Our declining bird population needs all the help it can get and so many of us provide food and water in our gardens.
Another way is to provide places to nest. Trees, shrubs, ivy and creepers are essential for many garden species, but not all gardens have suitable ones, in particular very few have old trees with holes in for hole-nesting species like the tit family.
Nest-boxes are the answer: whether you make a box yourself or buy one ready-made, please remember the following important points:
1. The box should be of thick solid wood or wood-crete – not thin plywood or composite or metal (too hot in summer for nesting, too cold in winter for roosting and produces condensation).
2. Recommended sizes for the entrance hole, which should be high up, are tits 2.8 cm, sparrows 3.5cm, starling 4.5cm. Metal plates round the hole prevent larger birds or predators enlarging it. For robins leave the whole top of the front open.
3. It must not have a perch by the hole – birds don’t need one, but it could certainly provide a foothold for a predator.
4. It can be water-proofed with a non-toxic preservative on the outside, but not inside (to avoid fumes and contamination).
5. Make sure the top and side joins cannot let in water – if necessary, use a non-toxic filler or waterproof tape (or rubber from a bicycle inner tube).
6. Drill several drainage holes in the bottom in case water does get in.
7. The lid must slope forward and overlap the sides, front and back, to keep out the rain and sun, and deter predators.
8. The lid must be firm but removable, so the box can be emptied and cleaned out.
9. The inside of the box front, under the hole, is best roughed or steeped to help young birds clamber out when ready.
10. Don’t have a nest-box over a bird-table – would you want to rear a family in a public restaurant?
Do put up a nest-box – it helps the birds, and it also helps you by providing entertainment and garden pest control – one brood of blue tits can consume 12,000 grubs and caterpillars! Involve children if possible.