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What nest box to choose for your garden birds

Now is the time to put up a nest box

This week is National Nest Box Week, when the British Trust for Ornithology encourages people to put bird boxes up in their gardens. The aim is to address a shortage of natural nest sites and redress a decline in garden birds. 

The week kicks off on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, whilst the love is in the air. The idea is that you will be in time for birds that have just begun courting to make a love nest in your place to put a nest box

A nest box means birds bringing up babies in your garden

Adding a nest box to your garden is an easy way to give birds a safe place to breed. My own garden is full of nest boxes. I also regularly advise local landowners on where to place boxes to attract owls and kestrels.

The advantage of persuading birds to nest in your garden is that you get to watch their young as they grow -and eventually fledge – right on your doorstep. For me, having nest boxes right outside the house means I can be there to photograph and paint the birds I see.

nest boxes
Limited Edition Fine Art Print | Goldcrest at Nest | Buy Now


Nest boxes can be attractive

Many of the nest boxes in my garden are made from reclaimed tree stumps. I  carefully select these because they make beautiful backdrops for my photographs and paintings.  The tree in the painting of a barn owl below is actually an old elm stump which I salvaged and adapted as an owl nest box. It was heavy and had to be hoisted into a sycamore tree.

nest box -owl painted in elm stump
Limited edition fine art print, Barn owl

 Click here to read the full story of how I made it:  


A tree of life: find out how the trees in my paintings are so much more than props for birds to sit on

Birds don’t need tailor-made nest boxes
You can buy nest boxes off the shelf and it is an easy option. But birds will choose any appropriate space to nest in. The wrens in my gardens once nested in a bunch of shallots. And on another occasion they brought up a brood in an old walking boot. Meanwhile I’ve had little owls nesting in an old wine box. And the robins once nested in my Landcruiser – this turned out to be a very expensive nest box as I dared not drive it until the brood had hatched. Read the full story below:

A Robin with Expensive Tastes

In support of National Nest Box Week I’ve put together 10 top tips on how and where to put up a nest box.
The best place to put up a nest box
The important thing is to site your box correctly. Don’t forget it needs to be in the best place for birds and not for your own viewing opportunities!
Ideally, your nest box needs to be at least 1.5 metres high and no higher than 5.5 metres. It should be located near a hedge, bush or branches to help fledglings on their first flight. Make sure you avoid prevailing winds and direct sunlight. It can get very hot in the summer and cold if the chicks are directly in a breeze! 
Choose the right nest box for the right species

If you are not particular about which species you want then the box that appeals to the widest range of common garden birds is around 28cm high, 15cm wide and 13cm deep with a 32mm hole.

But if you want to be really specific here is a list of what size entrance hole suits which species.

25mm              Blue/coal/marsh/willow tit
32mm              House/tree sparrow, great tit, nuthatch, pied flycatcher
45mm              Starling
50mm              Great spotted woodpecker
70mm              Little owl
200mm            Stock dove, tawny owl

For robins, wrens, blackbirds, spotted flycatchers, pied/grey wagtails or song thrushes choose open fronted boxes. Make sure the front or the top of the box opens for cleaning.

Wood-crete nest boxes are the best

There are plenty of nest boxes available on the market made from wood or terracotta, but I really recommend woodcrete (a sawdust and concrete composite). These boxes are indestructible and provide great insulation too!

Avoid diamond-shaped nest boxes

I really don’t recommend this shape because it doesn’t give birds enough space to fill with nesting material.

Make a terrace of nest boxes to attract sparrows
House sparrows are very sociable and like to nest together. A terrace, like the one pictured below, will fit several pairs of these birds. They should be at least 30cm high, 38cm wide with a 32mm hole.
A nest box with a triangular slip or hole will attract treecreepers
Tree creepers naturally nest in narrow gaps and clefts behind loose bark. A triangular slit or hole replicates this.
Little owls need a nest box with a screened-off section at the back 

Little owls like to nest in dark cavities, so screen off the back part of the box to create a baffle and use a 7cm entrance hole. Site it high enough to deter predators and in a quiet area.

Tawny owl nest boxes must have tall sides
A tawny owl’s box needs to be tall so that chicks can’t fall out before they learn to fly.
the best nest box for a tawny owl
Nest boxes for house martins

House martins build mud nests on the eaves of buildings, often in colonies averaging five nests. They need enclosed nests with a small opening.


Nest boxes for swallows

Swallows prefer open nests sited inside a building with easy access, such as a garage, porch or stable.

nest box swallows
Limited edition fine art print | Swallows | Buy Now

Good luck. And remember. If your nest box is unoccupied for two full breeding seasons – try relocating it.


3 comments on What nest box to choose for your garden birds

  1. “Click here to read the full story….” re elm stump box. Hi Robert, I can’t get this “click” to work. Very interested in how you did this as have been given a nest box made from tree stump with natural hole ( very heavy) but it isn’t quite right. Rain would fall straight in through hole. Wondering how we could modify it and also how to mount it ( also in a sycamore tree). Some sort of bracket perhaps? Needed for my local nature reserve. Please could you email me about this or mend the link. First time I’ve seen your wonderful site, look forward to exploring it later. Thanks.

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