Giving birds a helping hand by offering them a cosy place to build a nest is one of the best things gardeners can do to help stop declining wild bird populations.
National Nest Box Week, launched by the British Trust for Ornithology in 1997, runs every February and aims to encourage as many people as possible to put up nest boxes.
It is estimated that there are as many as six million nest boxes in gardens across the UK. This is good news, as natural bird nesting sites, such as holes in trees and crevices in tumbledown walls, are disappearing as gardens are tidied and countryside sites are cleared for development. If birds can't nest, they can't bring up a brood – and this is one reason why some bird species, such as starlings and house sparrows, have been in trouble in recent years.
Early spring is a good time to think about providing homes for birds – putting up a nest box now gives our feathered friends a chance to do a spot of house-hunting before the breeding season begins in March.
There are many different types of nest box available: a small box with a hole makes a good home for blue tits, great tits or sparrows; open fronted boxes should attract wagtails or robins.
If buying a bird box, it's important to choose one that can be opened up and cleaned out at the end of the nesting season, from August onwards. Old nesting material can harbour parasites and diseases that could harm subsequent broods.
Most nest boxes are inexpensive to buy, but they're also pretty easy to make: there are designs and advice on the RSPB website.