Nest Boxes

February 14th marks the beginning of National Nest Box Week. If you are keen to get involved but don’t know where to start, we have pulled together some useful resources for you.

Nest box week has been running for over 20 years and it starts on Valentine’s Day, as this is traditionally said to be the date when birds pair up. The aim of the week is to encourage people to put up nest boxes to help breeding birds. Installing a nest box in your garden is one of the most helpful and enjoyable things you can do for birds, along with providing food for the winter and for the new bird families that will occupy your boxes in spring and summer.

Installing a nest box is simple and can be done in any suitable area that cannot be reached by cats or other predators. At the BFT office, volunteers have installed two types of nest boxes for robins and tits.

Making a nest box

You can make or buy nest boxes. Rough cut, untreated, softwood timber is the most suitable material for making nest boxes. Most nest boxes are made out of wood but more specialist designs for housemartins, who require a cup style nest, may be made out of woodstone or terracota.  If you are keen to make your own nest box, the British Ornithology Society is a good starting place. Alternatively, the Natural History Museum describes how to make a nest box out of a terracotta plant pot.

Boxes for different species can be made by attaching metal plates at the opening to allow only smaller birds in. The metal plates stop larger birds such as woodpeckers and sparrows making the entrance holes larger and evicting the inhabitants.

House martins

House martins travel from Africa each year to raise their young and the lack of nesting space is having a profound effect on their populations.  You can give them a helping hand by installing either a pre-made nest or making a nest cup yourself under your roof eaves. If you are keen to find out more about house martins this article by the RSPB is a useful resource.

House sparrows

House sparrows like to nest in colonies, so if you have the space you can install a few nest boxes next to each other or create a nest box terrace for them.

Larger birds

If you have lots of space then you can provide nest boxes for larger birds such as owls and kestrels.

General tips
  • Nest boxes should be positioned at approximately northeast so that they aren’t facing full sun in the south or extreme cold, wind or rain from the north.
  • Boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should be fixed two to four metres up a tree or a wall. Make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear.  
  • Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, below 2m and well hidden in vegetation.
  • Those for spotted flycatchers need to be 2-4m high, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook.
  • Woodpecker boxes need to be 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.

Please share any pictures of your nest boxes with us on Twitter or Facebook – particularly if you get some families moving in!

If you are not sure what type of box to put up, you can contact: Michelle@bordersforesttrust.org for advice.