Setting Up A Bird Box

Everything you need to know to attract wild birds to nest in your garden

Having a bird box/bird house/nest box in your garden can be a great way to encourage birds to come and raise their young. Bird boxes are best put up during the autumn. Many birds will enter bird boxes during the autumn and winter, looking for a suitable place to roost or perhaps to feed. They often use the same boxes for nesting the following spring.

The best positioning for your bird box

The appropriate positioning of your bird box will depend on the type of bird you’re hoping to attract.

  • For swifts: position it away from any windows and out of the direct sun, wind and rain. Unless there are trees or buildings that shade the box during the day, face the box between north and east, thus avoiding strong sunlight and the wettest winds.
  • For house sparrows and starlings: place your bird box high up under the eaves. Since these birds nest in loose colonies, two or three can be spaced out on the same side of the house.
  • For robins and wrens: position an open-fronted box low down, below 2m, and make sure that it is well hidden in vegetation.
  • For woodpeckers: place the box 3-5m high on a tree trunk with a clear flight path and away from disturbance.
  • For all garden birds: make sure that the birds have a clear flight path to the box without any clutter directly in front of the entrance. Tilt the box forward slightly so that any driving rain will hit the roof and bounce clear.

How to maintain your bird box

  • When cleaning your bird box, use boiling water to kill any remaining parasites and let the box dry out thoroughly before replacing the lid. Insecticides and flea powders must not be used, as they could harm any future birds to use the box.
  • Unhatched eggs in the box can only be removed legally between August and January and must be disposed of.
  • If you place a small amount of clean hay or wood shavings (not straw) in the box once it is thoroughly dry after cleaning, small mammals may hibernate there over winter or birds may use it as a roost site.
  • Avoid inspecting bird boxes in use however tempting it may be, as you can scare away the resident birds. Only open the bird box up if you've got appropriate skills or experience and are taking part in a monitoring project, such as the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme. If you want to see the chicks as they grow, you could consider installing a bird box camera before the breeding season starts – that way, you won’t frighten them.

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