Tuesday, 24 November 2015

NATURE IN NOVEMBER: Attracting Birds to Your Garden Part 2: A guide to nest boxes


Nest-boxes are a fantastic way of supporting our garden birds. They make brilliant substitutes for natural holes in old trees, which can be scarce in urban and rural-urban areas. Whilst some species of bird are thriving, other populations such as starlings have plummeted; nest boxes can be an ideal way to target the specific birds in need of our help.


Autumn is the ideal time to put up nest-boxes. Very often, birds will enter nest-boxes during autumn and winter to look for a suitable place to roost or sometimes, to feed. What is good about putting nest-boxes up in Autumn is that birds will often use the nest-boxes they have discovered and roosted in in autumn for nesting the following spring! Furthermore, although some species such as tits will not seriously consider a nest-box until February or March, they will be less suspicious of a nest-box that has been a fixture since autumn than a newly erected one in spring. So quick! Up with the nest-boxes!


There are a wide variety of nest-boxes available from garden centres and on-line. The first thing to consider when choosing a box is what types of birds you are looking to attract to your garden. Perhaps you would be happy with any species, but it’s good to know beforehand the requirements of different birds. Especially as this will later help you  decide how and where to site your nest box!
The main difference between nest-boxes will be the size of the entrance hole. Different sized and shaped entrances will be suitable for different birds:
  •          25 mm for blue, coal and marsh tits
  •          28 mm for great tits, tree sparrows and pied   flycatchers
  •          32 mm for house sparrows and nuthatches
  •          45 mm for starlings.
  •          Open fronted style for robins and wrens

As you can see in the photo above, this year the first nest box I have chosen to put up is an open fronted style suitable for robins and wrens! (I'm hoping our garden robin will take up residence and shortly after putting this box up I noticed him flitting about the tree and having a little look, so fingers crossed)

Once you have decided what style of nest-box you would like to buy, the next thing to look out for is quality. It is vital that you choose a good quality box as quality can not only determine whether a box will get used but whether it is safe for the birds to do so:

  •    Look for sustainable and durable FSC timber.
  •    Keep it simple: avoid nest-boxes with fancy decorations or additions such as perches that predators could cling to.
  •    Ensure that any preservatives the box is treated with are non-toxic.
I would recommend buying your bird box directly from the RSPB; all their boxes are designed to have the correct dimensions and ventilation that birds need and are made only from FSC timber. Alternatively, you could build your own box, following their guide here.


Siting a nest-box will depend mainly upon which species the box is designed for however you should always try and make sure that:

  • There is a clear flight path to the nest without any clutter directly in front of the entrance hole.
  • The box is facing between North and East, to avoid strong sunlight and winds (unless there are trees or buildings to shade the box during the day).
  • The box is attached to a tree using a wire or chain around the trunk or a strong branch, to avoid damaging the tree. A nylon bolt rather than a nail can also be used.
  • Do not place two nest boxes close together, even if for the same species (unless they are colonial nesters such as house/tree sparrows and house martins)
How high up a tree to affix your nest-box depends, as mentioned, upon what bird your box is designed for:

  • Species such as house sparrows and starlings will take to nest-boxes placed high under the eaves of your house. Two or three can be spaced apart on one side of the house.
  • House Martins will also nest high under the eaves, however it is best to place boxes for martins well away from boxes for sparrows and starlings.
  • Open-fronted boxes for robins and wrens, such as the one shown in my photos, should be placed below 2m and well hidden in vegetation.
  • Homes for spotted flycatchers, tits and sparrows should be sited 2 to 4 metres up a tree, sheltered by vegetation but with a clear outlook.
  • Nest-boxes for woodpeckers should be situated high - 3 to 5 metres - up a tree.

Remember:putting up a nest-box at this time of year will provide a sheltered and cosy place for many birds to roost on cold winter nights, so don't wait until spring, keep an eye out well before that to see if your nest-box is being visited!


  1. Hi Annie,

    Love this post - it's so touching (I adore birds) and if I had a garden, I would do this in a heartbeat!

    Besma | Curiously Conscious

    1. Hi Besma,

      Thanks for reading, that's lovely to hear :)! I have the same problem when I'm at university,I'm hoping to do a post on attracting birds in urban areas soon :) Window feeders can be great if you know you've got birds in the area!

      I've had a little peek at your blog, it looks right up my street, I will definitely be having a read of some veggie recipes!

      Annie x

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