. In time, you will find that birds trust this space and will make use of all you provide.