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Little Green Space February 2016

National Nest Box Week runs from 14 - 21 February, so this is the ideal month to buy or build a nest box or two.

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.

When choosing a site for your bird box, look for a sturdy fence, wall, shed or tree, and try to avoid anything facing south west – the direction from which most of our wet and windy weather arrives. The ideal orientation is between north and east, which will also avoid strong sunlight.


Between two and four metres off the ground – and therefore well out of the reach of cats – is the best height to place a box for blue tits, sparrows or starlings. Woodpecker boxes need to be a little higher, and robins and wrens prefer their homes lower – but well hidden in the thick vegetation of a hedge or shrub. And all nest boxes need a clear flight path in and out, for easy access.


It's a good idea to put out some nesting material (left) for birds, too. Place a range of natural fibres and plant materials – straw, grasses, fur, wool, leaves from spring pruning and moss raked from the lawn – in a hanging basket or nearby bush. This makes it easier for birds to gather the nesting materials they need without using up valuable energy reserves.

Not all birds will choose a standard nest box to live in, though – just like humans, some birds like their homes quirky, and have been found nesting in all sorts of strange places.    

Watering cans, hanging baskets, clothes-peg bags and toolboxes could all end up housing a brood. Blackbirds, great tits and robins, in particular, seem to have a penchant for the peculiar – and have been found nesting inside traffic cones, post boxes and on top of car wheels.

So take care not to disturb a bird's nest when tidying up around the garden. And think again before you chuck away that old, cracked teapot. Carefully positioned in a hedge, it could make the perfect home for a robin!

For more advice on attracting birds to your garden, see our Birds feature.

Give a bird a home!