National Nest Box Week – How to attract birds to a nesting box

Have you noticed an increase in birdsong recently? Well, there is a reason for this. This month you will begin to hear even more birds singing as they are establishing a breeding territory, and are on a quest to attract a new potential soul mate, and begin a beautiful courtship to raise their young.

National Nest Box Week is an annual event that takes place every year in February from the 14th to the 21st of February (the month of love). It has been running for twenty years and is now an important part of the Ornithological calendar. The aim of National Nest Box Week is to encourage people of all ages to put up nesting boxes to help birds breed and promote conservation and wildlife diversity. Valentine’s Day appropriately marks the beginning of the breeding season in which birds lovingly pair up to raise their young.

Investing in a nesting box is a good way to attract birds to your garden, not only will it bring you joy but also keep slugs and insects at bay.

Read on to find out how to choose a bird nesting box that will be suitable and safe for bird species you want to attract into your garden and help them to nest there.

When is the right time to put up a nesting box?

It is never too early or late to put up a nest box. Birds start looking for places to nest in late winter, so you want to give them plenty of time to find your garden and make themselves at home. Some boxes may be taken up immediately, while others may remain vacant, but if this is the case you just need to be patient.

What type of nesting box should I buy?

When searching for the perfect nest box for an outside space, make sure it is robust, as it will be outside in all weathers and so needs to be strong and fit enough for purpose. If choosing a wooden nest box, choose one made from timber from a sustainable source.

When selecting a nesting box, you need to think about what species of bird you want to attract to your garden. Check the size of the hole as this makes all the difference to the type of bird that will use it.

Many nest boxes will attract multiple bird species, with some nest boxes being specifically designed to attract certain bird species.

If the entrance hole is:

  • 25 mm will attract Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Marsh Tits
  • 28 mm is perfect for Great Tits, Tree Sparrows and Pied Flycatchers
  • 32 mm will encourage House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, Tits and Nuthatches
  • 45 mm is an ideal size for Starlings
  • Open front nest boxes will attracts Robins, Wrens or Pied Wagtails

It’s important to make sure that the entrance hole is at the top of the nesting box, and the bottom of the entrance hole must be at least 125 mm from the floor of the nest box. If it’s less, young birds might fall out or be scooped out by a predator. Nesting boxes also don’t need to have a perch on the front. Adding a perch on the front of any box may encourage intruders and put the young birds at risk.

What is the best position to hang a bird nesting box?

The best position for a nest box depends on two things. Firstly, you need to make sure the entrance hole is facing in the correct direction. Never place a bird box in a sunny south-facing direction, as this will likely cause the box to become too hot for the young birds. This is also why you should not paint your bird box in a dark colour, as this will retain heat. Ideally, a bird box should face north-east, as this will offer protection from direct sunlight, while avoiding the worst of the wind and rain.

The other thing to consider is to make sure your nest box is high enough off the ground. Again, this is for the safety of the baby birds. Too low, and a predator could easily reach in and snatch them away. Too high, and they may not be able to fledge (fly) properly when they’re ready to leave the nest. A good height is around four to six feet off the ground.

Make sure your nest box is far enough away from any trees or bushes. If it’s too close, a predator could easily climb up and get to the young babies.

Bird feeders and bird baths are brilliant for encouraging birds to your garden, but you don’t want to position your nesting box too close to these busy areas, as breeding birds can feel threatened by other nearby birds and they may decide to leave the nest.

How many nesting boxes can you hang in the garden?

Garden birds like to choose a nesting box that best suits their needs, if you can have more than one nesting box available outside, birds are more than likely to use it, and this will prevent overcrowding and competition. Two nest boxes close together may be occupied by the same species; two pairs of Tits will happily breed right next to each other if there is plenty of natural food supply close by and not many other nesting sites nearby.

How can we help attract garden birds to a vacant nesting box?

Birds love gardens that have birdbaths and feeders, so they have food and water close to hand.  If they see that your garden is particularly hospitable, they’re more likely to stick around and take advantage of an empty nest box. Remember not to position a nesting box too close to these busy areas, as visitors can scare off nesting birds.

You could leave out a few materials on a nearby plant pot or surface to give the birds a helping hand with their nest-making. We wouldn’t recommend putting anything inside the nesting boxes, as they like to do this themselves.

Our suggestions of materials to leave outside include:

  • Shredded pieces of paper
  • Cotton wool
  • Dry grass cuttings or hay
  • Wood shavings
  • Feathers
  • Twigs
  • Dried leaves

By supplying materials, you are giving them a head start and making it more comfortable for them and their young baby birds.

When do I clean a bird nesting box?

The best time to clean out a nesting box is at the end of the breeding season, between September and January. By cleaning your nest box, it will remove any parasites or diseases that could harm the birds. Once clean and dry, it’s a good opportunity to check the nest box for any damage or repairs that might be needed.

Putting up a nest box is a great way to help our feathered friends, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. Just remember to position the box well, leave some nesting material out, and clean it regularly. Soon you could have birds raising their young in your own garden.

If you haven’t already got a nest box, take a look at our selection of birdhouses & nest boxes that are available for home delivery or collection in-store. Our bird houses are in-stock and can be bought online or in-store at Gates Garden Centre. We have a range of designs at various price points to suit all kinds of gardens and budgets.

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