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PUBLISHED: 16:54 24 March 2014 | UPDATED: 17:47 24 March 2014
Agnes Rothon, of the RSPB, shows how you can create a des res for your feathered friends
This time of the year is one of the busiest for our garden birds. After a long, dark winter spring is just around the corner and many species will be starting to look for suitable places to nest come the breeding season.
This is termed ‘prospecting’ and if you watch carefully you may see robins, tits or wrens darting carefully about your garden, peering in to cracks in walls or climbing in and out of vacant holes in trees. Nevertheless with fewer natural nesting sites available to birds these days your feathered friends will welcome any efforts you can make to help them out.
If you are handy with a saw and hammer now is the time to get busy making a variety of nestboxes to put up around the garden. You can find plenty of construction plans online, try www.rspb.org.uk. The size of the entrance hole to your nestbox will determine the species that the box will attract – the smallest holes will attract blue, coal and marsh tits, middle sized holes birds such as nuthatches and house sparrows and the biggest of all for starlings. Robins however, use open-fronted boxes.
Where to put your nestbox also depends upon the species it is intended for. Boxes for tits, sparrows or starlings should be fixed two to four metres up a tree or a wall whilst open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens need to be low down, well hidden in vegetation.
If you choose a tree to put up a nestbox remember that using nails may damage the tree. It is better to attach the box either with a nylon bolt or with wire around the trunk or branch. You can also use a piece of hose or section of car tyre around the wire to prevent causing any damage to the tree. Unless there are other trees or buildings which shade the box during the day, it is best to face it between north and east, to avoid strong sunlight and the wettest winds. It is also best to tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear.
House sparrows and starlings will readily use nestboxes placed high up under the eaves. Since these birds nest in loose colonies, two or three boxes can be sited spaced out on the same side of the house but keep these away from areas where house martins normally nest – the more aggressive birds can drive the house martins away.
By putting up a nestbox or two you are not only providing homes for nature but it may also enable you to watch some fascinating bird behaviour up close. For example, tits are regularly seen hammering away at the entrance hole of a nestbox. This is probably a form of display by the male, rather than an attempt to enlarge the hole. Later, the female will also peck the same location vigorously: natural holes may have all the surrounding bark chipped away. This may help her to judge how soft the wood is and whether the hole will provide a safe, predator-proof home in which to raise her brood.
Nuthatches leave tell-tale signs of their residence in a nestbox. They peck at the entrance hole, deliberately enlarging it. They then plaster the edges of the hole with mud, making sure the hole makes a perfect fit for their bodies.
Many birds roost in nestboxes as well as raising their chicks in them, especially during a cold winter night. These roosts are frequently communal with the birds packing together for extra warmth. The record number of birds found in one box is 61 wrens!
Remember it’s not just birds that need comfy places to nest come springtime. The addition of a pond to your garden can have huge benefits for wildlife. It will provide a safe place for toads and frogs to spawn and will attract dragonflies and damselflies galore all keen to show off their busy courtship displays.
Warm compost heaps provide perfect locations for reptiles such as grass snakes and slow worms and on warm spring days you may be lucky enough to see one basking in the sun in a particularly comfortable spot.
So, no matter how big or small your outside space, everyone can make a difference and create a home for nature. So if you’re fed up with spring cleaning your own house, grab your coat and head out for a bit of fresh air. Your garden wildlife will thank you for it.
n For more information and advice on gardening for wildlife go to